The Embarrassment of Phileas Wensleydale Trout

     Phileas Wensleydale Trout didn’t have much going for him in his young life. There was his name, for one thing. What had his parents been thinking? What was a Phileas anyway? And as if that hadn’t been bad enough, he was also burdened with a middle name that celebrated his father’s favorite kind of cheese.  Of course that cheese couldn’t have been a nice mellow cheddar that smelled of homey goodness and sandwiches your mum tucked into your lunchbox with little notes wishing you a good day at school. No. Wensleydale cheese (blue Wensleydale, to be precise) had an odor there was only one other place you could smell. If you were to wander down to the docks to the launderer and shove your face into one of the large baskets which held the grimy, sweat-sodden undershirts of the crew of the Moldy Musket – a ship known not for its adventurous exploits, but for the fact that its sailors (perhaps out of some misguided superstition) never changed their undershirts for the entire length of a voyage – you would have some inkling of what Wensleydale cheese smells like. By the time Trout gets tacked onto the end of first and middle names like Phileas and Wensleydale, well – you can see why Phileas might have reason to complain.

     But Phileas’s name was the least of his problems – or rather, only the beginning of his problems. He often wondered whether he would have had a better, slightly less embarrassing life if his parents had given him a better, slightly less embarrassing name. But even if poor Phileas had been called something rather more normal sounding – like Jack Rogers, for instance, or Max Anderson – he would still have spent nearly every day of his young life in mortal embarrassment.

     Phileas lived with his mother, father, and pet canary in the small rooms above his father’s cheese shop, “Trout’s Tasty Cheeses.” Now, every child will tell you tales of how embarrassing his or her parents are. But Phileas, though he wouldn’t dare speak of it (not even to the canary), had them all beat. He thought of himself as relatively normal for a boy who lived with embarrassing parents above a cheese shop and often thought to himself that at one point, his parents must have been normal too. Otherwise, where would Phileas had gotten it from? He’d find himself gazing at his mother and father across the breakfast table, wondering just where their lives had taken a sharp left turn at the corner of Crazy Street and begun their endless journey down Off Your Bloomin’ Rocker Avenue.

      Phileas’s father was Henry Trout, although he was usually referred to as “Mr. Trout” or “The Cheeseman.” No one knows just when Mr. Trout’s obsession with cheese and all things cheese-related began, but obsessed he was. Even to the point of drilling holes of varying sizes into the dining room table in order to make it more closely resemble cheese. Like a “fine aged Swiss,” boasted Mr. Trout. He was extremely proud of his handiwork and greatly enjoyed the looks upon the faces of the people he displayed his table to – mistaking their looks of dumbfounded astonishment for admiring awe. No matter that Mrs. Trout was constantly losing teaspoons and dainty bits of china to some of the larger holes, Mr. Trout would loudly laugh and say “all part of its charm, my dear!”

     Mr. Trout’s obsession with cheese didn’t end with his shop or his hole-riddled table. Their rooms were dotted with cheese-themed furniture, from the wedge-shaped ottoman and the sofa which resembled a great brick of cheddar to the cheese cloth curtains which he insisted his wife hang in place of her favored rose chintz patterned drapes. It seemed to Phileas that his life was filled with nothing but cheese, cheese, and more cheese. He didn’t dare bring any school friends home for fear of dying of cheese-induced embarrassment only to be buried by his father in a cheese-shaped coffin with a headstone in the shape of the round wheel of Parmesan. And no doubt heaping platters of cheese would be served at his wake.  

     Mrs. Hyacinth Trout did her best to accommodate her husband’s cheese obsession, feeling in her heart of hearts that it was only right for a wife to support her husband in all matters. She knew this was right because she’d read it in an issue of Women’s Calumny Quarterly, which she read most faithfully and believed whole-heartedly.

     Ah, dear Mrs. Trout! There is a certain familiar expression which many people employ (whether they realize it or not) in their daily lives. That expression instructs a person to take certain things “with a grain of salt.” In simple terms, this means to not believe absolutely everything you are told or that you read. There are varying degrees of how one should take things “with a grain of salt” of course. These range from the “complete and utter hogwash” to “most of that is true, I’m certain, but as you’ve no photographic evidence, that fish was more likely six inches long and not eighteen inches long.” Mrs. Hyacinth Trout lacked this ability to apply disbelief where necessary and believed innately absolutely everything she was told.

     One might wonder what harm there is in believing everything one is told. Well no harm at all, unless you are poor Phileas Trout and your mother is one Mrs. Hyacinth Trout who once set out saucers of cream and half a dozen soup bones when she heard it would be “raining cats and dogs” later in the day. She meant well, of course, thinking only of how the poor wee things would be hungry after such a long drop and would be grateful for a bit of something to eat. And there was that exceptionally hot afternoon one July when she overheard someone passing by say “boy, I’m just burning up.” Mrs. Trout, knowing her civic duty, promptly doused the man with the bucket of dirty dish water she’d been about to dump into her flowerbed.

     With such parents and such a name, it was no wonder Phileas lived in dread of the morning he’d wake up and realize he had become just as strange and embarrassing. For eight years, no such thing occurred. And then one Tuesday morning in April, on the 156th day of the eighth year of his life – it happened.

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Ok, folks… my first meander into sharing some of my fiction.  This is a WIP and while I haven’t edited the crud out of it, I’ve enjoyed toying with it recently.  (In other words, don’t go reading this like it’s a finished product.)  I have a pretty good idea of where it’s headed and I hope some of you will enjoy coming along with me.  If not, feel free to skip the posts tagged “fiction” – no worries.  I know it’s not my usual fare but it is one of the many facets of Sarah. 

Cheers!

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soft now
and you unknowing
in rings of green
I will string you
and like a child
in dandelions bedecked
I will drape here
the cool bloom of you
where my fingers
may twine and trail
restless
in the loops
of your hair

© Sarah Whiteley

a spot of bother

dearest Mother and Father,
I’m in a spot of bother
I can’t go to sleep, you see,
for there appears to be
a Beast-Hemoth under my bed

you’ll say that my mind’s playing tricks
I’d believe you if he didn’t kick
but he turns in his sleep
that big snoring heap
and his tail keeps whacking my head

I’ve tried waking the great big lump
by kicking his big fat rump
but he’s hungry you see
and he won’t listen to me
when I tell him to get out of my bed

so I’m sorry dear Mother and Father,
I hate to be such a bother
but if I go back to my room
and the Beast-Hemoth of doom
I fear that I might wake up dead

get my little butt right back upstairs?
I’m starting to think you don’t care
for I’ll die if I go
this is as big as I’ll grow
that Beast-Hemoth has never been fed

you’ll feel in the morning regret
when you wake up to find I’ve been et
or you’ll be cross with me
if he answers my plea
and he eats my sister instead

© Sarah Whiteley

summer

sun warm
summer honey
clings in slow drips
to fingertips
the bees pulse in reels
honeysuckle drunk
and leaves sleepily weave
the golden hours
between cicada beats
seconds slow
and time is measured
by the gentle bend
of sweet green blades
and the dappled dance
of maple shade

© Sarah Whiteley