Six Shorts by Peter Leslie Watson
By: Peter Leslie Watson
Les Misérables as a Blog
Valjean made Cosette his ward as a favour to her dying mother, Fantine. But no good deed goes unpunished—as is evidenced by his blog!
January 17th That bloody innkeeper, Thénardier, and his horrendous wife have been back. What did they want? More money, of course. As if I have not already paid them enough for their alleged expenditure on Cosette. I gave them 50 francs and told them that this is the last centime that they will ever get from me. I hope that this is the end of the matter, but I have my doubts.
February 23rd You will never guess who showed up on my doorstep today: Tholomyès, the misbegotten waste of space that got Fantine pregnant with Cosette in the first place. He threatened me with a custody battle if I do not pay him off. Fortunately, I have kept an eye on him these long years and have evidence of the ‘checkeredness’ of hiscareer. I box his ears and tell him that, if I ever see him again, his wife and children will be made aware of his dalliances and his irresponsibility.
March 30thSocial Services have been round again. They say that Cosette’s adoption papers are not in order. Of course, they are not. There are no adoption papers. Where were Social Services when I was rescuing her from a life of drudgery, misery and despair? Nowhere! Nonetheless, they are capable of causing all manner of trouble; so, once again, money has to pass hands.
April 4: Wonderful news! Cosette informs me that she has met a young man and fallen in love. His name is Marius. I will have to get him checked out.
May 11th Good news and bad news. My private detective reports that Marius is a young man from a good family and diligent in his studies. Unfortunately, he has hooked up with a bunch of ne’er-do-well students, who drink too much and are involved in the revolutionary movement.
May 23rd I have had a brainwave! I will convince Cosette and Marius that, as the revolutionary movement is still pretty disorganised, they have time to get married quickly and embark for America, where they will be safe. I believe that they will be convinced of the wisdom of my suggestion. And I just have enough time.
June 15th I am damned by my own complacency! Today, the revolutionaries have taken up arms and barricaded the streets. Marius has been shot in the fighting and now lies a fugitive in my attic being operated on by my physician. Cosette is distraught. I pray God that he will survive, but I cannot help but be fearful.
June 19th Things are going from bad to worse. That little guttersnipe, Eponine (the daughter of the Thénardiers), who hates Cosette and is in love with Marius, has been snooping around. She can only be up to no good.
June 22nd Marius has died from the post-operative MRSA bug in Cosette’s arms. Eponine found the two of them in the attic. Apparently, she had intended to stab Marius to death. If she could not have him, she was determined that Cosette would not have him either. Finding him already dead in Cosette’s arms, she burst into distraught tears and is being comforted by Cosette.
June 23rd I spent a fitful night. Cosette and Eponine have not emerged from the attic. I am making a poor attempt at breakfast when they appear—arms around each other. Cosette explains that they have been very fond of each other since childhood and that the Marius’s death has made them realise that they are not rivals, but lovers! I am to arrange for them to enter immediately into a Pacte civil de solidarité (Civil Partnership) so that Eponine can travel with Cosette to America.
August 15th They embarked today.
August 31st I haven’t been the same since they left. Resigned to never seeing my darling Cosette again, I have suffered successive bouts of depression exacerbated by excessive consumption of wine. Today, a doctor came and sectioned me. I am now an inmate of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital. You will never believe who is chained up next to me: Javert! It seems that he could not cope with his having failed to apprehend me and he has the same symptoms that I do. I know it was reported that he committed suicide, but that was to protect the police from admitting that he had gone over the top, crashed and burned.
September 1st At least, they have let me keep my laptop so I can continue my blog. I might even start one for Javert.
To Each His—or Her—Own
The people of Orsinor were afraid. The fire-breathing dragon that lived outside the town was roaring for another virgin to be sacrificed. The brave prince rode out on his charger to slay the dragon. The dragon roared again and again. The prince raised his sword. The dragon flew right up to the prince belching fire. The charger reared. The prince fell to the ground. Up he leapt and tore off his helmet—and waist-length, golden hair cascaded down. The townspeople gasped. It was Princess Aurora.
‘Is that any way to treat a princess?’ said Aurora. ‘You know, it really isn’t nice to be so aggressive.’
‘I’m sorry,’ whispered the dragon, sheepishly.
‘Sit down and talk to me. Tell me why you roar so. And keep demanding sacrifices,’ Aurora asked.
‘I’m always hungry and there is not much to eat in my barren cave. Roaring for sacrifices is the only way I can stay alive. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Honestly, I didn’t. I am not really violent.’
‘Well, the townsfolk are very frightened, especially the young girls. And my father, the king, is at his wits’ end. He does not know what to do and it is making him depressed which is upsetting my mother. We are just going to have to find you a less bellicose way of making a living.’
‘Do you really think you could?’ ventured the dragon.
Aurora thought for a moment. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘With your fire-breathing talent, youcould take over the royal barbecue. Then you could eat as much barbecue as you wish in exchange for your services. If you would like that, we need to go and talk to the king, but I am sure that he will agree. I usually get what I want!’
‘I would like that very much indeed,’ said the dragon. ‘Let’s go right away.’
There’s always more than one way to skin a cat, mused Aurora, as they strolled hand-in-hand back to the castle. Or a fire-breathing dragon.
The Catcher in the Rye—a New Take
I’ll tell you one thing about Holden Caulfield: he is a very strange fish. I think that, inside, he really wants people to like him, but he just keeps building barriers to keep people out. I think he must have stayed home the day they handed out personalities.
Once, he sat next to me on the bus back to school from Agerstown and we struck up a conversation. Did I tell you that my Dad is the principal of the school? Pensey Preparatory. PP: private and pretentious. My Dad or the school? Holden said both. He had no time for that ‘molding boys into splendid, clear-thinking young men since 1888’ crap. I couldn’t find it in myself to disagree with him.
I can’t tell you anything about his family. I did once ask him what his parents did. ‘I don’t do all that David Copperfield kind of crap,’ he replied. ‘My parents are touchy as hell about anything like that.’
I changed the subject; you had to do that a lot with Holden
I told him I had seen a man visit with him some weekends, the one with the Jaguar sports car. ‘That’s my brother,’ Holden said. ‘He can afford a car like that because he works as a prostitute in Hollywood. It cost damn near four thousand bucks.’
I said I didn’t know that prostitutes earned that much, even in Hollywood. Holden looked at me as if I was crazy.
‘He works in the movies. I hate the movies,’ he said. ‘Don’t even mention them to me’.
Do you see what I mean about Holden? Talking to him is like being in one of those maze things where every turn brings you to an abrupt dead end.
Suddenly, he said: ‘My brother used to be a proper writer. He wrote a terrific book of short stories. The best was The Secret Goldfish—about a little kid who wouldn’t let anyone look at his goldfish because he’d bought it with his own money. It killed me.’
I thought that was weird and wondered if his brother had based the story on Holden, but I didn’t say so.
I saw him from time to time at the football games. Only seniors could bring girls, but I was allowed to go because my dad was the Principal. I didn’t see him at the big game with Saxon, the last game of the year, but the whole school was there, so it would have been easy to miss him in the crowd. Then Saxon scored and a great cheer went up on Thomsen Hill. It was Holden, hollering away up there next to the old cannon from the Revolutionary War. Trust him to root for the opposition.
I went up the hill after the game, but I couldn’t find him. Then school broke up and he didn’t come back the next year. That made me sad. I think maybe he liked me. Not many boys did. My nose is too big. And, even though he was strange, I kind of liked him. Now I will never have a chance to find out for sure.
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper—the Backstory
The first clue is that the man and woman are sitting next to each other. Strangers do not do that in a virtually empty diner—especially in New York in 1942. So, they know each other. A banal explanation would be that he is trying to pick her up—or she is trying to pick him up. But the reality is more intriguing. She is actually an employee of the Signal Intelligence Division (SID), the US Army’s cryptanalytic unit and has travelled to New York from Washington DC. He is her handler: Victor Petrushkin, Military Intelligence Officer in the GRU (Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye; Russian Main Intelligence Directorate). He has travelled down from his cover post as Commercial Attaché in the Russian Embassy in Ontario to meet her. Three o’clock in the morning in a New York diner is the perfect place to avoid the prying eyes of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
He has burnt his tongue on his too hot coffee and is sucking on an ice cube; she toys nervously with her sandwich and has let her coffee go cold. They each ignore the identical briefcases sitting next to their stools: stolen secrets in hers, three heavy magazines in his. When they have paid their bills, they will pick up each other’s briefcases and disappear into the bitter cold New York night.
The second clue is that the short-order cook is sticking very close to the man and the woman. Not quite what he seems. He is an OSS agent primed to signal to the snatch team waiting outside that the spies are about to leave.
Oh, and the guy sitting on his own? Just a loner who stopped in for a cup of joe. He will get killed in the shoot-out. Wrong place, wrong time. Tough luck!
Cup of Joe: Named, according to naval tradition, after Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the US Navy. In 1914, he banned U.S. Navy ships from serving alcohol. The sailors were not at all thrilled with the decision and they resorted to the next strongest drink available: coffee! Since Josephus Daniels was responsible for their deprivation, the sailors disrespectfully nicknamed the drink for him: “a cup of joe”, short for Josephus.
Mirror Images—Not Quite
Vignette One The typically English cottage, built in the fifteenth century, would not have looked out of place on a box of chocolates. The crisp black timbers sparkled against the pristine white walls and the lipstick-red front door added a splash of colour. Cheerful floral curtains peeked out of the windows. The black and white modern conservatory fitted seamlessly with the old building; they might have been built together. The garden was a harmonious mélange of plants, whose different heights, species and colours made it seem as if they had grown together by accident. A lavender walk led up from the front gate, old-fashioned pink rambling roses climbed over the front porch and wisteria flowered around the windows. The gardener was hard at work weeding the borders. A brook gurgled over pebbles at the end of the garden, where a kingfisher sat on a low branch eager to feast on the May flies that danced above the water. Two small children were climbing excitedly into the shiny new Jaguar that sat proudly on the drive.
Vignette Two The typically English cottage, built in the fifteenth century, had seen better days. The walls harboured cracks and their crisp white paint had weathered to a dingy grey. Wind and rain had worn away the paint on the window frames and the curtains inside were faded and frayed. The streaked glass and peeling woodwork of the conservatory added to the air of dilapidation. The garden was a wilderness: dandelions had colonised the lawns that had not been cut for several seasons; the flowers in the borders were all but invisible among the weeds and the overgrown hedges allowed only the merest traces of light to penetrate the gloom. Neglect had blocked the brook at the end of the garden, creating a dank, lifeless, smelly pond covered in algae. A plastic kingfisher sat on a low branch, but there were no May flies for him to feast on. The abandoned car out front looked as if it had provided sport for local teenage arsonists; a family of rats were nesting in the back seat.
The Perfect Weekend in Paris—with no verbs!
The Relais Christine hotel, located in an ancient grand hôtel particulier built centuries ago on the remains of the thirteenth century Abbey of the Grands-Augustins: the perfect location for the perfect Parisian weekend—a stone’s throw from Notre Dame and the Seine, l’Isle de la Cité, the Boulevard Saint Germaine and the Boule Miche.
In an area full of gastronomic delights: from three Michelin Star restaurants to classic brasseries like Les Deux Magots and Chez Lipp , the traiteurs, the fruit and vegetable markets and sandwiches on the street for pique-niques along the banks of the Seine. A cornucopia of French cuisine.
A stroll by the bouquinistes along the Seine, book and print treasures and schlock side by side—and both at a price!
And the Seine bridges, each with its own architecture, history, views of the river and snapshots of the city, spectacular at night under the floodlights of the bateaux-mouches. My favourite, the Pont Alexandre III, arguably Paris’s most elegant bridge, a single leaf arch in a beautiful curve with fine sculpture work.
And the pretty girls, so many pretty girls. Chic, hippy, kooky—all stylish. Quelle élégance!
All in all, a weekend observatory on a capital city in both senses of the word. Architecture, fashion, food, history: a world at your fingertips, a culture in your grasp. So much on offer. Difficult choices, but no wrong choices for a perfect weekend.
British born Peter Leslie Watson began writing seriously in retirement after courses at Oxford Continuing Education. He draws inspiration from the 29 years he spent in the USA, his business world travels and the wild Scottish landscape, where he mostly writes. He prefers off-beat themes that turn ideas on their heads.
Hôtel Particulier (medieval French): a large private residence, a townhouse mansion
Traiteur: a caterer, delicatessen
Pique-nique: a picnic
Bouquinistes: book and print sellers
Bateau-mouches: sight-seeing boats on the Seine
Quelle élégance!: What elegance!