The Ballad Of Dennis And Prudence
Dennis Spleen was a quiet man. He was the deputy librarian at Scowle on Nadge’s municipal learning centre, a passionate if largely anonymous member of the congregation of the Volcanic Church of the Spiritually Unbound and an avid collector of Victorian Antimaccassers with a particular passion for the Barnsley Panwallop Doilley style that was popularised by Dorothea Gutterbind in her revolutionary work on otherworldly visitations, ‘The Bindings of the Nadges’. Dennis was secretly proud, therefore to be asked to give the annual Gutterbind Tribulation at the WI hall, focusing on the spiritual importance of antimaccassers in the development of the Church and the cleanliness of society in general.
What Dennis didn’t know was the reason for the invitation. Nor what would happen that night.
Prudence Formica had spent fifty-two years in thrall to her charismatic and controlling mother Regina. When Regina’s heart gave out during a particularly tasty and beguiling rant at the temerity of a Lib-Dem counsellor to canvas on her doorstep that lasted forty-one minutes without a pause, everyone assumed it was a tragedy. But Prudence was secretly delighted. Ever since she had visited the library, prior to its rebrand as a learning centre to return her mother’s weekly diet of Barbara Cartland novels she had harboured a secret longing to know the quiet and oddly hirsute deputy librarian Dennis better.
She secretly canvassed colleagues for details of his personality (‘not sure he has one’), favourite foods (‘anything beige really’) and hobbies (there’s the swimming thing…’)
It was the last one that set in train the events that became known as the Great Nadge Exposure.
At school little went right for Dennis and while he wasn’t especially bullied he excelled at remaining invisible. That was until year five when a sports teacher who had not noticed Dennis for six terms bumped into him on the edge of the pool and sent him in an approximate parabola into the water. No one, least of all Dennis knew what would happen next but it turned out he had an instinctive if idiosyncratic ability to swim. Or perhaps an inability to sink would describe it better since, in sporting terms Dennis found forward propulsion almost impossible.
Dennis enjoyed being in water but this lack of a stroke embarrassed him. And so it was that he had just reached his thirty-fifth year before he tried open water swimming. It was a rash attempt to be sociable with a new graduate recruit that had seen him join in the swimming party, having received a promise that actually swimming wasn’t necessary if he didn’t want to. It was as he was happily floating that something large and crepuscular emerged from the depth of the lake causing him to be so startled he made to withdraw from this presence. While the others studied what turned out to be the remains of a peripatetic Victorian escapologist whose latest trick had proved one too many, Dennis panicked and attempted to put as much distance between himself and the self-composting corpse. In so doing he discovered that, while moving forward was beyond him swimming backwards was as natural as breathing and over-masticating his food.
Soon enough he was perfecting his reverse swimming in as many of the county’s pools and ponds as he could get to. He discerned two things: firstly Nadge Water was easily his preferred location and second his swimming was vastly improved by being undertaken in the buff.
The first time Prudence followed him to watch his ritual – a cool Saturday in April – she was initially shocked and then pleasantly flushed at the sight of his hairy buttocks creating a rather extraordinary ‘W’ wave as he ploughed up and down Nadge Water.
Over the following months Prudence followed Dennis’ progress. One day, when the sun was particularly glorious she snapped an image of the still water and the small bobbing figure of Dennis. She knew then she was in love, and she knew she needed to display that love to her hero.
Using contacts of her mother she manipulated and manoeuvred the WI and Church until Dennis had been invited to give the annual talk. She then prevailed upon the committee to thank him, not in the traditional manner of an over vigorous and tuneless rendition of Jerusalem on the portable zither and a basket of Miriam Proboscis’ fruit and jeroboam scones but with a huge square cake that was rolled onto the Dias after Dennis had accepted the desultory applause. Dennis was prevailed upon to cut the confection, whereupon Prudence emerged clad only in a rare and original example of a Rutland loose knit antimaccasser that left little to the imagination while a screen behind them played a short film of Dennis carving a figure of eight on the Nadge.
If Prudence misjudged the audience, and the number of defibrillations undertaken on the committee who were seated in the front row and able to discern the details of the film would suggest she had, she was correct in how her performance was received by Dennis. He was stunned, so much so that Prudence had him parcelled up and slipped into her car. He awoke to find her still immodestly clad in her antique garb and ready to feed him puréed cauliflower cheese and mashed potatoes. He took a mouthful and swooned. Life was indeed good.
This was written in response to the latest #writephoto prompt