We were given a list of ten objects:
* a withered poinsettia
* business card
* dusty radio
* silver locket with inscription
* bottle of herbal medicine
* auburn hair dye
* fortune-telling cards
* jar of sharpened pencils
* brand new laptop
We were asked to write about a character who owns these things, incorporating some (or all) of the objects into our descriptions.
Madam SosostrisMadam Sosostris scrutinised her reflection carefully in the mirror. Appearances were so important in creating the right impression and inspiring confidence in clients, particularly when embarking on a new venture like this where one was, so as to speak, feeling one's way in the dark rather. The auburn hair dye had, she felt, been undoubtedly the right decision, lending a warm glow to her features whilst artfully concealing the streaks of grey. She arranged her headscarf so that strands of hair peeked out from underneath it and adjusted the silver locket round her neck, then re-examined the overall effect. Yes, definitely the look she was aiming for - wise and slightly mysterious, not too elderly, with a welcoming look that invited confidence in her. She opened the locket and gazed affectionately at the inscription inside: 'To Rosie from Bertie, with undying love'. Alongside it was a photo of a slightly pudgy young man with a walrus moustache - her beloved Bertie.
Next she turned to examine the room behind her to ensure it conveyed the right atmosphere. The lights, of course, would be quite dim but nonetheless it would not do for there to be any details that jarred or distracted her clients from giving her their undivided attention. She placed the withered poinsettia behind the dusty radio, and draped over both of them a purple cloth embroidered with gold suns and silver stars. Finally satisfied, she turned her attention to the centrepiece of her arrangements: the brand new laptop sitting on the desk in front of her, a present from her daughter Ellie.
It was Ellie, in fact, who had come up with the whole idea for the project. After Bertie died, Rose had found herself at a loose end: increasingly reluctant to leave the house and meet new people, yet at a loss to know how to pass the long hours by herself. 'You need a new interest, Mum', Ellie had said (somewhat sharply, in Rose's view). 'Something to keep you active mentally - it won't do you any good just sitting round feeling sorry for yourself.' She'd paused for a moment, looking round the living room and taking in, Rose felt sure, the rather neglected and shabby state of things - housework had not been high on Rose's 'To Do' list recently. 'I know,' she continued brightly, 'you could go in for fortune-telling - you know, with a crystal ball and the Tarot cards and all that. People used to love it when you did that at parties and the village fete - it was an absolute hoot, and they all said you were so convincing.'
Initially, Rose had resisted the idea, saying she couldn't think of anywhere where she could do that kind of thing - and anyway, who'd be interested? Ellie had scoffed at her last objection, saying it was amazing how many people were into all this New Age stuff - as people became less religious, they seemed to have become more superstitious. She could see, however, that her mother was genuinely distressed both by the prospect of venturing out in public and by having strangers invading the privacy of her home for such encounters, and she had seemed to be on the verge of abandoning the idea when suddenly she exclaimed 'I've got it, Mum - you could do it all online!'
And so the project was launched, along with her new online persona. Rose had wanted to call herself Gypsy Rose Lee, using her maiden name prefixed by the title, but Ellie had guffawed and said, 'Mum, with a name like that you'll attract completely the wrong kind of people online - trust me!' Ellie had come up with Madam Sosostris instead, as being 'more classy', and had mentioned something about a poem called The Wasteland, but Rose hadn't really been paying attention at that point. They had both become quite excited about the idea, however, and Ellie organized the printing of some business cards for her with the words 'Online Clairvoyant and Fortune Teller' after her name. She had also guided her mother through the mysteries of setting up the computer, downloading and logging on to the app which was the medium through which her clients would contact her and positioning herself in front of the webcam so that she appeared to best advantage.
Now, as she prepared to welcome her first client, she felt oddly nervous and fortified herself with a quick swig of the 'herbal remedy' which she had bought on a visit to Prague last year. It was quite bitter-tasting, with a strong, pungent smell; the bottle did not specify the ingredients or the alcohol content but she felt the latter was certainly quite high. A warm glow suffused her and, confident and excited, she switched on the computer and logged into the app. As the beep sounded to let her know a caller was online, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and intoned: 'Madam Sosostris welcomes you - speak, friend, and say what it is that you seek!'
HoraceMarjorie and Peter, Horace’s cousins edge their way somewhat stealthily into Horace’s living room. They cough nervously to announce their arrival and to avoid scaring Horace who has been rather skittish of late. The scene before them startles and amazes them. It is largely frozen in time. Traces of neglect abound. Dust pervades and almost obscures the sad now entirely green-leaved Christmas poinsettia. Dust has also sought the company of the ancient brown Bakelite radio, or wireless as Horace, never comfortable in the 21st century, would term it. He would never countenance a flat screen TV entering his household. They scan the room but there is no sign of Horace,
Marjorie says,”He was scared, he did not want to spend the night alone here after his father’s death. He heard his father’s heavy footsteps upstairs shortly after his father’s funeral.” The passing had not been peaceful An inquest had yielded the cause of the demise as inconclusive. There was some feeling that Horace had in some way been implicated in his father’s death. Perhaps this had caused Horace to withdraw from society. Now they become concerned for his welfare. Where was he? He is a vain man who liked to cover his greying hair with an auburn hair dye, he would never leave that behind. Nor would he leave his pack of tarot cards without which he could never undertake any journey. And why oh why would Horace possess a brand new laptop? He wasn’t even connected to the internet. They examine the laptop carefully and recoil in surprise when they see that the screen has been smashed and shattered.
They decide to risk exploring upstairs. They enter Horace’s father’s bedroom. The bed appears to have been slept in recently. A silver locket , warm to the touch is found on the pillow. Dust adorns the wooden floor. There are signs of a struggle where the dust has been disturbed. Suddenly they notice that the word, “Help” has been etched in the dust.. There is still no sign of Horace.
Randy StellaNever underestimate the power of Randy Stella. Outwardly her home may have looked a tip with withered poinsettias and ancient Christmas decorations adorning the bay window of the front room. Cleanliness and goodness have never been part of her psyche. Her parents moved in before she was born and the only way she was going to move out was in box. The Council had decided that all those homes with their large gardens should be redeveloped for affordable housing. Property developers had started infilling plots with cul de sacs. Instead the council had produced a scheme with a park, a primary school, behind blocks of functional homes with minimal gardens. A letter had gone out to residents inviting them to sell at favourable prices to the Council. If they did not then their homes would be compulsory purchased!
No way was Randy Stella going before her natural time was up. Round her neck she always wore a silver locket with photos inside of her greatgrand parents. On the front was inscribed “Till death do us part”
Well being a spinster of middle age that was how she felt about her home. No Council officials were going to chase her out of it. She knew all her neighbours and the area like the back of her hand. Everyone knew her with her auburn hair dye glowing to show she was still nearly a spring chicken. Her floral dresses in the summer nearly reaching her wellies. In the winter she had a thick woolly coat, and of course the wellies.
To clear her mind she took her fortune telling cards and carefully laid them out on a patch of clear floor. No room for the cards on any tables. Too full of heaps of paper and several jars of sharpened pencils. The cards showed that decisive action would be taken in the near future. A newsletter from the local residents association came through the letterbox. Other neighbours had received the Council letter and a meeting had been arranged.
The councillors had agreed to meet the residents so that it could all be explained. Well at the meeting Randy Stella made her views very clear by heckling and hissing. She was nearly asked to leave by the chairman of the resident association when she shouted “This is social engineering “ and “My home is my castle”
Afterwards one of the councillors came over to her and gave her his business card. “Phone me and we can discuss this more easily”
Well she did not need to be asked twice. Next morning when she turned on her dusty radio the local news was full of the so called “Political manoeuvring” and Social Engineering. She took a swig at the bottle of herbal medicine and picked up the phone. To her surprise the councillor answered himself. He said he had heard the news on the radio. His party was all for the redevelopment of the area but not on the lines that were proposed. He was sure that her eloquent heckling had won a lot of support. The elections were soon and if his party won he would send her a brand new
laptop. Was that bribery or reward?