By Jennifer Walker Teh
This short story is an exercise in developing plot. I have taken the first paragraph of the short story, Miss Brill, by Katherine Mansfield’s and used it to create a plot for my own story. Katherine Mansfield’s first paragraph has become my final paragraph, and so this storyline and character are entirely different from hers. You can easily find the original Miss Brill online.
Miss Brill dressed only in black with a touch of white because she felt it gave her authority.
‘Color only adds frippery, and that is not a good look for a school headmistress,’ Miss Brill decided.
She was a creature of habit, and she considered good habits the backbone of proper womanhood. At 5 am sharp, she rose, ate a lean breakfast of lightly buttered brown bread then walked her beloved dog, Mungo, a border collie in the Jardins Publiques. She liked her dogs the way she liked her clothes, black and white. By 7.30 am Miss Brill was in her office at the Académie Internationale pour Jeunes Filles.
Miss Brill terrified the girls at her school with narrow accusing eyes along with her gaunt cheek-less face and a scornful hawkish nose. She had the hint of the wicked witch of the west about her and, like little Dorothys, the girls cowered as she passed them in the school’s corridors.
‘It is important we instil good values into our girls here in Paris,’ she instructed her teaching staff.
Although Miss Brill had been a resident of Paris for many years, she never trusted the French and especially not the Parisians. Paris was far too ostentatious for her, too much trivial expensive fashion, too much excessively rich food and too many overtly flirtatious men.
‘It is my job to see girls can navigate the French shallowness.’ said Miss Brill to every international parent who crossed the threshold of her office.
The only Frenchman Miss Brill had any time for was Mungo’s veterinarian, Dr Aguillard. At Mungo’s check-ups, Dr Aguillard flirted outrageously with Miss Brill, yet she not only tolerated this but was flattered by it.
‘I’m so glad I have you to take care of my dear Mungo,’ gushed Miss Brill as Dr Aguillard pressed a thermometer into the dog’s bottom.
One morning Mungo broke free of his lead and ran toward the rue de Thorigny as a speeding Citroen rounded a corner. A loud thud boomed across Jardins Publiques as Mungo flew like a heavy wayward shotput and landed at feet of the headmistress. Miss Brill rushed the gravely injured Mungo to Dr Aguillard’s clinic.
‘My dear Mademoiselle Brill, we will do what we can for your beloved Mungo, but you must brace yourself for the worst,’ said Dr Aguillard.
Indeed, poor Mungo’s injuries were too severe. The next morning, Dr Aguillard explained, ‘I’m sorry Mademoiselle Brill, your dear Mungo has passed away.’ She lost her composure and began to cry.
‘Mungo was my life, my one love. Now, who shall I walk along the paths of the Jardins Publiques with?’
The veterinarian drew the grief-stricken old spinster toward him.
‘There, there, Mademoiselle Brill. It would be my honour to walk with you every morning,’ said Dr Aguillard as Miss Brill wept on his shoulder.
Whack! Dr Aguillard slapped the boy hard on his ear.
‘What is this! I can see some unburnt newspaper in the ash!’ he yelled.
The boy’s ear throbbed; he was only 15 years old and had come to Dr Aguillard’s veterinarian clinic six months ago believing he would train in animal husbandry.
However, he was drawn into a dark world. No animal admitted for overnight care ever survived, instead they were put down the moment their owners left. The next day Dr Aguillard would dishonestly explain there was nothing he could do. He would console the shocked owners and hand them a black marble urn supposedly containing the ashes of their much-loved pet.
Of course, Dr Aguillard would give lengthy accounts of how he fought to save the pets, and he would charge for expensive intravenous infusions, X rays and even the use of a unique veterinarian defibrillator.
‘Stand back I yelled then zapped your dear Bobby,’ he told the owners. ‘But alas I could not get his heart beating. I kept trying for an hour until I collapsed with exhaustion,’ he said.
There was more. The boy was responsible for the distasteful task of skinning the pets.
‘Skin those mutts,’ instructed Dr Aguillard. ‘Then take the pelts down to Le Marais.’
The boy did as he was told. All the pelts were taken to a high-end boutique and used in fashionable couture. They paid the veterinarian a pretty penny for the exotic furs.
Dr Aguillard was an evil man, and he paid particular attention to the older female pet owners.
‘Mademoiselle Brill looks like she would be the type to donate to my Vétérinaire Médecins Sans Frontières.’
The boy knew the veterinarian was referring to his bogus charitable organisation, which was supposed to care for animals worldwide.
‘I just need one more donor, and it’s two weeks skiing in Val-d’Isère for me,’ said Dr Aguillard.
Winter was on its way, and Miss Brill felt cold as she strolled about the charming streets of Le Marais. She stopped to admire a stunning black and white fur stole in the window of a shop.
Inside she tried it on. Something was comforting about it. The long soft hairs were striking, and the black and white was in keeping with the rest of her wardrobe. Importantly she would need a warm stole for her morning walks with Dr Aguillard.
Although it was so brilliantly fine – the blue sky powdered with gold and great spots of light like white wine splashed over the Jardins Publiques – Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on her fur. The air was motionless, but when you opened your mouth there was just a faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip, and now and then a leaf came drifting – from nowhere, from the sky. Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur.