Thursday, 29 March 2012

The book club

"We have a question submitted to us!" Millicent Pede waved the slip of paper in the air like a flag.  She was standing on one of the small plastic chairs that the library put out for the children, and it was slowly deforming under her weight.  She wobbled gently.
"A question?" Suzie Fort adjusted her glasses, which were perched on the tip of her nose.  They barely clung now to the very tip, which was turned up very slightly and both lumpy and decidedly not straight higher up, a legacy of two decades playing rugby.  "Why would anyone ask questions of a book club?  We're meeting in a library, for pity's sake.  What moron didn't just ask the librarian?"
"Be nice!"  Millicent glared at Suzie, and Suzie tried to glare back, but realised that she'd adjusted her glasses to the point where she was seeing double.  To try and save face she took them off and started polishing the lenses on her lace cuff.  "Now ladies, I'm sure you're all dying to hear what the question is –"
"Harrumph," said Dr. Philbert, carefully pronouncing each letter in what he fondly imagined was a real word instead of an onomatopoeic rendering of the sound of someone clearing a clogged throat.
"You don't count," said Millicent.  The chair beneath her sighed and deformed until she was effectively stood on the floor again.  She tutted and stepped off the chair, which very slowly tried to pull itself back together.
"Ten quid says it's dead," whispered Dr. Philbert to Martia, the group's newest member.  She was a single mum of three and considered the book club to be her one opportunity to meet real people and have adult conversations every week.
"Fucking shagged," she whispered back, a touch of relish in her tone from using words she forbade around her children.  Dr. Philbert looked a little startled.
"The question, ladies," she said, pausing for effect.  The mangled chair farted a little as it tried to right itself, and Martia giggled.  "The question is: In which book can one find the character Arbutternot, and what is its species?"
"Do you mean Arbuthnot?" said Suzie, drawing her words out.  Her eyes were unfocused, and not just because of her glasses this time, and her fingers were twitching slightly as she thought.  "I seem to recall that there was a Duke Arbuthnot in Tis pity she's so poor."
"Was that a Selena Nightwich book?" asked Dr. Philbert. "I don't recall the character, but I'm sure I remember the book.  Was that the one with the bed of roses and the thirty-page seduction scene?"
"Yes," said Suzie, reddening slightly.
"Oh yes, I remember that.  That took all evening to get through, very tedious.  And just wrong, really.  Nightwich has no clue how to write a seduction scene, if I'd ever tried that one my wife when she was still aliv–"
"Well why didn't you?" Martia said.  They'd all heard all of Dr. Philbert's story about his dead wife, who had apparantly been the British answer to Mother Theresa when she wasn't confined to her sick-bed with gangrene.
"Because she's have been mortified!" said Dr. Philbert, his eyes opening wide and his eyebrows beetling around his brow in his excitement.  "My god, the very notion of buying a rabbit for her – and that's without letting the pet shop know what the intention is–"
"Not that kind of rabbit," said Suzie quickly, looking down at the floor.
"Look," said Millicent, her voice cutting over a discussion that seemed destined to embarrass somebody.  "We have a question, and it doesn't sound like we've answered it yet."
"What's the question again?" asked Martia.  "I mean, what's the fucking question again?"
Millicent eyed her with a beady eye, but said nothing about her choice of vocabulary.  "The question," she said, brandishing the paper in front of her, is... is...."
"Is what?" asked Martia, just as Suzie said, "Stop messing about Mill!"
"The paper's changed," said Millicent, peering at it.  "I can't read this."
"Look at the cat," said Dr. Philbert, pointing at a sleek white cat that was standing in front of the nearby wall.  "Where did that come from?"
"Oh let me see," said Suzie, holding her hand out for the paper.
"It's a cat," said Martia, sounding unimpressed.  "I had one for Christmas once."
The cat attempted to walk forward, and head-butted the wall.
"Cats are for life, not just Christmas," said Dr. Philbert.
"These aren't words, Mill," said Suzie peering at the paper.  "Where's the one you read out the first time?"
The cat bumped its head against the wall again.
"It died on Boxing Day," said Martia.  "Cancer, the vet said."
"Oh," said Dr. Philbert, a little taken aback.
"They've changed all the signs too," said Millicent looking around.  "I can't read anything in here today!"
As the book club looked around, and slowly realised that they'd all forgotten how to read, the cat walked into the wall again, this time passing straight through and disappearing.

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