Monday, March 9, 2015

Born Out of the Common Cold

Who has not heard the saying, "Misery loves company?" Furthermore, who has not found it to be quite true? Last week, Elisabeth Foley gave me her cold over Twitter. It started when I innocently inquired after her health and she responded with equal innocence...

....which soon grew more sinister:

Yes, I caught her cold over Twitter. Since this was obviously her fault, I challenged the little lady to a battle of words. Length? Under 1500 words. Subject matter? The common cold. We designed a hashtag (#secondinkpen), rolled up our sleeves, and got to work. We documented this work on Twitter...and it began to attract attention:

And because my battle-piece ended up amusing and worked as an antidote to my cold by allowing me to laugh and forget my misery, I thought I would share it with all of you today. Thoroughly cured of my cold (and wishing all the best to Elisabeth), I give to you

The Sneeze-Piece.

“My dear Edwin, you cannot possibly attend the opera looking like...”
Edwin resented the bit of sentence Gwyneth left off. Did she not think him man enough to stand it? “Looking like what, exactly?”
Her eyes crinkled at him. “Like a particularly bland cat who has just been dragged through a particularly colorful alleyway.”
“I am berfectly fine,” he beeped through congestion stacked tighter than the Great Wall.
“But you aren’t, darling. You’re quite ill, really.”
“I won’t let you go by yourself.” Avoiding all “m’s” and “p’s,” Edwin found, restored his dignity. “What’ll beople think?”
Oh dear. That was short-lived.
He shifted a bit to see his beloved’s face. “Us only buried three bonths and barely hobe from the honeyboon...”
“If you mean that we’ve been married only three months and barely home from our honeymoon you ought to say so. I fear you’ll give Society the idea that we’ve died and are rotting away someplace six feet under.” Gwyneth came to him. Her violet evening dress was quite becoming as a lap blanket.
“I love you quite as much as ever, though,” she murmured.
“Even if my dose is swollen?”
Gwyneth considered that engorged appendage with her head to one side. Edwin studied the dimple in her chin and thought about kissing it. That would require lifting his head off the pillows and, quite frankly, wasn’t worth the bother.
“Your nose looks perfectly normal, darling,” she pronounced.
“It’s hideously swollen.”
“No.” Gwyneth straightened. “Quite normal.”
“Dash it all, woban! Do you bean to tell be that my dose is always this...elephantine?”
“What a bear you are when you’re ill! I do wish your mother had told me. She might at least have warned me what happens to my husband when set upon by the common cold.”
There was nothing common, Edwin felt, about this cold. Gwyneth was a delightful bride. Most delightful bride in all of New York with the profile of a Gibson Girl beside. But she hadn’t an idea about how he suffered under stodged-up nasal passages and scratchy throats. She laughed at him when all he required was a little consideration. And she wouldn’t kiss him.
“Won’t you kiss me?” he mewled, rather kitten-like.
Gwyneth peeped to the hall. “Did you hear something? I thought perhaps Nellie Grace had left fishheads on the doorstep again. Stray cats make the most terrible noises.”
Low. That’s what that was. Edwin did not want the notice of someone who was determined to make him look unreasonable. No kisses. No sympathy. What a bride. What domestic fol-de-rol this was, lying on their rented settee with his aching head on a wondrously stiff pillow that only allowed the throbbing to throb harder.
Edwin watched Gwyneth put her pretty white arms into the silken sleeves of her wrap. “And I subbose you’ll go and have a ball at the obera without me?”
One glove on, then the other. “You wouldn’t rather I stay here and be miserable too?”
Well, if he had to put paint to it, that was exactly what he’d rather. Edwin moaned and threw his right arm over his eyes. “Just go. If you cobe hobe and I’ve caught pneumonia, you’ll be sorry you ever left my side.”
Gwyneth smiled and pecked his cheek. “You can’t catch pneumonia, baby-dearest. It develops.”
If he had it to do over again, Edwin thought he oughtn’t to have married a nurse. Horrific, being ill and having the weaker sex lord her intellect over you. Like little Tin-Can Harry sending a left-hook into the heavy-weight champ after a bigger fighter had already knocked the champ down. A fellow would never do it. But he wouldn’t expect Gwyneth to know it. She was natively American after all, and a femme.
Gwyneth, who had taken up a crow’s nest position at the window-seat, brightened. “Sal’s here. I’m off.”
“Goodbye!” he fog-horned at her retreating (and very good) silhouette.
Gwyneth didn’t say goodbye. Not even out the door and she’d already forgot him. Blind the germs. Colds were obnoxious beyond compare. Some chap ought to write Congress a letter. Wasn’t that the way in this sneeze-ridden colony? Couldn’t President Wilson make a law announcing colds as acts of treason? Edwin kicked the far arm of the settee with his heels and brewed a fresh pot of mischief to drink.

* * * *

“Dellie! Dellie!”
Far from deaf--in fact, quite as sharp-eared as any New York domestic--it took Nellie Grace several moments of the frightening bellows to realize the sounds were being made by Mr. Edwin and intended to convey the idea of her name. She scuttled into the front parlor.
“Yes, Mr. Edwin?”
“To which of New York’s under-rate theatres did my wife intend to bake her way?”
“Wallack’s Theatre, I believe, Mr. Edwin.”
“An obera?”
“Yes, Mr. Edwin.”
Her employer groaned with the rattle of an underground rail system. “It could dot have been a cobedy, could it, Dellie? Obera. It had to be obera. And she sbeaks of alley-cats.”
Unsure how to respond, Nellie employed the respectful bob-and-nod drilled into her head by her mother, who had also been a servant among New York’s elite:
“When in doubt, Nellie, keep your mouth closed.”
“Yes, Mr. Edwin?”
“Fetch me my hat and greatcoat.”
“I hope I brushed them well enough last time, Mr. Edwin.”
“What the dev--oh, I’m dot here to insbect your work, Dellie. I am going out.”
“Aren’t you ill, Mr. Edwin?”
“A woban with a cold...why she looks bositively beastly. Sobething about their doses...” Mr. Edwin gestured to his beaconing nose thoughtfully. “Bakes theb look ridiculous. Dark circles under their eyes...gravel in their voices. Hideous. But the benfolk, Dellie. They have better constitutions than that. We rebain...attractive in all states ob health.”
Nellie bit her lip and tried to reconcile Mr. Edwin’s haggard appearance with his speech. Bob-and-nod. “I’ll get the hat and coat, Mr. Edwin.”

* * * *
When one does not know Italian and has dropped one’s translation somewhere beneath the seat of the sizeable woman in the row next, an opera soon grows dull.
Gwyneth beat upon her knee with the stem of her opera-glass. Wouldn’t Edwin roast her if she admitted her unspeakable boredom? Their seats were cheap and so far away that only the fat soprano showed up to any effect against the Far-Eastern backdrops. The lead male was quite swallowed up and of no more notice than a stage-curtain tassel. If Edwin were here they could whisper behind his translation. He would never do something as unforgivable as dropping his booklet.
“Sal,” she whispered, hoping for a clandestine answer such as, “Oh gracious, how dull. Let’s bail and get ices instead.” But Sal had disappeared on one of her frequent trips to the powder room to perfect her gauzy reflection.
Gwyneth sank a little deeper into her chair. It would have been kinder to stay back for Edwin’s sake. She hadn’t been married so long that the needs of her husband were topmost in her mind. On nights like this it was shockingly easy to forget that she was married to a man who yowled over trifling colds and wanted petting for it. She tried to forget it’d been her cold first.
“Poor Ed.”
Someone down the row made a faint disturbance which crawled up the dark length of seats until Gwyneth made out a man clad in evening dress. He cast about for a moment, clamped eyes on Sal’s seat, and beelined it.
Gwyneth might have bothered to warn him the seat was in use but if Sal wanted to play Jack-in-the-box she could jolly well afford to lose her seat. Besides--the new man must be amusing if he thought himself free to uproot an entire row mid-opera. She’d hazard her chances.
The fat soprano rent the theatre with a note not unlike that of a canary with a cat’s claw upon its trachea. Gwyneth winced. She recalled the translation mentioning “The Death of Ariadne.” Was this it? Sounded deadly enough
The newcomer shuffled his feet, sniffed twice, took out a rumpled pocket-square and applied it to his nose.
There was some fumbling onstage. The soprano staggered forward. Her curtain-tassel opposite dutifully stumbled after her. Someone (a lump whom Gwyneth had formerly taken for a sort of chair) held up a sultan’s knife. Following this touching display of familial drama and a last semi-musical shriek, the house fell silent.
So ridiculous silent as if they’d all been struck to the heart.

Gwyneth wondered if she had got by accident into a comic opera and turned to Sal to say so before realizing her companion was not Sal at all but that gentleman who had not stopped making garrulous noises in his throat and nose since his admission.
“Bless me, what a row,” the man croaked. And in the darkness that was no longer silent, he gave a petulant sneeze undeniably Edwin’s.
“Got a translation?” Edwin asked when his arm had got comfortably around both Gwendolyn’s astonishment and her waist.
She nestled into his rackety-sounding chest. “Dropped it.”
“Crikey,” he remarked. “Rather have ices?”

Hope that gave you a laugh, my readers, and may you soon recover from this (admittedly helpful) daylight-saving drama. I think I managed all right, though a full day out in the sun soaking up loads of Vitamin D certainly helped the matter. Here's to Spring arriving. I am ready for its full embrace.


Anne-girl said...

Loved it! They are dears both of them and I theroughly enjoyed myself. Good one Jeeves dear!

Carmel Elizabeth said...

I love your short pieces. They're always a ball. <3

Here's to spring & no more snow, please and thanks!

Colleen Elizabeth said...

Splendid! I second the comment about your short pieces.

I know you're a fan of A A Milne, but have you ever read any of his Punch articles? His "Once a Week" is free on kindle and I think you'd really enjoy it - your sense of humor is quite similar :)

Sarah Cnossen said...

This was fantastic! I couldn't stop laughing. You short stories are always so good and never fail to bring a smile. :] Thanks for sharing!!

Rachel Heffington said...

Colleen: I have not read any of his Punch stuff, but the fact that you think my humor and his are akin makes my afternoon. I'll have to look up "Once a Week!" One can never have enough Milne-y.
Everyone Else: I am so glad my misery makes you happier. ;)

Hanna-col said...

Sheer brilliance, my dear Miss Heffington, sheer brilliance.