Friday, October 12, 2012
Fifty Shades of Earl Grey
[With 13 For Halloween ongoing and the Winter of Discontent lurking around the corner next month to take this blog into some appropriately dark and nasty territory, here’s a satirical piece of short fiction, offered purely for the laughs.]
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a nascent writer in possession of a manuscript must be in want of an audience.
Thus it was that Miss Steele attended high tea at the Bennets’ and, without request or encouragement, gave a reading from her work-in-progress. High tea was a Tuesday afternoon ritual at the Bennets’ and before Miss Steele’s oration was half over, those foregathered began to entertain the not unrealistic fear that the weekend would be nigh upon them before she concluded.
To the great relief of all, fortune declared that this was not to be the case and Miss Steele gathered up the pages of her manuscript, performed a dainty curtsy and, pleading a prior engagement, disengaged herself with a cheery, “See you next Tuesday.”
The likelihood of her reappearance at the Bennets’ on this date was hotly contested following her departure. It was a matter of no great secrecy in the village that Miss Steele had been enjoying the attentions of a certain Mr Grey, a man of independent means and esoteric interests; a man who, despite his social standing and impeccable fashion sense, was rumoured to be something of a blackguard. Therefore it was suspected by all that Miss Steele’s narrative was a thinly fictionalised account of their folie à deux. Speculation was immediate that Miss Steele’s “prior engagement” was of an amorous nature.
Scandalous possibilities dominated the conversation and, when these were exhausted and more tea had been provided, discussion turned to the qualities – or otherwise – of Miss Steele’s prose. Elizabeth called upon Mary to hold forth.
“I’m mindful of the old maxim that if one has nothing good to say, one should be silent,” Mary offered.
“But, dear sister,” Elizabeth exclaimed, “you are the most widely-read and intuitive of us all. Please give us your opinion.”
Mary stirred her tea, took a thoughtful sip, and set her cup back upon its saucer. “I think,” she said at length, “that there is a breathless immediacy to it which never quite obscures the almost childish simplicity of the writing.”
“Simplicity?” said Kitty. “Your intelligence must far exceed mine, Mary. I do declare, I was quite confused by much of Miss Steele’s tale.”
“Truly?” asked Lydia. “I myself was quite captivated by it. What parts of it perplexed you?”
“To begin with,” Kitty enumerated, “I could not fathom how Mr Grey’s fortune was arrived at. Miss Steele seems to establish him as a man of business – something in the City involving acquisitions and paperwork – yet the manifold references to his erections suggest a career in the building trade. I cannot imagine a common labourer holding as much sway over a young lady’s affections.”
“Perhaps,” ventured Jane, the fifth and hitherto silent Bennet sister, “his company provides the wherewithal to those in the building trade.”
“Ah, a financier!” said Kitty. “That would make sense. It certainly explains Mr Grey’s preoccupation with contracts.” She raised her cup, then lowered it again as a frown ruffled the delicate skin of her forehead. “But there is much about the contract that baffles me. Why, pray tell, is the agreement between Mr Grey and Miss Steele. Surely she is too well-bred to toil with bricks and mortar on one of his building sites.”
“It was my understanding,” Mary explained, “that Mr Grey wished to contract Miss Steele for the provision of personal services. A secretarial role, dear Kitty. Have no fear, our Miss Steele is in no danger of getting her hands dirty.”
A polite titter ran around the room, each of the sisters trilling their contribution. Except Kitty, whose brow furrowed ever deeper. “On the subject of hands,” she persisted, “what is meant by Miss Steele’s disinclination towards fisting? I recall no contextual remarks which identify Mr Grey as a devotee of the pugilistic arts.”
“I can only assume it is a term generic to the building trade,” Mary replied. “Mr Grey would no doubt have picked it up from the labourers during a visit to site. Miss Steele was perhaps concerned that he might take it upon himself to engage in a spot of fisting with the bricklayers, perhaps in order to set an example to them. She would be right to regard such activity with consternation.”
Kitty nodded as if in understanding, but a hint of bemusement remained in her expression.
“I quite appreciate your perplexity, Kitty,” Mary continued. “Miss Steele does herself no favours with her misspellings and mispronunciations. The several uses of ‘anal’ had me quite concerned until I realised that, apropos of Mr Grey’s contract, she simply meant ‘annul’. Likewise the confusion of ‘cunnilingus’ for ‘linguist’.”
“I must confess, I am unfamiliar with either term,” Elizabeth admitted.
“Linguistics,” said Mary, “is the study of languages.”
“And of what,” asked Kitty, “is cunnilingus the study?”
“I am afraid the answer to that is beyond my expertise.”
“Whatever it is,” Lydia declared, “it’s certainly a tongue-twister!”
“But what of this ‘fellatio’? Miss Steele uses the term more than once.”
“An attempt at literary merit,” Mary sniffed. “She strives for artistic relevance by invoking a character from Shakespeare, but once more her ignorance betrays her. ’Tis Horatio she means, not fellatio.” She took a sip of tea and pulled a face. “Dear sisters, our refreshments appear to have cooled even more quickly than my tolerance for Miss Steele’s witterings. I propose we adjourn, the better to enjoy more rewarding pursuits.”
“I agree,” said Elizabeth, glancing at Jane who nodded her assent.
“I, too,” said Kitty. “I shall endeavour to seek out more easily comprehensible reading material.”
“I’d rather like to invite Miss Steele back,” Lydia said airily. Unbeknownst to the others, she had asked the authoress to place her on subscription list to receive forthcoming instalments. “I believe her work has a soupçon of potential.”
“Oh, Lydia!” Mary expostulated. “Surely not!”
Her sister nodded. “More than a soupcon, in fact. It wouldn’t surprise me if this devilish Mr Grey fellow didn’t have enough in him for a three-volume novel.”