Monday, February 20, 2006

Not Three Hundred Pounds

This is a story I wrote on 19.2.2006 early in the morning. You may have met these characters before if you had read some books or seen a play.

A girl and her younger sister were living in lodgings in London. Their housekeeper had allowed them to buy tickets for the raffle for a well-known Learning Disabilities charity. Well-known, that is, except to their mother, who after the recent overseas trip, had conkered out, to put it politely.

The housekeeper lived in West Dulwich, not so far from Willesden, where both their mother and the charity were. She allowed the girl to look through her special draws which contained photos of school, Father Christmas, et cetera.

'I won't let you down, Mrs Frawley,' the girl said.

The housekeeper was busy reading the article the two sisters had written of their time overseas. It was for a magazine of Chelsea and ex-Chelsea art students, like their mother had been.

'I know you and your sister will make a child very happy. Did you find the three pounds, my dear?'

The elder sister showed the money she had found.

'The tickets in this raffle are a penny a ticket, so you should come home with a big prize,' Mrs Frawley said.

The younger said, 'I thought the prize was for the children. If it isn't - if we get something - we must share it with our littlest sister.'

'Monsieur le Docteur said,' the elder said, 'that people with learning disabilities don't know or understand the value of money.'

If their mother had been well, and in presence of all her faculties, she might have said, 'Not all of them,' or 'Perhaps that is true.'

But it was Mrs Frawley and she said,

'How dare you!'

The elder sister was pulled up with a start. She was filled with pride, and tried to ignore the housekeeper's censure at her contemptuous attitude. The housekeeper was disturbed at what she saw as the elder sister's insouciance, in which she saw a pernicious attitude which might infect the younger sister. The two might have lived in a university town eighty miles out from London for the past three years, but that made it all the more improtant that their heads be magnamious and filled with pious charity, particularly to the vulnerable.

The younger sister hung her head in shame. She was far too shy and sensitive to get most of the scoldings.

'Yes, Mrs Frawley.'

'I meant - does your precious Monsieur le Docteur know the value of money - or even what he is talking about half the time?'

Monsieur le Docteur's purchase had been embarrassing. It consisted of ponies for his children - five of them - a swimming pool for his wife who often had sharp reproving things to say to the elder sister, like the housekeeper - and a big red car for himself.

'What largess, what bounty!' their mother had said.

The doctor's wife replied: 'I wish he had spent the money on a modest family holiday such as the one you just took.'

'That was paid for out of my long service leave,' explained their mother proudly. 'My former art teacher was more than willing to pay.'

'That is the soul of true generosity,' the doctor's wife pontificated.

'Madame -' the elder sister said with a sudden inspiration, 'you have more experience of that than me, seeing as you went to his lectures. Weren't they famed for carrying a certain amount of gobbledegook, just to throw the weaker students off, as well as those with no general understanding of the English language? Mother said they were the final straw in driving her mad.'

The younger sister interrupted and said, 'He never talks to us that way when we have a tummy ache, or a temperature. He's nice then.'

'It isn't exactly not being nice, it's just that people have different languages for different situations. I can translate and interpret. That's the first waystation to be - '

'You will not allow me to talk you out of trouble. Write out three hundred times - Because God gave me a functioning brain - '

'Did not, it was Stephen Hawking and cosmology. Or Charles Darwin and evolution. I love you, Mrs Frawley, but sometimes you can be far too fundamentalist for your own good.'

'God created the world in six days, and he made Adam and Eve and the snake, and Eve got tempted by the apple and that's why we get our periods!' the younger sister said.

'I'm glad at least one of you is listening in Sunday school, even if she is not taking away the intended message. And I would have thought a few months in a Roman Catholic country would have taught you better.' the housekeeper said as the elder sister covered her prepubescent body, the last bastion of modesty she had.

'Most Eastern European countries are atheist. They are atheist because they are communist. Karl Marx said himself that religion was the opium of the people. What I don't understand in this God gig is why he allows suffering.'

'He allows suffering because he allows sin, and he allows sin because human beings have free will,' the younger sister said.

'I hope you respected the customs of the country you visited, which in practice is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. You attended a christening, for instance, and you would not have dared to commit a blasphemy.'

'Of course I respected their customs,' the elder sister said. She was humbled by the regalia of the christening, though she respected her own Holy Trinity, which she paid allegiance to. 'May he communicate meaningfully, socialise appropriately and conduct himself in the behaviour expected of him in an English public school.'

'You would be better praying for a wider Europe, a broader mind and a deeper emotional insight into the world's problems,' the housekeeper said, showing her insight into the girl's probities and priorities.

'Indeed, I would be. Thank you, Madame. What was I thinking?' the elder sister said, unnecessarily humbled (she felt) for the second time that day.

'Did you read St Thomas of Aquinas?' The girl shook her head. She had read a lot at the age of ten, but not this author. Perhaps in a more consistently religious upbringing, or a stronger intellectual grounding, she might have encountered him much earlier.

'No, but I see what you're getting at. I did read Aristotle. He talks about a First Cause or a Prime Mover. I hope that is satisfactory for your purpose, even though it may not be congruent with the beliefs you are trying to inculcate in me and my sister.'

'Did Aristotle believe in an impersonal force?' the housekeeper asked.

'I suppose you could interpret the First Cause as a personal god,' the elder sister conceded. It felt good to fight some of your battles aided by naught but a fierce intellect, but you had to be kind to your friends, otherwise they wouldn't argue with you anymore. In her heart, the elder sister was generous-spirited, especially tho those who acknowledged there were bigger things in the world than themselves, and deeper mysteries underpinning it. She must read some more of Aristotle so she could answer her honestly - she did not appreciate fudging, in any context.

Don't feel bad if you can't answer any of the questions. Have a go.

1 POINT for each of the sisters' names (this includes the younger one). and also one point for their ages - particularly the younger sister's age, which isn't stated directly.
1 POINT for the university town they live in normally.
1 POINT for the overseas country they had their holiday in. (Watch especially for the Communist-Catholic thing - this may trip some people up).
1 POINT each for the name of each of the doctors' children.
1 POINT each for the future careers of the elder sister and younger sister.
1 POINT for Monsieur le Docteur's specialism.
1 POINT for what links Stephen Hawking and Charles Darwin (for example, the education institution they both attended).
1 POINT for the charity the sisters are raising money for (hint: the charity may have changed its name between the time of the story and now).
and last of all 1 point for the year the story is set in.
Maximum score: 15 points.

Au revoir and good luck!

And even if you don't get the questions in the challenge, enjoy the story. I may write some more to it, particularly the outcome of the charity.