Monday, 10 August 2009

A Russian Tale

Amid the creped curtains, voile panels, and tumbled sheets of the dim bedroom lay the body of Richard Madelesky, the famous poet, lover, and orthodox onion impresario. His lithe form arced gracefully once as he scratched himself awake. Then, further roused by the sound of the day, he rolled over on the mattress and opened one eye. The letter’s edge smiled at him from the adjacent pillow.

‘What is this?’ he said aloud as he took the crisp parchment between his fingers and turned it carefully around. ‘Oh you fool! You wretch! You scoundrel! Surely, it is only a note from my dear wife, Judi. That is all. No need to sound the alarm. Dear me! What would she say if she heard you talking to yourself naked and alone in the bedroom?’

With excited fingers, he pulled apart the folded sheet and read the few words written there in the hand of his one and only: ‘The world would be happier if men had the same capacity to be silent that they have to speak.’

A faint terror gripped Madelesky as he recognised the quotation from Spinoza. He swung his legs from the bed and stood, wondering if the message could really be from his wife. They had been married many years and, in all that time, never once had she left a letter upon his pillow quoting Spinoza.

A minute passed and then two. His mind raced. What could the letter mean? At this point he resolved to ring his old friend, Bill Oddieski, who had once advised him in the matter of V. Singletoni’s turnip whisky. Surely he would know what to make of the message.

The phone rang five times before the bearded voice answered. ‘The Oddieski residence.’

‘Bill, it is your old friend, Richard Madelesky. I fear some terrible thing has happened!’

‘Ah! This is not the story of the geese that have already migrated to Nova Scotia? Just last week I paid 75 roubles for geese pellets and now the geese are gone!’

‘Ah, you blockheaded dunder!’ cried Madelesky. ‘Does the whole world revolve around your geese? I have just woken in my bed to find a note on my pillow. It is written in Judi’s hand.’

‘Then what did this paper say?’ asked Oddieski. ‘For I know what kind of man you are: always fearing what is not there. You are like the Snowy Owl who hides at the slightest creak of the barn door blown by the first gusts of autumn.’

Madelesky read the note aloud to his friend who tutted his disapproval.

‘I’m afraid I cannot help you,’ said the old owl warden and amateur spoon musician. ‘Your wife, Judi, is playing tricks with you, my friend. I want no part of it. Do not call this number again.’

‘But Bill,’ cried Madelesky, his hands shaking as he held onto the telephone, ‘I fear this is some omen. I am a wretch. Oh, how my life is ruined! I must have said something out of place.’

‘All men say things they live to regret,’ replied Oddieski. ‘The hardest thing is to work out what it is you have said and to make things right. Now goodbye. I must go. My tufted grebes are calling me.’

The phone clicked and Madelsky stood motionless for a moment before throwing the receiver to the bed. What did his wife mean by this cryptic message? He could bear it no longer. In a matter of minutes, the curtains were open and Madelsky stood in his finest Sunday suit; the elbow patches worn by many a dry sermon, the knees thin from unanswered prayer, and the jacket pockets gummed with broken fragments of the fruit sherbets that had once given much fizz to his faltering faith.

On the landing, he paused to listen to the sounds of the old house. A radio played somewhere and he suspected his wife was in the kitchen.

‘What am I to do?’ thought Madelsky. ‘Has Judi grown so tired of my bed that she seeks the words of Spinoza?’ He crept slowly down to the kitchen door and opened it slowly. He had intended to spy upon his wife in order to judge her mood but, seeing her with her head stuck in the oven, he burst into the kitchen and supplicated himself upon his knees, on her linoleum still smelling of Cillit Bang.

‘Oh, Judi, you have left this piece of paper upon my pillow and it has given me grave concerns,’ cried Madelsky. ‘Take your head from that electric oven and tell me what’s wrong. You have so much to live for.’

His wife lifted her head from the oven, where she had been admiring the smell of her newly baked squirrel meat buns. As she looked at him, her face tore up the sunlight. ‘Oh, Richard,’ she cried, a smile rippling her cheeks like it was a damask fabric. ‘That was not a note but the bookmark from Andy McNab’s “Immediate Action” that I finished reading last night.’

Madelsky crawled to the kitchen chair as he felt tears relieve him of his burden. ‘A bookmark? But I thought I had upset you with something I had said.’

‘Ah,’ replied his wife, ‘you have been reading too much Chekhov. Not all things have the significance of the small apparently insignificant objects you find in Russian literature. Here, have a squirrel bun...’

But Madelsky could not touch the bun. For there, burned into its light fluffy crust where the singed tail slightly poked through, he was sure he could see the face of a Snowy Owl. And he could not tell his wife that on his cheek, he thought he could feel the first draughts of autumn.


Rattling On said...

Judochka is a wise woman indeed, and knows there's more than one way to skin a squirrel.
As for you, a bit of angst never did a man any harm. Think what it'll do for your song writing.

hogansgoat said...

Next week, in his brilliant Goethe parody, Madeley, in the kitchen with Judy while she prepares the squirrel sweetbreads, discusses his Faustian pact with UKTV.

Uncle Dick Madeley said...

Rattling On: sadly I am all angst at the moment. I'm told that a squirrel will do that to a man when mixed with Judi's raw potato vodka.

Hogansgoat: I'm more inclined to parody Milton. We have an apple tree in the back garden and I believe Ronnie Corbett still has the snake costume he wore in the second series of 'The Two Ronnies'.