Sometimes the past can reach out and grab you – sometimes someone ELSE’S past can reach out and grab you, and you discover that your paths have crossed and the universe seems to resonate with a chilly, surreal note for a second whilst you allow the stars to fall back into alignment.
I was involved in some charitable something-or-other clearing a community green space alongside some of the odds and ends of society – the homeless, do-gooders, ex-cons in need of a boost – when I overheard one of the women who was in my working party telling a story to another. I was so stunned that all I could do was listen in slack-jawed incredulity as this character recounted (in full and perfect character (complete with voices (and you should know that she had PERFECTED the London Street Urchin (by way of Arcadia*) accent))) the following story which I had immediately recognised as one by the INCOMPARIBLE Helena Hann-Basquiat:
Return to Arcadia – Countess Penelope and the Great Prison Break of 13
“Your honour, I object!” the Countess Penelope of Arcadia declared, shaking her tiny fist in the judge’s direction. “My client is guilty, and you know she’s guilty! I say lock her up for her own good and for the good of these fine people, who don’t need to be subjected to…”
“Out of order!” the judge interrupted, pounding his gavel. “You’re out of order!”
“I’m out of order?” the Countess of Penelope of Arcadia (which is apparently somewhere near Baltimore, circa 1979) ex-claimed. “You’re out of order! This whole trial is out of or-der! Attica! Attica! Fredo!”
“Tell me the truth, darling,” I said, tugging on her hand to try to get her to sit down. “You’ve never actually seen And Justice For All… have you?”
“The truth?” she asked, perplexed. “The truth? You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
“Out of order!” the Countess repeated, and I felt her shaking me out of my dream. “Helena, the stupid thing is out of order. What should I do?”
I had only nodded off for a few minutes, or so I hoped. I woke up that morning with a headache, and had to be rid of it before that night, when I had to appear in traffic court to face a misdemeanor charge which was the result of not paying a speeding ticket nearly fifteen years earlier.
“What’s out of order?” I asked, and immediately regretted it.
“You’re out of order!” she yelled in her best Al Pacino voice. “I’m out of order! That deck of cards over there is out of order! My pop machine at school is out of order! My collection of Stephen King books is out of order! This whole damn trial is out of order! Oh, and also, the gas pump is out of order.”
I stumbled out of the passenger seat (as I was forbidden to drive in the state of New York until I cleared all this up) and looked at the sign on the gas pump.
“It’s just the pay-at-the pump part that’s out of order, Penny. I’ll go pre-pay and you pump.”
I returned a few minutes later with a couple of energy drinks, and got back in the car and stared Penny down.
“Seriously,” I said in my sternest voice, “none of that when we get to court. This is very serious, and I don’t want to end up in jail because you caused some kind of disturbance.”
I had seen way too many court scenes in various television shows and movies, and so I had a certain picture in my mind as to what this whole experience was going to be like.
“Oh, but I was already planning your daring escape! I had the twenty metres of tinfoil, the duct tape, a roll of chicken wire, a bathtub full of papier-mâché, forty five rubber chickens and the giant tub of Old El Paso thick and chunky salsa. All I needed was a Tesla coil, an 8-track player and a copy of Breakfast in America on 8-Track, and the cast of Game of Thrones and my brilliant plan would be complete!”
I couldn’t help but be curious, darlings
“Please explain,” I prodded.
“Explain what?” Penny asked, driving away.
“Explain how all that stuff fits into your plan to break me out of prison.”
I was expecting her to brush me off and tell me that she was just naming a bunch of random things, but instead she surprised me with this:
“I’d think it’s rather obvious, don’t you? It’s all about misdirection, Helena. I’m planning on creating a scene in the parking lot of the prison by creating a giant electric rubber chicken monster that sings The Logical Song and spews forth chunky salsa while the cast and crew of Game of Thrones perform scenes from the beloved Broadway musical Les Misérables. I figure Jaime Lannister as Jean Valjean and Daenerys Targaryen as Fantine. Ned Stark would have to play someone that dies, I suppose – Sean Bean dies in everything, doesn’t he?”
“And Cosette?” I asked, not having any idea why I was playing along with her, other than that we had nothing better to do on the drive to traffic court.
“Oh, that’s a tough one, right?” Penny replied. “Do you think Arya Stark is too young?”
“I think you’re insane,” I said, popping the top on the first of my Monster energy drinks. “I think I still have no idea how you’re breaking me out of prison.”
“I told you – I’m creating a diversion in the parking lot…”
“Yes, yes, with a salsa breathing Supertramp fan dragon made of papier-mâché, rubber chickens, tin foil and duct tape.” I agreed.
“And don’t forget the Starks and Lannisters singing Do You Hear the People Sing? You know, the official anthem of the op-pressed, Helena. There won’t be a dry eye in the prison.” the Countess Arcade replied without a touch of irony.
“And that’s all well and good, darling,” I said, impressed by her indomitable imagination, “but how exactly are you getting into the prison to break me out?”
“Oh,” the Countess replied, deflated. “Well, I hadn’t got that part all worked out just yet. I spent all my time thinking up the diversion, I forgot to come up with the actual escape! Well, you’ll just have to take advantage of the chaos, and, I dunno, muscle up to the bars and VOOM! Make your escape.”
I laughed until chocolate milk came flying out my nose, despite the fact that I was drinking an energy drink and not, in fact, chocolate milk.
“You just keep thinking, Countess,” I said, catching my breath, “that’s what you’re good at.”
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.
Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.
Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE