This Show Case features four pieces submitted in response to our thirty-fourth Writing Prompt: Hats off. You can see responses to each prompt in the drop down menu for the Show Case page. Try an item. They are all delicious. We hope they stimulate your mind, spirit, and urge to write. Maybe they will motivate you to submit a piece for our next prompt, which you can find on the Show Case home page.
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Oh! Wad to Her a Silken Gown?
by Mimi Speike
They move slowly along a brickwork path hugging the west wing of the manse. They’re practicing their step-pause-step-pause saunter.
Their first challenge is to get through the door. That problem is solved for them by a young woman pushing her way out, shrieking. “I will, Gigi. I absolutely will.Save your breath. You are not going to talk me out of it.”
Sly and Delly stand at the foot of the porch. The door is wide open. The way is clear, but for two young ladies, brilliantly dressed, arguing.
“Bunny, please. Your father will hit the roof.”
“Good! I hope so.”
“Your husband, it has to get back to him.” Phillip Sydney is gone for the week, showing an Italian acquaintance around Cambridge.
“Good on that also. Don’t you worry about Phillip. I don’t.” Bunny stamps a satin-slippered foot.
“Think of his standing at court. Remonstrate with your father, surely, but not here, not in front of guests. And none of it was Phillip’s fault. You will regret this, I warn you.”
Bunny is livid. She has good reason to be livid. Her cousin Margaret, with whom she’s never gotten along, has moments ago had confided, with malicious glee, a terrible secret. John Wickerson had spent the last two years in Marshalsea prison, and has just been released, handed a sum of money and sent packing, told never to show his face in London again.
“John, in the Marshalsea! On father’s orders, without a doubt! God knows how Large Marge got the information, but she was thrilled to share it with me, damn the slut. I wanted to sock her. Oh, she would have loved that! But I kept my head. I smiled sweetly. That silly infatuation, I told her, what a mistake that was. I am fortunate to be wed to my delectable husband, don’t you agree? By the way, dear, how’s your love life going?” Bunny is on the verge of tears. “John, in that hellhole! How could father have done such a thing?”
She notices Sly and Delly, feet away. “Oh! How absolutely dear! Whose doing is this?” She scans the adjacent greenery, calling, “Closette!” – expecting Closette, her lady’s maid, to pop out from behind a shrub. No one appearing to take credit for the joke, she turns back to Sly.
“I can do better for you than this,” she tells him. “Gigi! Run to my room, please. Fetch me down my jewel case off my dresser. No, wait. I’ll go myself. Do you dance, puss?” she asks, not expecting a response. Sly, held up by Delly, executes a jig-step. “Look! This darling boy dances!” She kneels down. “And what do you do, sweetheart?” Delly curtsies, one foot extended, wings gracefully spread.
This is a young lady with spirit. An only child, she’d been spoiled, allowed to have her every way, until she took it upon herself to contract a marriage, behind her father’s back, to one of his employees. That foolishness was shut down immediately. She’s six months wed to a suitable man, a Dudley no less, and the Earl’s heir, his sole legitimate son having died months earlier.
Her husband has his own tale of romantic disappointment. He’d fallen in love with Penelope Devereux, and she with him, but her father had deemed the Sidneys insufficiently well-set and looked elsewhere for a son-in-law. Phillip struck a deal with the father of a second young lady. That fell through when the man died unexpectedly. The third try was the charm. He finds himself hitched to a pretty, vivacious sixteen-year-old, but not the one with whom he’s deeply in love. Well, there are ways around that. (He’d taken Penelope, once she was safely wed, as his mistress.) His marriage to Frances “Bunny” Walsingham had been pushed by his uncle, the patriarch of the clan, to cement a political alliance. Phillip, by the way, is not here tonight. He’s off–piddling around Cambridge is the way she puts it, conveying resentment, but not outright accusations.
Phillip, though of an influential family, is poor as a church mouse (for a member of the near-nobility). He and Bunny share both Barn Elms and a London address with her father (who is none other than Sir Francis Walsingham). She’s been married against her wishes, to a handsome, charming, intelligent young man, but not he who’d won her heart. She’s known Phillip since her childhood. In the English Consulate in Paris in 1572, during the horrific events of St. Bartholomew’s Eve,1 he’d calmed and distracted her from the savagery unfolding beyond the walls of the compound. She’d thought of him as a big brother. He’d been a prize on the marriage market; she is widely envied, most especially by her cousins Margaret and Catherine Beale, pudgy, awkward girls, pathologically jealous of their dainty, graceful relative.
She’s content with her lot, it could have been a far worse pairing, but tonight she’s furious. She suspects the affair with Penelope Devereux, now Penelope Rich, that he’d sworn he’d put an end to, is still on the burn. She’ll sing tonight, as she does at these galas. She’d chosen a favorite tune, but she’s substituted a more incendiary lyric. She crouches down, takes Sly’s face in her hands, and whispers, “We’ll show these men they do not own us. We are not theirs to do with as they please, right, puss?”
He licks her nose.
* * *
Bunny’s up and back, her arms full of pretties. She’s singing. Long drawn-out notes come fluttering out of her lips:
Oh! Wad to me a silken gown, wi’ a poor broken heart?
Or wad to me a gemstone crown, gin frae my love I part?
She unleashes, from the depth of her being, a bitter laugh. “What can you do with that, m’darling?” she asks. Sly mimics the melody perfectly. “You are a marvel,” she squeals. “What might your companion do?” Delly adds her squawk to his yowl, creating an interesting harmony. Bunny is beside herself. “Oh! You are wonderful! You and Mistress Poule2 will accompany me, and, if you’re up to it, act it out. Watch, follow my example.” She demonstrates a dramatic pose.
Sly arranges himself in a tragic attitude. Delly portrays kind commiseration.
“Excellent. Ha! This will set Father’s teeth on edge. Phillip’s also. Six months wed and I’m already insulted. I’m a laughingstock! Tit for tat, Gigi. Fetch me out my harp! I’ve a new lyric. I’ll sing it to you. Here,” she tells Sly, “let’s gussy you two up even better. She holds out a small ruff. She opens her jewelry box, pulls forth a sapphire and pearl brooch, a wedding gift from Robert Dudley. “Here we go!” she hoots. “This will send a message. Every female in the both families has drooled over the piece. Tonight it’s worn by a chicken. That’s what I think of Dudleys just now.”
Georgina is back with the harp. An Irish harp is not the full-size instrument. It is strummed, cradled in the crook of an arm. A cat, of course, would deal with it in the classic fashion. Sat upright on the floor, it’s the perfect proportion.
The Irish harp had been one of the instruments Sly had mastered during his days with “Nipsy” Rawstorne, working London street-corners for tips. He’d picked the strings with his claws, easier than wielding a bow, though he was adept at the fiddle also, handling it as one would a cello.
Gigi had placed the harp on a bench. Bunny goes to reach for it, but Sly has taken beaten her to the punch. He picks out a tune that always brought a tear to his Mama’s eye, As I walked forth one summer’s day to view the meadows green and gay.
Beyond a boxwood hedge, Delly’s barnyard cronies promenade. As the performance ends, Frenchie rushes forth, bleating, “M’ hat’s off to ye, sir, for this rare enchantment. Right, ladies? Three cheers for a real fine gentleman.”
The sow and five hens join him at the foot of the porch, producing sounds that equate to, Hip hurrah! Hip hurrah! Hip hurrah!
- On August 23-24, 1572, St. Bartholomew’s Eve, began a massacre of French Protestant Huguenots. Starting in Paris, the savagery spread to the countryside and other urban canters. Modern Estimates for the number of dead across France vary widely, from 5,000 to 30,000. Francis Walsingham was the English ambassador at the time, and his family was with him in the consulate.
- Poule: hen, in French.
Hats Off to Hammie
by John Correll
Take your hats off to I. B. (Hammie) Wilberforce, companion, entertainer, finger biter, Master at the wheel, terrier’s tormentor, and hamster. Dorothy Dale, his faithful cleaner, discovered his mangled remains yesterday at noon.
“Poor little blighter, dead on the floor, he was. Cold as my dentures on an icy morning,” she explained, tears racing down her cheeks.
Within minutes, authorities apprehended the only suspect, one Cap Carnivore (terrier-shepherd-beagle cross). Mr. Carnivore, under no duress, immediately confessed to the crime, “He gave me the evil eye he did. I couldn’t take it no more. Can I grovel now?”
An immediate cross-examination and trial proceeded under his Right Honorable, Wag (Finger) Sternly, experienced Magistrate and minder.
“Mr. Carnivore,” Sternly started with his finger poised for pointed action.
“It’s Cap, your honorableness,” Cap corrected with his tongue dragging like overcooked spaghetti.
Sternly locked his thumbs into his lapels. “Right, Cap — you flung Mr. Wilberforce’s bookshelf perched home smack onto the ground, did you not?”
“No, sir. He pushed himself.”
“Pardon? Are you suggesting a five-ounce hamster pushed a twenty-pound cage?”
Cap thumped his tail on the floor. “I put my nose to his door and told him to stop with the eye thing, and he kept banging against the opposite wall like crazy. Then the house sort of tipped over. Sudden-like.”
The Magistrate raised his finger, then stuffed his hand in his pocket and snorted. “But, you confessed to the apprehending officer, the seasoned Sergeant Sternly.”
“You mean your mother, your Honorable Masterlyness?” Cap dripped slubber onto the floor.
“What? Yes, Sergeant Sternly. She said you had guilt written all over your furry face.”
“But, she shook her finger fiercely, and I kissed her feet, begging her to stop torturing me.”
“Her fierce finger?” Sternly examined his own appendage as if it were gangrenous. “Does mother do it better than me?”
“Oh no, Master, you’re much-much-more meaner.”
“Good. You remember that. Okay, the house fell, and you murdered Mr. Wilberforce in cold blood.”
“There was no cold blood, Master. Hammie lay stunned on the floor, and I picked him up, all gentle-like to put him back in his house, but the house was everywhere, and then the little monster bit my lip, and I instinctively snapped and tossed him in the air. So, actually, it was an accident, you see.” Cap spun around to bite his tail without success.
“An accident?” Sternly rubbed his chin.
“Can I grovel and lick your hand now?” Cap raised his paw and scratched Sternly’s knee.
“Stop it.” Sternly waved his hand, and Cap rolled on his back. “I’ll discard the neighbor’s rabbit accusation — for now. And, considering your meritorious record with rats and the lack of witnesses, it is the decision of this court to release you on the provision of never touching another hamster, ever.”
“But what about the evil eye? Those hamsters curse me to the core. Pure evil. Somebody needs to stop them.” Cap licked Sternly’s offered palm.
“Mother decided Wilberforce would be the last hamster. So, it doesn’t matter.” Sternly wiped his wet hand on his pants and patted Cap’s head. “Walkies, Cappie, old man?”
“I’ll never say no to walkies, Wag old boy.”
by SL Randall
I’m finding Darren to be a complicated character. He’s a big strong athletic guy, turned a bit paunchy by years in an office. He’s a bit of a blowhard, who masks his sensitivity and morals behind a silver tongue.
As I write through this, his cracks are starting to appear. I think Darren is headed for a morality check and will need to decide which is more important to him, pleasing Sophia, or giving in to his better morality.
I need to explore more of Darren and his inner conflict. I also think Dunia has tempered his baser instincts, simply because he admires her.
The First time Darren and Dunia meet.
Darren removed his ball cap, so he could look up at the young woman addressing him. Girl really, he amended the thought. “Yeah?”
“I was told I’d find the Adventravia tour guide in here.”
Darren took his eyes off the girl. These days, looking too long usually got you in trouble. He dug into his burger, ignoring her.
“Well?” she said.
He kept chewing.
She startled him when her palm smacked the table next to his plate.
“I’m eating,” he mumbled irritably through a mouthful of food.
She sat down across the small table from him and stared.
He kept eating. He was not going to let an annoying child interrupt his lunch.
“So you’re the guide then?” she asked.
He nodded. Clearly she wasn’t going to leave him alone.
“Great. When do we leave?”
He grunted, “Where’s your parents? We’ll go when they’re ready.”
“Mom’s dead, Dad’s an asshole. Neither one are here, just me and some friends. We came here to raft, hike and camp, not waste time dragging our guide away from his trough.”
He snorted. Despite her youth and irritating demands he was beginning to like her. He pushed that thought away, another avenue to trouble. He drained his pint and pushed his empty plate away. “Fine, get your mates, and your gear and meet out front of the office in twenty minutes.”
She stood up, and offered her hand, “Thanks, my name’s Dunia.”
He regarded the outstretched hand, then stood. Surprised by her grip he replied, “I’m Darren. I’ll be along shortly. I need to gather my own gear.”
He watched her walk away, straight backed and striding as if she owned the place. He wondered how old she really was, then for the third time reminded himself of the danger in that line of thought.
*** *** ***
Darren slumped into a plush chair in the executive men’s room. In ten minutes, Sophia expected to hear a report from his department. It all hinged on Dunia’s work. She had always been brilliant, but she also had a nagging sense of decency. He had admired that in her, but now it was inconvenient.
Dunia was right. He had changed. He no longer saw the world in the simple terms Dunia did. If he was going to survive in the corporate world, he had to let go of his principals. A loss he mourned if he allowed himself to think about it. Wiping sweaty palms on his trousers, he stood, straightened his tie and reached for the door. While Dunia could mathematically solve their problems, he had developed a smooth tongue. He could talk his way around Sophia. The problem was the acid in his gut. He knew they needed to produce a working model of verse jumping. He also knew it was possible. It had been done before.
Sophia’s father had discovered verse jumping many years ago. Then he and his wife had disappeared along with all his research. Sophia had been in her twenties. Their disappearance had been suspicious, which made Sophia look guilty. Adventravia had closed its labs for two years while the Feds investigated her. Finding nothing, they finally had to let her go on about her business.
By the time Dunia had her doctorate in Quantum Gravitational physics, Sophia was eager to get the labs working again. Darren’s silk tongue got them from guiding tourists to running the research lab, but it was Dunia who moved the research. The problem, they had reached a roadblock. Without Muwan Golas research, Dunia had to develop it from scratch. Sophia had been able to provide a few clues. What Dunia did with next to nothing had been astounding. Sophia, unimpressed, expected more. Always more.
The more Sophia pressed him, the more he turned pressure on Dunia. Now here he was, caught in between the two.
“Clowns to the left of me
Jokers to the right
Here I am stuck in the middle with you …”
Gerry Rafferty’s voice rambled through his head. His mirthless snort cut the replay short. It was time to make his own music and talk his way out of this corner. He opened the door and strode down the corridor to the conference room.
We Did It
by S.T. Ranscht
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