Crinkly Around the Edges In which Eddie Dickens is sent away for his own good
When Eddie Dickens was eleven
years old, both his parents caught some awful disease that made them turn
yellow, go a bit crinkly around the edges, and smell of old hot-water bottles.
There were lots of diseases like
that in those days. Perhaps it had something to do with all that thick fog,
those knobbly cobbled streets, and the fact that everyone went everywhere by
horse . . . even to the bathroom. Who knows?
contagious," said his father.
"And catching," said
his mother, sucking on an ice cube shaped like a famous general.
They were in Eddie's parents'
bedroom, which was very dark and dingy and had no furniture in it except for a
large double bed, an even larger wardrobe, and thirty-two different types of
chair designed to make you sit up straight even if your wrists were handcuffed
to your ankles.
"Why are you sucking an ice
cube shaped like a famous general?" Eddie asked his parents, who were
propped up against piles of pillows in their impressively ugly double bed.
"Dr. Muffin says that it
helps with the swelling," said his mother. In fact, because she had a
famous-general-shaped ice cube in her mouth, what she actually said was
"Dotter Muffin schez va it hewlpz wiva schwelln," but Eddie managed
"What swelling?" he
His mother shrugged, then
suddenly looked even more yellow and even more crinkly around the edges.
"And why do they have to be
famous-general shaped?" asked Eddie. He always asked lots of questions,
and whenever he asked lots of questions, his father would say:
Questions!" said his father.
"But why a famous
general?" Eddie repeated. "Surely the shape of the ice cube can't
make any difference?"
"Schows sow muck chew
no," muttered his mother, which meant (and still means), "Shows how
much you know."
His father rustled the
bedclothes. "One does not question the good doctor," he said.
"Especially when one is a child." He was a small man except for when
he was sitting up in bed. In this position, he looked extremely tall.
Then Eddie's mother rustled the
bedclothes. It was easy to make them rustle because they were made entirely
from brown paper bags glued together with those extra strips of gummed paper
you sometimes get if you buy more than one stamp at the post office.
Postage stamps were a pretty new
idea back then, and everyone -- except for a great-great-great-aunt on my
mother's side of the family -- was excited about them.
One good thing about there being
so few stamps in those days was that no one had yet come up with the idea of
collecting them and sticking them in albums and being really boring about
them. Stamp collectors didn't exist. Another good thing about there being no
stamp collectors was that English teachers couldn't sneak up on some
defenseless child and ask it how to spell philatelist.
Anyhow, even for those days,
having brown paper bedclothes wasn't exactly usual. Quite the opposite, in
fact. Bedclothes used to be an even grander affair then than they are now.
There were no polyester-filled
duvets with separate washable covers. Oh, no. Back then there were
underblankets and undersheets and top sheets and middle sheets and seven
different kinds of overblankets. These ranged from ones thicker than a plank
of wood (but not so soft) to ones that had holes in them that were supposed to
To make a bed properly, the
average chambermaid went through six to eight weeks' training at a special
camp. Even then, not all of them finished the course, and those that didn't
finish spent the rest of their working lives living in cupboards under stairs.
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