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Youll-see…Tennyson

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					Life to the lees? Ulysses pushed the kitchen door open with his broad rump, hoisted the heavily laden supermarket bags on to the kitchen table and sighed, „There was no butter so I got margarine. Probably better, you know how butter goes off quickly in this heat…‟ Penelope was standing at the sink with her back to him. He heard her grunt huffily. „Is anything wrong, dearest?‟ he asked softly, knowing her moods. „You ought to know.‟ Penelope‟s voice was cold and brittle, Ulysses frowned and wiped his brow, fearing the worst; another of Penny‟s moods. „What ought I to know, Penny, darling?‟ he asked gingerly. His attempted delicacy was rewarded by a howling blast from Penelope, „ “An aged wife?” eh? After all I‟ve done for you that‟s what you think of me. After all my sacrifices…One rotten line, “An aged wife.”‟ Ulysses was nonplussed and frightened, „Penny, I haven‟t got the faintest idea what you‟re on about.‟ She spun around and gestured menacingly with the potato peeler towards the open newspaper on the kitchen table. Ulysses put on his reading glasses and peered at the crumpled pages. „That,‟ Penny shouted, waving the peeler „that, Mr. “Unburnish‟d rust”, Mr. “Drink-Life-to-the Lees.”‟ Her dark eyes flashed contempt. Ulysses thought it better to take no chances with his armed and dangerous wife and drew back towards the fridge clutching the newspaper in his hands which were moist with sweat. Penelope stood glowering at him, her curled fists resting on her hips. Ulysses glanced at the page in his hand and saw the poem, „Ulysses‟ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He fidgeted nervously as he read it. „Oh.‟ he said, finally, hoarsely, „that.‟ „Yes, that,‟ Penelope said returning to the sink, throwing pots and pans into the basin. „THAT,‟ she repeated, „Mr. “Equal-temper-of-heroic-hearts.”‟ With each beat she hurled another dish into the grey soapy water. Then she really took flight, „I just don‟t know who you think you are. At your age too. Well, go if you want to…go with your mates. Off you go “beyond the sunset”. Go on. What are you waiting for? I don‟t know what‟s gotten into you at your age. It‟s that Calypso again, isn‟t it?‟ Penelope‟s voice trembled and she tugged a handkerchief from her sleeve and snorted into it, „you‟ve never gotten over her, have you?‟ „I told you a hundred times, Penny, it was…nothing happened.‟ She spun around and shot him one of her fiercest looks, „That‟s not what Homer said.‟ „What‟s he know about anything. That interfering old blatherskite wasn‟t even there.‟ Penelope wasn‟t listening to him, she turned back to the sink, „It was them sirens. I blame them. They turned your head. You‟ve never been the same since. Never listen to a word I say. Maybe you should have bunged your ears up with wax.‟ „Penny, sweetheart, be reasonable.‟

„Don‟t you “sweetheart” me. “Aged wife” indeed. And I‟m a good few years younger than you.‟ „Look, Penny, I didn‟t write that. I‟m telling you.‟ „Well, who did then?‟ Penelope sniffled, „whoever it was seems to know you pretty well. All your fancy notions.‟ Ulysses adjusted his reading glasses and looked again at the greasy page. „It says here it was this Tennyson bloke.‟ „Who‟s he then? One of your drinking mates, “free hearts, free foreheads?” A bit too much of the wine dark sea if you ask me. Sometimes I worry about you, I do.‟ Ulysses could see that she meant it. She did worry about him, she cared about him and he still loved her, no matter what. „I don‟t know him. Never heard of him,‟ he said softly, reassuringly. „Well he seems to know you. Just look at this stuff.‟ She wasn‟t reassured. „Penny, I‟m telling you I never met him. He just made all this up.‟ „How do you expect me to believe that.‟ She pulled the paper from his hand. „Look at what he‟s got here, “some sort of noble work might yet be done.” That‟s you fantasising, that is. And what about all that stuff about Telemachus. You‟re always on at him, „specially since he got his ear pierced. It‟s not right the way you go on. You‟ve been talking to this Tennyson down the pub, haven‟t you?‟ Her accusing voice and narrowed eyes presaged another storm. „I don‟t know him, love. Look I‟ll prove it, let‟s go and talk to him and have it out,‟ Ulysses protested. „Where does he live then? One of those dives down behind the port I‟ll bet.‟ Ulysses hastily scanned the newspaper again. „Look, it says here he‟s in London.‟ „Where‟s that?‟ „Don‟t know. Never been. It‟s probably somewhere up North. I‟ll phone Atlas and ask him.‟ As Ulysses reached for the phone, the door opened and Telemachus walked in wearing headphones which emitted a tinny whine. Telemachus brushed past Ulysses and reached for the fridge door. „Oi.‟ Ulysses, shouted, „Oi. What‟s this? No “good afternoon”? No “how are you, dad”?‟ Telemachus grunted and took off his „phones. „Lighten up wontcha? Chill. I was going to say something.‟ „Well?‟ asked Ulysses, „Got any Tizer, mum?‟ Ulysses raised his hand, „Don‟t you dare,‟ screamed Penelope brandishing the potato peeler again,„you leave that lad alone. He‟s never done nothing. You‟re in enough trouble as it is.‟ Telemachus sneered at his dad and, replacing his headphones climbed the stairs to his bedroom. Alfred Tennyson, was sitting in his study gripping his pen and fretting. An investment in an ecclesiastical decoration business had gone south leaving him a little in

queer street. The financial stress was taking its toll, his hair was falling out and he couldn‟t afford a razor, his face was lined and drawn and his sad eyes looked weary and heavy. He stared at the page in front of him, Comrades, leave me here a little, while as yet‟tis early morn: Leave me here, and when you want me, just ring the bell. With a sigh he picked up the page, crumpled it into a ball and hoisted it through a little basketball net attached to his waste paper basket. As the paper hit the basket he heard a bugle sounding in the street beneath his room. He crossed the room to the window, looked out and saw two peculiar individuals standing in the street; a man and woman dressed in sheets. The man looked quite perplexed and carried a large curved horn while the rather cross looking woman pointed at him and shouted, „Are you Tennyson? We want a word with you.‟ „Yeah,‟ concurred the perplexed looking man. Tennyson beckoned them and in a short while he heard puffing on the stairs followed by a sharp knock on the door. As soon as he opened the door the couple came bustling in. „How may I be of assistance?‟ he asked. „Well, you can start by offering us a glass of water,‟ the lady said, waving her finger at him. „I could,‟ Tennyson replied, „or would you prefer tea?‟ Ulysses opened his mouth to speak but Penelope cut him off, „Water‟s fine, thank you. His digestion‟s never been the same since he ate all them lotus flowers.‟ Tennyson left the room and returned with two glasses of water. Penelope emptied her glass, drinking the water to the lees, so to speak. Then she addressed a bewildered Tennyson, „What makes you think you‟ve got the right to say them things about Ulysses and me. Particularly me, “aged wife” indeed. Is that what you think? Well I‟ll have you know that I‟m a good few years younger than him.‟ Tennyson coughed lightly, „Please, madam, if you will allow your husband to speak?‟ „I think he‟s said enough. Besides I‟ve got a tongue haven‟t I?‟ „I‟ll say,‟ Tennyson muttered, and Ulysses suppressed a laugh. „What a cheek. You‟ll be civil, Tennyson, if you know what‟s good for you‟ Penelope said and produced the page of the “Ithaca Clarion” with Tennyson‟s poem. „That‟s caused a lot of trouble, that has,‟ said Ulysses pointing at the page. „Am I to understand that you believe that this work refers to you?‟ „How many other Ulysses‟ do you know?‟ ventured Penelope. „Well…I…You, I take it are Penelope?‟ Tennyson reeled back and steadied himself against a chair. „That‟s me, the “aged wife” in person. Well, what have you got to say for yourself?‟ „That‟s caused a lot of trouble, that has,‟ said Ulysses pointing again at the poem. Tennsyon slumped into his chair,

„…and you must be Ulysses?‟ „The very same,‟ Ulysses puffed out his chest. Penelope prodded him in the back and he continued, „…and I take very great exception to what you have written here…here…and here.‟ Ulysses fumbled with his reading glasses and stabbed a bony finger at the paper as he indicated the offending passages to the seated Tennsyon. „Well, I am, to say the least, surprised. I would have thought that the great, the legendary Ulysses would have lain waste to empires for the chance of one last heroic adventure.‟ Penelope interrupted him, „ “The great, the legendary Ulysses” might have but my Ulysses has got plenty to keep him occupied. The kitchen sink‟s blocked and the back door don‟t shut right and here you are filling his head with fancy notions. You ought to be ashamed. You‟re breaking up a family, that‟s what you‟re doing.‟ Tennsyon struggled for words, „Really, madam, sir, I never thought that…I never dreamed…Please accept my apologies for any offence…Now that I see you clearly I can see that I was harsh in my judgement, why you hardly look a day over…er…twenty five.‟ „And I should think so too. You‟re just lucky we‟re civilised people or we‟d be seeing you in court,‟ Penelope sounded a little mollified, „For defamation and slander,‟ Ulysses added for effect. „If there‟s any way I can make amends please just say,‟ Tennyson was mortified. Things had not been going his way recently and he really just wanted to get back to working on Locksley Mall, a vision he had in his mind of a utopian society with adequate retail facilities. Ulysses and Penelope finally seemed satisfied with Tennsyon‟s apolgy, „Just don‟t go writing any more lies about my Ulysses and mind what you say in future about a lady‟s age.‟ As the couple shuffled towards the door Penelope noticed a thick book lying unopened on a nice mdf occasional table. She picked it up and looked at the cover, „What‟s this, “Ulysses” by James Joyce. Who‟s that now?‟ „I don‟t know, said Tennyson, it arrived this morning from Reader‟s Digest and I haven‟t had time to look at it yet. Please take it, a gift from me. And… er…mind how you go.‟ He hastily thrust the couple into the corridor, closing the door behind them and flinging his back and shoulders against it. When he heard the street door close Tennyson rushed to the window and saw the husband and wife in the street. They appeared to be having an extremely animated conversation as they walked away through the grimy London street. He opened the window and crack and heard Ulysses‟s pleading voice, „Honest to God, Penny, love, I‟ve never met anyone called Molly Bloom.‟ © Michele Pacitti 2009


				
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