Humpty Dumpty Redux

A dodgy or non-existent internet connection, a lot of admin problems and numerous children’s events coming up… so not the most conducive time for subtle analysis of books I’ve recently read. Or even not so subtle. Instead, here is a quick workshop exercise we did recently with the lovely Isabel Huggan: retelling the story of Humpty Dumpty from a different perspective.

 

No time to enjoy one’s oats around here. The siren shrieks again. And again my rider rushes into the stall without so much as a ‘by your leave’ or ‘pardon’. Bridle twitching, he advances cautiously: he knows nothing puts me in a bad mood as much as an unfinished lunch. But I am a well-brought up thoroughbred. He fills me in on the details as he tightens the girth of the saddle around my tummy, still half-empty.

‘It’s that fool Humpty again. He’s been climbing in places where he’s got no business going. With the usual disastrous consequences.’

I neigh sympathetically as we get ready to gallop to the site of the shameful event, but I feel weak with hunger. There’s no one else to send, though, not since they cut right down on the King’s human and equine resources department. Will that egg never learn?

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Lilac Passing

It was the first summer she was allowed to go to the seaside by herself. She was working as a guide, so there were still rules and timetables to conform to, supervision and rebukes to endure. But the clothes were uncensored, the lipstick was hers to wield. She could laugh loudly and often, she could dance as if no one was looking. Her light no longer concealed by the well-meaning protective shade of her parents’ bushel.

One dazzling older man painted her portrait. He sprinkled praise as liberally as his colours.

‘You’re not quite ripe yet. Not yet at the peak of your beauty. Give it another two or three years and you will be truly unforgettable.’

So she waited for her irresistibility to commence. All year she lived in preparation for that delicious delirium, like the lilac bush in her parents’ garden at home. The green leaves so bland to casual onlookers, but she knew it was expectant, ready to burst one day into intoxicating flower.

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By the end of the summer, she’d met the sensible young man with a future ahead of him, the kind of man her parents had always craved. By the following summer she’d persuaded herself that this was her dream too. They got married, setting up a tiny home in a capital city that was much too expensive for them. She worked three jobs at once and still their money ran out mid-month, while he pursued studies which would carve out that promising, tantalising future. In her rush from night-time proofreading to early morning classes, from private lessons to the vegetable stalls at the marketplace, from cooking to cleaning to washing to bill paying and housewife-playing, she forgot to check for her bloom in the mirror.

She made a modest name for herself, a tiny bud in a scholastic tree of excellence. Invited to study abroad, she worked even harder: to fit in, to catch up, to keep up, to maintain the respect of those who funded her. There was no more room for housewifely contortions. Her marriage withered on the stalk. She sought refuge in the life of the intellect. She scraped, she scrabbled, scoured and swept, till she rebuilt a small nest fo herself in that new country, new language, new group of friends.

Then, one day, she looked up. She paused just long enough to catch a glimpse of the person in the mirror. The lilac bush had grown blowsy, the flowers curled up with frayed brown edges. The scent was now tinged with the onset of rot.

She’d blinked and the flowering was over.

This was written as an exercise at the Geneva Writers’ Group on Saturday morning. We were discussing metaphors taken from the natural world. Did I tell you what a wonderful bookish Saturday I had? Literary workshop in the morning, going to the theatre with my younger son in the afternoon and then a poetry reading in the evening. Days don’t get much more inspirational than that.