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Of Your Charity

by Oonah V. Joslin

It’s not the smell — I can stand the smell although it’s a bit... rich for my taste; honey waxed and florid. By the high mantelpiece, in a room where everything smacked of syllables — anti-maccassar, oil-on-canvass, Axminster, pure Persian wool, parquet block flooring — a pair of ebony figurines stood guard over some solid silver candlesticks.

‘Where would you like to sit?’ asked my hostess.

Chanel No 5 wafted heavily.

The figurines, which I supposed were part of the ‘Sanitation for All’ auction, scanned me as if to ascertain whether I would make a suitable owner.

‘Would here do?’ She showed me a seat at the back of the room.

‘Thank you,’ I said. And the moment I sat, I knew it was a mistake.

The bassoon player sported white tails. His moustache was waxed and his eyes looked like a bug’s. He gave a sideways glance at the ensemble then turned the music and blew a sound like a fart in thunder box. The audience sat with nary a blush; not that you could have seen a blush on those over-rouged cheeks.

The lady in front in the grey cardigan with cream trim and pearl buttons, nodded a wispy white head in time to something totally other than the music and I wished I possessed that starched capacity to stifle embarrassment.

Instead my ears were hot as scotch bonnets and I was stifling something far worse. Then, just as the march ceased, my intestines lost their ability to corset sound. The lady in front turned imperceptibly then, going into her handbag, raised a lacy handkerchief to her nose. I sidled out of my seat and edged towards the doorway carved either side with snake motifs around a twisted vine.

Through the marble hallway off to the side there was a corridor that seemed the kind of place I might be looking for. The archway to it was low and the flag stoned floor just wide enough to let two wide serving trays pass without incident. Several doorways later I came upon one that opened.

‘May I help you Ma’am?’ Mrs. Ruddick, I knew her from the village, held the cigarette she’d been smoking behind her and deftly dropped it into the sink. ‘I know you, don’t I?’

‘I was looking for a loo,’ I said apologetically.

‘You can use the servant’s quarters if you like.’

She indicated a passage sloping down and to the left in the very bowels of the earth it seemed. It smelt of dry rot and the chemicals they pump in to cure it; only slightly less obnoxious than Chanel No 5.

Much relieved, I returned to the echoey kitchen and was offered a cup of tea.

‘Really, I’d just like to sneak away now, if you don’t mind. Is there a back way?’

The house disgorged me behind the winter garden, the doorway I’d come out of was very different from the one by which I’d entered. The flat lawn and white shell paths where ladies and gentlemen could take the air, gave way to undulation and gravel here. Capability Brown’s design morphed seamlessly into farms and husbandry behind the Ha-ha.

I made for the car park musing on equality and toilets and “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” that innocent childhood hymn with the rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate. God in Heaven.

When did we get this complex? What’s good about God being in his heaven if people have no sanitation though we have the means? I tried to think that’s what the charity do was all about; equality. On the other hand if we created equality we wouldn’t need the charity do.

Is it about feeling good about ourselves? Well it didn’t make me feel good. It made me feel I could use some charity myself. I felt inadequate to deal with these great matters... Not bright and beautiful enough, perhaps.

I’m tossing and turning tonight. Too many bones! Maybe I could give some to people who don’t have enough. I wonder: are there people with too few bones? No. In that regard, I’m sure we’re all the same. Unless, of course, an amputee; a victim perhaps of some unequal struggle.

Copyright © 2011 by Oonah V. Joslin

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