#FlashFiction: Project Gutenberg’s Birthday

The Lathe and Its Uses

Half-term had rolled around once again and, whilst some traditions were starting to creak under the strain of Toph’s departure for university, some would survive for at least a little longer.  The family trip up to Town was the first time the family had been together in six weeks or so, and whilst Toph didn’t get half terms any more, he’d peeled himself away from his new friends and made a flying trip back home for the first weekend of his younger brothers’ break.  His siblings had tried to pretend there was nothing special about this visit, but they never missed an opportunity to fish for information.

One of the traditions of this trip was that it was an opportunity to start thinking about Christmas shopping.  An early thought, without a shadow of a doubt, but one which they had become accustomed to from an early age, their Mother taking them to find presents for their Father and vice versa.  Eventually they had become more self-sufficient in this regard, taking the opportunity to at least start thinking about what they might get each other.

This year, Toph was planning on sending gifts to a few of his school friends that had scattered around the country, and also to a few of the friends that he’d made in this first few weeks at university.  Toph had an easy going manner that meant that he was easy to talk to and there were many that would consider themselves to be his friend, but he was cautious about those he thought of as close friends.

Jonno had headed off to a little art shop that he knew, one that specialised in niche supplies: no doubt he would be following the trend of recent years and making his gifts, although how he would fit this in around coursework for A levels and starting to build a portfolio for a new exhibition was anyone’s guess.

Tom by contrast, was sticking close to his older brother.  He was, by turns, attempting to impress with an adolescent emulation of his brother’s laid-back cool, and then forgetting himself and talking excitedly about his plans for the next cricket season and everything else going on at school.  They were heading, with their father, to an old haunt.  Toph had been rather surprised by Tom’s renewed enthusiasm for the book shop.  A couple of years before it had seemed as though he was growing out of it, but seemingly out of nowhere, a trip to Town was incomplete without a visit to the establishment that had claimed a lot of their father’s spare cash.

Toph would neither have confirmed or denied his own love of the venue.  Despite the brisk trade the shop did, somehow it remained a quiet haven with good quality books of various vintage to suit a range of pockets.  Eighteen months ago, Toph had found a book that set him on his path to university, for many reasons this had been so momentous that he hadn’t returned.  Today Toph had a vague notion of picking up something for his Father for Christmas – potentially risky, but usually a good bet, especially if you kept the receipt – and perhaps something for one of his new friends.

As was always the case with Toph, once he decided what he wanted to do, he set out out to achieve it. Quietly, without fuss, but inevitably: he had decided on Mechancial Engineering, and his school efforts were turned in this direction.  Whilst nowhere near as rare as once was the case, the number of girls on the course was a minority.  Whilst only six or so weeks into a four year course, there was one girl that he seemed to keep on crossing paths with.  They’d joined a couple of the same clubs, seemed to share an interest in changing the world.  There was even a pleasing symmetry in that she was the eldest of three sisters, so they were able to commiserate on a life lived as the trailblazer.

Toph did not have anything particularly in mind as he wandered around the shop.  He moved his legs slowly and his head quickly as he scanned the titles on display, pausing now and again to take a book down and look at it more closely.  He was just about to pass by a little table with a tasteful display of books, when a white haired old man beckoned him over.  The man seemed familiar for some reason, but Toph couldn’t plase him.  It wasn’t clear if the man was an employee or another browser, but he apologetically asked Toph if he would mind helping him – the book he wanted was at the bottom of a pile.  Toph helpfully picked up the pile of books and the man retrieved the one that he was looking for. As Toph put the pile back down he noticed that the book on top of the pile was called “The Lathe & Its Uses”.  Perfect.  It might seem eccentric, especially to others on the course, and perhaps even to her.  Hopefully though she’d take the time to think about what it meant to him and why he was giving the gift.  She was a friend he valued, and whatever else happened, he hoped that wouldn’t change.

© David Jesson, 2019

Adam & Eve & Pinch Me

“Cheers! Good to see you Tristan”

”Welcome back Jonathan! Good home leave?”

Tristan was newly returned from a trip up country, scouting out new subject matter, and Jonathan had returned from a lengthy home leave a couple of weeks previously. Both were delighted to find the other ready to slip right back into their old habit of weekly suppers. Jonathan had suggested he kick the routine off to give Tristan’s boy time to get unpacked and re-provisioned following their lengthy trip.

Long glasses of gin & tonic having been poured in preparation for Tristan’s arrival, ice was rapidly added, and they’d taken up their customary chairs on the terrace while supper was prepared. A fairly lengthy exchange of news updates followed of both life back home and local goings-on, before Jonathan edged his way round to a more delicate topic of conversation.

“The aged parents went totally to town this visit, absolutely determined to get me settled down. Kept going on about not allowing the name to die out – all dreadfully dull.”

Tristan was quick to detect that his friend was rather underplaying things and, raising a quizzical eyebrow asked “And …any interesting prospects?”

Seeing a slight flush cross his friend’s neck & face, Tristan took a long slow sip from his glass to cover the smile, which he guessed might be a tad too knowing for the younger man’s comfort.

“Most were re-runs from previous visits, although why they thought I’d change my mind wasn’t at all clear.”

“Not that many single young women from the right social background I’d hazard a guess.”

“Quite so. There were a few who were new to me, but they were awfully young – barely out of school for goodness sake. Nice enough in truth, but you’d not bring them somewhere like here to live – far too naive.”

Tristan nodded in response and sipped his G&T, waiting for Jonathan to continue his tale, for he was sure there was more. His young friend was a remarkably adept diplomat, but in matters of the heart, rather less so.

“It was all getting jolly awkward till my sister stepped in, persuading the aged Ps that she could really use my help at her charity project in the East End.”

“Oh? I’d no idea your sister was involved in good works.”

“Yes indeed, found religion some years ago – hence the parental desperation all heading in my direction. Not only will the name die out, but they’d be absolutely bereft of grandchildren unless I … “

“Ah yes, I remember that particular burden – all the weight of history that comes with old family names.”

“That’s where I met her ..”

Jonathan glanced carefully at Tristan to check for any reaction, but Tristan was careful to keep his face carefully arranged.

“Yes …?”

“Not what the aged Ps wanted of course, but I’ve left my sister to persuade them of the good sense in accepting my decision.”

“Well, well, well – you’ve made a decision then. Are congratulations in order old man?”

“Yes, I suppose so. We’re not actually engaged – not yet anyway. Not till my sister persuades the parents, but we do have an understanding.”

“Forget all that stuff – do you love the girl Jonathan? For if you don’t, you mustn’t mess with her feelings!”

Jonathan went very quiet, so quiet that Tristan feared he’d struck a raw nerve.

“I do actually, most awfully in fact. To be honest, if they don’t agree, we’ll marry anyway. It’ll mean being disinherited and the title being conferred on some distant cousin, but … well, that’s the understanding we have. Pa was getting himself into a terrible stew convinced she was simply after the money.”

“It’s understandable … it does happen.”

“Yes, I realise that. But when I told her I’d been disinherited already, she just shrugged. I had a letter this morning saying she’s booked passage in June. She’s said she’d like to get to know Egypt, but she’s adamant she’ll not marry anywhere other than in London with all her family present so that’ll have to wait till my next leave. Here, let me read you a bit of her letter: Ma and Pa are really pleased about our news. Billy – he’s her younger brother – is too. He keeps saying “well, would you Adam & Eve it” and “Pinch Me” every few minutes. I think Pa’s getting tired of the broken record.”

Do you think she’ll be able handle the snobs at the Embassy Jonathan? The women can be especially unpleasant about anyone they consider to be not the right sort.”

“She’ll do fine. It’s a rather amusing tale actually. You’d not know she’s from London from her accent – you’ll see when you meet her. She sounds just like my sister actually, most probably as they went to the same school. The amusing bit is she benefited from one of the scholarships set up by none other than my aged Ps!”

“Would you Adam & Even it indeed! Cheers & congratulations to you old man!”

© Debra Carey, 2019


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