A Wodehouse Triptych
by Snowden Wright
Biddies in the Belfry:
A Blandings Co-op Tale
On the walk past her neighbor’s door, Ms. Sarah Livingston heard him ask his visitor, “What exactly did you witness Jehovah doing?” That was the moment she fell in love with the bloody devil.
She had always referred to him in her mind as 5D, an epithet that remained after her mind was struck cupid. 5D was a looker. The blue of his eyes did to Ms. Livingston’s sensibilities what Nantucket’s rhyme does for any number of limericks. She grew positively vulgar in his gaze.
Under a certain pretense Ms. Livingston arranged to meet with 5D at their local coffee shop.
Thankfully he seemed grateful rather than outraged when the discussion ran astray of the ecological sustainability of their building. “Green” was not something Ms. Livingston gave a trifle about being “gone.” She gave out her statistics piecemeal—the occasional drinking game shy of 30 years old, an Ivy League education disguised by slap bracelets—to which he reciprocated in kind.
One thing more annoying than people who talk about the weather are people who complain about people who talk about the weather. The same is true of people who still live with their mothers. Ms. Livingston kept mum at the mom revelation from 5D.
“It was supposed to be temporary, to help her settle in to America,” he said, “but English is still a problem, even with the tapes I got her last year.”
“I can wait,” Ms. Livingston should have said, “to meet her.”
At the time of their introduction, Ms. Livingston realized why she had never seen Motina 5D, for she was what agoraphobics would call a bit of a shut-in. The woman was not so terrible. She had layers. Beneath her bitchy exterior, for example, there was an even bitchier interior.
Resident of Vilnius, Lithuania, for all but three of her 72 years, Motina 5D seemed to think, depending on one’s interpretation of her sour-cream-smeared blynai of an accent, that Ms. Livingston either looked like the Pole who broke her third cousin’s heart or was, in fact, the Pole who broke her third cousin’s heart. The loogie she expectorated into Ms. Livingston’s hair shared similar dimensions to the European nation that had produced said temptress.
So it came that aloft the zephyr of her repulsion Ms. Livingston escaped apartment 5D with naught but a look into the wake of her departure. These days, whenever they pass in the hallway, Ms. Livingston glances at those baby blues of 5D, searching for the arched, bleary look of mourning. She knows that soon enough the old bat will pass.
An Adventure on Wooster Avenue
His name was common in Russia, like “Bob” but with a sickle through it. Russian Bob had the build of a California Ted. His long frame was upholstered in slack muscle. The inflection of his motherland on everything he said was as potent as snowcone juice. On the sidewalk outside my dry cleaners that day, who would not have wanted to lick his words?
Naturally, it is rare for me to pick up my own dry cleaning, but my man, whose refusal to call me “Sir” had provided the initial provocation for my nicknaming him after his British counterpart in fiction, said it would do well for me to defy, on occasion, my stature as a trust-funded gentleman. Sometimes I think he may be my only friend.
“Why is it you call him this,” Russian Bob said after hearing the story, “if it is not his name?”
“It’s complicated,” I simplified. “Like perestroika.”
On our arrival at my house, a somewhat modest affair of decidedly immodest repute, I gave a tour to Russian Bob, showing him the baseball-card room, the pog room, and the comic-book room, at which point we were interrupted by a cough, its brief report like a paintball struck, from my man Jeeves. “Dinner for two, I presume,” he said. “Any preference of cuisine?” To make our guest feel at utmost ease I asked my man to please get Russian Bob some of that soup named after the belt.
“My name is Boris,” mumbled Russian Bob.
After dinner we retired to the bedroom, where, as the pale streetlights of Wooster Avenue shown through the window, we gave the world an eyeful. It is not unknown to me that straight men prefer certain features of their lovers to bounce. I prefer mine to flounce. Russian Bob was as engorged as a windsock in a gale and flopping around just as erratically. With that kind of method acting how could I have known he was a spy sent by my father?
The man who provided for my living, you see, had never given me much of a damn. Jeeves was the closest thing I had to a father and my father is who I have to thank for my figure. Yet, due to recent murmurings about a campaign of the political sort, he had begun to stick his patrician nose in my affairs.
Luckily the old fool was inept. My landline he bugged, par example, though not my mobile. As such, I saw no reason to suspect the man who, as I drowsed, slipped surreptitiously out of bed, walked through the house on tippy toes, and quietly logged on to my laptop.
“Vandal! Thief! Harlot!”
Shame on anyone who says my man Jeeves does not know how to sound an alarm upon finding a naked Soviet with his thumb drive wedged in my USB. In a trice I had reached the ground floor, bleary from the rousing, forced to blink the sleep from my eyes what better to see my butler, a man of some years, whapping the bristle end of a broom on the head of a naked, screaming pillager of digital privacy. They continued their pantomime of a circus act all through the house, knocking over stemware in the dining room, jumping across a wingback in the living room, until I had the brilliant notion to open the door and, as one would a bird, shoo the naked gentleman out. I stared at the lunar eclipse of his buttocks as he ran away.
At my side, panting from the exertion, Jeeves came to halt, sweeper of dust and queens in hand. “Fret not, sir,” he said, the first time for him to address me as such. “The charlatan is kaput.”
I wanted to hug him but instead hedged the affection by draping my arm around his shoulder. There in the doorway open to the avenue, listening to the pitter-patter of shoeless feet, I asked, “Do you think he was actually Russian?”
Whenever you have a choice, my man Jeeves told me in his fake British accent, err on the side of wonder.
A Drones Coffee Shop Chronicle
Kingdom came on a bright day in August. She just knew that man would be the death of her. It was not because of his looks but rather because of whom he looked like. In the coffee shop, Tabitha Pilster could have sworn the man sitting at table five was an absolute live ringer for Sheldon Knight, unsilent “k.”
She realized her mistake only moments after making it. That man was no mere lookalike of her favorite writer.
“Mr. Knight, I just wanted to say what an honor it is to meet you,” Tabitha said to the author of Nickel for Your Thoughts, Sounds like My Cup of Earl Grey, and Summertime Foliage, bestselling comic novels about the haut monde of 1920s New England. She went on, “I’ve been a fan of your work ever since I was a little girl.”
“Are you still a little girl, or are you my waitress?”
“Oh, um, yes, I am. Your waitress, I mean.”
Before she could ask his order he told her to bring him a latte. Tabitha made her way back behind the counter of the coffee shop, so perturbed, crushed even, that she did not notice the winsome smile from her manager, Thomas. His was the especial look of a young man so smitten as to be smote by the continual lack of a return on his love. Attempting to play the cool customer as he ignored an actual one, Thomas asked, “That guy at table five being a pill?” but Tabitha was busy drawing something, he couldn’t tell what, onto the cosmic surface of a latte. She walked away shaking her head.
It was a drawing of a coffee cup. As she placed the drink before Mr. Knight, Tabitha wondered if her artwork were too meta for a writer the New York Times, in their review of his latest work, had dubbed “a mainliner of comedy into the vein of realism, America’s junkie of genre.” Mr. Knight blew into the coffee cup, thereby shattering the drawing of a coffee cup and, simultaneously, rebuilding the fourth wall.
Despite her misgivings about the possible responses, Tabitha peppered Sheldon Knight’s 60-year-old, unshaven visage with questions, hoping to gain insight into his process. To “Why did you become a writer?” he responded, “As the French cow says, ‘Moolah!’” To “Why do you pronounce the ‘k’ in your last name?” he responded, “I am most certainly not one of the shining-armor variety.” Her subsequent quietude provoked a question of his own. “How about you bring me a go cup, we get out of this droll excuse for a coffee shop, and I take you to my pied-a-terre, where, pardon the aforesaid loanword, you can blow me like a Nintendo cartridge?”
Tabitha’s verbal response, as yet still percolating in her mind, found physical manifestation in the stream of scalding hot coffee that landed on Mr. Knight’s lap by a miscalculation in footwork, the result of a crack in the floor tiles every staff member was aware of, made by the manager Thomas.
“My word! I’m so sorry, sir. Here, let me dry you off. There, there.”
After exclaiming a few more loanwords from other tongues, ones for which he did not beg pardon, the besodden author left the coffee shop, threats both physical and litigious reverberating with his exit. It was almost closing time by that point. Owing to misappropriated guilt Thomas told Tabitha she was welcome to leave early. He also offered her a gift, a paperback found, the previous week, at a sidewalk book stand. “If you like Sheldon Knight you’ll love this guy. Knight’s been stealing from him his whole career,” Thomas said. “It’s amazing no reviewer has ever picked up on it. Guess some people can’t see what’s right in front of them.”
Tabitha flipped through the book and said aloud the author’s last name. Thomas did not have the heart to tell her she had mispronounced the first syllable.
Snowden Wright is the author of the novel American Pop, chosen as an Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance and for the “Discover Great New Writers” program by Barnes & Noble. He can found here.