A Short Story by grade 10 student Nicole S. Entin
Edgar Allan Poe was sitting at his writing desk, sifting through applications for the latest position in the Court of Stories. E. L. James had just been evicted, because people finally realized that her writing was utter trash, and she was not fit to serve as a member of the Court.
“Nevermore,” his raven muttered as Poe tossed out application after application. Not just anyone could be a member of the Court of Stories. The Court consisted of the best writers of the past, present, and future, and they came together in a monthly meeting to decide on which people to bestow creative inspiration. But for some reason, Poe couldn’t find anyone right for the position.
Suddenly, the room shook as if a bomb had just gone off. The raven squawked loudly, and flew up in the air in a panic. Poe stood up, dusted off his suit, and went to the door to see what was happening. When he peered past the threshold, he recoiled in shock, the whiskers of his mustache curling in pure fright. Before him was a sight more terrifying than his childhood poetry. A tiny old woman with a large black hat jammed overtop her corkscrew grey hair stood in front of him, almost blending into the monochrome palette of the Court’s main hall behind her. She looked up at Poe and beamed.
“Eddie! How’ve you been, sonny?” she asked, wrapping her arms firmly around his midsection. “Underfed, I can tell.”
“Mother Goose,” Poe mumbled, detangling himself from the woman’s surprisingly firm grip.
“I’ve come to apply for the Court position,” Mother Goose declared, flopping down in a large chair, and taking stock of her surroundings. The office was dimly lit, with a tiny white noise machine on a stand, and a bookshelf containing tomes that looked even older than her, and much more boring. Dissatisfied, she began to rummage through the carpet bag she was carrying, and pulled out a large hip flask. Taking a deep swig from it, she smiled contently, the lines in her face becoming even more pronounced.
“That’s the good stuff. Much better than whatever’s in that cask of am- amontilly- amitil- forget it,” Mother Goose said, pulling out a slightly damp resume that smelled of alcohol. She handed it to Poe, who took it delicately between his forefinger and thumb.
“Ah, yes,” Poe stammered. “Well, Mother Goose, given your record, the other council members and I thought it would be best not to,”
“The other council members? Phooey,” Mother Goose scoffed. “Take that upstart playwright. Entin? She can’t tell an adjective from an adverb. You need a member with panache. Style. Good looks. You need me!”
As Mother Goose fluffed her hair and batted her eyelashes, Poe was seriously considering getting the raven to claw her tongue out.
“Mother Goose, I’m not going to sugarcoat this anymore,” Poe said, trying to sound brave but failing miserably. “Over the past four hundred years, you’ve been reported to be an alcoholic, a lunatic, and have taught children how to efficiently hide a dead body.”
“Eeper Weeper was tame stuff,” Mother Goose retorted, putting her feet up on the red silk-upholstered footstool, her boots leaving distinct scuff marks on the fabric. “I’m teaching people to use their existing career skills!”
“You call stuffing your dead wife up a chimney ‘tame stuff’?” Poe gawked.
“Sounds like something you’d write, Eddie,” Mother Goose countered. “At least read the resume.”
Poe stalked behind his desk with a grumble, and flipped to the first page, which bore a glossy photo of Mother Goose astride a large version of her namesake bird, wearing a tight-fitting minidress. He quickly flipped to the next page.
“Has intimate knowledge of William Shakespeare’s work,” Poe mused. He then looked up sharply. “Why is the sentence followed by numerous winking faces and hearts? And why is the word ‘intimate’ underlined five, no, six times?”
Mother Goose leaned back in her chair, her red lips twisting into a deceptively sweet smile. “Ah, Willy was my first love. Our time together was grand, I tell you. I was his Juliet. His Desdemona. His Lady Macbeth.”
“But unlike all three of them, you’re still very much alive,” Poe muttered.
Mother Goose ignored him, and continued. “My writing has taken me all around the world. In all sorts of places. Have you ever tried vodka, Eddie?”
Seeing that Poe shook his head in response, she pulled out a long blue bottle and two red Solo cups from her carpet bag. She uncorked the bottle with her teeth, and poured generous amounts for each of them.
“This is how the kids do it, Eddie. No taste, but then again, who are we to judge? I teach them how to stuff their spouses up chimneys, you write short stories that’ll scar them for the rest of their lives,” Mother Goose mused.
She held up her cup for a toast, her wide blue eyes sparkling with wit and trickery. “To the Court of Stories.”
“Hear, hear,” Poe answered, and downed the drink. He coughed violently, scaring the raven again. For a few minutes, the room reverberated with the sounds of hacking and bird screeches. When he recovered, Poe hesitantly held out his cup for a second. Mother Goose smiled, and poured again. And again. And again.
Over the next hour, Edgar Allan Poe wondered if he should start writing comedy more often. He certainly had plenty of material for a second lifetime of work. Mother Goose had regaled him with stories of her travels. She had rambled for a solid half-hour about Mary Queen of Scots, the subject of “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary”, who had a secret fondness for agriculture, and could rival Mendel in her crossing of plants. Not to mention the stories she had about the French Revolution.
“I had attended all of Marie’s parties,” Mother Goose slurred through her seventh shot of vodka. “They were fabulous. She had hired all of the best pastry chefs in the country, ‘cause boy did that lady love her cake. She would have given each town a personal royal baker if she wasn’t given the chop first. Why do you think she said, ‘let them eat cake’?”
For some reason, Poe laughed at her last comment. He always did have an unabashedly morbid sense of humour. But now, and it must’ve been the alcohol talking, Mother Goose turned to a more serious topic.
“I remember being a young woman when the Black Plague was in its final years,” Mother Goose said. “The suffering I had seen was unbelievable. Sometimes, I still see the faces of the doctors in my nightmares, covered in those awful, bird-like masks. The children were the worst, quarantined in rooms, on their own. They had no one to help them, to comfort them through their pain. So, I came to them, wearing a mask of my own. I called myself ‘Mother Goose’ because I didn’t want them to be afraid of me. None ever saw my real face, but they weren’t as scared as they used to be when the doctors came in.”
With tears streaming down his face, Poe ripped up the rest of the resumes in the pile on his desk. His enthusiastic movements had scattered the fragments across his meticulously cleaned Persian rug, but in his drunkenness, he had forgotten to care. “Mother Goose, I’d like to extend an official invitation to you to join the Court of Stories.”
“Are you sure?” Mother Goose asked. “I mean, I’m a lunatic, drunkard, and a bad influence on children. Just look at the sign over there.”
She pointed to the large poster of authors who were to be approached with caution, her face wedged between that of the poet William “The Great” McGonagall, and Stephenie Meyer.
“Forget regulations!” Poe screeched, now sounding almost like his raven. “This is the time for change in the Court of Stories. We’ve tried to be so selective, so grammatically and morally correct all the time, we’ve lost sight of what writing meant to us.”
Of course, this was the exact opposite of what Poe believed, as he’d often go into an apoplectic fit when he’d see a misplaced comma or a preposition at the end of a sentence. But, when you’re drunk, you often mix things up (a lesson to all you kids reading this: alcohol abuse can make you do stupid things).
Poe rummaged in his fine oak desk for a form, and presented it to Mother Goose along with a fountain pen. “Sign here please.”
Mother Goose reached for the pen, missed, and tried again. Her clumsy fingers finally enclosed around it on the tenth try, and she scribbled her signature on the form.
“Well, Eddie, it looks like you all aren’t a bunch of fuddy duddies after all- forgive me, I’ve forgotten how to curse. It’s the result of writing age-appropriate material, more or less, for four hundred years,” Mother Goose declared.
“Less,” Poe added, as Mother Goose picked up her carpet bag, the empty vodka bottle, and her hat, and sailed out of the office. She planted her shiny leather boots firmly on the black and white marble floor of the main hall, looking around at the somber busts of authors, and elegant vases of cream-coloured lilies. Mother Goose had plans for the Court of Stories, and they may or may not have involved coffee and donuts every Thursday, and a change of curtains on the windows. She never did like the colour mauve.