Fiction: Crumpets at Breakfast

Jenna Mohl, BFR Staff

Mr. John Crumpet and Mrs. Victoria Crumpet were in the middle of breakfast on a dreary Saturday morning. Mrs. Crumpet was regaling her husband with delightful tales of social scandal, while Mr. Crumpet read the paper, tugging on his whiskers whenever he read something that vexed him, which was often.

“And then she spilled wine all down the front of Mrs. Butterston’s white dress! Isn’t that quite shocking?”

“Hmmm…yes. Indeed, dear. Quite shocking” answered Mr. Crumpet, without looking up. “Damn idiots, the lot of them” he muttered under his breath, in response to a particularly offensive article.

Mrs. Crumpet smiled as she buttered a piece of toast. “I daresay she won’t be invited to another one of their parties, which is really no loss in my opinion. She’s terribly dull.”

“Indeed, dear.” Mr. Crumpet attempted to eat a bite of egg but, as he was not looking at the table, completely missed his plate. He let out of a hum of surprise when he raised the fork into his mouth and it yielded no delicious results.

Mrs. Crumpet, taking note of her husband’s inattention, watched him over the top of her teacup. She daintily wiped her mouth with her napkin, before saying, “It all has worked out quite splendidly actually. I didn’t invite her to our party next week and was beginning to feel rather bad about it.”

Mr. Crumpet nodded his head, muttered a few “indeeds”, and took a sip of tea.

However, suddenly he began to choke. Coughing, Mr. Crumpet put down his paper and sputtered, “What do you mean our party?”

But Mrs. Crumpet, who had become very interested in the appearance of a snag in her lovely lace tablecloth, was conveniently prevented from answering by the arrival of their maid, Matilda. Matilda had served Mrs. Crumpet for years and was utterly devoted to her.

“I have a letter for you, ma’am.”

“Oh, thank you, Matilda!” Mrs. Crumpet clapped her hands upon receiving it. “Look John!” She flashed the letter towards him in such a way that would have made it impossible for anybody to actually ‘look’. Mr. Crumpet, unfortunately, could not have looked even if he wanted to, as he was still choking on his tea.

Mrs. Crumpet took no notice of the hacking coming from the other end of the table. “It’s from Lady Garda!” She opened the seal and scanned the contents of the letter, with Matilda standing just behind her chair.

Mr. Crumpet, by this time having fully recovered from his coughing fit, ventured to try again, “What do you mean—” Mrs. Crumpet held up a finger as she continued to read and Matilda shot him a silencing look.

Incredible, thought Mr. Crumpet. I am to be subject to the glares of a servant! However, worried that Matilda might see his face and know his thoughts (for though Mr. Crumpet would never admit it, he harbored a fear of his wife’s maid), Mr. Crumpet lowered his gaze and focused on a piece of bacon.

Mrs. Crumpet finished the letter and placed it next to her plate. “What does it say, ma’am?” said Matilda, at the same time Mr. Crumpet demanded, “What party?”

Mrs. Crumpet ignored the query of the latter and said “Oh! It’s wonderful news, Matilda! Lady Garda is coming and she’s bringing her two nieces with her!”

Mr. Crumpet tried to follow. “Bringing them where? Here? When?”

Matilda shared in her mistress’s excitement. “Yes, but I’m afraid we shall be short on gentlemen then, ma’am.”

“Quite right, Matilda. Perhaps I could send an invitation to the…”

Mr. Crumpet’s mouth opened and closed, like that of a fish; he watched helplessly as the conversation (and his money, for, knowing his wife, it would be no small affair) flitted further and further away from him.

Finally, he slammed his hands down on the table and thundered “Victoria!”

Matilda and Mrs. Crumpet ceased their chatter. Mrs. Crumpet waved Matilda out of the room. As she closed the door, Matilda gave Mr. Crumpet a reproachful look.

“You should not shout so, dear. It’s bad for your health,” said Mrs. Crumpet, once they were alone.

Mr. Crumpet took a breath and with effort, lowered his voice and spoke very slowly. “Victoria, my sweet, what is going on at this house— our house— next week?”

Mrs. Crumpet laughed gaily, as though this were the most hilarious question in the world. “Why, we are having guests over for dinner and dancing.”

Mr. Crumpet gave his wife a look of utter indignation and began to tug at his whiskers. “Am I to find out this way about a social gathering in my own home? A mere after thought?”

Mrs. Crumpet rolled her eyes. “Oh don’t be silly, dear. I told you about it weeks ago.”

“You most certainly did not!”

“I most certainly did!” said Mrs. Crumpet, color rising to her cheeks.

Mr. Crumpet leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms with the utmost dignity. “I heard nothing of the sort.”

Mimicking his stature and air of nonchalance, Mrs. Crumpet raised her eyebrows. “Do your ears not work? I’ve heard that’s common as one gets older.” Mr. Crumpet, as his wife well knew, was incredibly sensitive about his age.

Taking the bait, his eyes widened and he sprang forward in his chair. “I beg your pardon, Madam!”

“I said—”

“I heard very well what you said!” said Mr. Crumpet, brandishing his piece of bacon.

“Do not take that tone with me, Mr. Crumpet!” said Mrs. Crumpet, who was also now leaning forward in her chair. “It is not my fault if your ears are defective!”

“Defective you say!” Mr. Crumpet suddenly stood up, as if he were addressing an angry crowd, rather than one person. “I’ll have you know that no human ever possessed a pair of ears superior to these!” As he spoke, Mr. Crumpet alternated between gesticulating wildly with his piece of bacon and pulling his ears out on the side of his head in a manner that brought to mind a monkey. “These ears are a masterpiece of creation!”

Mrs. Crumpet narrowed her eyes at this display and curling her lip, said “Well, if your hearing is an impeccable as you seem to believe, then you should recall my informing you about this party two weeks ago!”

With a vein pulsing in his forehead, Mr. Crumpet put his hand to his head and clenched his eyes shut. “Madam, if I listened to every single trivial thing you said, I should have no time to do anything else!”

There was complete silence for half a heart beat, then hysterical sobbing as Mrs. Crumpet threw herself, face down onto the sofa in the corner.

“You are cruel, John! So cruel—You don’t understand my pain: that my thoughts and impressions should be disregarded and scorned by the person I love most— it is almost too much to bear.”

Mr. Crumpet was dumbstruck, for he found himself confronted with the one-thing men fear above all else: a crying woman.

He hesitated before sitting down on the edge of the sofa. Knowing he should perform some act of comfort, he reached down to stroke Mrs. Crumpet’s hair. However upon noticing the intricate braids, he thought better of it. He tried again to pat her shoulder, but at the last moment remembered the bacon grease on his hands and wisely reasoned that getting bacon grease on his wife’s dress was unlikely to improve the situation.

Mr. Crumpet settled for awkwardly rubbing his wife’s arm with the back of his hand. “Darling, I apologize. I spoke in anger. You know I defer to your judgment in all things.”

Mrs. Crumpet, whose face was turned towards the couch, shook her head and sniffled. “I don’t believe you.”

Distraught, Mr. Crumpet entreated his wife again. “Truly darling. I love you and my sole reason for existence is to make you happy.”

At this incredibly romantic statement, Mrs. Crumpet sat up and kissed Mr. Crumpet on the cheek. “You are too good to me John. Thank you.”

Then, wiping her suspiciously dry eyes, Mrs. Crumpet leaped from the couch and sang out, “Matilda! I need your help with the guest list!”

Mr. Crumpet watched her go. He remained seated on the couch, with a look of utter bewilderment, which morphed into one of extreme concentration as he tried to figure out what had just happened.

Essay: Losing Myself (And My Wi-fi) In Venice

BFR Blog – Losing Myself in Venice

Lauren Cooper, BFR Managing Editor

I once read a short story by Daphne du Maurier about a man in Venice who got lost in the winding alleys and trapped by the canals. As he walked faster and faster, finding himself more and more lost with each turn, he grew desperate. But I didn’t care about his dilemma; the man was just a vehicle to move the story along. The real main character was Venice. The alleys and canals were a network of arteries, and the buildings were alive. As I read, one thing became clear to me: the man wasn’t simply lost—the city overtook him.

For years, I wanted to visit this Venice and immerse myself in the strange reality the city of the story had seemed to create. Last summer, I got my chance. I packed my backpack, flew into Marco Polo Airport, took the train to Santa Lucia Station, and when I stepped onto the street… I found Wi-Fi. And souvenir shops. And signs in English, and German, and Chinese. I found that the GPS on my phone could locate me even on an island with no cell phone reception.

My vision of getting lost on my first day and making uncharted discoveries in an ancient city was clearly unrealistic. Major sites were mapped, and no matter how many times I chose a random alley to wander down, I eventually emerged on the Grand Canal, just a few yards from where I had started. No one had told me that Venice was so small.

By the end of the next day, I had given up trying to lose myself. I looked at a map and set out to see some landmarks. I used my GPS. And halfway between a hospital that looked like a palace and a palace that looked like it was about to crumble into the Grand Canal, I stopped thinking, wandered through a doorway by accident and found the strangest bookstore I had ever seen.

I was in awe. Masks hung on the walls. Gondolas filled to the brim with books on Venice’s high tide season crowded the main room. A cat lounged on a bookshelf. Wandering through the narrow aisles I choked back ecstatic coughs as I tried not to inhale half a century of dust. I picked up books that were yellowed around the edges and smelled of must. And I reveled in the fact that the store was empty. I had done it! I had discovered something!

Making my way to the back, I saw a staircase made of books. The climb was unsteady, but from the top, I could see all the way down a canal to where it met the main street. I planned my next move and readied myself to make my next great discovery. And on my way out, a group of nearly thirty tourists pushed past me into the bookstore, shattering the silence and sending up clouds of dust.

So, maybe I hadn’t been the first to discover the book-filled gondolas or the Venetian masks. As it turned out, quite a few people knew all about it—it had a 4.5 out of 5 on TripAdvisor. Maybe in a world with travel sites and free Wi-Fi I could never fully lose myself in a deserted street. Maybe a city would never overtake me. But from the top of that staircase built of books, just for a minute, I lost the crowd. I felt I had found something amazing, something I had never known existed.

Essay: What Bathos Can Do for Your Short Fiction

Georgia Peppe, BFR Editorial Staff

We all know the drill: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action. This is the formula for basic stories and a successful plot line, proven to be effective and hard to stray from as a writer.

And yet, in attempting a climactic moment, writers often get stuck in the mires of melodrama, falling prey to contrivances and tropes, even the dreaded cliché.

So how can one experiment with getting out of cookie cutter plot construction?

Try using bathos.

What exactly is bathos?

It’s an anti-climax device. (To see it for yourself, I recommend reading some of James Salter’s short fiction in Dusk and Other Stories and Last Night, especially the story Dusk, which was my first encounter with the literary device.)

Here’s how it works. You take your readers with you, through your world, through your character’s lives, through their thoughts, feelings, and desires; you present the conflict, the rising action, the triumphs and failures, all the elements of your story, the people, places, plot; you have all of that seeming ready to coalesce in one moment: your climax.

And then you have that moment not be there.

No climax. Instead you have a place holder that occurs in your novel/short fiction where the climax should be. But what is there now? A let down. A moment of quiet. Stagnancy.

Going out without a bang.

You whip away from your readers all the greater purpose of the story hinted at throughout the writing, all the promise of some greater resolution or conclusion. Readers hang in the air in a moment of suspension, waiting for the great reveal, but instead are sent back down, sent home with nothing to show.

This is not to be mistaken for an easy fix to a not-quite-there story. It’s not the ultimate psychological twist either. Bathos has a tone it carries about—a rather despondent one, at that—which may or may not be the perfect ending to your story.

That expectation of—or even sense of entitlement to—the moment of clarity when the meaning of a story becomes clear, and the rejection of that expectation, are what make the let-down that much more powerful.

To achieve bathos the writer must turn back to the mundane, must leave behind the satisfaction of resolution, must opt to subject their readers to unfinished business, denying the sublime for the trivial.

Ultimately, it must be purposeful that there was no greater meaning all along. No message or greater truth. We build and build only to walk away empty handed.

So why does bathos leave its readers so uneasy? How does it devastate us so entirely?

Maybe, it hits just a little too close to home.

Short Story: Burdens to Bear

Hannah Harrington, BFR Managing Editor

There were hors d’oeuvres to make, kids to feed, a pool to be cleaned. There was a husband to yell at, a party to plan, and a kitchen to scrub. How am I supposed to throw this party in this heat? Simone Selke took a long inhale, wiping a bead of sweat from her brow as she opened the kitchen window, trying to beckon a draft of cool breeze into her sauna of a home. She was exhausted from this weather, having spent the last night sleeplessly shifting positions to find the coolest spot on the bed. Her husband, radiating heat, had not helped her plight.

Her husband now fought the heat on the couch, legs up, dirty feet hanging over the side with a damp rag on his forehead, eyes gazing on the flat screen ahead. Their home team was losing.  Simone turned on the faucet in the kitchen, welcoming the cold water as she loudly clanked and scrubbed the dishes in the sink thoughtfully. She wondered where the kids had run off to, but the stillness of the heat forced her to stay at her station.

“Tom, could you go out and clean the pool, please? We have guests coming over soon,” she tried to sound as gentle as possible despite the red flush on her face.

“Honey, yeah, could you get me a glass of water? The Niner’s are down by seven,” Tom hadn’t looked up from the flat screen.

Simone took another long breath and walked out of the kitchen. She heard her children, finally, running up and down the staircase, giggling and chasing each other in tireless motion. Simone felt a drop of perspiration slowly crawl down her neck, and walked towards the front door, hoping for an outside oasis. She slowly turned the knob of the front door with great effort, listening to the hinges creak as it stubbornly allowed itself to be opened. Waiting, as if for a gust of air, she stood in the gateway, disappointed as she walked onto the shade of the front porch, greeted by a still stifling swelter.

Why didn’t I wear shoes out here? She thought, angry with herself as she looked at the blackness on her feet. Yet another thing I’ll have to clean up. She closed her eyes for a moment, wishing that she had hired a cleaning service to tidy the house before the party.

“I will just clean the pool myself,” she said in a voice loud enough for her husband to hear, and sauntered back into the house. The cool marble floor brought a second of relief to her feet, but it didn’t stop Simone from glaring at her husband as she gathered the nets, the telescoping pole, and the vacuum hose from the closet near the back door.

“Simone, they’re saying that the temperatures are record breaking today!” Tom happily informed her, oblivious to her frustration. He had switched the channels, at least. She ignored him, walking behind him to the front door.

Dreading the task ahead of her, she opened the sliding glass door and took a breath of humid air. She looked at the view of the valley past her home for a moment, taking in the beauty of the blue sky against the brown hills. Still looking in the distance, she set the net in the pool, mindlessly walking around its circular edges.

Suddenly, there was a tug at her net, causing her to look in the pool for the first time. There it was, a grizzly, rubbing the net in between its massive brown paws. Stupefied, Simone set the net down, backing away slowly as she watched the bear happily swim around.

Simone walked into the living room and stood at the front of the couch, her husband finally looking at her and smiling.

“Honey, call your boss, the party’s off.”

Short Story: Move-In Day

Brittany Foley, BFR Editorial Staff

Walking back up the stairs towards her apartment door, she held her head high, determined to enter her new home feeling confident and prepared. Yet, once the door shut behind her with a bang, a noise much different than the one her door at home made, the breath rushed out of her and so did the tears. She leaned against that unfamiliar door and wished more than anything that she was home with her family, that she could have gotten into the car with her mom and left her unfurnished apartment standing vacant and far behind her.

Frustrated at her weakness, she wiped the relentless tears from her face and headed towards the bathroom. A shower would rid this unwanted homesickness from her skin and leave her feeling ready for the school year. At least, she hoped it would.

After getting undressed and stepping into a shower also tainted with a foreign feeling, her mind focused on the hot water cascading over her. Before long, she was oblivious to the sadness and unfamiliarity that awaited her beyond the shower curtain.

Unfortunately, she was also unaware of the sounds emerging in the darkness beyond the curtain. Within her apartment, a creature moved slowly, tracking the girl’s movements and searching for a place to hide. It was exalted to have new and apparently vulnerable prey to hunt. Just as the shower shut off, the creature slid into a more concealed position, its heart pounding in expectation of the hunt to come.

The girl stepped out of the shower, steam clouding around her and reached for the towel that rested on the toilet. Wrapping herself quickly in an attempt to keep the heat in, she rushed to her room, cringing at the wetness seeping down her back from her hair.

After getting dressed and feeling more herself, she walked into the kitchen to get lunch started. As she grabbed a pan from the lower cabinets, she felt as if someone was watching her. With the pan in her hand, she turned and surveyed the apartment.

The closet door was open but she couldn’t remember if it had already been that way. Instead of playing into her feelings, she decided to leave it how it was. Of course she’d be paranoid during her first time alone in the apartment. She turned back to the cabinet to grab a pot as well and hoped the act of making lunch would calm her frayed nerves.

Upon seeing the girl return to her work, the creature leaned out of its hiding spot once again and grinned, its sharp teeth gleaming in the darkness. It licked its lips in anticipation and returned to its own mental preparation of the meal it was to have later on.

It had been a long day and several times the girl felt as if she were being watched. She told herself she was only being paranoid but the feeling was persistent and each time, she could not help but want more than ever to be in her old house. She was expecting her roommates to arrive at eleven the next day but the morning seemed very far away.

Laying drowsily on her bed, she picked up the book she was halfway through. A King book, one of her favorites. However, as she read, she realized that she could not have picked a more horrible genre to read alone in a dark apartment. The talk of demons and dead bodies chilled her to the bone.

Just as she reached the section in her book when the character confronts his demon, the girl heard a front door slam. Heart racing, the thought that it might only be her roommates arriving early ran frantically through her mind. She took a deep breath and walked into hallway.

Before she could enter the living room, she heard a scraping noise coming from within the apartment. She could not stop her feet from moving towards the room, knowing that it was not her roommates but still trying to convince herself that it was. Turning the corner, she peered into the darkness, cursing herself for not getting a lamp for the living room.

Looking around the bare room, she was about to go back to bed when she noticed that the closet door was closed. She was positive that she did not close it. In fact, she knew it was open when she went into her bedroom.

Just this once she’d do what her instincts told her. She’d allow the fear to settle in and overcome it. Determined to prove herself wrong, she reached for the closet door knob.

Just before opening it, she held her breath and listened.

Light breathing. She swore she could hear breathing coming from from inside. Steeling herself, she opened the door.

Her breath flew from her chest, and she clutched at her neck instinctively, attempting to protect it from what was within.

Nothing. There was nothing in the closet. No creature ready to rip her apart and consume her. No stranger looking to assault her. Nothing.

She laughed at herself, brushing her sweaty bangs away from her forehead. It was all in her imagination. She could sleep soundly tonight knowing there was nothing in her closet.

She did not hear the vent opening above her.