THE ORPHAN SCRIVENER -- ISSUE # SIXTY-FIVE -- 15 OCTOBER 2010

The year draws to a close, so foggy mornings are now regularly tippy-toeing in just as described in Carl Sandburg's well-known lines, but hereabouts the fog is taking longer to desert the landscape as the days turn colder. October advances inexorably to its close and the sunshine thins visibly. Shadows are becoming bluer as autumn slides into yellow, gold, and scarlet, sunset is earlier and sunrise later, and Old Man Winter leers over the horizon promising short, dark days and frigid nights.

Speaking of which, James Montgomery described night as a lively masquerade of daytime. We leave our subscribers to decide on the liveliness or otherwise of this issue of Orphan Scrivener, internationally renowned for masquerading as a newsletter.

Read on!


MARY'S BIT or CAT-ASTROPHES

Speaking of little cat feet, years ago I cat-sat for a week on behalf of a family whose feline, according to legend, had once gone a little way up the chimney, fortunately without injury to cat or chimney.

However, that particular week the cat's luck ran out as it left the house via the kitchen window on Thursday morning and was never seen again.

In my childhood one or two cats also mysteriously disappeared -- was it perhaps something we said? -- although on one memorable occasion the cat returned, only to expire under my chair from the effects of the poison local racing pigeon fanciers were wont to spread on the roofs of their pigeon lofts. And then a couple of weeks before I emigrated my cat was struck by a car but managed to make its way back home only to expire on the front door step, as I found to my horror on opening the door.

However, the current feline in residence has been smiled upon by Fortuna, since she's been pussy-footing around for twenty-one years now. Her birthday was on 15th September, chosen because it was the approximate date she would have been born given when she was weaned. As it happens, September 15th is also Agatha Christie's birthday but the coincidence did not strike me for some years.

This year it also marked the date when, as Eric observed, if human Sabrina could legally drink alcohol in her birth state of New York. We may only whisper about the cat nip headache she developed one Christmas...

Apparently the oldest recorded cat was just over 38 when it died, so Sabrina is still a lively young thing by comparison. In her youth she was in the habit of launching a vertical takeoff to catch a fly between her front paws and usually succeeding. Nowadays she rests on her laurels to such an extent that on one occasion when a field mouse ventured indoors she and it were nose to nose and she did not even raise a paw to admonish its temerity.

It may be Sabrina considers herself too elderly to jump over the moon with a stringed instrument or go out of her way to gaze at a royal personage. As for catching flies, we'll see that acrobatic maneuver again before the cat licks her ear, as they say.

No, nowadays she prefers to stay earthbound, or rather Eric's-knees-bound, for she's velcroed to them whenever the temperature drops below a certain point. And talk about dirty looks when she has to get down.

Speaking of talking, had she been Dick Whittington's companion, she'd never have advised him to such effect that he became Lord Mayor of London, for originally she rarely produced more than a squeak. It was after she recovered from being tranquilized for the long journey in a laundry basket when we moved to Pennsylvania that she suddenly found her voice. Now she exercises it often by transforming herself into a furry alarm clock and squawking if she thinks we are too long abed.

Sages through the ages have pondered on what it is cats think about when they look inscrutable. My theory is if they're not wondering when they'll get their next kitty treat it's a rueful contemplation of their descent to their present lowly position from the glory days when they were worshipped in Egypt to such an extent they were transformed into dear little cat mummies when they shuffled off their furry coil.

Sabrina, however, while she sheds fur furiously at times has not yet reached that point, so we expect she'll be around making kitty nose-prints on the windows for a few years yet.


NECESSARY EVIL or THE BSP TICKER

...tick tick tick...what's this? The ticker tape blank again?...tick tick tick...stay tuned....tick tick tick....


ERIC'S BIT or THE FALL WALL

Mary and I have begun writing our ninth Byzantine mystery. We're a hundred pages in, but the book doesn't yet have a name. The story revolves around the death of Empress Theodora in late June, 548 AD.

It surely was hot in mid-summer in Constantinople. So while John carries out his investigation in sweltering streets and forums and the stifling corridors of the Great Palace the temperatures here continue to fall. By the time we finish snow will likely be piled up outside our office window while the cobblestones in the alley running behind the Baths of Zeuxippos will be almost too hot for the city's stray dogs to lie upon.

We have not been ordered by the emperor to solve a seemingly impossible crime. Nothing that dramatic goes on in our household. We are stocking the shelves for the coming winter, for the weeks when we will be snowed in.

Winter appears to be advancing more rapidly in town than it is in our back yard. The trees surrounding the clearing in which our house sits drop their leaves late. We're still in an oasis of green but when I drive to the grocery store, as soon as I reach the highway, I am propelled weeks forward in time, into the later autumn where trees have turned brilliant reds and yellows or already display their bare branches to a sky that looks more distant to me than the skies of summer.

In the stores the calendar has been turned even further forward as evidenced by shelves decorated not only with Halloween bats and pumpkins but with the jolly Santas and snowmen of Christmas.

I drive all the way from September to Christmas to pick up some tins of sliced beets and carrots.

My grandmother canned for the winter. This time of year she would still be laboring over the coal stove in a steamy kitchen, the table covered with jars. Every wall of the basement was lined with shelves and every shelf would be filled with canned beets, corn, rhubarb, jelly, jam. She made a dozen sorts of pickle relish. There were big clay tubs in the basement where gherkins brewed. Squash, potatoes, rutabagas, and turnips were spread out on newspapers.

I trundle my bags of tins out to the car. I guess I'm not as ambitious as my grandparents. My grandfather dug out a cellar by hand before I was born. It is family history, not anything I witnessed.

Once the groceries are put away, I look over what we have written so far about the summer of 548. A fictional summer, although based on what historians know about the real weather.

Like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Christian in Slaughterhouse Five, we are all unstuck in time. Within a couple hours I move from the 6th century to this coming Christmas. We are equally adrift in the real, the imagined, the recalled, and the misremembered.

Our physical selves are carried forward inexorably by time, like the brown leaves skidding across the roof outside our office window. But our minds occupy their own worlds, which become more layered and complicated the older we get. So often the present is overlaid by a ghostly image from the past, or a fictional image from a book.

Perhaps fiction has such a hold on us because our minds are not tightly bound to the here and the now and what really is. The stories we read, while we are reading them, can easily hold their own, and appear just as real as all those jumbled memories and imaginings we live amidst.

The sun has gone in now. The space heater is whirring, but the office still feels cold. The last page I wrote the sun was beating down on the dome of the Great Church in Constantinople and waves of heat were rising from the pavement so that the great square before the church looked as if it was underwater. I think I need to put on a sweater before getting back to that scene.


AND FINALLY

G. K. Chesterton once remarked the notion that there's something around the corner gives an overall radiance to the world. We interpret that as an encouragement to hope for the best for the future. Subscribers however may not agree with Chesterton, given the next issue of Orphan Scrivener will come around the corner into their email in-box on 15th December.

See you then!
Mary R and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the web at http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite/ There you'll discover the usual suspects, including more personal essays, lists of author freebies and mystery-related newsletters, Doom Cat (an interactive game written by Eric), and our growing pages of links to free e-texts of classic and Golden Age mysteries, ghost stories, and tales of the supernatural. There's also an Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned! Intrepid subscribers may also wish to pop over to Eric's blog at http://www.journalscape.com/ericmayer/


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