The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Autumn 2015 Results

A Fool in a Gown

Copyright © Edward Burger 2015

A fool in a gown is none the wiser, they say, but I was no fool. I was thoroughly equal to the adulation that such a garment afforded me. A great gown did I wrap about me, such as that worn by a sage, prophet, philosopher or king.

“You may kiss my ring, child,” I said to the maiden who was washing clothes in a horse trough.

“Quit bein’ such a ponce, ya dingbat. Go clean the toilets like you was told.”

“I am above such lowly chores, child. Observe you my gown. See how it—”

“And quit callin’ me child. I’m older than you are.”

“You are but a child in the eyes of God and all gentlemen of distinction.”

“Fuck off, chauvinist!”

“How dare you! Repent or I’ll have you flogged!”

“I’d like to see ya try it, dingbat.”

“It is obviously folly to waste words on such a strumpet as yourself. I shall take leave of your detestable presence and seek the companionship of those worthy of my company.”

“Go teach your grandmother to suck eggs!”

I resisted the temptation to respond to the strumpet. I swirled my great gown about me as I turned and strode off. I’m sure I cut an impressive figure. The gown was particularly suited to swirling. Then I began my search for persons of quality. I passed by a number of shops – among them a jeweller and a tailor of quality garments – yet even the owners of such businesses I still considered lackeys and quite beneath me. Then I saw a gentleman, obviously of the upper classes for he was having his boots polished by a lowly servant. He sat in a chair out on the sidewalk as the servant toiled at his feet.

“Greetings, sir,” I said, addressing the gentleman. “I trust you are enjoying a pleasant afternoon.”

“Yes thank you. It is pleasant to be able to pop outdoors for a moment.”

“I would not ask you to kiss my ring, for you, sir, I can tell are a man of quality.”

“Well, I suppose I am.”

“Do you like my gown?” I asked, swishing it about.

“Why, yes. It’s quite a nice gown.”

“It is good to see that you are having your shoes polished. We have to keep the servants in their place. Make them work, I say. It keeps them out of mischief.”

“This fellow is no servant. He earns his living and I have paid him a reasonable sum for his services.”

“Of course you have, and I would expect anything less of such a noble gentleman as yourself. It does you credit, though I must warn you of granting them too many privileges. They must know their place.”

“But he is an independent man and he has far greater aspirations than those of a mere shoe polisher. Isn’t that right, Jerome?”

“Yes. I only do the shoe polishing to supplement my income. I am studying to be a lawyer.”

“You can’t be a lawyer if you’re a shoe polisher,” I said, shocked. “You’ll never graduate. You cannot have aspirations beyond your own class.”

“Rubbish!” said Jerome. “It hasn’t stopped you from poncing about in that gown of yours. I recognise you. You’re the toilet cleaner from down the road.”

“The role was beneath me. I was born a man of quality.”

“Ha ha ha!” laughed the gentleman. “You are no man of quality, toilet cleaner!”

“I am!”

“Be gone from my sight. You offend me.”

“How dare you!”

Jerome had finished polishing the gentleman’s shoes and the gentleman stood up. “Thank you, Jerome,” he said, then he walked into the two dollar shop. He said something to the person behind the counter then he himself went behind the counter! He actually worked there – in a bargains store, the lowliest of the low! He was no gentleman! I had been deceived!

I strode off in a huff, my gown swirling about me, quite magnificently I might add. But where would I find persons of true quality? They would not snub me. They would recognise at once how fitting was my magnificent gown.

Then I remembered the private club. That was where the elite of this town congregated. They would be begging me to become a member. I arrived at the club, entered the foyer and approached reception as my gown swirled about me. I was surprised to see a female staffing it. Perhaps she was a servant.

“I trust they are working you hard, child,” I said.

“Hard enough. When the club is quiet there are always administration tasks to perform.”

“You may kiss my ring, child,” I said as I proffered my ring-bearing hand.

“I don’t think that would be appropriate, sir.”

“Not appropriate?! Good heavens. Well, I suppose you get so many gentlemen of distinction entering this club that you would get sore lips, would you not?”

“Yes, I would, sir.”

“Now, would you be so kind as to inform your master that a gentleman high distinction wishes to join the club?”

“Rules regarding admittance to the club are rather stringent, I’m afraid, sir.”

“Surely you don’t mean to suggest that I would not be accepted! Look at my gown!”

“But are you wise, sir?”

“Yes, I’m very wise.”

“Because your gown looks like that which is worn by someone who is wise, and not self important. Indeed, to be wise is not to be self-important, whilst you seem so full of yourself I would say that your gown does not suit you at all.”

“How dare you! Do you think me a fool?!”

“I would never be so impolite as to admit such a thing, sir, though the fact is quite plain.”

“How dare you! I demand to see the manager! I will have you sacked! I will have you flogged! This club will be begging for my patronage by the time I’ve finished with you, strumpet.”

“You don’t really need to see the manager, do you?”

“I demand it!”

So she called the manager and shortly he arrived at reception. Here appeared a man of distinction. He wore a dinner suit and bow tie and was impeccably groomed. Yet appearances can be deceptive. Perhaps he was just another lackey but I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

“Good day to you, fine fellow,” I said as I flourished my gown impressively.

“We already have a toilet cleaner,” he said.

“I am no toilet cleaner! Look at my gown!”

“I can see your gown. It is just like the gown our toilet cleaner wears. He ponces about, believing himself to be the bees knees, but he’s just a fool.”

“Well I, sir, am nothing of the sort. I am a gentleman of distinction!”

“I have neither the time nor patience for these games. State your business then be gone.”

“How dare you! For one I wished to complain about your staff, and you, sir, are no better! It was my wish to join this club, but if it is managed by the likes of you I doubt it would be up to my standards.”

“How dare you! You would not find a club one-tenth of our standard that would stoop so low as to admit one as lowly as you. In fact, I’m sure that no club exists in the entire universe that would admit you!”

“How dare you! It is your club that is the lowliest of the low!”

“I will not be lured into a dispute with a servant as lowly as yourself, yet it is a fact that many gentlemen of high distinction are members of this club. I’ll have you know that The Wise Man’s Guild will be meeting here this very evening.”

“The Wise Man’s Guild!”

“Yes. They are to be arriving shortly and I would rather you were not dirtying up our foyer with your presence. Go back to your toilets, servant.”

“How dare you! I’m no servant! You’re the servant! You may be the manager of a mediocre establishment but you’re still a servant!”

“How dare you!”

Just then a gentleman entered wearing a smoking a jacket, frilly shirt, cravat, top hat and carrying a cane, but his most princely item of attire was the extravagant gown that was draped over his shoulders.

“Sir Bruce of The Wise Man’s Guild,” said the manager. “It is so good to see you, Sir.”

“Grouse to see you too, cobber. How’s it goin’, mate?”

“Very well, thank you, Sir Bruce. May I take your gown and hat?”

“You can take me hat but keep ya mitts off me gown. Some joker’s been nicking “em and sellin’ ‘em to toilet cleaners for a buck. Scumbags. If it ain’t nailed down it’ll get nicked; there’s a bit of wisdom for ya.”

“It is very true, I’m sure, Sir Bruce.”

“And who’s this bloke in the gown?” he said, pointing to me.

“Don’t mind him. He wandered in off the street and was just on his way out.”

I began to give my gown a grandiose flourish but the manager shoved me at the door and tried to kick me out. “How dare you!” I protested. “Surely Sir Bruce would object to seeing another wise man being treated so!”

“Get lost, dickhead!” said Sir Bruce.

“How dare you!”

This time the manager was successful in his attempts to kick me out. I flew down the steps, struggling not to fall, but came to grief a short distance from the bottom of the steps. I was in the middle of a procession of sorts. I got up onto my knees and realised I was kneeling at the very feet of the King.

“Rise, my child,” he said. “You may kiss my ring.”

At last I was in the company of someone of the same calibre as myself! “I shall not kiss your ring, your majesty,” I said, rising to my feet, “just as I would not ask you to kiss mine. We are both obviously men of quality.” Then I gave my gown a great flourish. The King gave his own gown a great flourish, and we flourished and swirled in turns for a time. Then we held each other’s hand and went skipping down the road together.

Unseen by either of us, the King’s jester was following at a distance, dressed as the King but with the word fool painted on his back. He also skipped but in a very silly fashion. Everyone was laughing at him and thought him a fool, just as they secretly laughed at their King and thought him a fool. But I was no fool.