Little Chicago

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dear Maud,

What’s in a hat? Memories, of course.

Over Easter, Queen Jane and I were whisked away by Dennis Potter’s redolent rendering of the Mayor of Casterbridge to Upper Wessex, where we followed the fall of a man undone, like Achilles, by unassuageable anger. Afterwards, we made our own descent: into the heart of our local hamlet, where Jane browsed wares while I sat reading in the sun.

‘There’s a bluebeardy look about ’en,’ Nance Mockridge said, of the aforementioned Mayor. ‘Stuff – he’s well enough!’ replied Christopher Coney. ‘Some folk want their luck buttered.’

Before long I was approached by a nuggety old bloke, who drew me out of Casterbridge (for, having finished the screenplay, I had started the book) and into conversation. Like townsfolk from Hardy’s tale, we parleyed in High Street.

My companion spoke, in thick English, of various things: of his heart’s fatal flaw and his decision to stay the surgeon’s hand; of his native country, Poland, and his arrival in this, his chosen land; and then, remarkably, of my own adopted home, the suburb of Springfield. It, he said, had been a Polish place, like another, in America, only smaller. Little Chicago, they called it.

Finally, he said he liked my hat.

I own two hats, Maud. One came to me from a market stall; the other, from my grandfather. As usual, I was wearing the first, for, unlike the second, which is heavy with age, it is young and lightweight.

My companion added to its store of memories. More importantly, though, he wore his own dusky thin-brimmed cap as if it were more ballast than burden. History, he showed, has a steadying hand.

Now, Maud, to the present. Omar, it seems, was wrong; this Moving Finger, having writ, does not move on.

I am, as you know, an eternally aspiring author. My specialty? Stories for children, if anything at all. My work-in-train? A little red caboose called Sophie’s Big Scoop. My current approach? To be as professional as an amateur can be – which means playing by the rules. And since these say synopsis, synopsis I write.

And write. And write.

What is the half-life of a précis? Well, from four pages I am down to two. Now, like a prospector, I pan for one pure gilded page, my inky finger all thumbs.

Vague men, it seems, need many outlines.

Yours etc.