“Mrs Jones” is inspired by the following writing prompt from The Book Collector: ‘A fantasy banquet for Bibliophiles featuring your favourite literary characters’.
Mrs Jones is in for a nasty shock when her heroines of fantasy give her a sharp dose of reality.
If you were to live on Walnut Close, you would hear Mrs Jones screaming at her nanny to get the children out of the way before her guests arrive for the evening. Indeed, if you had the misfortune to have such a spiteful neighbour, you would also know that Mrs Jones’ nanny is blamed for everything, even though she’s expected to work unpaid overtime, and is frequently forced to undertake demeaning tasks, none of which was ever in her job description.
So why is Mrs Jones shouting this particular evening? Have the children failed their latest exams? Have Snowflake Liberals been pointing out that it’s not actually acceptable to be discourteous? Yes; normally it would be something like that, washed down with a glass of wine, before she moves onto the brandy reflecting that the whole world’s gone mad because, for some strange reason, it doesn’t revolve entirely around her.
But this particular evening, Mrs Jones was screaming orders because she was hosting a banquet. There was a theme: Inspirational Female Characters in Literature. Yes – that sounds about right; just the sort of saccharine title that would appeal to her inflated ego. After a final stint of yelling, she prepares to greet her guests, if you could call a string of endless bragging an actual greeting.
The self-congratulating drivel begins as the literary characters are ushered in: Matilda Wormwood, Elizabeth Bennet, Katniss Everdeen, Jo March, Jane Eyre, Éowyn Dernhelm and….
“What are you doing?” She stops a bushy-haired girl in the entrance. “Why are you here?”
“I was invited. Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter series?”
“You don’t look like her,” Mrs Jones says. “You’re not…”
“Not what?” Hermione responds as the unspoken word lingers in the air.
Mrs Jones wrinkles her nose. “You don’t match her description at all.”
“What? Bushy-haired? Big teeth? Clever?”
“You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t believe I do. Anyway, you’ll have to allow me in, otherwise the spell won’t work.”
“The Bibliophile enchantment. It’s what allows all these fictional characters to enter the same dimension as you. Put simply, if I go, everyone else goes with me.”
“Fine,” Mrs Jones agrees against her better judgement. She remembers something about a dimensional realm in the contract, and, as she’s paid enough for this event, she doesn’t want it to vanish into thin air just for the sake of one delinquent. It’ll be fine as long as she keeps an eye on the valuables. Still, there’ll be a letter of complaint. They can be quite sure of that.
Mrs Jones sweeps into the dining room, and encourages her guests to take their places.
No one says a word.
Is it perhaps Mrs Jones’ imagination or do they all look angry? No – that can’t be it; perhaps they’re just a little tired.
“I thought we might start with a toast,” she says, as she indicates the champagne. “To strong female characters.” She smiles, and takes a sip.
No one else moves. They all just stare at her.
She laughs, which does little to break the tension, and a great deal to announce her belligerent ignorance. “I’m very pleased that you’re all here.” She avoids Hermione’s eyes. “You’re all so inspirational. Matilda, and your love of reading….”
Matilda doesn’t respond. Is she solving equations on her napkin?
Mrs Jones moves swiftly on, “And Katniss. I’m such a fan…”
Katniss just glowers, and Mrs Jones can’t help but notice the thick mud on her boots. Disgusting.
“Jo, Jane, Elizabeth, Éowyn, you all have such wonderful stories,” Mrs Jones tries a different tactic and addresses them together.
It fails. Miserably. All eyes just continue to cut her like shattered glass, and, just like glass, she’s fragile. It doesn’t take her long to smash at the slightest impact.
“Why aren’t you speaking?” she bursts. “Don’t you know how long I’ve planned this? I’ve read all your books. I’ve watched all your films. I made you what you are today. I deserve better than this…”
“No. We do. We deserve better from you,” Éowyn dares to interrupt her.
“What?” Mrs Jones screams. “I paid good money for all of you to be here!”
“But why?” Jane says. “I don’t understand why you feel any connection with us at all.”
“I’ve told you. I’ve read your books. I’m well-educated!”
“Yet you refuse to recognise your privilege,” Hermione says. “You sneer at others with contempt, whilst complaining that your life is the only one that matters.”
“You’re the epitome of everything we endured and struggled to change,” Elizabeth adds. “Yet you expect us to eat, drink and be merry? Your very name represents everything we’ve fought against.”
“What’s wrong with my name?”
Elizabeth smiles, raises her eyebrow, and says, “The name suits both your pride and prejudice, Mrs ‘Karen’ Jones.”
© Chrissy Kett 2021