The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
Potty’s Perfect Pie
It was close to stumps on a Friday night in the lounge bar of the Criterion. Patrons were draining their glasses and making last-minute comfort stops as their wives gathered up furs, stoles and handbags. The country band had squeezed out the last strains of the not inappropriate Jim Reeves’ “He’ll Have to Go” and the glassie was starting determinedly on his final rounds.
The patron in the immaculately pressed safari suit blinked myopically at his empty whisky tumbler, then made to move.
“Oh, I say, Potty!” He turned to find Carstairs, executive director of the local Rainbow Foundation. “One moment before you leave, old chap. Shan’t keep you - bit late in the day and all that, I realise, but just wanted to confirm - kiddies’, ah, picnic up river at the, ah, waterfall tomorrow - and I - “
The rotund little Potty beamed up at him through his rimless milk bottle bottoms and waggled a reassuring finger. “All in hand, my dear fellow, all arranged.” He parodied an effort of recollection, counting off out loud on his fingers all the pastries, pies and salads. “I’ll be at the shop early.” He patted the other on the elbow. “You just pick ‘em up on your way out of town, eh?”
“’Course, of course.” The bristles of the clipped moustache twitched, and Carstairs’ face coloured a little. “Always count on you, Potty. Jolly decent of you, much appreciated, what!” and he waved as the other man’s balding head bobbed off into the crowd towards the stairs down on to Balieu Street.
Carstairs was quite right, of course. Everyone in the prosperous rural town of Mauraigh knew “you could always count on Potty.” A childless widower now in his late middle age, Reginald Beresford Pottinger had been “Potty” for as long as he could remember; by nickname, mind, certainly not in the business brains department. Through his schooldays, his apprenticeship in the family bakery, and more latterly to all his associates on the PTA and in his various social and service clubs, Potty was a tireless worker in the community, devoting his efforts selflessly to every project with ever generous donations of food from his now renowned bakery. He toiled long hours through the night to have the shop open by sunrise with the most mouth-watering array of pies, sandwiches, salads, cakes, buns, slices and éclairs. His pizza menu was a matter of legend: tourists starved themselves across the western plains in anticipation of stopping at Mauraigh for one of Potty’s pizzas.
He had done well, yes indeed, he smiled to himself as he rocked on his heels, hands clasped behind his back as he waited for the lights across to the Royal Hotel corner.
Potty’s schooldays had not been happy ones in the way they were for the other boys. Not for him had there been that camaraderie that binds chums in their youth, for tubby little Potty had been something of an outcast; he was fat, wore glasses and was a swot. Lunchtime games of scrag and bulldog didn’t include him; not that he minded, he told himself – except that deep down he did, but was too proud to admit it, so he bore his enforced daily solitude with fortitude. He knew that the one field in which he could always win was the scholastic one; no other boy came within a bull’s roar of Potty in end-of-term tests, and it was pretty well taken for granted that he would be dux come the end of his Upper Sixth year. Potty was smug on that score, too. His alienation at school he put down to envy of his academic prowess; he knew that getting ahead in life was not going to depend on how many times you made it to bar in a game of scrag.
Exclusion from playground games gave Potty a chance, too, to idle in the classroom, ostensibly studying while more than occasionally gorging himself on the feast of secrets in other boys’ personal diaries; Potty saw some insurance value, against later persecution, in having a few juicy tid-bits on who had done what that was against the school rules, no matter how petty. Potty had been a pathetic and desperate little boy, oh, yes indeed.
The little green man lit up, and he stepped lightly out from the kerb. University life, he recalled, had not suited him, either, but he cruised through accountancy to doctorate level, then, being in no hurry, knocked off a fine arts degree majoring in the Mayan influence on post-Renaissance Spanish architecture. Potty enjoyed no social life through those years at ‘varsity, eschewing even the company of fellow fat, bespectacled nerds, both male and female, who sometimes looked like befriending him.
Having completed his tertiary studies, he calmly walked back in one morning to the family’s Mauraigh bakery business and donned an apron.
“Well, hello, hello!” exclaimed his father in no small surprise. “The prodigal son doth return. Run out of adventures to pursue in the wicked, wide world, then?”
Potty had smiled, a fixed and plastic-looking beam that squeezed his pudgy cheeks up into little peach shapes, and declared that he felt prepared now for whatever the world could throw at him. As if it were likely to, he thought to himself – someone as boring and unattractive as I. But I’ll laugh last. Don’t you worry about that.
The lonely scholar had returned to the real world a vindictive and embittered soul. A dangerous man with a twisted mind – and no-one knew just how twisted.
A little happiness, though, was to come into Potty’s life that summer. He fell in love. He fell in love, moreover, with the most unlikely marital prospect. Hermione Falstaff was the second daughter of a once-wealthy but now egregiously impoverished grazier on the plains between the hamlets of Burren’s Landing and Roverner. Already a widower, he had lost his oldest son and heir to a goring by a rogue bull three years ago, then his second son in a helicopter accident while mustering. There was a third son, one of whom no-one spoke and who was rumoured to have lived the life of a vagrant before joining the army. Scuttlebutt had the army in question anything from Mike Hore’s African contingent to the French Foreign Legion. No-one really knew – or cared. The old man’s elder daughter had married, but died in child birth on Christmas Day last year and he had plunged deeper than the depths of despair; it was only the knowledge that suicide is a sin against God – eternity’s an awfully long time to have to burn - that kept him from drinking a pint of weed-killer.
Hermione stood a head taller than Potty, sported buck teeth and ears that would have provided enough lift to get her airborne if she had legged it hard into a head wind. She was flat-chested, had legs like pile-drivers and she laughed like a demented kookaburra. But she thought the world of Potty. She genuinely adored him; admired his intelligence, his academic achievement and business acumen, actually chortled and hooted like a howler monkey on steroids when the love of her life cracked a witty.
“I hope she’s not just after your money, Reggie,” admonished his father solemnly one night. His family had always called him by this diminutive of his Christian name; it was only everyone else who knew him as “Potty” – some of his acquaintances, indeed, never knew his full real name.
“My money, Father?” queried the son in genuine puzzlement. “It’ll be a long engagement. I’d need to win Lotto to get married this side of the Second Coming.”
“Reginald, you surely understand that this is far and away one of the most profitable businesses in Mauraigh, and that includes the lawyers, plumbers, electricians and car dealers, and it’s all to be yours when I die, perhaps sooner, if I decide to retire – and retirement,” Pottinger the Elder hinted with a wink, “might be sooner rather than later.”
Potty nodded sagely, ruminating on his prospects. He had, of course, expected that he would inherit the bakery, but had not foreseen his fortune’s improving in as near the future as this.
So the ugliest bridal couple in the parish’s history walked up the aisle to the altar one Saturday afternoon, and from this almost comical union was forged what appeared to all the town to be one of the most beautiful living love stories in local memory.
As Potty’s marriage strengthened and flourished without, sadly, spawning any issue, so did Potty’s social standing and associations.
The good old boys from his school days had formed a Lions club a couple of years back, and they asked their good old friend to join. Their favourite playground chum of yore saw some merit in membership, yes, indeed he did, my word, oh didn’t he just! Lions is a service club that runs, officiates at or helps with various community events to aid the disadvantaged or underprivileged. When it involved gate duties at the car-racing to support MS, Potty pocketed the admission fees that he took over the two days; his good old mate Charlie Anderson had a son with MS. When his Lions club operated a barbecue at the finish line of the aerodrome-to-agri-dome walk, Potty pocketed the proceeds from the burgers he sold; the walk was in aid of the Pink Ladies and his good old friend Billy White’s wife had breast cancer. Andy Masters had a blind brother, so the Blind Foundation didn’t see all the takings from the swimming sports carnival; Bazza Walkinshaw’s mother was in an old people’s home and didn’t know which planet she was on, but the Dementia Society’s charity kite day was not as profitable as expected.
Potty would smile to himself at the end of each day. He wasn’t stupid. He was just Little Fatty Four-Eyes. Yeah, right.
Perhaps because he and Hermione had neither any children, nor, by all medical prognoses, any prospect of a family, Potty had a soft spot for kiddies.
He was willingly inducted to the PTA of the Mauraigh Primary School, and on to the district colleges’ combined Board of Governors. Allowing for all his existing community service, and bearing in mind that he still had a business to run, he was now a very busy man. Hermione, though, stood behind him all the way; she was a tower of strength, and the couple even nursed her father back to good health, a spirit of optimism and hard yakka that saw his vicissitudes take a marked turn for the better.
Potty’s tenure on the PTA, however, was not without its dramas. Paul Middleford had been in Potty’s history class at school, and on leaving after his Upper Sixth year had risen through the teaching ranks to become headmaster at the boys’ college. The pornographic images that were found on his office computer after an anonymous tip-off to the Vice Squad had tragic consequences for his career. Worse still, the scandal brought down four other masters at the same school – all married men with teenage children, whose wives and children left town after their husbands were sentenced to imprisonment. By the most curious coincidence, those four men, too, had been classmates of Potty’s all those years ago.
At the girls’ college on the other side of town, three of the teaching staff were male and had all been a year or two ahead or behind Potty at school. He hadn’t known them, but threw them in for good measure, why not, and so they went down to join the dole queue after their exposure for masterminding a pretty lucrative exam cheating ring. The evidence against them was not easy to assemble, but Potty had contributed handsomely with sworn statements of conversations between the men overheard in the Cri on a well-oiled Friday night. The magistrate kindly allowed him to present his testimony using an alias by phone through a voice distorter, the anonymity in recognition of his social standing and community value.
So life rolled merrily along, and as Potty crossed another intersection on his way down Leber Street he thought about the only friend he’d had since Hermione died 10 years ago. Her passing had shaken him. The bowel cancer that carried her away was frighteningly virulent, and it seemed no time at all from their notification by the doctor to her death in screaming agony two months later. Mourners at her huge funeral had included her only living immediate family – her invalid father, now an invalid and confined to a wheelchair, and the mysterious third brother, Sydney.
Let it be understood that Sydney was not a well man. Vietnam was the answer to everyone’s speculation about where the local war hero had disappeared, and Vietnam had done unfortunate things to the arrangement of Sydney’s cerebral molecules. The less charitable at the Americans’ far-east field hospital had called him a nutter (they were still receiving therapy for brain damage from sundry beatings). The kindlier disposed had agreed in whispers, out of Sydney’s hearing, that the little plastic wheel is still spinning around but the hamster’s dead.
Sydney and Potty got along well. Potty accepted his brother-in-law as he was, made no comments or criticisms, offered not even any advice, just shared companionable moments with him. Or so it appeared to the townsfolk. Potty could see his proud little establishment ahead, and he smiled to himself. His formula for success was simple. As he’d tell anyone who asked - use only the best ingredients, which, of course, cost money, so off-set that outlay by minimising overheads. In other words, said Potty, he kept his costs down by employing only a couple of award-rate juniors through the day and working himself through the night.
A light sheen of perspiration reflected now from his brow this warm and humid summer’s night as he trotted briskly down along the service lane to his shop’s back entrance.
Must be there, unlocked and ready, when Syd arrives, he told himself. Five-and-a-half minutes in which to clear some freezer space for Syd, he noted as he stooped to unbolt the roller door.
He smiled and hummed a little tune, and his eyes were gleaming as he pulled the strings tight on his enormous blood-red apron.
It was about 10 minutes later that the taxi swung into the lane from the eastern end for the short cut through to Leber Street. Its fares were Gladys Allsop and Edith Molineaux, two dear old maiden aunts now homeward bound from their monthly knees-up with the good ladies of the parish glee club.
“Oooh, look, Glad! Potty’s got a new car!” exclaimed Edith. She pointed to where the windowless grey Bedford van stood, picked out in the headlights, backed up tightly to the open roller door.
“Nah, love,” called back the cabbie. “Thass-a not a-Potty. Belong-a to ‘is brother-in-law.”
“Oh.” Both the old girls seemed nonplussed, and Gladys confessed in some bemusement:
“Well, I have to confess, I never knew Potty had any relatives here in town.”
“Yeah, ol’ Syd a been ‘ere for years after ‘e a-come from-a da Gol’ Coast,” drawled the driver as he changed down and picked his way around a couple of potholes. “Not a bad ol’ bloke, but you don’ a-see ‘im aroun’-a much. ‘E’s a permanent night-shift, drop a- roun’ late ev’ry Friday night to share a yarn with Potty durin’ ‘is a-meal break.”
“Really? He works all night?” The concept of a permanent night-shift worker seemed to strike Edith as fascinating. “Well, what does he do?”
“Aw, ‘e’s a sort of orderly-come a-handyman at the hospital,” said Fabrizio vaguely. “Cleans up-a da theatre after-a surgeon they have finish for every day, oversee-a security on-a da morgue, a-stuff like that.”
The old dears were shocked.
“Eugh! How dreadful,” Glad shuddered. “And Potty so clean and prosperous and - and so - well, so …” at which point our good Christian lady sensed herself verging on the uncharitable, and recovered to declare firmly: “Well, it’s very nice of Potty to entertain the poor lonely soul for a nice hot cuppa.”
The tail lights of the taxi twinkled off into the darkness.
The rattle of the roller door hammered like a machine gun. Potty slammed the padlock on the freezer while Syd slung the big heavy green bags back in the van. They were easy-scrub plastic, about the size of sleeping bags, odour-proofed, studded and zippered. Body bags were among a number of tasteless souvenirs Syd had brought back from Vietnam. The lad had never been quite the full quid, anyway, people said.
He shambled back inside, a grotesque yeti of a man with hairy knuckles and shoulders, a glass eye that was rarely if ever properly aligned – Syd would often calmly pluck it out, spit on it and polish it and put it back in, which made not a few people lose their lunches noisily. He rejoined his brother-in-law at the table. They settled themselves comfortably, and Potty poured two large cut-crystal tumblers full of Glenfiddich.
As they munched contentedly on a deliciously fresh-baked pie each, Potty sighed and smiled.
“It’s a fact, Syd, there’s no substitute for quality ingredients. And you know,” he winked, "it certainly tastes just like pork, doesn’t it?”
© John Adeane May 2013