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Contest

Sloppy Seconds With Opal Mehta

After dozens of entries and hundreds of footnotes—and the demise of the publishing industry—we’re pleased to publish the winner of our plagiarism contest, Bonnie Furlong, and her story, “The Parlourmaid’s Tale, or, MS in a Dustbin.”

Responding to the recent announcement of our plagiarism contest, 54 people assembled stories that were not entirely theirs and sent them in for review. We read them all. Most were creative, some wonderfully so; some were so good we hope their authors will try to sneak them into credible magazines. But it was Bonnie Furlong’s “The Parlourmaid’s Tale, or, MS in a Dustbin” that won us over with its wit, variety and use of citations, and obvious delight with the form.

Our congratulations to Ms. Furlong, and our great thanks to all contributors—someday may each of you find a ridiculously large advance under your pillow.

 

The Parlourmaid’s Tale, or, MS in a Dustbin

by Bonnie Furlong
 

Sorry for the plagiarism, but there seemed no other way.1


Dear Macmillan:2

What I want is3 a suave and worldly editor4 who can puff away dusty speculation to reveal stark, cold, obsidian and alabaster truth.5 The story between these covers is the second I have resuscitated from the bottom of a tin trunk that I received anonymously some years ago.6 These literally are manuscripts, handwritten on7 flyleaves of books, match folders, old letters8—rather hastily written and much damaged.9 The validity of this very ancient account is almost totally dubious,10 but it’s absolute dynamite.11 A careful reading, I beg of you, a careful reading in private, careful editing, and then find a typist.12

 

* * *


A Portent of Circumlocution13
If, in the course of writing my notes, I have made here and there a wrong turn, misunderstood or badly described something I saw or thought I saw, well,14 I am a little hazy about the chronology.15 My most vivid memory of that night…16 But I must not anticipate the orderly development of my narrative.17

The Inauguration of My Career18
People were desperate for work.19 I decided to go to town and look for a job.20 I had seen one advertised in a local paper:21 “Young Lady between the Age of Eighteen and Twenty-three, of a middling Stature; brown Hair, regular Features and a Lively Brisk Eye.”22

“There is something in that,” I soliloquised (mentally, be it understood; I did not talk aloud).23

The Violent Arrival24
I received an invitation to go to an address at the bitter end of25 a four and one-half dollar taxi ride26 and found myself in27 the fearsome atmosphere of Blackshaw Towers.28 The dark beams were hand-hewn—hand-bitten, one almost felt—from California redwood.29 I, with heavy doomed steps, dragged myself30 along a passage and up some stairs and down some stairs and got to a little room.31 A rat-like boy darted out32 and gave a miniature version of a scream, a sort of screamlet.33

I bravely pushed open the big black door, and34 found a man dressed as Napoleon.35 He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage,36 and I felt a premonitory chill of eeriness.37 He fixed me with a dubious eye.38 He was happy to make my acquaintance, he said, and what could he do for me?39

I said earnestly40 how I could dust, and brush, and clean, and cook.41

Cigarettes were lit, and we settled down to a cosy discussion.42

When he offered me thirty shillings a week I jumped at it.43

A rude shock was in store for me, however.44 Sometimes, even now, I awake in the night screaming as I relive in dreams the misery of that wretched45 chapter of my life.46

Lust and Loins and Things47
I found myself walking as though in my sleep into a dim and airless haunt of gaiety.48 A horrid, bald old woman49 was in the bath, toying languorously with an ersatz sponge.50 Guests lay three to a couch.51 At one period there were half a dozen sailors52 instilling in me, I knew not why, a strange feeling of disquiet, of foreboding.53 I felt uncomfortable, a little shy.54

“Oh, please,” I begged, “please be nice.”55

Being perfect gentlemen they smiled politely and said,56 “We are all in the mood for love.”57

An unknown man58 knocked me around, finally forcing me into clean pajamas.59

I heard myself saying,60 “Don’t trifle with me.”61

He leant towards me, and I was just going to slap his face in the best manner when62 a very small, raddled and parchment-faced photographer who called himself Vladimir63 ran his magnificent pink tongue around his lips and up over his moustache and said,64 “Quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget.”65

I cried, half desperate66—[There arises a regrettable lacuna in the diaries at this point.67]—the scalding, scorching hole? What were my thoughts and what were his?68 Especially when performed in the company of fifty other girls in rather indecent black tights.69




* * *


This is a bare outline.70 The names have been changed;71 littera scripta manet.*72 I am taking the liberty of sending to you73 advance praise74 of the finished work:75

“It’s original.”—Mimi Sheraton, The New York Times76
“Steady and unafraid.”—The Times77
“A fragile yet tense narrative.”—Richard McKee”78

*The written word remains.79



Works Cited
1Davies, Robertson. High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories. New York: Penguin Books, 1982. Page 33. 
2Nowell-Smith, Simon. Letters to Macmillan. Ed. New York: Macmillan, 1967. Page 40. 
3Thurber, James. The Years With Ross. Boston, Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1959. Page 5. 
4Thurber, James. The Years With Ross. Boston, Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1959. Page 123. 
5Phillips, Arthur. The Egyptologist. New York: Random House, 2004. Page 5. 
6King, Laurie R. A Monstrous Regiment of Women. New York: Bantam Books, 1997. Page: Editor's preface. 
7King, Laurie R. A Monstrous Regiment of Women. New York: Bantam Books, 1997. Page: Editor's preface. 
8Rogers, Ann. The New Cookbook for Poor Poets and Others. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979. Page 7. 
9Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Ballantine Books, 1965. Page 418. 
10McKee, Richard. The Clan of the Flapdragon and Other Adventures in Etymology by B.M.W. Schrapnel, Ph.D. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997. Page 14. 
11Nowell-Smith, Simon. Letters to Macmillan. Ed. New York: Macmillan, 1967. Page 349. 
12Phillips, Arthur. The Egyptologist. New York: Random House, 2004. Page 6. 
13Lucas, F.L. Style. New York: Collier Books, 1962. Page 97. 
14Phillips, Arthur. The Egyptologist. New York: Random House, 2004. Page 5. 
15Ames, Delano. Corpse Diplomatique. New York: Perennial Library, 1983. Page 31. 
16Ames, Delano. Corpse Diplomatique. New York: Perennial Library, 1983. Page 17. 
17Caudwell, Sarah. Thus Was Adonis Murdered. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981. Page 31. 
18Gibbons, Stella. Cold Comfort Farm: The Comic Classic of Rural Life. Great Britain: Penguin Books, 1982. Page 17. 
19MacDonald, Betty. Anybody Can Do Anything. Pleasantville, New York: The Akadine Press, 1998. Page 229. 
20MacDonald, Betty. Anybody Can Do Anything. Pleasantville, New York: The Akadine Press, 1998. Page 255. 
21Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 8. 
22Fielding, William J. Strange Customs of Courtship and Marriage. New York: The New Home Library, 1944. Page 278. 
23Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc. (no date). Page 83. 
24Erskine, Rosalind. The Passion-Flower Hotel. New York: Pocket Books, Inc., 1963. Page 78. 
25Crisp, Quentin. The Naked Civil Servant, How to Become a Virgin, Resident Alien. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 2000. Page 570. 
26O’Hehir, Diana. I Wish This War Were Over. New York: First Washington Square Press, 1989. Page 49. 
27Crisp, Quentin. The Naked Civil Servant, How to Become a Virgin, Resident Alien. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 2000. Page 571. 
28Coe, Jonathan. The Winshaw Legacy, or What a Carve Up! New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. Page 42. 
29Jarrell, Randall. Pictures From an Institution: A Comedy. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1986. Page 124. 
30Davies, Robertson. High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories. New York: Penguin Books, 1982. Page 85. 
31Erskine, Rosalind. The Passion-Flower Hotel. New York: Pocket Books, Inc., 1963. Page 31. 
32Fisher, M.F.K. The Art of Eating. New York: Vintage Books, 1976. Page 64. 
33Willis, Connie. To Say Nothing of the Dog. New York: Bantam Books, 1998. Page 108. 
34Crisp, Quentin. The Naked Civil Servant, How to Become a Virgin, Resident Alien. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 2000. Page 571. 
35Jarrell, Randall. Pictures From an Institution: A Comedy. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1986. Page 87. 
36Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray and Other Writings. Toronto, New York: Bantam Books, 1982. Page 193. 
37Van Dine, S.S. The Greene Murder Case. Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Gold Medal Book, 1956. Page 25. 
38King, Laurie R. A Monstrous Regiment of Women. New York: Bantam Books, 1997. Page 10. 
39Kimbrough, Emily. Through Charley’s Door. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1952. Page 62. 
40Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 149. 
41Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc. (no date). Page 402. 
42Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 13. 
43Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 139. 
44Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 143. 
45Bowman, W. E. The Ascent of Rum Doodle. Great Britain: Pimlico, 2001. Page 99. 
46Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 213. 
47Erskine, Rosalind. The Passion-Flower Hotel. New York: Pocket Books, Inc., 1963. Page 94. 
48Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 206. 
49Erskine, Rosalind. The Passion-Flower Hotel. New York: Pocket Books, Inc., 1963. Page 78. 
50Erskine, Rosalind. The Passion-Flower Hotel. New York: Pocket Books, Inc., 1963. Page 97. 
51Martin, Judith. Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1982. Page 710. 
52Ames, Delano. Corpse Diplomatique. New York: Perennial Library, 1983. Page 31. 
53DuMaurier, Daphne. Rebecca. New York: Avon Books, 1971. Page 72. 
54DuMaurier, Daphne. Rebecca. New York: Avon Books, 1971. Page 74. 
55Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 153. 
56Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 167. 
57Erskine, Rosalind. The Passion-Flower Hotel. New York: Pocket Books, Inc., 1963. Page 20. 
58Crisp, Quentin. The Naked Civil Servant, How to Become a Virgin, Resident Alien. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 2000. Page 566. 
59MacDonald, Betty. The Plague and I. Philadelphia & New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1948. Page 136. 
60DuMaurier, Daphne. Rebecca. New York: Avon Books, 1971. Page 73. 
61Davies, Robertson. High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories. New York: Penguin Books, 1982. Page 15. 
62Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 130. 
63Spark, Muriel. A Far Cry From Kensington. New York: Avon Books, 1988. Page 76. 
64Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1981. Page 174. 
65Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Raven.” 
66Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc. (no date). Page 83. 
67Coe, Jonathan. The Winshaw Legacy, or What a Carve Up! New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995. Page 124. 
68Drayson, Nicholas. Confessing a Murder. New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2002. Page 278. 
69Dickens, Monica. One Pair of Hands. Chicago: Academy Chicago Publishers, 1988. Page 6. 
70Nowell-Smith, Simon. Letters to Macmillan. Ed. New York: Macmillan, 1967. Page 224. 
71Martin, Judith. Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1982. Page 386. 
72Chappell, Warren. A Short History of the Printed Word. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970. Pages 242-3. 
73Phillips, Arthur. The Egyptologist. New York: Random House, 2004. Page 4. 
74Haymon, S.T. Opposite the Cross Keys: A Memory of Childhood. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988. Page: Dust cover. 
75Phillips, Arthur. The Egyptologist. New York: Random House, 2004. Page 4. 
76Rogers, Ann. The New Cookbook for Poor Poets and Others. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1979. Page: Dust cover. 
77Bradbury, Malcolm. Who Do You Think You Are? London: Vintage, 1976. Page: Back cover. 
78McKee, Richard. The Clan of the Flapdragon and Other Adventures in Etymology by B.M.W. Schrapnel, Ph.D. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1997. Page xiii. 
79Chappell, Warren. A Short History of the Printed Word. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970. Page 243. 
 

Bonnie Furlong is a writer of funny essays, most of which are published in her family newsletter, lately on hiatus because she is pursuing a career in desktop publishing, graphic arts, and technical writing at her local community college, where she is called a “mature student.” Yes, it rankles. She will not be able to graduate until she completes English 212, which she is boycotting because she will have to write a research paper with footnotes and a bibliography. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with three cats and a dawg. Oh, and she deplores plagiarism in all of its forms and has been following reports of it in the news with fascination and horror. More by Bonnie Furlong