By Keith Errington. Mrs Beaten scribble above by Nimue.
Any casual passer-by describing Mrs Beaten is unlikely to reach for the word passionate.
Words such as stubborn, old-fashioned, maybe even mousey, might come to mind, but passion would be furthest from their thoughts. Of course, those first impressions would be formed in the minds of people who do not know Mrs Beaten well – which is to say almost everybody – as Mrs Beaten keeps herself to herself.
But Mrs Beaten was passionate – she became fired up about manners, decency, cooking, respectability, neatness, deportment, and a whole range of other subjects that I am sure you will find covered elsewhere in those annals of Hopeless, Maine which include Mrs Beaten.
Then again, Mrs Beaten did not believe in unnecessary displays of emotion. And what’s more, she even considered most emotions to be unnecessary. And even though she experienced emotions from time to time, she usually kept any strong feelings bottled up inside herself. (And if we are to be thinking of words, then the word that springs to mind here, is repression.)
This did not mean that she was indecisive or inactive. On the contrary, she believed in taking action to remedy the faults in her world, whether that action be a sarcastic smile, a loud “tut tut” within earshot, or a stern letter to the Vendetta. Yes, Mrs Beaten was always ready to take rapid, affirmative and proportionate action, in an appropriately dignified manner.
Such actions were almost always planned. Often meticulously. For example, she dedicated a significant number of hours to the task of perfecting her sarcastic smile.
Usually this planning took place in Mrs Beaten’s favourite room – the kitchen. The kitchen was Mrs Beaten’s den, her operations room, her lair. It was here that she did her thinking and her planning, her writing and her recipe making, and of course her preparing of ingredients and her cooking. It was an utterly impressive and respectably large room, whose practicality and unique décor would remain completely unknown to the outside world whilst Mrs Beaten was alive. It seemingly contained every culinary implement, every piece of preparation equipment and every cooking method known to the Western world. Or at least every one that turned up on the Island of Hopeless Maine.
But on this particular day, this repository of appliances, devices, gadgets and utensils was found lacking. Something had caused an intense passion to rise up inside Mrs Beaten, like the steam in her old pressure cooker. It was a situation that would only be relieved by taking action.
Mrs Beaten realised that for what she had in mind, she would need something special, something large, something exactly the right shape, something that was…well…unique. Not something you could buy, even in a well-equipped general store. Someone would have to make the item in question, which, unfortunately, and inevitably, meant engaging with a workman about a delicate matter – not a task that Mrs Beaten relished.
Shaw Dantry was known not only for his proficient carving ability, but also for his magnificent wood. A carpenter with decent wood was hard to find in Hopeless, Maine. If you looked around the island it wasn’t hard to see why. Hopeless trees were all misshapen, short, twisted, and rarely upright. They were generally full of knots, cracks and galls. And if you did manage to find a straight piece of wood, it would most often be riddled with worm, bugs or burrowers – or worse. So the fact that Dantry seemed to have a stock of good, straight, honest wood was a huge boon that stood him in good stead with his steady stream of customers. On top of that, his carving skills were more than adequate and so he found himself fashioning all sorts of items for people throughout the island.
Mrs Beaten knew she needed something large, long, hard and shaped for purpose. Something that would endure and last. So she paid a visit to Shaw Dantry to judge his wood for herself and to see if he could meet her needs.
Mrs Beaten started by insisting that she needed a discrete and private job, emphasising that no-one must know of it and Dantry should ensure that he was not observed at any point during the making of the item.
There then followed a brief period of misunderstanding – as the carpenter had somehow wrongly assumed the nature of the thing Mrs Beaten required. Mrs Beaten couldn’t for the life of her understand why the wretched man was winking and nudging her – what was wrong with him? She almost left at that point, but following some simple clarification, the woodcarver changed his attitude to one of complete professionalism and a price was agreed.
As we have discussed many times, Hopeless, Maine is a bleak place; a difficult place to live, an easy place in which to die. Thus, its inhabitants often looked for respite of any kind, no matter how brief. This respite took many forms, music, social interaction, reading, entertainment, art and eradicating the thing, or the person, that was causing you the most stress that day. Art was practised by many islanders, and although there was no denying it was art, most of it was not terribly good art. Perhaps it pleased the person that had made it for a while, but it would not be to everyone’s taste, either thematically or technically. Art competitions were often won by works such as the painting that won the most recent event, “Three Blobs on a Muddy Background”, or the interactive sculpture from last year, “Tentacular Eviscerations”.
Occasionally, what was considered “good art” washed up from a shipwreck and was subsequently hung proudly in someone’s house or, as in the case of one particularly fine painting, in the Squid and Teapot. A few months ago, a quite spectacular item landed on the Southern beach – a magnificent sculpture. To be fair, it was mostly magnificent and spectacular in its size and the shockingly white material it had been carved in. It was really just an average copy of a true masterpiece, but even in a humble copy, the essence of the original shone through.
Nobody knows which mad individual actually managed to get the heavy piece off the shore, over the land and into town. But the fact is, somebody did. Its resting place was a small square off the main street which hitherto had been an unremarkable patch of dirt. The sculpture was generally considered a great asset to civic pride, with most feeling that the town had gained a level of civility it had previously lacked. The sculpture was visited and admired often, with even those passing down the adjacent street in a bit of a hurry, stopping to appreciate its fine lines for a few seconds before resuming their hustle.
But of course, art is very subjective. What one viewer appreciates, another may not. And one particular viewer did not approve. Oh no, not at all.
Shaw Dantry took pride in both his appearance and his work. And although he was fast and efficient, he was also thorough, and made sure that every requirement was met and that every client was completely satisfied. And indeed, Mrs Beaten was very satisfied with the service that Dantry had provided. As she held it in her hands, stroking it gently, she marvelled at its smoothness, its beauty, its length, its girth and its hardness. It had a lovely feel – quite the biggest and best she had ever handled. She paid the man with an uncharacteristic flourish, and eagerly made her way back to her kitchen to make preparations.
At this point, I am sure you are wondering what it was that she had commissioned from the woodcarver. What was the secret item that had invoked such feelings in Mrs Beaten? Well, you could say it was merely a wooden spoon, but that would be like saying the Titanic was just a boat. It was, quite simply, the most enormous wooden spoon you have probably ever seen. The bowl of the spoon was bigger than any fruit bowl, the handle thicker than that of any broom, and its length was as long as you would ever need in a spoon.
Mrs Beaten rested the monstrous spoon against a wall next to the door and began to assemble ingredients. Within half an hour, she had mixed up some sort of concoction, which bizarrely, was of such a small amount that she could store it in the tiniest container she possessed – a smidgeon of a jar that may once have held the smallest portion of fish paste. There was a genuine dichotomy between the enormous spoon and the miniscule jar. Within that jar was something foul-smelling and exceedingly viscous. Mrs Beaten now waited until the small hours of the morning before putting her plan into action.
The following day, the sculpture in the square had drawn a substantial crowd. Unusually, Mrs Beaten could be observed on the periphery. Anyone who knew her would realise that this was an Event. Mrs Beaten hated people. She could barely tolerate a single encounter, so a mass of humans was simply be abhorrent to her, and yet, here she was. And was that a faint smile of satisfaction on her face?
The sculpture, which we will now formally introduce as a copy of Michelangelo’s David, had a fresh addition. People were pointing and staring at the statue’s abdomen and groin. For there was a new wooden appendage present, where there had been none the previous day. A spoon. Beautifully carved and proportioned, it was fixed upright with the bowl down. The stem was fixed (glued maybe?) to the middle of the tummy, and the bowl of the spoon was precisely placed to hide that part of David that would have left you in no doubt of the subject’s maleness.
Intelligent opinions in the crowd were divided on whether this improved or devalued the sculpture, and indeed, whether it was “ART”. At the other end of the scale, many of the more philistine onlookers thought it was absolutely hilarious and most entertaining.
The following week, a civic committee met and decided that the spoon should be removed. However, it turned out that the spoon and its glue were no respecter of the committee’s wishes, and try as they might, the spoon was not budging an inch. And so, it was reluctantly judged to be an official piece of Hopeless, Maine art and left alone.
— ◊ —
And so, for a while, Mrs Beaten was content. As far as she was concerned, the matter was dealt with and the pressure inside her had dissipated.
But then… she noticed the new hat that Mr Peremptory was wearing, and she could feel her pulse rising once again…