Story club # 10: Two Tales

I am sure nobody noticed but I missed last month’s Story Club. And in my defense, there is so much to do and so little time! Anyway to make up, this month, instead of one story, I am attempting to tackle two short stories. Both are penned by the same author WW Jacobs, a British author who is mostly known for his macabre and haunting story The Monkey’s Paw although he mostly wrote humor stories.

If you haven’t read The Monkey’s Paw, please do read it before reading further. I don’t think there are any spoilers ahead but the read is not likely to make much sense unless you are familiar with the story.

The Monkey’s Paw has been a personal favorite for as long as I remember. And not only that, it left a permanent impact on me. That the monkey’s paw is from India and cursed/blessed by an Indian fakir somehow made the story all the more real for me. Whenever I read the story I go back to the drawing room of my first home where I lived as a child, and can almost hear the knock on the door, see the man standing at the door, the horrified silence…

The message ‘Be careful of what you ask for you may get it’ has remained with me ever since then and has sort of become my guiding principle for life as well.

I am quite paranoid and wary about not wishing. Indian mythological stories too have strengthened the belief that nothing good really comes out of wishes being granted. That in fact things could turn out to be worse than ever before. That it was better to make peace with what one had than hanker for things beyond us.

Like the famous Hindi poet, Sri Harivansh Rai Bachchan told his son Amitabh Bachchan, India’s  megastar – Man ka ho to achcha aur na ho toh achcha

Translated, this reads as – If it happens as you wish it is good, but if it doesn’t, then it is even better.

Strange and quite incomprehensible isnt it? But what it means is that if things don’t happen according to your wish, then it is occurring as per the wishes of a higher force who is looking out for you and preventing you from treading paths that are bound to spell disaster for you. Only you don’t know it yet.

Anyway to come back to the story, I realized, that my memory of the story was sketchy and didn’t quite remember about the other two wishes. Perhaps I was too preoccupied by the outcome of the first wish to really comprehend what followed.

But now as I read it again, the end is what nags me. What if he had not made the third and the final wish? Who was it at the door? Would Herbert have returned? How far can things be reversed? Or was it all meant to be? Was fate playing a cruel game of her own? Having some fun at the expense of gullible disbelieving mortals? I wonder and wonder and wish that the father hadn’t wished the third wish.

Oops I forgot…

I don’t wish do I?

After that heavy piece here is a humorous piece from WW Jacob – The Golden Venture. It is a lighthearted fun read which reiterates that nothing good comes out of bad. A comfortable and fun story. I hope you read this one too and share your reactions as well. As for me, for the second story, that is all I am going to say because while reading it I was led astray. I found the characters and story so engaging that I was inspired to pen a short story.

I am posting that story The Inheritance separately – click to read it.

As always I would love to know your reactions, opinions, suggestions and even better, if you feel like it, post a review of the stories or pen an inspired version of your own. Drop a link in the comment box and I will be along for a read.

A quick recap of the Story Club:Rules are simple (and breakable) :

  1. Advance announcement of name of short story, one that is freely available on the net.
  2. Story maybe a folktale or in the local language. But an English translation should be freely available on the net. Or participant could post the translated version along with his or her review.
  3. Bloggers should post on their blog.
  4. The basic idea is to gain from each others rich heritage of literature and be able to understand a little bit more than before and of course have fun!

Anyone interested in hosting the next month’s Story Club? Please feel free to may email me at mysilverstreaks@gmail.com

If you don’t want to host a story club, but if you have a favorite short story, do share it – thanks!

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The Inheritance

“Ann, why didn’t you tell me about the inheritance?” Polly asked.

Ann started. “How do you know?” she asked warily. “Did you read the letter?”

“No I didn’t. You know I don’t much care for reading and writing. Tidger told me. He read the letter by mistake.”

“Oh.”

“Ann, now that you are an heiress, you better keep your wits about you,” Polly cautioned her elder widowed sister.

“What do you mean?” Ann was bewildered.

“Ah Ann, ever the fool. Didn’t you notice the doddering fools Wigget and Miller praising you to the skies?”

Ann pinked. “Oh I thought they were being sweet.”

“You’ve been here for the past 6 months and all of a sudden they became sweet? It’s the inheritance, mark my words.”

“Oh Polly,” Ann wrung her hands, “You are the clever one. Tell me what should I do? I don’t like either of them but nobody else will marry me at this age.”

“Humph!” snorted Polly, “I wouldn’t be surprised if my own Tidger wouldn’t marry you himself.”

“Polly!” Ann gasped scandalized, “Do you know what you are saying?”

“Of course I know.” Polly said. “I know my Tidger. He has a weakness for money. Besides, he’s worried about the mortgage on the…”

“But that doesn’t mean…”

“It doesn’t mean, but it could, is all I am saying. And now that the children have flown the nest, we don’t have much in common.”

“Oh Polly aren’t you happy in your marriage?”

“Now don’t be a romantic fool Ann.” Polly briskly set about cleaning up her tiny makeshift kitchen. “Does anyone get married for happiness’ sake?”

“Then why get married?”

“Women get married to have children and stability. Men get married to get an unpaid servant and nurse for life.” Polly attacked the dishes with vigor.

“Polly!”

“Tell me Ann, were you happy in your marriage?”

“It was alright.” Ann crossed herself. “May his soul rest in peace.”

“Do you miss him?”

Ann was silent. “Not really.” She said at last. “But I do wish we had a house of our own. That I was independent…”

“Well with your inheritance you could easily set up house by yourself.”

“But that would be so lonely. What would I do alone?”

“I…I could join you.”

“That would be lovely Polly! Will Tidger agree?”

“He doesn’t need to.”

“Meaning?”

“I am baking his favorite cake today.” Polly held up a bottle. “With a special flavor.”

“Polly!”

Polly shrugged. “He’s outlived his usefulness. He’s more of a bother and a pain to be with. I thought I would send him to a happier place.”

“What on earth is the matter with you Polly?”

“You are a fine one to talk Ann,” Polly rounded on her, “Making sheep eyes at my husband.”

“How dare you Polly!”

“Oh I dare alright. Do you think I am blind? You always had a soft spot my Tidger didn’t you? And now the money is making him lean towards you.”

“You are crazy Polly.”

“No I am not. He’s always been a sleep talker. And these days all he says are Ann and mutter about ways to bump me off.” She held up the bottle. “I had bought this poison for you. But since the money I thought it better to get rid of him. After all you are my sister.”

“Polly please…”

“Don’t worry Ann, you and I will get along well together. Won’t we?”

Ann paled. She wrung her hands but wilted under Polly’s unblinking glare. She nodded.

“Good.” Polly sounded strange and her eyes glittered dangerously.

“You are looking funny Polly. Your blood pressure seems to have shot up. You need to rest. Let me make dinner…”

“No! I am baking the cake.”

“Okay after you bake the cake,” Ann said soothingly, “you go and rest. Let me take care of the dinner, while I think how best to handle this. And you know I love cooking.”

Polly expertly sifted the floor, broke the eggs, crushed the sugar, emptied the bottle and slid the cake batter into the oven.

“Done!” Polly dusted her hands and slipped off her apron. “I am going. You think all you like, but remember that cake is for my Tidger.” She sniffled. “He was a good man. Until you and your money came along.” With a sob she left the kitchen.

Ann heaved a heavy sigh. But there was dinner to be made. She worked swiftly around the kitchen and didn’t pause until she had set the table to her satisfaction.

“Polly,” she walked up to her room, “It’s all set Polly. And I have decided to accept Miller’s invitation for dinner. That way I will be out of the way and you can claim that Tidger had a heart attack.”

“Good thinking.” Polly approved of the plan. Besides, she couldn’t wait to see Tidger’s face as Ann left for a date right under his nose. Oh how she would rub it in.

He would die of a heart attack, she chortled to herself.

Bump her off would he? She would show him – who would bump off whom.

Ann and Miller were enjoying a quiet dinner when the concierge came and interrupted them. He spoke in a low whisper to Miller.

“Ann, my dear,” Miller laid his hand on hers, “We have to go.”

Ann stared at him and paled. “What’s the matter?”

“Come let’s go.” He was gentle with her as he led her out of the restaurant.

The scene at home was one of utter chaos. The dinner Ann had labored over, lay spattered all over the floor. Alongside it, Polly lay senseless while Tidger was weeping softly in one corner.

“What happened?” It was the doctor.

Tidger wiped his face and attempted to gather himself. “I…I don’t know doctor. We were having dinner. She had finished eating and I was almost done. She got up to get the cake and appeared to get dizzy. She gave a gasp and grabbed the tablecloth before keeling over. She…” he choked, “she hasn’t moved since then.”

“ You ate the same thing?” The Inspector peered at the dishes. “What was in this empty bowl?” He sniffed suspiciously at it.

“Soup. I finished it.”

“What soup?

Tidger shrugged. “Don’t know but it was real tasty.”

“The bowl looks clean, as if it has been been washed.” He pinned Tidger with his eyes, who flushed and blustered, “Look here Inspector…”

“It was clear soup Inspector,” Ann controlled her sobs, “I…I helped her make it.”

“She was fine before that?” The doctor interrupted.

“Yes. She was perfectly fine. She cooked dinner. She even made my favorite cake.” Tidger paused. “She did complain of uneasiness once or twice.”

“Hmm, looks like she had a heart attack.” The doctor stood up. “She did have high blood pressure and diabetes.”

“My poor Polly. What will happen to me now?”

Ann was too busy crying in Miller’s arms to console Tidger.

She didn’t even speak to him at Polly’s funeral. She moved out of his house the same day.

It was only months later, after the doctor had declared Polly’s death to be due to natural causes and police had given Tidger a clean chit that Ann met Tidger at a common friend’s house.

“How are you?” She looked at him critically. “You’ve lost weight.”

He gave a tired smile. “I am not much of a cook. And,” he coughed, “I haven’t been sleeping too well either.”

“Come over for dinner tomorrow. Miller, you come too. Around 7.30 pm?”

They nodded.

Tidger was early.

“How’s the paperwork for the inheritance progressing?” Ann asked as she cut him a piece of his favorite cake.

He bit into it and closed his eyes in bliss. “Almost done.” He mumbled indistinctly through a full mouth. “Shouldn’t take more than a month now.”

“Good. Poor Polly must be turning in her grave to know that she was the one who got the inheritance not me.”

Tidger grinned. “Aren’t I smart?”

“Only in showing me the letter first. You shouldn’t have washed the soup bowl.”

“I thought there could be traces of the poison.”

“They wouldn’t have been able to detect it.” Ann was confident.

“I am sorry.” He deferred to her greater wisdom. “What next?”

The doorbell rang.

Ann rewarded him with a kiss. “Now it’s time for you to woo me. Make it nice and slow.”

She went to let Miller in.

Just enough delay to raise suspicion but not confirm it.

As always, patience was the key to success.

***

A/N This story is inspired by WW Jacobs short story A Golden Venture and linked to Story Club # 10

So what do you think? Plausible? Any loopholes? Doubts? Loose ends? Go on say it, I am sure you found something!