The best laid plans

The best laid plans

NOTE: Today only, you can download for free my latest book, Narrowboating for Beginners, as a Kindle book. Any reviews would be greatly appreciated.

Ah, the best-laid plans go awry after your dog tears his ACL. After the drama of my cat Rocky having exploratory surgery that confirmed he only has inflammatory bowel disease and not cancer, we’ve now experienced the drama of my dog Hemingway’s surgery to repair his knee, damaged while playing with another dog.

Fortunately the surgery went well and he is recovering, but I now have a funnel-headed dog and 16 weeks of recovery and no walks for two months. Hemingway, a 73-pound Australian shepherd/border collie mix, got three walks a day, which I used to begrudge because they ate into my writing hours, but I now realize how essential they were for both of us. I’ve solved more plot holes while walking dogs than by any other means.

At least the timing of his accident and the surgery coincided with the final push to publish my latest book, Narowboating for Beginners. I could not leave the house because someone has to make sure nothing bad happens, and by bad, I will mention he did not poo for five days after his surgery and he’s still on an every other day quite variable schedule. So I had lots of time to finish formatting the Kindle version of the book, create the website for the book and the accompanying phpBB forum … lots and lots of time because I did not need to break my schedule with walks … loads of time … hours and hours of it. And yet somehow those hours got spent binge watching Stargate Atlantis while comforting the dog or allowing myself to be distracted by some programming challenge.

I had hoped I could use some of that extra time to write a short story for this post suggested by my previous post about what might a time traveler bring to Jane Austen to help her with her writing. It would have been very clever with a trick ending, but predictably I ran out of time. In fact I even envisioned a whole series of short stories about time travelers going back in time to either help Austen or prevent her writing.

I had images of a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger showing up in her drawing-room in a blue ball of lightning but she disarms him with a withering bon mot … or Marty McFly showing up in the DeLorean and the impossibility of achieving 88 mph during the Regency … or H.G. Wells showing up in his time machine pursued by Morlocks. The story I’ve been trying to write involves a visit from Doctor Who, but unfortunately it’s taken a turn toward the melancholy and I decided I couldn’t turn it around in time for this post.

I wonder if other authors have had the problem of ideas coming to them so quickly and completely that they burn out before pen is ever put to paper. It’s like one of those dreams where you come up with the greatest plot for a book ever and you write it down at 3 am on the nearest piece of paper but when you look at it the next morning it makes no sense at all.

So to make up for this, I thought I would post a snippet from my long gestating Our Mutual Friends, which I present here in pretty raw form (I’m still writing so this has only casually been proofread). It is from a very long chapter and requires a little setup. You may recall an earlier post where I wrote about Franz Anton Mesmer, the charlatan who offered magnetic and electrical cures to the gullible. My version is called Doctor Meissner and my heroine Jane Woodsen and her friend Mrs. Fitzhugh have called at the doctor’s saloon to investigate the power he has over the fiancée of their client. It may further your enjoyment of this if you keep in mind that I had the late, great Alan Rickman in mind as Meissner. Also, while I am in no means explicit, this scene does involve older women immensely enjoying an experience.

The women in this scene are in a very large version of the bacquet I mentioned in that earlier post. It’s essentially a Regency hot tub.

Soon, despite the eerie surroundings, I found myself enjoying the experience. The warm water slightly bubbled and occasionally it would splash on my lips and thus I could tell the water was slightly salted. The maids brought small glasses of port, but I detected in mine some bitterness and asked instead for the water I had drunk.

I had almost forgot the purpose of our visit when somewhere a bell tolled, sounding in the darkness like some distant church bell.

‘Welcome all,’ I heard a man’s voice say from the darkness. It was a sonorous voice and I thought I detected in those two words a foreign accent. I sank down in alarm at the thought of a man catching sight of me in such a situation.

‘Don’t worry, child,’ Mrs Ralston, who sat on my left, said. ‘It’s only Herr Doktor Meissner.’ She said his name with comic emphasis. ‘You are quite safe.’

‘Thank you, Mrs Wimple,’ the voice said. The four ladies giggled quietly at this.

‘Please not to be alarmed,’ Doctor Meissner said as he approached. ‘I am, as you have heard, Doctor Meissner. And you are the new disciples.’

As he walked toward us and toward the light cast by the chandelier overhead, I could see that Doctor Meissner was a striking figure. He wore an open fronted black robe carelessly hanging from his shoulders. The robe revealed his cravat and shirt and waistcoat tailored to the height of fashion. His dark black hair was styled to great effect and his eyebrows seemed permanently arched in mild derision. He was tall, or else he projected height for he seemed gaunt, which accentuated the bones of his face.

‘I preserve your incognito, ladies, but I hope you have acquaintances of your fellow disciples made.’ Again the ladies giggled and I think it delighted them to know something Herr Doktor did not.

I smiled as well, for I found Doctor Meissner’s manner of speaking quite amusing. Before my friendship with Charlotte, I had never known how the German accent sounded. She had warned me, however, that it was easy to parody. ‘Only the German is so unkind to his verbs. To great lengths to place the verb at the end of a sentence must you go.’

‘Ah, but now serious you must be,’ he said, and his voice pitched lower, ‘for we now introduce these ladies to the mystery of the waters.’ The room grew darker. I looked up and saw that the chandelier had noiselessly ascended. Doctor Meissner was pacing around the bacquet and all eyes watched him. He now climbed the stairs that Mrs Fitzhugh had ascended and stopped at the platform. Slowly a light from below, probably shining through a sliding panel, fell upon his face.

‘You now in the sacred water bathe. It is the sacred water of your great river, the Thames. It is water old as time and new as the fallen rain. It caresses you. It soothes you. It revitalizes you.’

As he spoke, the bubbles that rose from the floor of the bacquet increased and I felt a peculiar sensation upon my skin. It was not unlike the prickling after an arm or leg has fallen asleep but far more pleasurable and I felt it everywhere. I heard one of the ladies moan but I knew it could not be from pain.

Now I heard something else. An unearthly music played and I thought I recognized the melody as something Charlotte might play but what instrument might give it voice I could not imagine. It seemed to me as if an entire dinner party were playing with their glasses.

Again I heard a moan and again I felt a surge of that tingling pleasure.

‘Now its energy, die Lebenskraft, the vitality you feel growing inside you,’ Doctor Meissner said with skilful tones. Another moan, this time louder.

‘You feel great happiness, great joy, great pleasure.’ He said the last word with a long, drawn out sigh and timed to his words, the tingling increased. I heard another moan and to my surprise I recognized the voice of my friend as its author. I realized I had closed my eyes and opening them, I saw Mrs Fitzhugh voice another moan. I saw that her back was arched and her neck stretched so that her head was thrown back. Then I saw that the other women were similarly enraptured. I was frightened, especially at the sight of Mrs Ralston’s grey head so thrust back and the image of her aged skin so taut.

‘Allow the water to enter you, to fill you, to burst inside you,’ Doctor Meissner now said. I looked to him and saw that his eyes were shut and he seemed to have grown full an inch taller. The music also swelled so that it sounded like the humming of bees, rising and falling, rising and falling.

The moans now became so pronounced that I became embarrassed to witness it. Doctor Meissner now spoke continuously, his words in time to the music, rising and falling. I recognized in his tone the same persuasion Charlotte employed when talking to a distraught mother. I knew how entranced a person could become listening to that voice and that realization instantly sobered me.

‘And now you feel a great peace and a great warmth. All your pains, all your regrets fade now. All trouble is a distant memory. All you can remember is the memory of the great joy you have experienced, but you will forget all this.’

At these words, the tingling slowly subsided, as did the bubbles. The room lightened as the chandelier descended and the music quieted. ‘Now open your eyes, meine lieblinge.’

The women in the bacquet all slowly stirred.

‘Oh, Jane, I must have fallen asleep,’ Mrs Fitzhugh said. ‘And I had the most … never mind.’

‘It always happens to us in the bacquet,’ Mrs Hastings said. ‘The dear doctor comes to us and we nod off. I hope we don’t offend you, Herr Doktor.’

‘Such charming ladies never can offend,’ Doctor Meissner said. I saw that his face was no longer illuminated and that he was smiling broadly and that he was looking directly at me.

‘Falling asleep is to be expected. The water of life your pain away washes, so it is no surprise that you sleep. I hope our new disciples have enjoyed your time and later when we meet, I may all your questions answer. Good day, ladies.’ Doctor Meissner then bowed deeply and withdrew, his dark robe making him disappear into the gloom.

‘Poor man, he never really has a chance to talk to us,’ Mrs Askew, the youngest of the four ladies, said. ‘And it’s such a shame, for he is such a handsome man.’

‘Now, now,’ Mrs Tompkins said. ‘You are a married woman, a distinction you alone have.’

‘Yes, but I am afraid there is very little … passion between us. I do not blame my dear husband, for he is very much my senior. He does love me a great deal I know. It was he that encouraged me to seek Doctor Meissner’s help to solve that …’—here she spoke conspiratorially—‘… hysteria that has afflicted me.’

After that confession, the ladies admitted that hysteria was not an uncommon complaint.

‘And you, child,’ Mrs Ralston asked me, ‘did you enjoy your time here? I fear Doctor Meissner did not have much of an opportunity to make an impression,’ she said, adding such a great yawn that she was forced to throw her head back.

That motion brought back the image of her ecstasy from just moments earlier and caused me to laugh.

‘Please forgive me,’ I said. ‘No, Doctor Meissner left a very great impression on me and I don’t know when I’ve … enjoyed myself so much.’

Now that I am no longer bound by the need to finish my non-fiction book, I hope I can have a complete draft done by the end of February and begin proof reading.

6 Responses to The best laid plans

  1. How very interesting Jennifer! I admit to wishing I could take a narrowboat trip.I am so sorry that your dog and your cat have had problems of late. it does seem that when it rains, it pours. I have spent a fortune on my pets of late, too. Thanks for sharing the excerpt of your book as it made me laugh!

  2. Thank you for the excerpt and the free download of your book. The first made me think “goodness!” the second made me think “hmmm… I’ll give this to my boyfriend, he likes boats AND trying new stuff.” cute dog. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the kind thoughts. Hemingway’s cone is off Wednesday. He just had his staples removed and it will take a little bit before the little holes heal. And yes, Anji, I love the dog in … Squirrel! And Caryl, I am feeling a little more peaceful now that the vet approves of Hemingway’s progress.

  4. Thanks for the excerpt Jennifer. It was very interesting imagining Alan Rickman in that scene! Thanks also for the free download of your book – it’s free here in the UK as well. We’ve been on narrow boat holidays so it’s going to be a fascinating read.

    Hope Hemingway gets rid of his ‘cone of shame’ soon. Have you seen the Pixar film Up, by the way? It has some wonderful observations about dogs.

    Good luck with finishing your book.

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