#FlashFiction: Project Gutenberg inspired stories

A day with Ludwig Beethoven

Bob was a writer.  One of these days he was going to make it with his own stuff, under his own name.  Any day now.  Any day.  But for now, and indeed for the last couple of years, he’d made his living as a ghost writer.  Or, to be strictly accurate, as a ghost composer.  Ghost writers were two a penny, even the best of them, but Bob really was in a league of his own.  We’re not talking about the in-house composers who delivered up jingles or incidental music or, Heavens preserve us, muzak.  No, Bob provided high-class material that would blend seamlessly with existing scores.  Perhaps a last minute edit needed a whole new piece of music and the original composer was no longer available, or someone wanted a piece of music that sounded like it could have been by someone famous, albeit an obscure and forgotten one, but couldn’t afford the fees to get something kosher: Bob would be there to help you out, via the dozen or so people who knew how to get hold of him.  And then of course there were the people who thought they could compose music, but really couldn’t, or who were a genius in one genre, but were about to lose a hard-won reputation by attempting something completely, as they say, different.  Bob would be there.  It didn’t matter if it was as simple as a spit-polish to a piece that was nearly there, but not quite, or starting from scratch on something that was never going to work otherwise.

Bob was also unusual in that he was a ‘method composer’.  When working in the style of one of the greats, he would adopt their practices in order to help him enter the spirit in which they wrote their original pieces.  There were several jobs that he had on hand at the moment, but the most pressing was that of one to be completed in the style of Beethoven.  Normally Bob would have allowed himself a week to acclimatise, but there really was not enough time: he threw himself into things whole heartedly. He finished off the piece that he was working on with a flourish and set it aside to review once the new ‘Beethoven’ was safely away to the client.

Properly he should have a housekeeper to truly emulate the great man, but that was out of the question in the modern world, and so he would just have to prepare his meal himself as usual.  Supposedly Beethoven favoured something akin to macaroni cheese, and whilst Bob fretted slightly that his recipe was not truly authentic, his own recipe was more than acceptable, and so he got on with it, and ate it with some grilled sardines and some runnerbeans picked from the garden.  This he ate accompanied by a generous flagon of – cold water.  Supposedly his desire for water in copious quantities bordered on a mania.

Bob checked his notes, and allowed himself a brief pause, before setting out on a brisk walk into the country.   Living on the outskirts of Milton Keynes in the 21st Century was…different to what late 17th/early 18th Century Vienna and the rural environs must have been like, but a country walk is a country walk.

A light supper, a philosophical treatise, vaguely related to the commission,  and he felt equal to the task.  As he headed to bed rather earlier than usual, his last job of the day was to count out exactly sixty coffee-beans.

He woke at dawn, ground the coffee beans, made coffee, and picked up his pen.

© David Jesson, 2019


The Englishwoman in Egypt

“Blast!” Jonathan swore under his breath. Freshly back from a period of home leave, he’d been about to pop over to Tristan’s, only to find a messenger from the Consulate at his door. Seems they’d had an urgent chit about an Englishwoman said to be in some distress who lived just a couple of roads over from him, so could he look into it … sharpish.

Hastening to the address given, Jonathan could hear the commotion as he approached, and broke into a run. He had to push through a number of weeping and wailing women before he could reach the door where two men were struggling; it appeared one was attempting to gain entry while the other was holding him back.

Using his best parade ground bark, Jonathan shouted for silence. Much to his surprise, the noise did reduce, and the men stopped fighting … if only for a moment. Sadly, their attention was only re-directed, as each and every one started shouting at the top of their voices … this time, at him. A few more barked out commands and the shouting subsided to a muttering.

Deciding that he would hear what they had to say in strict order of age seniority, Jonathan briskly introduced himself and instructed the most elderly woman present have her say, having first sternly instructed all, especially the two men, to hold their tongues and wait their turn.

It didn’t take long to hear the sorry tale. They were members of the same family; the family of the man attempting to gain entry to the house who, they all insisted, was having an affair with the Englishwoman within. The man in question repeatedly and with increasing desperation, declared otherwise. Jonathan took notes, obtaining full names and addresses of each person (information which was reluctantly given) before assuring them the matter would be dealt with by the British Consulate. He then firmly escorted them off the property.

When all but the man in question had moved into the street, the door opened and Jonathan got his first sight of the Englishwoman. Valerie stood framed in the doorway, her long honey-coloured hair tied back with a vibrant scarf. Tall and broad, she shook his hand firmly before shoo-ing them both into the living room. Jonathan introduced himself and briefly explained his mission. Using surprisingly colourful language, Valerie expressed her frustration with busybodies, do-gooders, and people who leapt to conclusions, all in rapid succession.

“My husband … he died … after a short illness a few months ago” Valerie took a deep breath and surreptitiously wiped away a tear “and I’ve not known what to do with myself, especially as I’ve been unable to paint since it happened. Then I had a letter from Tristan – you know Tristan Dawes, right? He’s an old friend who’s been terribly kind. When I told him about being unable to paint, he suggested a change of scene might help and invited me to stay. He was right, I took to Egypt like a duck to water, so he helped me find this place soon afterwards.”

“And …?” Jonathan, waved his hand casually in the direction of the other man.

“Ah yes, of course as a lone Englishwoman in Egypt, I can’t wander freely as Tristan does, so he introduced me to his friend Nasser to act my chaperone. Sadly, Nasser had a road accident a little while back which left him with a brain injury and has struggled to return to his old job, so this seemed to be the ideal solution for us both, until …” Valerie’s voice tailed away as she gestured to the front door.

Nasser started to apologise over and over again about the behaviour of his family. He was clearly deeply distressed by what had happened and Jonathan could see by their body language that while both were grateful the arrangement worked, there was no inappropriate relationship there. Jonathan believed them and promised to intervene on their behalf.

Having instructed Nasser’s family to attend a meeting the following day at the Consulate, and after issuing a stern warning they would be held responsible for Nasser’s physical safety, Jonathan returned Nasser to the bosom of his family and went back to Valerie.

Pouring them both a gin, Valerie tucked her legs up underneath her on a comfortable divan and started to talk. She’d arrived during the three months Jonathan had been on leave. At first she’d sketched a lot, figures mostly. She showed Jonathan some of her work, and he made a mental note to enquire if any were for sale as soon as was polite. Sketching in charcoal, her strokes gave that same impression of movement contained in Tristan’s watercolours. Jonathan commented as much, which caused her to clap her hands “oh goody, that’s exactly what I was trying to achieve, but I’m useless with watercolour!”

Uncurling, she invited him into her studio. The room was dominated by a large figure in oil which had the same sense of movement and vibrancy as contained in her sketches, and this time Jonathan didn’t hesitate … “Can I buy it?”

© Debra Carey, 2018

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