I was going to let "Jack and the green chalk" die a natural death, but a number of people have asked me to continue the saga. For their own protection, they shall remain nameless, but should be ashamed of themselves. Against my better judgement, therefore, here follows Part 2, continued from Jack and the green chalk: Part 1
The outcome of the musings of Good King Wenceslas in the third month of his Reign was a new tax on tickets to the Tossery. A huge new tax that almost tripled the cost of admittance to the Event. The decision, like all political decisions, was a compromise. On the one hand the King didn't want any of his subjects, of whatever height, to starve to death for want of employment. As the dwarves' sole source of income, the Tossery had to be permitted to continue.
On the other hand the King didn't want the Kingdom swamped by weirdos and perverts from all over the world. And they would come, he had no doubt, to take their twisted enjoyment in the degradation and humiliation of the dwarves. So he added a big dollop of tax onto the price of a Tossery ticket; big enough to put it out of reach of all but the most utterly depraved (and wealthiest) citizens of the Kingdom, and the broad wide world more broadly.
Through the kitchen window Emily watched Jack as he walked his merry little way down the path leading to the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Tears drizzled down her cracked and wattled face. Pull yerself together woman, she told herself sternly. But for the life of her she could not suppress the dread and sadness rising like an unwanted bolus of sour puke within her gullet.
Much as Emily Higginbottom despised her idiot son, Jack, much as his drool-flecked face inspired disgust in her, he still had claim to a small, threadbare, poorly maintained portion of her heart. He was her last remaining link to happier times; well, mixed times really if truth be known.
Emily cast her mind back to the year of Jack's fifth birthday, the year she had received confirmation from the naval bureaucracy that her beloved Harry --- Harry Higginbottom, Jack's father --- was missing, presumed dead.
Harry had been among that gallant throng aboard HMS Dogmatic --- the flagship of the fleet --- which had gone down with all hands in a ferocious cyclone off the Cape of No Hope.
Harry Higginbottom had been a sailor's sailor, the very icon of a sailor, the quintessential sea-dog from his salt-stained toes to the split ends of his untamed grizzly beard. Never without a reeking pipe in his pre-cancerous lips, Harry had joined the King's Shippies (as the Navy was known in those days) as a humble deckhand and had remained thus until the presumption of his death shortly after His Majesty's Shippie (HMS) Dogmatic came to rest upon the ocean floor..
Years after Harry's death, and Emily's heart was still heavy. Her body and soul were withered and crabby. She was suspicious and mistrustful. Sarcastic and benighted. Aggressively agoraphobic. It had been hard, it had sucked all the juice out of her --- physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually and financially --- bringing up a child on a widow's mite, an income so small it was deemed by philosophers to be mathematically impossible.
Yes, they had been poor. Desperately poor. Always hungry, always cold. Emily's income as a waitress in the MonkeyBrain --- one of the Kingdom's less salubrious restaurants --- had been a whole lot less than enough to sustain them.
In those years "The Brain" (as it was known) had been owned by a great pig of a man, Percy Bradshaw, with appetites as large as his cruelty. Unfortunately, Bradshaw took a fancy to the demure widow Higginbottom, he lost no opportunity to force his attentions upon her.
Emily felt forced to put up with it: she needed her job too badly to offend Bradshaw.
So ultimately she had given herself, reluctantly, to him. She became Mrs Bradshaw. The marriage ceremony was reluctantly performed by the Kingdom's official Marrier. And as for the wedding night, the very word "reluctance" itself forced itself into her reluctant brain, as she lay there, crushed beneath the weight of the Great White Whale, until it was all over and she could breathe again.
Grub-naked between the satin sheets of the marital boudoir on the third floor of the Bradshaw mansion, the Whale lit a cigar and expelled the foul grey smoke from his butcher's lips. "You know, dollface," he grunted at Emily, "been thinking about that little sprog of yours, uh... John, is it, no, sorry, Jack... Well, anyho, I think he would be much happier among people of his own kind, you know, so I've bought him a place at the Royal Sanitarium, and 'twas a pretty penny too, I can tell you..."
Needless to say, Emily had reacted badly to the news. A new (for her) emotion, rage, sprang into being, overcoming her innate fearfulness. With all the force at her disposal she had slapped Bradshaw hard across the chops.
The inevitable ensued. She was arrested, charged and found guilty of assault, was sentenced to six cold and stony months in the King's Dungeon. That was when and why Emily had dropped "Bradshaw" from her name, and by deed poll reverted to her previous surname, Higginbottom.
...to be continued, maybe