Miss Penelope Spenser

 

Her father named her Penelope because her mother was too unwell to protest.

Penelope’s dad was fond of historical heroines, and Odysseus’s wife seemed like a wise and resourceful woman — someone he hoped his daughter would grow up to become. He always thought that Odysseus was a bit of a dick, but he gave him credit for finding his way home. The whole taking a detour so he could hear the Sirens sing seemed reasonable under the circumstances.

Penelope Spenser had her heart broken on two separate occasions — the second time being the most painful.

Her first broken heart was a shared experience. Many young women saw their beautiful young men go off to war, never to return. It didn’t help that she was part of such a vast sisterhood, but it gave her cover for being unmarried.

Death did not play a role in her second heartbreak.

Philip Dunstable promised much, but in the end, he ran away with the daughter of the local cinema owner.

No cover at all, only a heart that would not mend and ongoing embarrassment.

Her grandfather died and left her a cottage and about a thousand pounds a year. Not quite enough money to survive on, but she supplemented it with a bit of sewing and mending — the benefits of a practical education.

Her parents passed away and left her some excellent china wear and a mountain of debts that were only just cleared by selling their house.

Through it all, Penelope was stoic if not actually happy.

She was a quiet person who loved to read and walk and talk to people she knew.

Her garden was full of flowers and weeds and birds and other things that liked weeds and flowers.

I wanted you to know these things because it helps to explain why Willian chose her.

William had a home — if you could call it that. He wasn’t young anymore, and the few years he had left were precious to him. He wanted to spend them with someone who would appreciate his love and devotion. 

He chose Penelope Spenser.

Of course, he didn’t know that was her name. All he knew was that she was friendly and walked most days to the shops and returned with a basket full of delicious aromas. That was most important because William was hungry most of the time.

William had come into the Getts family as a pup, and the young boy had looked after him until he’d been packed off to boarding school. It was lonely without him. The Getts family were not really dog people, and William was barely tolerated. A dog cannot live without love. Love is more important than treats and sausages and water and a warm blanket.

William planned his campaign with military precision.

He knew when she would most likely walk by on her way home.

Her big shopping day was Wednesday, but William had yet to be able to tell the days of the week.

His gambit was a bold one.

Lie in the road and look half dead.

As a plan, it had its drawbacks, and he nearly got run over twice, but finally, Miss Penelope walked by and noticed what looked like a dog in distress — legs in the air, not long for this world.

The ‘lying on the back with the legs in the air’, turned out to be a good ploy because upside down he looked like a different dog to the one she would pet every week on her way home.

“Oh dear. You poor dog. What’s happened to you? Are you lost? Are you hurt?” said Penelope, who tended to ask a lot of questions when things got intense.

William opened one eye and tried to look as pathetic as possible, which was a challenge because he was well fed and a bit plump, it has to be said.

Miss Penelope put her shopping down, and a bread roll fell out. It was all William could do not to leap on it.

He held his nerve, and Miss Penelope held his paw. It was then that he knew that passing up a crusty bread roll was well worth it. Her touch was gentle, and William went all wiggly inside.

“Do you think you can walk? I hope so because I doubt that I could carry you,” said Penelope.

William rolled onto his side and gradually got to his feet. He wobbled a bit just to press the point.

“Good dog,” said Penelope.

“Come,” she said, and William wobbled along beside her and her bag full of goodies until they reached her cottage.

Penelope showed him into the house and laid a blanket on the floor near the fireplace.

“This is a good spot for a tired dog to regain his composure,” she said as she lit the fire and made herself a cup of tea and put away her supplies.

“You might as well have this. I hope you don’t mind that it’s a bit dusty,” Penelope said as she put the crusty bread roll next to him.

She took one of the lovely china bowls that her mother had left her and filled it with water.

“Every dog needs water,” she said, “and when you are feeling better, I’ll look for your owner and give him a good talking too.”

Penelope did go looking for William’s owner, but even though she put up flyers and asked around, the Getts family stayed silent, and their son was sad when he came home from school to find his dog had ‘run away’.

William thought that his young master had gone away never to return, and he did not know of his sadness.

William made a ‘miraculous’ recovery and assumed the duty of keeping Miss Penelope safe and loved.

They read stories together, and William would chase and bring back anything that she threw. He was very good at sitting and rolling over, and he was warm and loved.

William felt badly about deceiving Miss Penelope, but a dog needs love, and Miss Penelope had plenty to share. 

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Illustration Credit: Anita Jeram 

It All Started Innocently Enough

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It all started innocently enough, but by the time it was over I was very wealthy, lives were destroyed, and three people lay dead.
“No one should ever know their future,” she said with that lovely little smile I remember so affectionately. By the time this all developed, my mother had been dead for more than fifteen years, but I look back now, and I remember her words. She was fearful of the future and what it may hold. Her fear was rooted in her past, and it coloured everything she saw.
I’d been attending the Meditation Circle for a couple of years. I’d found my feet again after wandering aimlessly for many years.
“Come along one night — you’ll enjoy yourself, and you might just learn something. You’re a moody bugger, Billy. You need help. Get off your arse and get your head straight.”
He was annoying, but he was right. If I didn’t do something I was going to slip back into that black hole again. I could feel it coming on.
The lady who ran the group was friendly and warm.
“Hi, I’m Trevina, and I facilitate the group. We are all equal here. It’s a Circle and no one sits at the head of a Circle.”
‘Good luck with that,’ was what I was thinking, but I didn’t say it out loud.
“Thanks for making space for me Trevina. My mate dragged me along. There are a lot more blokes here than I expected?”
“Souls don’t know if they are male or female. We just are,” she said.
“I guess,” was all I could think of as I made a mental note of where the exit was.
Trevina glided off in the direction of a bunch of mature females who were clutching coffee as though their lives depended on it. We were in the middle of Spring, but the evenings were still cool. Someone had turned on the heater, and the large room had a relaxed, comfortable feel to it. Chairs were arranged in a circle, and each chair had a different coloured cushion on the seat.
“Those cushions could tell a story or two,” said a rather tall lady. She stood almost as tall as my six feet, and she had perfectly brushed, slightly coloured hair which could not completely disguise her seventy years of life. She had a twinkle in her eyes, and I knew I had found a friend.
“Somewhere there is an Op Shop that is completely out of cushions,” I said.
“Collected over many years, I should think. Many a bottom has compressed them, and they keep coming back for more.”
“What would you say that was a sign of?” I asked.
“Perseverance, I should think,” she said.
“So what do you do here ……..?”
“Norma. We find ourselves.”
“Sounds like something someone would have said in a 70’s movie,” I said.
“If you keep coming you will find out what I mean.”
“Now you have me intrigued. I was thinking about what we were going to have for supper when we eventually get out of here and now you’ve got me thinking about hippie girls in tight jeans with free love in their hearts.”
“I used to be one of those girls. It was a lot of fun at the time.” She gave me that smile that I was to see on the face of many of the people who regularly attended this Circle. Anywhere else, and I would say that it was smug, but not here. Not in this room. Here it seemed to suggest that they knew something that the rest of us did not know. They knew that they knew. Amazingly, they were happy to share what they had discovered.
I looked to see if I could find the friend who had brought me. Ross was standing on the far side of the room talking to a skinny female. She hugged him, and he walked in my direction.
“What’s with all the hugging? Not that I want to discourage females from hugging me, but I must say that I haven’t come across so much hugging since I was in kindergarten.”
“You’ll get used to it. It comes with the philosophy.”
“You haven’t walked me into some religious cult have you, Ross?”
“No, you crazy bugger! Exactly the opposite. Everyone here takes personal responsibility for the way they live their lives. They don’t live by some old man’s dogma.”
“Okay, take it easy. I was just joking. So no religious mumbo-jumbo. So what do you do?”
“We meditate and we discuss stuff. Some of the regulars are Mediums and Psychics, and they need the mental discipline that regular meditation brings.”
“Do you have any fortune tellers?” I was winding him up, but he didn’t bite.
Someone walked past us and headed for the coffee urn, and I could have sworn that they said, “That’s why you are here.”
I turned and looked at them, but they didn’t return my gaze. The person who might have said that was a short dark haired female, probably in her late thirties. She was the only woman in the room who was wearing a dress; all the others were rugged up in slacks and pants.
“She’s cute, and she’s going to find that house.”
“What house? Do you know her? What the fuck are you on about Billy? You’re doing it again.”
“Doing what?”
“Never mind. Just find a seat and try not to annoy anyone.”
“Fuck you blondy. They love me here.”
“I’m not blond anymore dimwit; I’m old and grey.”
He was right. We were getting on a bit. Not exactly old, but not young anymore either.
So, the Circle settled down, and the meditation began.
Ross was right, and as the next couple of years went by he continued to be right. My mind settled down — I discovered that I could do things that most people could only dream about, and I learned to love this rag-tag bunch of misfits.
I hugged a lot of people, and I listened as the Mediums among us connected with the Spirits of dead relatives and friends. I watched the tears flow, and I saw the laughter in their eyes. I learned that I could, under certain circumstances, tell what was going to happen to people in the future. I wasn’t the only one who could do this, but I was the best.
As long as these happenings stayed within the Circle, there weren’t any problems. We all understood the unwritten rules. No lottery numbers and no bad news.
For some reason, it was impossible to read your own future, only someone else’s.
Mostly, the information was vague and general, but helpful. People in the Circle loved it, and I became a bit of a minor celebrity. My ego could handle it and because I was so grateful for my deliverance from the black hole of depression I was very careful not to do anything that might jinx my luck.
If I had to put my finger on it, I would say that it all started to unravel when I switched to the daytime sessions.
Trevina ran a nighttime group which I attended, and a Friday morning group. She asked me if I would like to come to the morning group. My work schedule was flexible, so I said yes.
When we took a break for a cup of tea, I liked to sit out on the footpath in front of the old shop which was our meeting place. The building had a long and colourful history, and I’m now quite sure that its energy contributed to what was about to happen.
The group would be deep in conversation fuelled by the events of the morning and copious amounts of caffeine. I’d take a chair out into the sunlight and sit quietly with my mug of horrendous coffee and gather my thoughts. It wouldn’t be long before someone would wander out and join me, but for a few moments I had the sun and the solitude, and it was wonderful.
The shop had a verandah which back in the day would have protected the shoppers from the inclement weather that is a feature of our mountain climate.
To catch the rays of the sun I moved my chair slightly out from under the metal clad verandah and as I look back I realise that this was the final piece of the puzzle.
As the beautiful woman with the coloured hair joined me and broke my solitude, I noticed a delivery van pull up. The driver got out and proceeded to open the back of his van.
“He’s going to have a hell of a headache,” I heard myself say.
Dianne, the beautiful woman with the colourful hair, said, “What do you mean?”
I blinked a couple of times and tried to form an answer.
The delivery driver opened the back of his van, and a large cardboard box hit him right between the eyes. He went down hard, and a bunch of us retrieved him from under the contents of his poorly packed van.
The wounds on the front and the back of his head were producing a lot of blood, and some of the bystanders were expressing their alarm.
“He’ll be fine. But in a couple of days, when the police search his house he’s going to be in a heap of trouble,” I heard myself say.
The onlookers went quiet for a moment, and many of them were looking at me.
“A garage full of stolen white goods,” I said.
A week later, at our next Circle, someone showed me the local newspaper. The delivery driver was arrested after the police visited him to talk about a noisy dog complaint. They had the wrong house and the wrong street, and they apologised and turned to leave when the driver’s son opened the garage door to retrieve his skateboard.
Everyone thought it was funny, but I had a sinking feeling. This premonition was way wilder than anything I had come up with before.
I took my cup of piss-weak coffee out on to the footpath and soaked up the sunlight.
When I opened my eyes, there were a bunch of people standing around me silently waiting for me to say something.
“What the bloody hell do you lot want?” I said.
“Tell us what is going to happen,” said a slightly scruffy older lady.
“You knew about the truck driver,” said a tall man in workman’s clothes.
“I’ll tell you what is going to happen. You are all going to bugger off and stop annoying me. I don’t know anything you don’t know.”
This wasn’t exactly true. As I looked at each person, I could see a scene being played out in my head.
The little boy with the scab on his knee was going to get a puppy for his birthday, and they would grow up together. The scruffy old lady would be dead before Christmas, and no one would come to her funeral. The bloke in the workman’s clothes would find a wallet and return it to its owner, intact. The owner of the wallet would, in turn, facilitate the entry of the workman’s son into a private school and the experience would lead the boy to a sad life of drugs and crime.
“Don’t give the wallet back. Stick it in the mail and don’t put your address on the package.” The workman looked at me like I had just stepped on his foot.
“How did you know about the wallet. I only found it this morning?” he said.
As I looked at him, I knew he would ignore my advice. I wanted to tell him what was going to happen, but I had a strong sense that what I was seeing was going to happen no matter what I said.
The worker looked shocked as he produced the wallet from his back pocket and held it in mid-air. I had the feeling that he wanted it to fly away so that he would not have to decide.
Things escalated rather quickly from there.
My mate could see the profit potential, and I tried to talk him out of it. I like the quiet life. I needed a bit more money, who doesn’t, but this seemed to me to be against the spirit of what we had learned.
I did my best to avoid the limelight, but I knew when I looked at Ross that he would eventually work out that his ability combined with the energy of this amazing old building would produce a similar result for him and anyone else with a modicum of talent.
It got crazy and dangerous, and I did my best to steer clear.
There were a few fatalities, but I’ll tell you about them some other time.
I’ll bet you are wondering how I became wealthy, especially as I mentioned that I cannot read for myself.
Cast your mind back to me sitting outside the shop in the sun before anyone knew what I could do.
Across the road from our meeting place is a shop that sells newspapers, greeting cards and lottery tickets.
I was enjoying the sunlight when I noticed an agitated young man. He attracted my attention as he stood outside the shop obviously deciding whether to go in or not. It occurred to me that he thought this was his last chance.
As I looked at him, I could see two possible futures for him, and each one hinged on his decision. As he stood frozen on the footpath, his future was nothing but misery and disappointment ending in his death from alcohol-related complications.
Eventually, he moved towards the shop door, and the pictures changed dramatically. The money he was destined to win would not solve all his problems, but his life certainly improved, at least, it did for the foreseeable future.
In my head, I watched him filling out the lottery form. I quickly wrote down the numbers and needless to say, we shared the massive jackpot, which had been building up for many weeks.
I have never told anyone this story, and I’m counting on you to keep it to yourself.
People get a bit crazy where money is concerned, and I like a quiet life.