Another world: Episode 3

ONE WEEK PREVIOUSLY

Maxine Watson spends much of Tuesday morning in a state of DEEP SOFA. The wool shop downstairs doesn’t open until noon. She is calm. And both she and her sofa hum with delight.

But the next instant, outside, the roar of a motorcycle in the street below.

A megaphone at ear-splitting volume: Maxine sits bolt upright, her heart pounding.

“IS THIS THING WORKING?” booms an uncertain police officer’s voice. A few more hisses and screeches, and then,

“WARNING: ESCAPEE GOLFER ON THE LOOSE.”

The motorcycle roars off into the distance, quiet descends.

Rompshire

Dingle is the last Rompshire village before the border crossing into Oxfordshire and only a few miles from the high-security golf course for the criminally insane there.

All of Dingle’s villagers are used to escapees. Every few weeks, one of them finds a deluded golfer in the garden looking for a lost ball or digging up great clods of earth from the front lawn with a number seven iron.

Maxine is fully awake now. She sits at her little table by the window with a pot of Weird Sister Tea and contemplates her tiny garden; a small square of grass, a willow tree, and a hedge.

Pheme, Maxine’s cat, pushes the door open with her paw. In her mouth, two letters. The cat jumps onto the table and deposits them, and returns downstairs for the Rompshire Gazette. Pheme is something of a gossip and likes to read the paper before Maxine does.

Another letter from the landlord, a decent fellow. Thank goodness Sir William’s agreed to allow her more time to pay. Business hasn’t been brisk at the wool shop lately.

Maxine picks up the second letter with a postmark from Dampford. She opens it to discover it’s from Barry Plumb.

Dear Maxine,

When you first arrived at Sofa Research in Dampford, I had no idea of your talent. I am eternally grateful for the time you spent with us as a student volunteer. No other research subject achieved such a state of DEEP SOFA when enveloped in our experimental biosofa.

I used your case for a paper we submitted to The Sofa Guild. Even the Grandfuttock Major was impressed, so the Guild provided a research grant to continue the vital work.

I bought that new machine with dials and lights. It makes a delightful beep-beep-beep noise when subjects achieve deep states of relaxation. Marvelous!

While the grant allowed me to spend two years writing my book, Sensuality and the Sofa, budget constraints have been cut. Sadly, that book didn’t have much of an audience beyond the congregation at the Church of Inertia.

I’m hoping my new book, Sofa Appreciation for Beginners, will be more of a money maker. I’ve asked my publisher to send you a copy. It’s been favorably reviewed in the Warmsley Valley Times, and I’ve been invited to give a talk on sofa etiquette to the girls at Great Sodden next week, so I shall be in your neck of the woods.

Maxine, there is a sofa I’d like you to sit on. Could we meet to talk about it? How about 11 a.m. on the 16th at Frobisher’s in Lawn Street?

Yours in anticipation,

Barry (Plumb)