Friday, February 24, 2017

The Daisy-Chain by Oliver Barton

What caused Doreen, once a cheery young girl, to become a grumpy old woman, and can she be happy again? asks Oliver Barton.

The kids said she was a witch, so curmudgeonly was she. Her thin lips, pursed like a circumflex, snapped out criticism and disapproval. If the sun shone, we'd pay for it later. Supermarket food was tasteless, the independents too expensive. The local park was all dog poo. The council was incompetent. There were no proper winters any more. Other people were completely self-obsessed. Children were rude. Goods were shoddy.

It was not always so. Aged ten, Doreen was a flaxen-haired bouncy bundle of joy, who would skip rather than walk, and thought snails were little people with caravans. She would sit in the meadow, humming tunes quietly, and make daisy-chains in the long sun-sweet afternoons.

One day, leaning against the foot of an ancient oak, she thought she heard a cry from the ground beside her. 'Help!' it seemed to say. 'Help!' All she could see was a small hole at the base of the tree, perhaps made by a mouse or a shrew.

She put her head down close, and said, 'Hallo! Who's there?'

'I'm stuck down this hole, stupid. Help me out,' the voice said.

Doreen tried to reach into the hole, but it was too small for her hand. She pushed a stick down, but all it produced was a tornado of screams and invective from below.

If only I had some string, she thought. An idea struck her. 'Listen,' she said. 'If I drop the end of my daisy-chain down, could you hold on, so I can pull you up?'

'Anything, anything!' came the voice. 'Just get on with it.'

So she fed her daisy-chain into the hole, flower by flower, until the voice cried 'Got it! Now, gently, gently.'

She pulled the daisy-chain out as smoothly as she could, to an accompaniment of obscenities that she was far too nice a girl to understand. After an age, a tiny pair of hands appeared, clinging on to the end daisy, and a tiny head, and a tiny body. With gossamer wings.

'Why,' cried Doreen, 'you're a fairy!'

'And you're a human. State the obvious, why don't you,' said the fairy. 'And while I am, of course, indebted to you, it is expressly forbidden for a human to look upon a fairy, and so I'm obliged to put a curse on you. Sorry, child. Regulations. It's this current regime. You humans don't have a monopoly on imbecile governments.' With which, the fairy flew off.

And from that moment, Doreen was cursed. She saw how the oak tree was rotting. She heard the whine of the tractor, not the song of the skylark. She saw mould and canker and discord where before there had been sweetness. She realised her mother's custard had lumps in, and how she smelled of cigarettes. From that day onwards, she saw the worst in everything and everyone.

And fifty years later, she still did, and the children called her a witch. She lived alone. In Doreen's eyes, her cottage was damp, her landlord a swindler, her roses had blight, her cat had fleas, and the drains smelled.

She worked in accounts for an international company, and terrorised the workforce with her pettiness and acidity. Even the division manager could only claim expenses between 3:00 and 3:30 on alternate Tuesdays, and was made to feel an inch high when he did.

One evening in her parlour, she looked up from the newspaper she was reading, with its reports of how individuals, the economy, the country, the world were all doomed in many dire and irreversible ways thanks to 'other people', and there was the fairy standing on the table before her. It looked exactly the same as fifty years previously, which is more than could be said for Doreen.

'There's been a regime change,' said the fairy. 'New regulations. Curses are now for a max of five years - five years, I ask you! - and anyway, nobody cares if humans catch sight of fairies any more.' The fairy tutted fiercely. 'Place is going to the dogs, in my opinion. Standards slipping. Still, there you are. You're free. Curse lifted as of now.'

Doreen thought for a moment. Then, 'No, thank you,' she said. 'I realise I enjoy being a grumpy old woman. And I don't want charity from anyone. As far as I'm concerned, the curse stays.'

The fairy pouted. 'Suit yourself,' it said. 'No skin off my nose.' And off it flew out of the open window, watched idly by the cat.

Doreen shook her head. 'Vermin,' she said, though it wasn't clear if she meant the cat, its fleas, or the whole of fairydom. 'Time for a gin and wormwood.'

10 comments:

  1. An interesting story with a strong protagonist. I particularly enjoyed the unexpected twist. Well done.
    Monica

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  2. I enjoyed this - a nice allegorical tale with a vivid protagonist - well paced and spun on a pin at the end - excellent, Thank you,
    Ceinwen

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  3. A most entertaining story. I enjoyed your imagery - for example, a 'sun-sweet afternoon'. Very believable characters and the twist to the story at the end a very nice touch. Thanks.

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  4. Great story about negativity. People don't change after fifty years. Well done. Thank you.

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  5. Things are bad, not like the good old days (that never existed), those people over there are the problem, etc., etc. That negative drumbeat has a lot of power. This story captures that - especially in the end where choosing a nicely familiar misery is preferred over the risk of opening up to people.

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  6. Oh, I enjoyed this. I *was* sad that a daisy chain should've been young Doreen's undoing...but it was such fun to read about a constant litany of complaints, all true - and know that the sunny world is also out there, behind the grime and noise. Nice twist that Doreen didn't want it back!

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  7. Illustrates nicely one or both of the possibilities - 1) events change our outlook over time, or 2) outlook is ingrained in our personalities.

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  8. Maryangel Mendoza ChapmanMarch 1, 2017 at 2:54 PM

    Some great use of imagery here! I liked Her thin lips, pursed like a circumflex and snails were little people with caravans. Nice job! I suggest you take out bouncy bundle of joy because it is a cliche and usually used for babies not 10 year old girls. I liked the length of the story and the ending. Really enjoyable!

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  9. In the year of 2017. People around me suddenly begin to hang out with lace dresses with sleeves.I'm feeling curious and suspicion at the moment:"Is this a thing now?"And here's my thoughts after research and the dress that I bought.

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  10. Like that the fairy seems no more positive than Doreen.

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