A Reading

Yesterday we had a visit from our neighbour Mrs Marsh. As usual, she brought over a batch of scones. Delicious they were, too, especially with whipped cream and some of Janice's strawberry jam. Such largesse always comes at a cost, though.

The thing is, Mrs Marsh is an author. She writes children's picture books and she illustrates them herself. She reliably informs us that all her grandchildren love them, as do the Baxter kids down the street and Room 7 at the local primary school. Whenever she says this I have a picture of a row of six-year-olds sitting stock still with fixed smiles on their faces while Mrs Marsh reads to them. That, at least, is the way I feel whenever Mrs Marsh reads to us. Not that I'm six years old, of course, but there is a bullied innocence in all of us somewhere.

The latest project is entitled The Pixie's of Mushroom Manor (I won't attempt to interpret the apostrophe, although a little deconstruction might be illuminating). The story seemed largely indistinguishable from Mrs Marsh's 57 other works - a tale of poetic justice in which the proud are humbled, the dishonest are exposed to public calumny and the meek are raised to inadvertent and undeserved prominence. When she finished she looked round at us with a beaming smile, awaiting our approval.

Silence. Then Felix began to clap, slowly and heavily. It sounded like the drumbeat of a funeral march. I felt awkward. His response seemed poor payment for some delicious scones. Before I could say anything, however, Rupert piped up and rescued me.

'Is that fly agaric?' he asked.

Mrs Marsh looked puzzled.

'The mushrooms. In the pictures, they look like amanita muscaria, fly agaric. You know they're poisonous.'

Mrs Marsh became confused.

'World-wide, the genus Amanita is reponsible for 95% of the deaths by fungal poisoning.'

'They might not be poisonous to pixies,' Trevor pointed out.

'And they're hallucenogenic,' Rupert went on. 'In parts of Siberia they use them in religious rituals.'

'I think they're just harmless made-up pixie mushrooms, dear,' Mrs Marsh answered.

'Not real ones?' Rupert has difficulty accepting anything other than hard facts. He finds the world of fiction very hard to come to grips with.

'Perhaps that's why the bad pixie stole Twinkleberry's pencil case,' Trevor said. 'He was high on the mushrooms.'

Mrs Marsh frowned at him, a basilisk with a grey bun. 'It's just a story, dear.'

'Story?' Rupert sighed. 'That's what they all say.'

12 September 2008


© Chris Else 2008