Welcome to Grand Friday, my new free fiction project!
The plan is simple: every Friday I’m going to publish a thousand words (or so) of a story—basically one new scene per week—until the story is finished, however long it turns out that the story needs to be.
What story, you ask? That’s even simpler. The one Jessica at Go Fug Yourself so cleverly concocted last week. The story resonated. It hit my imagination square at the intersection of Eccentric Character and Drunken Shenanigans, and I just couldn’t not write it.
So I thought—why not go with it? I’ve been wanting to post some free fiction here but haven’t had anything too short or otherwise unsalable to use, and, as George R. R. Martin recently put it, “When an idea comes to you and demands to be written, I think you should write it.” I agree. My muse was not to be denied on this one.
Without further explanation or introduction then, allow me to present to you my first Friday grand, opening gambit to the story I am tentatively titling My Weekend with Aunt Helena.
The package contained exactly four items: a first-class ticket on a shipliner from New York to Bristol, a train ticket from Bristol to Taunton, a letter addressed to me in my Aunt Helena’s flourish-riddled hand, and a heavy iron key engraved ominously with 3E. It was an ominous room number because, in the types of places Aunt Helena preferred to stay, E almost invariably stood for End of the Hallway, and that meant I would be trapped on the inside of four to nine other people for the duration of my visit with her.
No other conclusion than an invitation to come and stay with her arose from the three items, and I did not need to read the letter to discover the purpose of the mail packet or to know my answer.
Of course, I read the letter anyway, simply to see what Aunt Helena would say, because it would be both rude and a shame not to see what her efforts at composition had yielded this time.
My Darling Eva,
It has been an absolute age since I last saw you, my dear, and I miss your company dreadfully.
It had been since Christmas, when she came to New York to annoy my father, her brother-in-law, whom Aunt Helena had never quite forgiven for marrying her sister and keeping her in America.
You will be interested to hear that I have planned a house party for the end of this month.
My Aunt Helena planned a house party every summer. Sometimes more than one.
I have realized that your presence is absolutely necessary for my comfort, and so I have decided that you shall attend me. You will, of course, be welcome to stay on as long as you like afterward.
She meant it, too; my aunt had been campaigning for years to convince me to move in with her—since I was fifteen, at least.
As you must see, I have arranged for your passage to Somerset, where I shall meet you. Do say you will come. It would quite ruin all my plans if you do not, and I will be quite provoked with you.
It would not change Aunt Helena’s plans one jot if I came or if I did not; my presence might be an amusement to her, but never either a comfort or a necessity as anyone besides Aunt Helena would define the terms. She might be put out with me, but it would hardly last beyond the weekend. For all her quirks, Aunt Helena did not stay angry.
I shall even contrive to stay put out with you for more than a fortnight this time, if you insist on disappointing me. Therefore I think you will agree that you simply must come. Therefore I will not await your reply, but proceed to Ripley Park until it is time to retire to the country.
Ripley Park was in the country; there was no “retiring” anywhere from its manicured acres. It was also, however, buried in an unfashionable little corner of Staffordshire, where even Aunt Helena found company sparse. Being alone and inactive was a trial to my aunt; to her it would feel like a vacation to remove to a different house where she would not have to work so hard to entertain herself, because other guests would be there to do it for her. I didn’t know why Aunt Helena never just arranged house parties at her own house. If pressed, I would have theorized that she didn’t want the burden of feeling like the hostess instead of a guest, as she could pretend if it was someone else’s house and someone else’s staff being put out, but I had never directly inquired. Aunt Helena was open an inviting on most any subject—indeed, she so frequently volunteered information about her life and her views that I rarely asked her anything—but when she so glaringly avoided all mention of something, I knew better than to point it out. She had her reasons for her ways, and that included why she chose to keep certain truths close to her chest.
There was no other closing line, and no signature. Aunt Helena did not sign her letters; “signing letters,” she had told me once, “is for people who cannot rely upon their correspondents to recognize their friends.” Aunt Helena could not conceive of that being a problem for her (correctly, as far as I could judge).
My aunt was right about another thing, and that was that she did not need to wait for my reply before leaving London for the summer. Aside from the expense she had laid out for my tickets—which was negligible to her, if not to me—I had nothing better to do.
Point: My job as a typist for the New Yorker was stultifying, to put it in its best light, and hardly worth losing the opportunity to spend a summer in England with my favorite aunt in order to preserve.
Point: I was searching for a story that would vault me from the lower echelons of secretarial enslavement to the elite rungs of Writers, and I was more likely to find inspiration at one of Aunt Helena’s parties than in my rote social life at home.
Point: My fiancé Geoffrey had just asked to postpone the wedding until after New Year’s, at least, from our previously agreed-upon October, so I did not need to be home in order to plan my big day, as I had thought.
Point: Geoffrey had already put off confirming a date once, and this second delay put me in mind to do something outrageous like run off to England for the summer on short notice, just to see if he cared.
Therefore, it was with no other correspondence than a wire from Bristol to tell her which train I would be taking that I met Aunt Helena at the Taunton train station a week later.