SPM English Literature Component
This is something I wished existed on the internet since a long long time ago...
The SPM English literature component (2010) in plain text for easy cut & paste! I've even typed out the 2 short stories!
This will be very useful for setting exam papers... Enjoy!!
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We have neither Summer nor Winter
Neither Autumn nor Spring.
We had instead the days
When the gold sun shines on the lush green canfields-
The days when the rain beats like bullets on the roofs
And there is no sound but the swish of water in the gullies
And trees struggling in the high Jamaica winds.
Also there are the days when leaves fade from off guango trees
And the reaped canfields lie bare and fallow to the sun.
But best of all there are the days when the mango and the logwood blossom
When the bushes are full of the sound of bees and the scent of honey,
When the tall grass sways and shivers to the slightest breath of air,
When the buttercups have paved the earth with yellow stars
And beauty comes suddenly and the rains have gone.
He Had Such Quiet EyesBibsy Soenharjo
He had such quiet eyes
She did not realise
They were two pools of lies
Layered with the thinnest ice
To her, those quiet eyes
Were breathing desolate sighs
Imploring her to be nice
And to render him paradise
If only she’d been wise
And had listened to the advice
Never to compromise
With pleasure-seeking guys
She’d be free from “the hows and whys”
Now here’s a bit of advice
Be sure that nice really means nice
Then you’ll never be losing at dice
Though you may lose your heart once or twice
In the Midst of HardshipLatiff Mohidin
At dawn they returned home
their soaky clothes torn
and approached the stove
their limbs marked by scratches
their legs full of wounds
but on their brows
there was not a sign of despair
The whole day and night just passed
they had to brave the horrendous flood
in the water all the time
between bloated carcasses
and tiny chips of tree barks
desperately looking for their son’s
albino buffalo that was never found
They were born amidst hardship
and grew up without a sigh or a complaint
now they are in the kitchen, making
jokes while rolling their cigarette leaves
Are You Still Playing Your Flute?Zurinah Hassan
Are you still playing your flute?
When there is hardly time for our love
I am feeling guilty
To be longing for your song
The melody concealed in the slim hollow of the bamboo
Uncovered by the breath of an artist
Composed by his fingers
Blown by the wind
To the depth of my heart.
Are you still playing your flute?
In the village so quiet and deserted
Amidst the sick rice field
While here it has become a luxury
To spend time watching the rain
Gazing at the evening rays
Collecting dew drops
Or enjoying the fragrance of flowers.
Are you still playing your flute?
The more it disturbs my conscience
to be thinking of you
in the hazard of you
my younger brothers unemployed and desperate
my people disunited by politics
my friend slaughtered mercilessly
this world is too old and bleeding
Jobs don’t grow on trees, the principal of the Belmont Secretarial College was fond of saying.
“Be positive,” Mrs Price told her departing students, as she shook them by the hand in turn. “Go out into the world and win! I have every confidence in you.”
When she came to the last student, however, her confidence suddenly evaporated. She looked at Lucy Beck, and sighed.
“Good luck, my dear,” she said kindly, but rather in the tone of voice of someone wishing a snowman a happy summer.
Lucy Beck was young and small and mouse-coloured, easily overlooked. She had a lonely ’O’ level and a typing speed that would make a tortoise laugh.
“Whoever will want to employ me?” she had asked Mrs Price once, and Mrs Price had been at a loss to answer.
Lucy wanted a job. More than anyone, more than anything, she wanted a job. She was tired of being poor. She was fed up with macaroni cheese and baked beans. She was sick of second-hand clothes.
“We are jumble sailors on the rough sea of life,” her mother would say.
Lucy loved her mother, but could not help wishing she would sometimes lose her temper. Shout. Scream. Throw saucepans at the spinning, grinning head of Uncle Bert.
If I get a job, I’m getting out. He’s not drinking up my pay packet, that’s for sure. If I get a job . . . Trouble was that there were hundreds after every vacancy, brighter than Lucy, better qualified than Lucy, wearing strings of ‘O’ levels round their necks like pearls.
Who in their right minds will choose me? Lucy wondered, setting off for her first interview.
So she was astonished to be greeted by Mr Ross of Ross and Bannister’s, with enormous enthusiasm. She was smiled at, shaken by the hand, given tea and biscuits, and told that her single ‘O’ level was the very one they had been looking for. Then she was offered the job.
“I hope you will be happy here,” Mr Ross said, showing her out. There was a sudden doubt in his voice, a hint of anxiety behind his smile, but she was too excited to notice.
“I’ve got the job! I’ve got the job!” she cried, running into the kitchen at home. “I’m to start on Monday. I’m to be paid on Friday.”
Her mother turned to share at her.
”You never! Fancy that now! Who’d have thought it!” she said in astonishment.
Lucy was not offended by her mother’s surprise. She shared it. They never trusted luck, but looked at it suspiciously as if at a stranger coming late to their door.
Ross and Bannister’s was a small firm, with a factory just outside the town, making cushions and duvets; and an office in the High Street. On Monday morning, at ten to nine, the door to this office was shut and locked.
She was early. She smoothed down her windy hair, and waited.
At five past nine, an elderly man, with small dark eyes like currants and a thick icing of white hair, came hobbling up the stairs. He was jingling a bunch of keys.
“Ah,” he said, noticing Lucy. “Punctuality is the courtesy of kings, – but a hard necessity for new brooms, eh? You are the new broom, I suppose? Not an impatient customer waiting to see our new range of Sunburst cushions, by any chance?”
“I’m Lucy Beck,” she said, adding proudly, “the new secretary.”
“Let’s hope you stay longer than the other ones,” the man said, and unlocked the door. “Come in, come in, Miss Beck. Come into the parlour, said the spider to the fly. I’m Harry Darke, thirty years with Ross and Bannister’s, retired with a silver watch, and now come back to haunt the place. Can’t keep away, you see.” Then he added oddly, half under his breath, “Like someone else I could mention, but won’t.”
He looked at Lucy, standing shy and awkward, clutching her bag and uncertain what to do. “Poor Miss Beck, you musn’t mind old Harry. Part-time messenger, office boy, tea-maker, mender of fuses. Anything you want, just ask old Harry. Mr Ross is down at the factory in the morning, but he’s left you plenty of work to be getting on with.” He pointed to a pile of tapes on the desk. “Letters to be typed, those are. He got behindhand, with the last girl leaving so quick. Left the same day she came. Shot off like a scalded cat!”
“Why?” Lucy asked curiously.
“Hang your coat in the cupboard here,” he said, ignoring her question. “Washroom along the passage to the right. Kitchenette to the left. We share it with Lurke and Dare, House Agents, and Mark Tower, Solicitor. No gossiping over the teapots, mind. Most of the young things go to Tom’s Cafe for lunch. Put this sign on the door when you leave.” He handed her a cardboard notice on a looped string on which was printed: Gone For Lunch. Back At Two. “Now is there anything else you want to know before I slope off?”
“You’re going?” Lucy asked, surprised.
“Yes, my girl. I’ve errands to do. Not frightened of holding the fort on your own, are you?”
“You can take a telephone message without getting the names muddled, can’t you?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Nothing else to it, is there? No need to look like a frightened mouse.”
He looked at her for a long moment, with a strange expression on his face, almost as if he were sorry for her.
“You’re very young,” he said at last.
“Don’t look it. Look as if you should be still at school. This your first job?”
He shook his head slowly, still regarding her with that odd pity.
“It’s a shame,” he said; then, seeing her puzzled face, added briskly, “Well, I’ll be off then. Mr. Ross will be in this afternoon.”
Yet still he stood there, looking at her. Embarrassed, Lucy turned away and took the cover off the typewriter.
”Just one last thing,” the old man said, “that’s an electric typewriter.”
“I’m used to electric typewriters,” Lucy said coldly. She was beginning to be annoyed.
“Not this one. This one’s . . . different. You mustn’t worry,” he said gently, “if it goes a little wrong now and again. Just ignore it. Don’t bother to re-type the letters. Splash on the old correcting fluid. Look, I got you a big bottle. Liquid Paper, the things they invent! And if that runs out, cross out the mistakes with a black pen – see, I’ve put one in your tray. Nice and thick it is. That should keep her quiet.”
“I don’t make mistakes,” Lucy said; then honesty compelled her to add, “well, not very many. I’ve been trained. I’ve got a diploma.”
“Yes. Yes, my dear, so they all had,” he said sadly, and left.
After the first moments of strangeness, Lucy was glad to be alone. No one breathing down her neck. She looked round the office with pleasure. Hers.
Sunlight streamed through the window. The curtains shifted a little in the spring breeze. There was a small blue and green rug on the floor.
I’ll have daffodils in a blue vase, Lucy thought. I can afford flowers now. Or I will be able to, on Friday.
Better get on with the work. She sat down, switched on the typewriter, inserted paper and carbons, and started the first tape.
“Take a letter to Messrs. Black and Hawkins, 28, Market Street, Cardington. Dear Sirs…” Mr Ross’s voice came clearly and slowly out of the tape deck. Lucy began to type.
She was a touch-typist. She did not need to look at the keys. Her fingers kept up their slow, steady rhythm, while her eyes dreamed round the office, out of the window, down into the sunny street.
“. . . our new line of Sunburst cushions in yellow, orange and pink,” came Mr Ross’s voice.
There was something odd! A sudden wrongness felt by her fingers, a tingling, an icy pricking…
She snatched her fingers away and stared at the typewriter. It hummed back at her innocently. What was wrong? There was something. . . Her glance fell on the uncompleted letter.
I am pleased to inform you that QWERTYUIOP and Bannister’s have introduced a new QWERTYUIOP of Sunburst cushions in QWERTYUIOP, orange and QWERTYUIOP…
She stared at it in horrified bewilderment. What had happened? What had she done? Not even on her first day at the Belmont Secretarial College had she made such ridiculous mistakes. Such strange mistakes – QWERTYUIOP, the top line of letters on a typewriter, repeated over and over again! Thank God there had been no one to notice. They’d think she had gone mad.
She must be more careful. Keep her mind on the job, not allow it to wander out of the window into the sunny shopping street below. Putting fresh paper into the typewriter, she began again.
She was tempted to look at the keyboard. . . “Don’t look at the keys! Keep your eyes away!” Mrs Price was always saying. “No peeping. You’ll never make a good typist if you can’t do it by touch. Rhythm, it’s all rhythm. Play it to music in your head.”
So Lucy obediently looked away, and typed to a slow tune in her head, dum diddle dum dee, dum diddledum dee. . . Why did her fingers feel funny? Why were goosepimples shivering her flesh? Was the typewriter really humming in tune?
She sat back, clasping her hands together, and stared at the letter in the machine. It read:
YOU ARE SITTING IN MY CHAIR to inform you that GO AWAY a new line of WE DO NOT WANT YOU HERE cushions in yellow, SILLY CHIT rind pink. QWERTYUIOP.
She could not believe her eyes. She stared at the extraordinary words and trembled.
“Let’s hope you stay longer than the other ones,” the old man had said.
Tears came into Lucy’s eyes. She tore the sheets out of the typewriter and threw them into the wastepaper basket. Then she put in fresh paper and began again. Grimly, in defiance of Mrs Price’s teaching, she kept her eyes fixed on the keyboard.
We are pleased to inform you that Ross and Bannister’s have introduced a new line of Sunburst cushions…
With a rattle the typewriter took over. She felt the keys hitting her fingers from below, leaping up and down like mad children at playtime. She took her hand away and watched.
. . . YOU CANT KEEP ME OUT THAT WAY, the typewriter printed. YOU LL NEVER BE HID OF ME. NEVER. WHY DONT YOU GO. NO ONE WANTS YOU HERE. NO ONE LIKES YOU. GO A WAY BEFORE
Then it stopped, its threat uncompleted.
Lucy leaped up overturning her chair and ran to the door.
“Left the same day she came,” the old man had said. “Shot off like a scalded cat!”
“No!” Lucy shouted.
She left the door and went over to the window, looking down at the bright shops. She thought of jumble sales and baked beans. She thought of pretty new clothes and rump steaks. She might be young and shy and a little slow, but she was not, no, she was not a coward!
She went back and sat down in front of the typewriter and glared at it. There it crouched, like a squat, ugly monster, staring at her with its alphabetical eyes.
Lucy typed quickly:
Are you from outer space?
The typewriter rocked, as if with laughter, its keys clicking like badly fitting false teeth.
IDIOT, it wrote.
Who are you? Lucy typed.
MISS BROOME, it answered.
Lucy hesitated. She did not know quite how to reply to this. In the end she typed:
How do you do? I am Miss Beck.
GO AWAY, MISS BECK
Why should I?
I AM SECRETARY HERE, it stated, this time in red letters.
No, you’re not! I am! Lucy typed angrily.
The machine went mad.
QUERTYUIOP!”/@QUERTYUIOP£~&0*QWERTYUIOP+I, it screamed, shaking and snapping its keys like castanets.
Lucy switched it off. She sat for a long time, staring in front of her, her face stubborn. Then she took the cap off the bottle of correcting fluid.
For an hour, she battled with the machine. As fast as QWERTYUIOPs and unwanted capitals appeared, she attacked with a loaded brush. The white fluid ran down the typing paper like melting ice-cream, and dripped thickly into the depths of the typewriter.
YOU’RE DROWNING ME, it complained pathetically, and she swiped at the words with her brush.
But Lucy showed no mercy. The large bottle was half-empty when she reached the end of the letter in triumph.
she typed, and sat back with a sigh of relief.
The machine began to rattle. Too late, Lucy snatched the completed letter out of the typewriter. Across the bottom of the otherwise faultless page, it now said in large, red capitals:
I HATE YOU!
Furiously she painted the words out.
Mr Ross came to the office at four o’clock. His eyes went to the corner of the desk where Lucy had put the completed letters. If he was surprised to find so modest a number after a day’s work, he did not say so, but picked them up.
“Any telephone messages?” he asked.
“On your desk, sir,” Lucy said and went to make him tea.
When she brought it in on a flowered metal tray, she found Mr Ross signing the last letter, his pen skidding awkwardly over the thick shiny layer of plastic paper. All the letters were heavily damasked with the dried fluid, like starched table napkins. He glanced up at her a little unhappily.
“Did you have trouble with the machine, Miss Beck?” he asked.
“Yes, sir.” (She was afraid to say what trouble in case he thought she was mad.)
“It’s only just come back from being serviced,” he said wearily.
“I’m sorry, sir. It keeps… going wrong.”
There was a long silence. Then he said with a sigh, “I see. Well, do what you can. If it’s no better at the end of the week…”
He let the sentence hang in the air, so that she was not certain whether it would be the typewriter or Lucy Beck who would get the chop.
The next morning, Harry Darke raised his eyebrows when he saw Lucy.
“Still here?” he exclaimed. “Well done, my dear. I never thought I’d be seeing you again. You’re braver than you look. Fighting back, eh?”
“Yes,” said Lucy briefly. She walked past him and went up to the desk. Her desk. Then she took out of her carrier bag a small bunch of daffodils and a blue vase.
“Staking your claim, I see,” the old man said, regarding her with admiration. “D’you want me to fill that for you?”
He came back, carrying a tray.
“Thought I might as well make us tea while I was about it,” he said. “Here’s your vase.”
“I’ll be here till one o’clock today,” he said, as she arranged her flowers. “Anything you want to know? Any snags come up I can help you with? Light bulbs changed. Fuses mended. New bottles of correcting fluid handed out…”
“Mr Darke,” Lucy said, looking straight into his small, bright eyes, “Who is Miss Broome?”
“Wrong question, Miss Beck.”
Lucy thought for a moment, then said, “Who was Miss Broome?”
He beamed at her approvingly: “You catch on quick, I’ll say that for you. In fact, you’re not the timid mouse you look, Miss Beck. You’re a right little lion. Need to be, if you’re going to take on Miss Broome. Tough old devil, she was.”
“Tell me about her,” Lucy said, as they sat over their tea.
“She was old Mr Bannister’s secretary. Been here forty-three years, girl, woman and old misery. Sitting there where you’re sitting now, her back straight as a ruler, and a chop-your-head-off ruler, too! Her stiff old fingers tapping out the letters one by one, with her nose nearly on the keyboard, so short-sighted she’d become by then. None of your touch-typing for her! Every letter she stared in the face like it was a criminal and she the judge. You can’t wonder she hates you young girls, with your fingers flying over the keys like white butterflies, and your eyes gazing out into the sunshine. They gave her the push, you know.”
“After forty-three years?” Lucy said, shocked into sympathy.
“Well, she was past it, wasn’t she? Of course they wrapped it up in tissue paper. Gave her a brass clock and shook her hand and waved her goodbye. She didn’t want to go. Didn’t have anywhere worth going to – a bedsit, a gas ring. . . The old bag didn’t have any family who’d own her. This place was her home, this job was all she lived for.”
Lucy was silent. Her mother had turned Uncle Bert out once, after a row, shouting that she’d had enough of him. Six weeks later, she had asked him to come back. “He looked so lonely, so lost,” she had told Lucy. “All by himself in that horrid little room, with the worn lino and the curtains all shrunk.”
“Sorry for her, are you?” Harry Darke asked, watching her face.
Lucy hardened her heart.
“It’s my job now,” she said. “I need it. She can’t have it for ever, it’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s my turn now.”
“So it’s a fight to the finish, is it, Miss Beck?” he asked, smiling.
“Yes,” she said, and unscrewed the cap from the bottle of correcting fluid.
Her mother was working late that night. Lucy, going into the kitchen to get her own supper, was surprised to find the table neatly laid out with ham and salad, apple pie and a jug of tinned milk. Uncle Bert was sitting waiting for her, beaming proudly.
“Thought I’d have your supper ready,” he explained, “now you’re a working girl.”
“Thanks,” she said, but couldn’t resist adding nastily, “I don’t get paid till Friday, you know. No good trying to touch me for a fiver.”
He flushed. “You don’t think much of me, do you? Who are you to set yourself up as judge and jury? You don’t know what it’s like . . . not being wanted. A little kindness would help!”
Lucy noticed his hands were shaking. His collapsing face seemed held together in a scarlet net of broken veins. His eyes were miserable.
“Uncle Bert…” she began.
“What?” He looked at her warily.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Uncle Bert.”
“I’m sorry too, Lucy,” he said. “I know it’s a nuisance, having me here.”
“No! No, it isn’t! We want you,” she said.
They smiled at each other timidly over the kitchen table, each remembering the little girl and the handsome uncle, who had once flown kites together in Waterlow Park.
* * *
Wednesday was Harry Darke’s day off. Alone in the office, Lucy put a sheet of paper in the typewriter, and typed quickly:
The typewriter gave a jerk, as if surprised, and hummed. Lucy typed:
Dear Miss Broome,
Mr Darke told me you used to the secretary to Mr Bannister…
I AM, interrupted the typewriter.
Lucy went on,
I am sorry to nave to tell you that Mr Bannister [she hesitated, wondering how to put it]. . . passed on three years ago, at the age of eighty-six…
LIAR! I DON’T BELIEVE YOU!
It is true, Miss Broome. I have seen his grave in the cemetery. It is not far from yours. I went along last night and left you flowers…
I did. Mr Darke is worried about Mr Bannister. He does not know how he will manage without you…
HE CAN MANAGE WITHOUT ME ALL RIGHT! said the typewriter bitterly, HE TOLD ME TO GO. BRASS CLOCK, WHAT DID I WANT WITH BRASS CLOCK! I WANTED MY JOB.
They only asked you to go because they were worried about your health. [Lucy typed quickly] Mr Darke told me Mr Bannister was always saying how much he missed you…
Truly. He said Mr Bannister complained none of the new girls were any good. There was no one like you, he said…
The typewriter was silent. Sunlight glittered on its keys, so that they looked wet.
… He must miss you: He’s probably in an awful muddle up there, mislaying his wings. Losing his harp. He needs someone to look after him…
The machine was silent. Lucy waited, but it said nothing more.
So she typed:
Goodbye, Miss Broome. Best of luck in your new job,
Lucy Beck, Secretary.
She folded the finished letter into a paper dart and sent it sailing out of the window. The wind caught it and carried it away.
* * *
Mr Ross is delighted now with his new secretary. Harry Darke says she’s champion and gives her chocolate biscuits with her tea.
“However did you do it?” he asked.
The Fruitcake SpecialFrank Brennan
I never thought I would discover something quite so amazing by accident. I was a chemist at the Amos Cosmetics factory in New Jersey, USA, trying to design a new perfume when it happened.
I was trying out all the usual mix of flowers and things - just like I always did - when I decided to throw in a piece of the fruitcake Momma had packed for my lunch. I don't know why I did it - I just did.
I put it into the mix with all the other things. Before long, I had a little bottle of perfume made from the things I had mixed together. I put some on the back of my hand. I thought it smelled nice, but there was nothing special about it, so I put the bottle into my handbag. I couldn't give something like that to my boss. After all, I am a chemist and my job is to make perfumes in a proper way. If I told him how I made this one he would tell me not to be a silly girl. Later, he would probably make a joke about it to his friends at the golf club.
That's the kind of man my boss was.
It was my boss, David Amos, the owner of Amos Cosmetics. He happened to be walking past where I worked. He never usually spoke to people like me. What did he want? I felt nervous.
`Yes, Mr Amos.' I said.
`You're looking terrific today! Mmm . . . what's that lovely smell? It's like fresh bread and flowers and sunshine all mixed together with . . . I don't know - is it you, Anna?'
I didn't know what he was talking about. I couldn't smell anything special.
Mr Amos had an expert nose for perfumes. And he knew it.
`Yes, it is you!' he said loudly. All the other chemists nearby could hear. It was embarrassing.
I had never heard my boss speak to me like that before. Or to anybody else, come to think of it. David Amos is a dark, handsome English guy who would never dream of saying nice things to ordinary looking girls like me. He preferred to be with pretty young models who liked his appearance and his money. When he did speak to the chemists he was usually complaining about something. Was he playing some kind of joke today?
Suddenly he came over right next to me. He spoke in a quiet voice close to my ear.
`You know, Anna, I've never really noticed it before – I can't think why - but you really are a beautiful woman!'
`Mr Amos. I . . .' I tried to answer but I didn't know what to say.
`No, it's true, Anna,' he said. `I must see you outside this dull factory. Will you have dinner with me tonight?'
`Well, I . . .' I was still too surprised to speak properly.
`That's great! I'll pick you up at your place tonight at eight. See you then,' he said.
He was gone before I could say anything.
As I went home on the bus I thought of the strange situation I was in. My boss, who was famous for going out with beautiful women, had told me I was beautiful and had asked me out! But I know I am just ordinary looking and not his usual type at all. When I got home my Momma was in the sitting room talking to my Aunt Mimi.
Aunt Mimi. I like my Aunt Mimi, but she simply can't mind her own business. She has wanted me to find a husband for ages. She didn't like the thought of me being single and having a career. She thought it wasn't natural for a twenty-seven-year-old woman like me not to be married. Aunt Mimi thought that the least she could do for me was to find me a husband. I was used to this by now, but it was still embarrassing.
`Aunt Mimi - how nice to see you,' I said.
Aunt Mimi looked at me and smiled. `Anna, my little girl . . . but look at you: you're not a little girl any more, you're a twenty-three-year-old woman already! How time flies!'
`Actually, I'm twenty-seven, Aunt Mimi,' I said. She always got my age wrong.
`So soon? And you're not married yet? Your mother was married when she was eighteen. Eighteen! And you were born when she was nineteen!' Aunt Mimi looked sad as she said this.
She decided to say what she thought at once - as she always did.
`So when are you going bring a nice boy home?' she asked, looking me right in the eye.
`There was that boy Armstrong you saw two years ago. He was nice,' said Momma, trying to help me.
`Momma, Armstrong was the pizza delivery man,' I tried to explain, but Momma never did listen.
`Armstrong was here a few times. I liked him,' said Momma.
`Momma,' I said, `that was when the cooker broke down - remember? We ate pizzas for almost a week until it was fixed. Armstrong just delivered the pizzas.'
`I don't care,' said Momma. `I liked him - he had nice eyes.'
Aunt Mimi raised her eyes in surprise.
`You mean to say you let this Armstrong boy go?' said Aunt Mimi.
`But he was only the pizza delivery man,' I said, weakly.
`Then he was. By now he probably owns the company!' said Aunt Mimi. `And you let him go! Anna!'
It was no use arguing. I knew they were not going to listen to me. So I changed the subject.
`That fruitcake was nice, Momma,' I said.
`Aunt Mimi brought it,' said Momma. `But don't change the subject - your aunt has something to say to you.'
Oh no! She's trying to find a husband for me again!
Aunt Mimi began, `I've found the perfect boy for you, Anna. Well . . . he's not exactly young, but neither are you any more . . . and he's still got his own hair . . .'
I decided I had to put a stop to this - I didn't want to meet Aunt Mimi's `boy' even if he did have his own hair.
`Thanks, Aunt Mimi,' I said. `But I'm already seeing someone tonight.'
I hadn't meant to tell them but I had to do something to stop Aunt Mimi. It certainly surprised them. They both looked at me with their eyes and mouths wide open like a couple of fish.
`Yes,' I went on. `I'm going out with my boss, Mr Amos. He's picking me up at eight.'
That certainly surprised them!
Momma and Aunt Mimi were very pleased, of course. They went off together to plan the wedding and left me to get ready for the man they hoped would be my future husband. I was beginning to wish I hadn't told them. After all, I had no idea why my boss had behaved towards me in that way. He had never even noticed me before now. However, he had noticed the perfume I had been wearing. Lately I had been wearing a perfume called Intrigue. It was made by another company and I actually preferred it to the perfumes we made. Mr Amos did have a very good nose for perfumes. Perhaps Intrigue was so good he just couldn't stop himself. Who knows?
Anyway, I had to get ready for my evening out. Although I couldn't explain why Mr Amos had suddenly found me attractive, I really wanted to find out. In my own way I'm as bad as my Aunt Mimi, I guess. The funny thing was, I don't really like men like Mr Amos. But I wanted to find out why he had changed.
So I put on my best black dress, lots and lots of Intrigue and my one pair of high-heeled shoes. The handbag I use for work is the only one I've got because I don't go out that often. I took it. Then I heard the doorbell ring.
Momma and Aunt Mimi were at the front door before I could move. They wanted to see my date. Both of them were trying to get me to hurry up. They had big smiles on their faces.
I opened the door.
It was Mr Amos. He looked very handsome. However, he was quieter than before and was looking down at the door. I could hear Momma and Aunt Mimi behind me. I could tell they liked him. It was embarrassing.
`Hello, Mr Amos,' I said.
I was expecting him to say something friendly, like `Call me David' or something. But he didn't. I managed to get him away from my Momma and Aunt Mimi without too much trouble. I guess they thought we should be alone together if they had any hope of hearing wedding bells in the future.
He hardly said anything in his car, either, apart from polite conversation about how nice I looked. I could tell he didn't mean it. Men have a way of calling you `nice' when they really mean they don't care how you look.
Anyway, he drove me to an expensive French restaurant where we spent some time having drinks and ordering food. All the conversation was of the polite kind, but I could tell he was getting ready to say something. Then he turned to me with a serious look on his face and spoke.
`Look Anna . . .' he began.
I knew it! He'd changed his mind and was trying to think of some excuse to get out of our evening together.
`. . . about today, at the factory,' he continued. `I don't know why I behaved like that.'
`I thought it was because you found me attractive, Mr Amos. And because you liked my perfume,' I said, wondering why the Intrigue I was wearing didn't seem to be having any effect on him. But it was obvious he hadn't been listening to me.
`You see, Anna,' he said, `if we can see this as . . . as . . .'
`As what, Mr Amos?' I asked.
He suddenly put on a smile. `As a reward for all your hard work at the factory. After all, you are one of our best chemists. It's the least I can do to show how much I value your efforts. Have this meal on me! I'll pay for it!'
If the meal had been there it would really have been on him - I would have thrown it at him! So he had changed his mind and now wanted to get rid of me. I didn't believe for one moment that this meal was a prize for being a good little chemist. I needed to be on my own to think what to do.
`Excuse me for a moment, Mr Amos,' I said, getting up from my seat.
`Of course,' he answered, looking less nervous than before.
I went to the ladies' room. I felt like breaking the furniture or something. I was annoyed! I had my pride, after all! And why hadn't my Intrigue worked? Perhaps I hadn't put enough on, even for his expert nose. I decided to put a lot more on. Perhaps that would work. I looked in my handbag - it wasn't there! All that I could find was that bottle with the fruitcake in it that I had made at the factory. I didn't care, I put it on. I used up half of the bottle. Then I went outside again.
As I was walking back to the table I almost ran into the waiter who had served us. He stopped and looked at me with a stupid look on his face. Then he remembered he had a job to do, walked on and knocked down a table with some cakes on it.
When I finally reached the table, Mr Amos was looking embarrassed, as if he didn't want to be seen with me. I could see he was trying to hide it but he couldn't. Suddenly a strange thing happened: he opened his mouth, as if he was going to speak, then stopped. He had smelled the perfume - the fruitcake special - that I was wearing, and the change that came over him was immediate. His look of embarrassment just disappeared. Instead, he looked like a dog who had just found a bone; his eyes shone and he smiled until I thought his face would break in two. He stood up.
`At last you're back ± I missed you, Anna,' he said. `I've been in a terrible dream and I've just woken up.'
`A dream, Mr Amos?' I asked. I didn't understand what he was talking about.
`Call me David, darling . . .' he said.
Darling? What did he mean? What was happening?
`Yes . . .' he continued. `I dreamt that I was being awful to you, treating you as if you were just someone who worked for me. The truth is that you mean so much more than that to me . . .'
I wondered what he meant. Was he going to raise my pay?
He went on. `You must realise that I'm crazy about you, darling.'
He was calling me darling again. He was being serious.
I have to say that at this point I was feeling very confused. Five minutes ago my boss didn't want to be seen with me. Now he was saying he was crazy about me! What could be making him behave like this? Then, all at once, I realised: it was the fruitcake special! Intrigue might smell great, but it didn't make a girl attractive to men. But my fruitcake perfume did.
`I feel my heart growing with love for you, Anna,' said Mr Amos. He was looking at my body through the black dress.
Just then a waitress came to the table. She told me that I had a telephone call and asked me to answer it in the lounge.
I wondered what it was about.
`Excuse me, David - I won't be long,' I said.
`A minute is a long time when you're gone, Anna,' he said. His words were like conversation from a bad movie. But I kept quiet about it ± he was my boss, after all, even if he had gone crazy.
When I got to the lounge I took the phone. I noticed someone waving their arms at me from another phone across the large room. I could see it was that waiter again - there were bits of cake all over his trousers.
Now what could he want?
I soon found out.
`Miss . . .' his voice was excited at the other end of the line. `. . . I know I am only a poor waiter but love makes me brave . . .'
Why did everybody sound like bad movies tonight?
`When I saw you just now,' said the waiter, `I couldn't stop myself from falling in love with you. You are so beautiful. Please tell me you will see me . . . I know I can offer you more than that rich fool you're sitting with. I may not have his money or his looks, but I love you far more than he ever could. Please be mine!'
`Wait a minute, Romeo,' I said. `Why don't you just calm down and serve the lobster, like a good little waiter?'
It was the perfume, my fruitcake special again. The waiter had a good smell of it when he had passed by earlier and now he thought he was in love with me, the poor man. It wasn't his fault. I told him that if he loved me he would not talk loudly about it.
`Of course, my love. I will not embarrass you . . . darling!' the waiter said.
So far I'd had two men call me darling in one evening. Aunt Mimi would be pleased.
But if the perfume had worked in that way on the waiter, I had better take care not to pass by any other males too closely. I could end up with a group of men following me home, all saying they loved me. And wouldn't that be awful? Well, wouldn't it? Well, maybe not but it wouldn't be easy to explain to Momma. And I wouldn't even mention it to Aunt Mimi!
Thank goodness the place was quiet that night. I walked back to the table, trying my best to keep away from other men who were in the restaurant. I was lucky; it seemed that they would have to get close to the perfume to get the effects.
When I got back to the table I saw that David had been joined by Sabina, a beautiful young model who was his latest girlfriend ± their pictures had been in all the papers recently.
`So, you're Anna. I haven't seen you before, Anna.' Sabina said my name as if it were a dirty word. `Don't you work for David making perfume or something? Terribly exciting.'
She held out her hand to me as if I were expected to kiss it. I didn't.
`Sabina,' said David. `Anna is the woman I love.'
I could hardly believe my ears. David Amos was telling me he loved me right under the nose of his beautiful girlfriend, Sabina. All because of my fruitcake. I had to say something. This was getting to be silly.
`David, I really think . . .' I began.
But at that moment our waiter made another appearance. He was playing a guitar and singing `O Sole Mio' to me at the top of his voice. Well, he did say he wouldn't talk loudly - I didn't say anything about singing loudly. I must remember next time.
As for Sabina, she didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the sight of two men both saying how much they loved me at the same time - and while she was there.
So she hit David in the face.
The waiter sang even louder than before. David hit him on the chin. As I moved away from the table, a fight developed between Sabina, David, the singing waiter and several more waiters who were trying to calm things down.
Soon the place was a loud, confused mess of cake, pieces of lobster, pools of wine and bits of broken guitar.
Time to go, I thought.
I ran downstairs and caught a taxi home. Thank goodness the taxi driver was a woman!
When I got home, Aunt Mimi had gone and Momma was asleep - she never could stay awake when she was excited. I had some quiet moments to think about what had happened. Why had my perfume had such an effect on men who would not normally take any notice of me? Nothing had been put in that was any different. Nothing, that is, except Aunt Mimi's fruitcake.
What a fruitcake!
Then I had a thought. What if I, as a chemist, could find out what it was in that fruitcake that caused men to go mad with love? People would pay a lot to know a thing like that. I could make a lot of money! There was no reason, come to think of it, why I should let Amos Cosmetics know about it. After all, it wasn't their fruitcake. But I couldn't do a thing unless I knew what was in the cake - and only Aunt Mimi knew that.
I decided to miss work the next day - I would say I had a cold or something. I also wanted to avoid David Amos who might still be affected by the fruitcake special, or the fight that had followed.
Aunt Mimi lived in a nice little apartment on the other side of town. I had gone out before Momma got up. I didn't want to be questioned about my `new young man'. It took an hour to get there on the bus.
When at last I arrived Aunt Mimi gave me a warm welcome. Soon we were sitting in her kitchen, talking about this and that. We both knew what Aunt Mimi was going to ask me about in the end, so neither of us minded talking about other things first. Aunt Mimi was good company when she wasn't talking about husbands.
I mentioned the fruitcake.
`Anna,' said Aunt Mimi, `I've known you since you were born and you've never baked a cake in your life. Now you want to know how to bake a fruitcake. What's going on?'
`Nothing, Aunt Mimi, I just thought the cake was delicious and wondered if I could bake one too. There's no harm in that, is there?' Of course, I was lying. We both knew it.
`So,' Aunt Mimi said. `This new man of yours - he wants you to bake him a cake. Who does he think you are, his mother? Just what were you two doing last night, having a cookery class?'
`Oh, please, Aunt Mimi,' I begged. `I really need to know. I promise that as soon as you tell me I'll tell you everything about last night.'
Aunt Mimi was interested. `Everything?'
`Everything,' I said. `No secrets.'
Aunt Mimi smiled. `Well, my dear, I hate to tell you this but I didn't make the cake. I bought it.'
`You bought it?' I said, unable to hide the surprise in my voice. `Where did you buy it?'
`From a little place in the market, the open-air one that takes place twice a week in the park. There's an old lady there who said she used to bake them for her husbands. She had seven of them, would you believe? And they all ate her fruitcakes.'
Somehow I wasn't surprised that she had had seven husbands. Not with those fruitcakes.
`Did she say what she put in them?' I asked, hopefully.
`Only that she put in a ``special something'' that she grew herself,' said Aunt Mimi. `She wouldn't say what. She told me that she only baked that kind of cake a few times. As a matter of fact, she knew that I was thinking about finding a husband for you. I don't know how she knew but she did.
Anyway, this woman who made the cake told me to give it to you and your problems would be over. I didn't believe what she said, but I used to buy the fruitcakes because they were delicious.'
I noticed that Aunt Mimi was talking about this old lady as if she wasn't around any more. I feared the worst. Was she dead?
`Can we see this old lady to ask her about it?' I asked.
Aunt Mimi looked at me sadly. `I'm afraid she died last week - I went to her funeral. They say she was over a hundred years old. There were a lot of strangers there, not from around here, all speaking in some kind of strange way. They seemed to think she was important, though nobody ever took much notice of her around here.'
`Except you, Aunt Mimi,' I said.
Aunt Mimi smiled. `Well, you know how I can't mind my own business.'
`Speaking of which,' she said, moving closer to me, `it's your turn.'
`My turn?' I asked.
`To tell me everything that happened last night,' she said.
And so I did. Everything, just as I had promised. I don't know whether Aunt Mimi believed me or not, but if she didn't she never let it show.
She's not a bad old lady, my Aunt Mimi. Not when you get to know her.
In the end I had two days off work. I said I'd been sick and in a way I was: I wouldn't feel well until I knew the truth about the fruitcake. I knew that there was little chance of discovering what actually went into it. I would have to work it out from the small amount I had left in the bottle. I had used up more than I thought the other night.
But I was not sure that I wanted to make my fortune from the old woman's secret. Perhaps it was only right that the secret should lie buried with her.
Then again, perhaps not.
Momma seemed satisfied with my explanation that things had just not worked out between me and Mr Amos, although she thought it a wasted opportunity - she wanted me to have a rich husband. Still, happiness is what really counts, she said, with a note of sadness in her voice.
When I finally got back to the factory there was a message left on my desk ± could I see Mr Amos as soon as I got in.
As I walked towards David Amos's office I felt like a schoolgirl who had to go to see the head teacher. I was sure that the fruitcake special would not still be working by now - after all, he had not seen me for a few days. I knocked on his door.
Mr Amos was sitting behind his big desk with a large black eye. Standing next to him, smiling and wearing dark glasses and a hat, was Sabina. She had her arm around his shoulders.
`I hope you are well now, Anna.' said Mr Amos.
`Yes, thank you, Mr Amos,' I said. (I thought calling him `David' might not be the best thing to do at this point. I could see Sabina wasn't pleased to see me.) `I hope you are well yourself,' I added quickly.
`My eye hurts a bit - your waiter could hit hard!' he said with a little smile.
So could Sabina, I thought, as I remembered how she had hit him. But I said nothing.
`Anyway,' Mr Amos said, `I managed to calm them down so that there was no more trouble and the police were not called. Your waiter had been partly to blame, too, so they accepted my apologies - at a price, of course. At least the name of Amos Cosmetics didn't appear in the newspapers.
`And, as for that other matter of my strange behaviour towards you - I can't explain what affected me. I mean, a man like myself and a woman like . . . I mean . . .' he looked towards Sabina.
Sabina finished it off for him.
`He means that a rich and handsome man like him could not possibly fall in love with a nobody like you when he has a beautiful girl like me. Isn't that right, David?'
`You express it so well, darling,' he said.
Sabina continued: `So David wants you to accept a bit of money to make up for any disappointments you may have had, then you can go back to making perfumes at the factory again. Right, David?'
`Absolutely, darling,' said Mr Amos before turning to me again. `Well, Anna, I hope that has helped to . . . er . . . clear things up a little. I'm sorry there had to be this, er, confusion. I hope this has sorted things out between us.'
I stood watching Sabina smile as she put her fingers down his collar.
`Well, Mr David Amos,' I said, `perhaps you can use your famous expert nose to sort this out, too!' I had reached into my handbag for something to throw when I saw Sabina laughing. I took the top off the first thing I found and threw everything that was in the bottle all over the front of Sabina's dress.
`Take that and him too, you horrible little woman!' I shouted.
When I looked at my hand it was holding the now empty bottle of fruitcake special. The room was already beginning to fill with its smell. I got out before Mr Amos lost control of himself again, out of the office and out of my career at Amos Cosmetics.
Sabina, of course, would now enjoy all the extra attention she would get from strange men, thanks to the fruitcake special. I'm not sure that Mr David Amos would enjoy the competition, though.
It happened sometime later, shortly after I had begun to work at the factory where they made Intrigue. I was trying to make a fruitcake (I mean you never know!) when Momma and I heard a knock at the door.
`Momma,' I said, `if it's Aunt Mimi with news of another ``perfect boy'' for me, tell her I'm not interested.'
`It's not Aunt Mimi, dear,' said Momma.
`Who is it?' I asked.
`I think you'd better come see for yourself,' Momma said.
I went to the front door. It was Armstrong, the pizza delivery man. He was holding up a pizza box which had `Armstrong's Peachy Pizzas' in big letters on the front.
Armstrong now owned the pizza company.
He explained that he'd fallen in love with me when he first delivered pizza to us, but he wanted to be a success before asking me out. He said I deserved no less. Then he gave me some flowers. I never really noticed before, but Armstrong is quite good looking: a bit short maybe, a little thin on top - but nobody's perfect.