Small Displacements

Vanessa Furse Jackson


These stories examine what happens when people venture into uncharted territory, whether physically or in the mind. They may not journey far, and the ensuing displacements may be comparatively small, but the consequences are often unforeseen and considerable. Most are set in Britain, the author’s birthright.

ISBN: 978-1-60489-051-8 Trade paper $16.95            Sale $8.50

ISBN:  978-1-60489-050-1 Library binding $27             Sale $13.50

 Pages 180

About the Author: 

Vanessa Furse Jackson comes originally from England.  However, married to an Ohio native, she’s been resident in the United States for over twenty years and currently lives and writes in South Texas, where she teaches English at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. 

A book about her great grandfather, The Poetry of Henry Newbolt: Patriotism Is Not Enough, was published in 1994 by ELT Press, and her first collection of stories, What I Cannot Say to You, was published in 2003 by the University of Missouri Press. 

 Excerpt From the Book:

Miss Best and Mr. Marvel


“I saw a thrush this morning,” Mr. Marvel said.

            “A thrush?” Miss Best exclaimed.  “You didn’t!”

            “I did,” Mr. Marvel said, with some satisfaction.  “On the bank at the far side of the lawn, hopping about on the grass.”

            “Looking for snails?”

            “And finding one, too,” he said.  “Bang-banging it on one of the big grey stones by the ornamental bridge.”

            Miss Best looked out of her window.  There were no lawns or ornamental bridges to be seen, just the wide concrete path between her building and the building next to it, which had quite nice brickwork, but no windows.  “How fantastic!” she said.  “And I was just watching a television show about the disappearance of native birds.  Thrushes are getting so rare.”

            “And house sparrows,” added Mr. Marvel.

            “Oh, I do hope robins are safe,” Miss Best said, anxiously.  “I couldn’t bear it if robins disappeared.”

            “Christmas cards would never be the same.”  Mr. Marvel shook his head.  “It doesn’t bear thinking of,” he said.

            They sat there for a moment in a silence.

            “Still,” Miss Best said.  “You saw a thrush.  We must remember that and rejoice.”

            Mr. Marvel puffed out his moustache.  “Beautiful breast.  Quite beautiful.  I remember once . .”  His eyes grew dreamy.

            Miss Best sighed with pleasure.  He’d brought her a story.  “Yes?” she breathed.

            “It was a summer at Ashenleigh, right at the end of the war,” he began.  “I’d brought Ada down to meet my parents.  Well, to meet my father, really, I suppose.  Ma would have loved anyone who loved me, but the old boy could be prickly—thought all modern girls were light-skirts, only after one thing.”

            “Your money?” hazarded Miss Best.

            “No, no, my honor, my manhood—love you and leave you—that sort of thing.”  Mr. Marvel looked a bit pink.

            “Goodness,” said Miss Best.  “I thought parents only worried about that if they had daughters.  My father wouldn’t have any young man in the house after ten p.m.”

            “Well, Ada was allowed to stay, but she was put in the bedroom next to my parents.  Thin walls between.  Made it quite a challenge.” He cleared his throat.  “Anyway, that wasn’t what I was remembering.”

            Miss Best tilted her head to one side, raised an eyebrow.

            “Not all I was remembering, damn you, woman.”

            She laughed.  She still had a pretty laugh.  “Go on.”

            “It was one of those gorgeous days that one recollects when one thinks of past summers,” Mr. Marvel went on, “but that are, in meteorological fact, comparatively rare.  Golden sun, fresh morning, green world, birds singing—you know the kind of thing.  It was after breakfast, and Ada and I were sitting on the terrace outside the French windows, looking out over the garden.  Only of course my father wouldn’t call them French windows after Dunkirk—not very charitable towards the French, my father—refused to eat anything containing garlic or olives for the same reason.  He called them the door windows instead.”

“Door windows—how very fascinating,” said Miss Best, entranced.

“So there we were, Ada and I, sitting on the old wooden seat outside the door windows, looking out over the lawn at those circular rose beds dotted everywhere—big blowsy tea roses, all those reds and yellows floppeting about, you prob’ly know their names. My father never knew the names of anything, but that’s what his father’d planted back in 1908 when they bought the place—great one for tradition, my father.  So he entrusted the care of the garden to Ma and she left it all to old Jamieson to do.  Had a son killed at Arnhem, poor old man, never really regained his strength after the war, but he was a wizard gardener—everything bloomed for him.  I always thought those rose-beds looked a bit thorny and unfriendly myself—all that bare earth, if you know what I mean.  But the great blooming heads, how pretty they were that day—oh, I can see them now.”  Mr. Marvel sighed deeply.

            “Why after Dunkirk?” asked Miss Best.

            “Ha!  What?  Well, after Dunkirk, you see, Father washed his hands of the French—said it was typical of them to let the devil in and the angels out—wouldn’t have any doors in his house called French windows, no, by God.  Bit of a Wogs begin at Calais sort of chap, my old dad.  Sorry.”

            “No, no, don’t be sorry,” said Miss Best.  “Go on.  You were with Ada on the terrace.”

            “After breakfast.”

            “After breakfast, yes.  What age would she have been as she sat beside you on the old wooden seat?” Miss Best was there, in the sunshine, on the terrace.  She smelled the roses.

            “Hmm, let me see, she must have been, yes, she’d just have turned twenty-three.  I was a little older, of course—felt I could protect her—little Ada.”  He cleared his throat.

            “Twenty-three,” murmured Miss Best, remembering the combs with which she used to sweep back her hair, so it fell in curls behind her ears.

            “Well, then,” said Mr. Marvel, picking up his tale.  “There we were, sitting in the sunshine, full of eggs and bacon and the joys of young love.  Holding hands discreetly, ahem, so no one could see from inside the house.”

            “Fresh eggs, not dried?” asked Miss Best.  It was important that the story be historically accurate.

            “They had eggs at Ashenleigh all through the war.  Rhode Island reds.  My mother kept them.”

            “Your father didn’t mind Americans, then?” said Miss Best, twinkling.

            “Americans?  Oh. Yes, ha!  Very good.  No, he always said he’d have married Mary Pickford if he hadn’t met my mother first.  Though he couldn’t stand Roosevelt, of course—bolshy socialist pinko, he called him. Bit unfair, I always thought, but there. Where was I?”

            “On the terrace,” said Miss Best.  “I do apologize.  The eggs distracted me.”

            “Holding hands, yes.  We had our own pigs, too, by the way.  Jamieson dealt with those, though.  Lovely animals.  I always used to go straight to the sties when I came home on leave.  One could lean over the low wall for hours scratching a bristly pink back with a stick—you relaxed, pig relaxed, it was a wonderful way to wind down before tea and questions in the drawing-room.”

“From your parents, yes.”  Miss Best nodded, sympathetically.

“Bit like coming home from school, coming home on leave,” said Mr. Marvel.  “Same inquisition or so it seemed to me.  What have you been doing since we last saw you?  Are your superiors pleased with you?  When can we expect your promotion?  Have you made any nice friends?  That sort of thing.  Couldn’t stand it sometimes.”

            “You poor man,” said Miss Best, with deep sympathy.  “Mine was always that last question.  Have you made any nice friends?  Meaning men friends.  Meaning, when are you going to catch yourself a husband and get married?  Infuriating when I longed to have what other girls did, wanted so much to love.  To be loved.  I would have given anything.”  She stopped, out of breath from the shock of anger that had blown through her.

Mr. Marvel took one of her hands in his and held it gently.

“What they were really asking was why do we have a poor virginal failure for a daughter?”  Miss Best took a tissue from a box next to her chair and wiped her eyes.  She looked out at the concrete wall and brick path outside.  Mr. Doughty was taking his regular afternoon constitutional, leaning heavily on his walker, taking tiny steps on feet he kept so tightly clamped together, it was as if he wore invisible leg-cuffs.  I used to be able to do that, thought Miss Best.

“I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t—well—you know,” said Mr. Marvel.

“Like me,” said Miss Best and smiled a watery smile.  “If you didn’t like me.  I know.”

“Well, I jolly well do,” he said.  “Now where was I?”

“I like you, too,” she said.  “I don’t know what I would do without you.  I know exactly why I named you Mr. Marvel, you dear man.” She blew her nose.

Mr. Marvel (and it was true that this was not his real name) whiffled deprecatingly through his moustache.  “Well,” he said, “with a name like Best, you needed the illusion that I was on your august and elevated level, perhaps.  Ha!”

“Such a silly name, Best,” she said.  “It simply had the effect of making me aware I wasn’t.”  She shifted slightly in her chair.

“Hurting?” he said.

“Go on,” said Miss Best.  “You were sitting on the old wooden seat on the terrace with Ada.  What was she wearing?”

Mr. Marvel thought for a moment.  “Good question—what would she have been wearing?”

“Did she have combs in her hair?” asked Miss Best.

“No, no, wait now.  She had a straw hat with a wide brim, I remember.  Got in the way a bit.  And her frock was white, that’s it.  A white frock with three-quarter length sleeves.  What else?  A round collar like a blouse, you know.  Buttons, I think, some buttons down the front.  And a narrow, blue leather belt around her waist.  By Jove, yes, it was pretty.  That little waist, could put both hands around it, and all that white stuff falling from the line of blue.  Fresh as the springtime,” he added, originally.

“Made from an old sheet probably,” said Miss Best.  “Linen, if she was lucky.  Or perhaps butter muslin.  We had to make do and mend in those days.”  But in her mind the exquisite Ada was attired in couturier perfection, a vision of the kind of loveliness that Miss Best remembered so well sighing over in dark cinemas.  A dream heroine, unsuitably but immaculately dressed and coiffed for every scene.

There was a thumping knock on the door.  Miss Best, her mind’s film un-spooling, started slightly.  Mr. Marvel withdrew his hands tactfully as a nursing aide bustled in with Miss Best’s afternoon cup of tea.  “Hello, Angel,” Mr. Marvel said.  “How opportune—just what we need, a nice cup of tea.”

“Angela to you,” said the woman, tartly.

“'A ministering angel shall my sister be,’” rhapsodized Mr. Marvel, with an expansive sweep of his arms.

“Here you are then, ducks,” said Angela to Miss Best.  She removed the box of tissues from reach and plunked down the cup of tea on the small table by Miss Best’s chair, so that some of the liquid rocked into the saucer.  “Need the potty before you drink that, do you, lovie?”

“I do not,” Miss Best said, stiffly.  “Thank you.”

“I suppose you’re going to want yours in here, too, aren’t you?” Angela said, slipping both her arms under Miss Best’s and giving her an expert pull up.

“If it would not be too much trouble,” Mr. Marvel said, inclining his head.

"And perhaps a couple of biscuits to go with the tea?” Miss Best added, but her suggestion was made to Angela’s retreating back as she whisked out of the room in a haste that clearly signified the trouble to which she was being put.

“Hamlet,” said Mr. Marvel.

“That woman,” sighed Miss Best.

“About Ophelia.  After he’d driven her to kill herself, naturally.”

“A ministering angel?” said Miss Best. “That hardly describes Angela.” She had needed pulling up in her chair, but her back was protesting at Angela’s brisk methods.

“She’s in such a hurry, that one, she won’t stay around long enough for her own funeral,” said Mr. Marvel.

“Well, she won’t be missed,” said Miss Best with asperity, and the two of them broke into peals of laughter. 

There was a frenzied wail from the next-door room. “There they are again. The flies have got in.  The flies have got in.  Help me.  The flies have got in.”

“Oh Gawd,” said Mr. Marvel.  “We’ve woken up Miss Cuckoo.”