In the Green and Brown English 1920s

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Two librarians share one goal: To destroy those around them. Can they do it...?

In the green and brown English 1920s, Donald Patterson and Arthur Medway based their friendship on the simmering fear that the one might eventually find success and outdo the other. Their bond had grown so sclerotically intertwined during two travelless, marriageless, childless lives that only the comfort offered by knowing one’s faithful bete noire is similarly immiserated kept each from hanging rope round a light socket. They had bonded over cynicism in youth and age was not mellowing their view of human beings.

Donald was a librarian at a provincial university and Arthur was a librarian at a provincial university and the two northern cities in which they exhaled their daily 120,000 breaths were, they wearily averred, indistinguishable in gloomy industrial tedium. Each was already stooping in his forties and they ate a lot of canned fish. Their homes were boxy semis fronted by minimally kempt gardens. Need I go on?

Any deeper analysis concerning the matters about which they lied to each other would have only made them seem more the same. Both drank upwards of a bottle of sherry a night. But while Donald shruggingly admitted a drink problem, Arthur only alluded to overindulgence, bullishly implying he had a handle on it. Elsewhere Arthur feigned asymptomatic disinterest in women whereas Donald talked of them as filth to be taken. Both men were virgins defiantly blotting out investigation of their real subcutaneous desires with upwards of a bottle of etc etc…

And so it went on, through years in which Donald and Arthur imagined that workaday passing exposure to all the world’s knowledge in hardback rendered them a species apart and above. Despite reading nothing other than hobby magazines and the wireless listings, D&A viewed the people they pedaled past on their basket-fronted bikes a simian herd better spat on than communed with. They belonged to that variety of librarian who can shush you merely by glancing up from its paper-reading task; and each reveled in being the kind of psychopathically impatient fusspot who really did say “yes, yes” before you got to the fourth word of your sentence. And that reminds me: each had made provision to be buried in their glasses.

What sustained Donald and Arthur on this rank odyssey to the grave was a mutual correspondence of, they trusted, world historical future interest. The letters they wrote to each other piled up in a convivial daily flow. When Arthur received Donald’s letter, he would write a response that evening, its prose worsening through the sherry, and post it the following morning. When Donald received Arthur’s reply, he would write a response that evening, its prose worsening through the sherry, and post it the following morning. The only break in the chain was the vagarious reliability of the Post Office, whose inability to get a lightweight item of first class mail between two cities 60 miles apart that share a bloody train line was final evidence of Bolshevik involvement at Westminster. Three or four 1st class stamps per week was an indulgence bringing much pain and rumination. And Donald and Arthur wallowed in miserliness as the misanthrope’s most quotidian opportunity to get back at the world. For the Post Office to then fail in meeting product assurances cost them sleep. But they had to go 1st class for reasons of ‘poetic rhythm’.

Donald and Arthur’s sole creative joy in this gloomy northern cycling canned fish librarian slog was their practice of co-composing limericks, taking turns adding the next line to an ongoing rhyme they were authoring together. Take their most recent exchange of missives…

Arthur,

I was much relieved to hear that your colleague –Margaret?- finally passed away. How lovely it must be not to have to suffer anymore those wretched interruptions offering a little cup of tea. We have a similar character stalking the holdings. It’s a man but it could easily be a woman. Do you know it actually whistles while it works? I have, countless times, countered its interminable cheerfulness with a dour stare but does it get the message?

No IT doesn’t.

I have therefore decided to destroy it. I burrowed down there when it was on its lunch and undid a month’s worth of map collation. Later that afternoon, I just so happened to drop by with an urgent need for a diagram of the 17th century Balkans.

“Back in a tiddle,” it superciliously chirped.

I sat calmly and flattened out a copy of Stamp Monthly, knowing what was coming. In due course it returned, feigning fluster, its bald head shining purple.

“Is there a problem?” I said with my eyebrows.

“Strangest thing,” it queried. “They seem to have…disappeared.”

Not true, I thought. Not true at all. They are stuffed randomly in the stacks.

“It’s very important,” I said. Arthur, I did try not to smirk. You will just have to believe me.

It turned away and you know when a person enters panic mode and knows it really ought to take action and heads off with determined gusto but has no idea where exactly it is going?

It STUMBLES.

At this point, my laugher was audible.

“Never mind…” I kind of sang, thus informing it that it had let me down again and its career in librarianship was going down like a Fokker in 1916.

I bet it couldn’t sleep that night.

Yours,

Donald

There was a spastic priest from Greece

 

And in reply:

 

Donald,

I too was kept awake: wondering how you may further destroy it. A number of delicious notions took hold of me so vividly that to dream of Violet Farebrother herself that night would have been no thrill by comparison.

I took the liberty of undertaking a dry run operation of one little tactic you might venture to try yourself…

Amongst the crustaceans that cling onto the underside of our ‘organisation’ is a young fool named Thomas whom I despised from the moment he invited me to “just call me Tom”. Of course, I have since flatly, loudly, and curtly addressed him as Thomas, sometimes Mr Thomas if he gets too far out of his box or, I don’t why, if the library air has been putrefied by the smell of broken wind. Thomas has been at least smart enough to never let it show that it bothers him, which it does. It does…

Young Thomas is a snooper. Always seems to be there. He is too informed, he notices everything. So following the Chinese practice that one should always use a person’s greatest strength against itself, I decided to start a rumour that would inevitably and speedily find its way to Thomas as surely as chickenpox does through the immunity of a child from Hull.

Oh, did I tell you Donald, we have a telephone now? It’s the most marvelous contraption. You can be heard speaking on its ‘receiver’ by those around you, but the voice at the other end of it cannot. I held it to my ear at 12.59 awaiting the punctual Miss Lewis’s dour return from lunch. She then heard me speaking on this telephone:

“Yes, she passed away. So sad….no….no, not at all. Well, if anything we are overstaffed…” Miss Lewis was hanging her coat up much more slowly now.

I paused and threw in a couple of ‘oh dears’ so pifflingly defeatist that they must have halted her digestive process.

“Well there is one young man…yes…less than a year…I shall think about it…Good day.”

I turned around.

“Miss Lewis. I didn’t see you there.”

By 1.04 the broad smile humanizing Thomas’s face had been replaced with the look of a rouge-wearing vicar opening his call up papers.

Sherry tastes wonderful tonight, Donald, wonderful!

Ever,

Arthur

Who yearned for priestly release

 

Arthur,

We too have a telephone! In the main I use it to say no to other libraries.

Another marvelous fact of its existence is that you can use it as a kind of ‘intercom’ device, as the Americans call it. Thanks to your promptings –you should really be someone in the uppers of the Strategic Planning Office, Arthur- I have taken to calling our little bald creature in the basement bi-hourly at exactly 13 minutes past to make a request I know he cannot fulfill. The library building is now entirely and happily free of that careless whistling that sounds to me like a madman’s commentary on life. I do so hate cycling past it each street morning. (Someone should invent a contraption for listening to music to through headphones!)

 

But this is mere taunting. It seems you have entrained a process that might result in the complete subjugation of an underling to your every desire. Keep him twisting Arthur and keep me informed.

Tipping a glass,

Donald

He renounced his vows

 

Donald,

One of Thomas’s duties is to keep the staff room religiously span and spic. It is our sole repose from the lonely smells that make themselves known through requests to borrow. It is not just I but Miss Lewis and the others who desire a clean and fresh staff room. Its door is always open. It is where I can get down to a really detailed look at the wireless listings and occasionally reread your heartwarming correspondence. It is the ideal space, most sacrosanctly, in which to consume a sandwich.

And so when I summoned Mr Thomas to its entrance he might have thought that I was going to ‘share a cuppa’.

I was not.

“Thomas, you know how your duties in this library include in addition to sundry book stacking tasks the cleaning of this little staff room? Hmm? Well what is this?”

I indicated with a sweeping arm the interior of the staff room, more a dingy cubby hole really.

Thomas and I both looked from floor to ceiling and wall to wall for some imperfection. Not even a mote of dust could be seen.

“Sir?” he said. I looked away, drew in sharply a quart of breath, and pointed at the bottom of the door. I then brought it forward to reveal a single spent match that had been –ahem- discarded under its sill.

“What is that?”

I believe, Donald, it is called a trap.

In two days, I have successfully rimmed from his soul the entire stock of Thomas’s confidence. Interestingly, I saw him on the phone twice that afternoon, possibly seeking new employment or bleating about his rotten stinking luck to a relative twice the mannequin he is.

In capital fettle,

Arthur

Wearing two terri towels

 

Arthur,

You are a goldmine of callous treats! Introducing the world of random objects into our little project was such an astounding chess move that I spent half this morning sending baldy on futile trips to floors de higher, then sneaking into his den to move his personal effects about ever so slightly. He returns each time to find his glasses case on a different surface, his ashtray on the floor, his coat hung on a different hook, etc. I am now noticing in him a haunted glazed distraction, the kind someone with a terminal condition might display. I do hope this critical loss becomes permanent and he is unable to meet and marry.

 

But do spill spill spill the beans of Thomas’s conversations!

Non ducor, duco

Donald

And changed his name to Maurice

 

Donald,

I do not like the way Thomas walks. It is among the countless aspects to his humanity that one of those new fangled steam rollers could iron out in hot tar at little expense to morality. It irritates me like a midge buzzing around a good supper of brined mackerel.

And so I addressed it.

“Are you alright, Thomas? You’re leaning.”
He had no idea what I meant. But by the time he had seen me observing his lower left side every time he passed in the aisles, Thomas had developed such an insecurity of balance that its overcorrection eventuated in him -yes- leaning. He now walks like someone practicing for an aneurism.

 

By the way, I earwigged a telephonic ‘chat’ young Thomas was having (ON LIBRARY TIME). Nothing of interest to relate. I surmised that he was conversing with a publisher, probably about new stock, although he did call the man by his first name, an impertinence I might have to pick him up on the next time I frighten him. Never ever miss the opportunity to undermine a male who shares the same space, Donald.

 

Thomas delenda est,

Arthur

I once met an Irishman from Cork

 

 

 

Arthur,

You win! You win!

I tried the “walking funny” approach on one’s basement baldy. The problem is that my persecutionary gambits have achieved such universal results that I have rendered the oaf just about completely incapable. He stares into space, rearranges books he has just arranged, and is altogether so egregiously clumsy that Wodehouse would reject him as an idea for a character. The only place he could possibly work is a library.

So I have decided to leave him alone until precisely that moment wherein I espy evidence of recovery. That is when I will return him to the doldrums. It appears I am in need of some fresh distraction.

 

In need of some fresh distraction,

Donald

Went begging for potatoes in New York

 

Donald

I have your fresh distraction needs met, Donald, I have them met!

For I bring intelligence that goes, in the round, a long way to proving that the devil does indeed fashion his works with alchemistic top-hole.

At the outrageously early hour of 10.30am, Mr Thomas, still with countless morning shelf duties to complete, was to be found immaturely confiding in the telephone receiver like a three year old conversing with a shell. He was, I discovered, again addressing this publisher by his first name and I had had quite had enough of that. I approached at him like a ‘Bright Young Thing’ would a country party: with haste and ulterior motive. You know me, Donald. Impudence in the young enrages me like those petitions to extend the franchise to anything sentient over the age of 21. But the damned funniest thing transpired...

“Limericks…?” I heard Thomas say. I halted my advance.

“I’ve never written one myself, Terence. Good luck in your search. Bye bye. Yes, Bye…”

“Library business, Thomas?”

“Oh, er quite, Mr Medway. Terence is…”

“Terence, Thomas?”

“Yes, you see Terence works at the publisher that deals with our scholastics editions. Actually, he’s my cousin.” The plot seemed to be thinning. But then my life and yours, Donald, were about to change with indubitable indubitability.

“He doubles up as the company’s poetry commissioner.”

“You writing poetry now, Thomas?” Thomas laughed nervously.

“Oh no. Not at all. I can’t help him with this commission.”

“And why’s that?”

“The publisher wants to release a book of limericks. Apparently they are making a comeback. Jazz, silent movies…the people of our era like short form entertainment, so he says…But they can’t find authors...”

Within ten minutes, Thomas had informed his delighted cousin that a manuscript of uncollected limerick verses would be on his London desk by the morning (I just happened to have a typed up copy of our scribblings and a first class stamp about my person) and I had started calling Thomas, Tom.

I went with the title,

Limericks for a Roaring Age,

By Arthur Medway and Donald Paterson

Having met your need for fresh distraction,

Arthur

He found spuds and acclaim

 

Arthur,

It is indeed a strange world in which an object of playful spite would turn out to be a cog in the machine of our socio-preferment. I was so elated by this happy little tiding that I completely forgot to ruin the day of the moorlock below.

By the way, I love the title. It encapsulates perfectly our insincerity and prescience. I don’t doubt that publication is assured (all history’s greatest works have ‘found’ their way to publication rather than being thrown relentlessly at it).

I have but one obscure point de difference. Having read and reread the full frontispiece appellation, I can’t help but feel its overall internal rhythm, its euphony, isn’t better served with a reversal in naming.

Limericks for a Roaring Age,

By Donald Paterson and Arthur Medway

Purely you understand to maximize poetic effect.

In a state of tish and fipsy,

Donald

So all his relatives came

 

Donald,

But of course it was accepted for publication. And the news only gets better. My little liaison Tom said his cousin called to confirm purchase before lunch, having read only half the collection. Of course, Tom selfishly recommends we use his cousin but I am entertaining the idea of unleashing a bidding war amongst the major publishing houses, all of whom are dreadful little grubby Israelites interested purely in the bottom line. I shall demand 11% for hardback and FIFTEEN for paperback. There is talk of pre-release press interviews, BBC radio interest, champers with various men of state…

 

I put sleep-costing consideration into your suggestion re. the title arrangement, but have decided to stick with my original. Something to do with the alphabetic pre-eminency of Arthur versus Donald. The publisher will surely insist on that anyhow.

Yours,

Arthur

Now America’s stuffed with O Rourke’s

 

Arthur,

We live in an age where it is still possible to come across men of capable literary judgement. Such figures are essential if the straight arrow of history is to continue its ascendant flight to civilizational finish. And such men will without hesitation want the aristocratic nomenclature of a ‘Donald’ –in Spain, ‘Don’ is placed before the name of any among the ruling class- before the pre-modern mythopoeic child’s nursery rhyme figure of an ‘Arthur’.

You understand it is nothing personal, my old friend. It is simply a matter of the taste our parents had in choosing names for their sole child.

Yours,
Donald

There once were two men who knew

 

Donald,

At this stage, it is difficult to tell whether your persistent dreary need for authorial prominence is a satiric creation of fiction or the paranoid twittering of a man who eats pilchards over stained copies of Model Matchsticks. I spent an entire ten seconds last night debating whether to tell you that Tom says the commissioning editor picked out a selection of what he considers to be our best seventy five limericks and SIXTY THREE of them were written by one Arthur Medway, or whether to grant you your stupefying CUNTISH wish just to send you into senescence with some semblance of having been alive. Ultimately, I decided to do neither and shall, for the last time (‘my old friend’) remind you WHO all this is thanks to and HOW that grants me rank over SOMEONE whose 12 scatty rhymes will see light of day only as second billing on the front cover.

Arthur

Honour and riches were their due

 

Arthur,

Let’s proceed from the starting point that you are a middle aged virgin who openly admits to a drink problem and work backwards, shall we?

Now.

Do you still retain that broad collection of Victorian ‘naturist’ photographs you once implied might be of interest to the police force? Dear boy, when pulling rank informally it pays not to have formal means by which the lesser rank might strategically fuck one. So let us put this whole business onto a friendlier and more rational frame. We have known each other for what, some 35 years man and boy. Though it is true we haven’t met in person for the last 25 of those I am willing to believe that your hidden alcohol intake is not so chronic as to render you numb to the risk of accusations, arrest, and arraignment on charges of possessing material that might harm the morals of the young bottomed.

For the last time: change. the PISSING order. of authorial acknowledgement.

Donald

They finally found fame

 

Donald,

I have been up all night. It is the first time I haven’t slept since excitement at the arrival of a model steam engine had me sitting cross-legged by the front door for twelve hours straight. This time, however, I did not spend the dark hours deciding whether to place a toy on the mantelpiece or kitchen table. I have been, most sadly, figuring out how our life worn friendship and respect could have, in such short order of time, transformed from an ever fresh bowl of alpine water into steamy nothing.

And over what?

A few boisterous rhymes clacked out after an evening’s dry sherry. The shock at how rapidly we descended into wolverine competition has shaken me into the realization that you, Donald, are the reason I live. As the sun rose this morning, I could taste a single salty tear that had cleansingly made its way from a duct I’ve spent too many years kept powdered dry. It emerged when I realized that I love you, Donald. The letters we have shared over these decades of world tumult and private moldering are the external heart which pumps meaning and light and reason into the organ of my private conscious. Without them, I would have hung a rope round a light socket in 1908, 1913, 1919 and, Donald, this year.

I ask only one favour. And it is this: please, Donald, if you don’t share the depth of my love and the same genre of attraction for me as I do for you, please do not judge me to be some lonely aging fool finally twisted into desperate perversion. At least grant that what I tell you is true and not new. That tear was a visitor bringing communication that I have felt this way for 35 years.

My last living hope is that you have felt the same way.

Arthur

PS. I instructed Thomas to withdraw rights to publication of our limericks. The giant rock between us is no more.

Is not a question of name

 

Arthur,

This will be my final piece of correspondence. It will be my final piece of correspondence between us and it will be my final piece of correspondence ever. It will precede my penultimate lifetime act, which shall be to leave my home, walk my short drive, open and close my garden gate, and post this final piece of correspondence. That penultimate act will precede my final act. For I shall then walk from the post office box on Hirebrook Road to Hirebrook Lake, fill my mac with heavy rocks from its shoreline, and walk into the water until it covers me completely. Then I shall sink to its bottom and stay there.

You have, Arthur, caused a disturbance in the mantel of my core that has set off a very long dormant volcano. The strength of the molten lava’s release is such that I cannot control its trajectory of destruction. You have Pompeiioed me, Arthur. You have drowned me in the fire of regret. Of course, I always loved you. But it was so much easier to continue in sherry and sardonic mail than in sincerity and sentiment, both of which I have also wasted 35 years suppressing.

We will never get those years back, Arthur. And I cannot face that pain.

Donald

PS. Please do not suffer. You made me happy for one day.

But whether a liaison is true

 

Arthur missed the post that morning, cycling to his new life like a diligent maid late for communion. In the mid-morning, Arthur approached his colleague, Thomas, incapable of holding back a need to discuss the limerick collection, a need possessing him like a craving for opiates. Thomas was in the staff room, ostentatiously dropping matchsticks onto the floor.

“Oh, er, Tom,” said Arthur, ignoring the deliberate littering. “Glad to have caught you.” Arthur’s tone with Thomas since Thomas’s cousin had agreed to publish his limericks was one of polite interruption, so noticeably obsequious that Miss Lewis no longer even bid Arthur good morning.

“What do you want?” asked Thomas.

“I…have…these limericks for your cousin, for Terence. There are 13 among those that he has chosen which my co-author has suddenly and quite unaccountably decided to withdraw. He is, if truth be told, an unstable man. So instead I would ask you to offer him these in lieu.”

“Put them there.”

Arthur lay his slim additional manuscript on the desk, literally backed out, and avoided Thomas’s eye all afternoon.

Then he went home and wrote a letter declaring his love for Donald in the knowledge that he, Arthur, would, as a consequence, never hear from Donald again. That night, Arthur, due to persistent trembling symptoms, drank considerably more than usual. He arose early the next morning and sped to the library on his creaking, basketed cycle, not noticing the whistles and gruffness of “the industrial people”.

In the staff room, he picked up a dozen spent matches spread under the door sill and waited for Thomas. Thomas arrived half an hour late and slung his coat over Arthur’s chair. Arthur really had to say something now. Miss Lewis was enjoying this too much.

“Now, Thomas….” he began.

“Oh do shut up Medway. You know I liked you more when all you said was “yes, yes”. You’re no good at feigning humanity. We’ve all read your letters.” Miss Lewis raised a cuppa to her mouth and looked levelly at Arthur.

“What do you expect, leaving them open on the desk in the staff room.” Arthur looked like he’d seen his pet rabbit shot by a crossbow. He slumped into his chair, right onto Thomas’s coat. His brain sought not to understand the words that came out of Thomas’s mouth.

“Do you mind if I call Terence, Arthur? Can I use the library phone, Arthur? It’s the most marvelous contraption. You can be heard speaking on its ‘receiver’ by those around you, but the voice at the other end of it cannot.” Miss Lewis laughed out loud, a noise Arthur hadn’t heard since the last Christmas party, a one drink event Arthur allowed to continue for nearly an hour.

“Yeah, I’ll call Terence the publisher. Maybe he’s got news of pre-release press interviews, BBC radio interest, champers with various men of state…” Now both Thomas and Miss Lewis cackled obscenely. It was some great release of pent up disgust and Arthur knew the totality of his life was in becoming the object of other people’s hate.

 

“Margaret was my auntie. She raised me,” said Thomas finally.

Arthur stood and left the library. He cycled home paying no attention to the parping vehicles and ringing bicycles. Arthur found Donald’s letter on the doormat, took it to the kitchen table and sat down, needing its contents to save his life. He read it. Then he poured a mug full of sherry, laced it with industrial-proof neuralgesic anapeptoid, drank, and, four minutes later, slumped forward, his last tear seeping onto the table, where he died.

 

And that is how Donald Patterson got Arthur Medway to kill himself.

 


Submitted: November 24, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Laisheng7. All rights reserved.

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