Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Per version

Janet O'Steen, Ireland's foremost logodisciplinarian cracked her boiled egg open with a silver teaspoon reserved especially for the purpose.  It just felt wrong to use anything else to open hard-boiled eggs, and when, on holiday once, she'd had to watch a retired Colonel carefully slicing the top off with a knife, she'd run screaming from the breakfast room.  The next day she'd been met at the door to the breakfast room by a woman with more muscles than the female of any species should possess and steel grey eyes who suggested that she should eat breakfast in her room.  Alone.  She levered the cracked fragments of shell from her egg and let them fall onto the plate below, nudging them into a tidy pattern with her finger.  Once the shell was right she could salt her egg and finally eat it.  It was often cold by then.
On the table next to her were the pages of the eighteenth chapter of her current novel, which she was revising.  The first page was already covered in notes in a blue pencil in a cramped hand, with words moved, replaced, and on occasion excised with force, holes torn in the page.  Most of the notes in the margin were about the novel itself, but now and then a note would simply accuse Janet of stupidity, cupidity and other words ending in -idity.  She'd written them all herself.
The novel concerned a young woman whose domineering mother refused to let her marry a Navy Captain because all men in the Navy were known to be Sodomites, Gomorrheans, Syphilitic and Decadent.  The young woman, who Janet wanted to call Janet but suspected that this would cause comment from her critics so had called Malice for the nonce, felt that her mother was overgeneralising a little, but could not bring herself to disrupt the social order and stand up for herself.  Her father, a gentle man who ran a grocer's shop and sold short measure to everyone, was suffering from Alzheimer's, though no-one in the time the book was set had heard of such a disease, and was generally considered to be an idiot, not least because he rarely recognised his wife or his daughters.  As his disease, and the novel, progressed, he began to do odder and odder things because he couldn't remember from one moment to the next what he was supposed to be doing.  He would regularly wash his hands sixteen times, forgetting as he turned the tap off that he'd already washed them.  His wife considered him to be suffering from perversion, with a desire to be more holy and devout than her, and so redoubled her own efforts, going to church so often that the vicar thought that she was stalking him.  He began to seek out ways to avoid her, which led to her believing that her husband was conspiring with the vicar to condemn her to hell and so she began to seek out evil wherever it dwelled, expecting that she would necessarily catch the pair of them plotting against her.
Malice, surrounded by the insanity of her parents, continued to wish that she could step away from her parents and go and accept the love of her Navy Captain.  However, in chapter 17 he took another wife, accepting his rejection by Malice, and deliberately picked one that would have to annoy her.  In chapter 18, despite her numerous revisions, Malice encountered the Captain for the first time after his wedding.
"I married a woman," said the Captain with a supercilious smile.  "She's got everything you could look for in a woman, and the word No crosses her lips so infrequently that I would swear she's the friendliest, most helpful woman in all Christendom.  I should thank you more, Malice, my dear.  Without you I would never have been driven to the Singaporean Entertainment venue where I met my sweetheart."
"You were in Asia?"  Malice was surprised, and a little concerned.  Was it possible that mother had been right and the Captain was indeed a Deviant?
"Of course," said the Captain, smiling again.  "I was posted there for fourteen weeks this last year.  I took the opportunity to buy a necklace of pearls for my sweetheart, something that she could wear while she was performing.  It was hard to find anything that she would be permitted to wear."
"I had heard that the women of Asia are very hairy," said Malice who had heard no such thing but was trying to make conversation.  She thought that maybe mother had told her than the vicar had said such a thing as she chased him into the belfry to ask him about the use of the Communion Wafer for curing rashes in the nether regions.
"Perhaps some are," said the Captain looking a little taken-aback.  "I'm sure that they're very warm at night though, and who wouldn't want that from a woman?"
Has he married an ape? wondered Malice.  He was still tall, impossibly handsome, and appeared to still have all his own teeth.  "I would very much have liked to come to the wedding," she said, thinking all the while that she'd have liked to have been there as the bride.
"Oh, I don't think so," said the Captain dismissively.  "Hardly a place for a chit of a girl like you."
Janet finished her egg and finished reading that line.  It wasn't really abusive enough.  Perhaps the Captain could slap her about a little for her impertinence in wanting to come to the wedding.  Split her lip maybe, or mildly concuss her.  Yes, concussion would be good.  Her father could find her and assume that she was a street-girl laid out after an altercation with a client and pack her off to Bedlam.  Then her mother would find out and fear for her own safety, so refuse to go after her.  Writing eight chapters in a madhouse would be rather easy, and would serve Malice right.  She could eventually persuade the doctors to let her have a visitor, which would of course be the Navy Captain who'd been looking for her ever since she'd disappeared.  She'd confess her love for him, and he'd confess a love for his cabin-boy and that his Singaporean bride was in fact a complete fiction and they could enter into a loveless marriage together.
Janet paused for a moment, realising that she was radically rewriting the novel, and then shrugged.  Logodisciplinarianism wasn't easy, but it was worthwhile, she was sure of that.  Now, she thought, how could she punish Malice's mother a little more?

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