Mrs Jimson read the letter, and made a surprised kind of face. She mumbled some things of no consequence and showed it to her husband, who did the same. ‘I say,’ he said. ‘Martin, ask him how old he is in the next letter. Now, that’s something I’d like to know.’ And then he went off, mumbling other things of no consequence. ‘Male deer? What gibberish.’
HOW OLD ARE YOU? Answer. Quick.Martin
That was all the second letter had in its contents. The question was an important one to Martin, seeing as ages meant incredibally much to him. He had severely hoped this Michael would be eight, or nine, with baby blue eyes, and better still, with a lisp. But now – he seemed sarcastic and domineering. Martin shuddered. This pen-person was on the way to becoming his greatest enemy.
He sent the letter, and sat on his bed to think of some mean things to write in his next letter, thus finishing the day with a glimmer of satisfactory feeling in his bosom.
As before, the reply came promptly.
My dearest Martin,
How delighted I was when your note arrived. There were no typos whatsoever in it this time, therefore it was a good letter. In my opinion, anything without mistakes in it is a good thing, short or snappy as it may be.
How old am I? I understand your curiosity completely, my dear fellow. As a young boy, me too, I was always curious about what’s and when’s of every obstacle that ever entered into my young and blossoming life. If I saw a dog, why, I had to know its name and its breed and its age before I could go on with my life. Now, as an older and more sensible, mature young man, although I respect and totally comprehend you asking such things, remembering my youth, I must say I think you should try to overcome your curiosity, just as I have. When one is curious, one worries about not knowing enough. And when one worries, day in, day out, one’s life becomes stressed and dim. Dear child, do stop asking questions. Answers will come in due time, young man.
Most annoying little Michael (honestly, don’t call yourself Theobald, it is a milion times worse.)
You are so annoying. Honestly, I can’t stand you. Writing to you is the biggest burdun that has ever entered my life and I wish you didn’t exist. If you went lame, I wouldn’t have any compassion. You are just an outstanding nuisance, and I don’t feel bad saying it, because it’s a fact. If you stood here, right before me, right now, I wouldn’t know how to react in a nice way because I think you’re so annoying.
Stop calling me ‘dear child’ and ‘young man’ and ‘dearest’. Also, stop commenting on my way of writing! It’s so rude. How would you feel if I mocked your way of writing!? Bad? Well, then I shall. Your way of writing is boring.
Martin old chap,
Your letters are sincerely delightful. The last one, despite three cringe worthy typos – which I won’t go into with depth and gusto seeing as you so kindly required me not to – elapsed me into peals of mirth and jubilation. How interesting to discover more about myself. I have always wondered what my faults were. I’m annoying! How interesting, my dear fellow, how interesting.
As per request, I shall not call you a dear child, or a young man, or dearest. Of course, you continue to resemble all the aforewritten descriptions, but I understand why they would hurt your feelings. Slightly girlish, and all that jazz, I understand, I understand.
I have chosen between confirming my age and you phoning my father. Although my age is by no means an embarrassment or a secret, I have chosen the latter. I would be very interested to hear how my father reacts when he listens to your description of myself. He has been rather upset lately, ever since mother discovered he had a diary, and he is in need of some uplifting of spirits.
Yours cordially, John (does that name make you vomit too? If it does, pray tell me, so I can change it. Everything to make you happy, my good old bloke, everything.)
Martin could not read that letter more than once.
He went to lie on his bed and frowned as deeply as he could, once again staring at the Coca Cola poster on the ceiling and using his old Winnie-the-Pooh-bear as a cushion. He had to revenge, but first he had to know his age. Why was he so secretive about it? Martin had the feeling that he was just trying to annoy him and that it was working. After a couple of muse-full minutes, Martin decided there was nothing else he could do but phone Mr Whrat, tell him about the annoyance of his son, and ask him about the age. If he didn’t phone, Michael would think he was a sassy-pants. ‘And I’m not,’ Martin grumbled.
So he went downstairs, and took the phone off the hook. He finally found the number in the cardboard telephone book, turned it, and waited. He felt embarrassed when he heard his heart was banging louder than normal, but it was. The conversation was as followed:
Mr Whrat: Hello? Fred Whrat at your service.
Martin: Oh. Hello.
Mr Whrat: Who is this? I don’t think I recognise your voice. You sound like an Owl.
Martin (furious): An Owl? I say! You have the nerve, sir!
Mr Whrat: Thank you! How nice it is of us to exchange compliments. We really are nice.
Martin: I say! You think telling someone he sounds like an owl is a compliment?
Mr Whrat: Of course! Owls, if they could talk, would do so with real distinction and finesse. Your voice is very much like that. Of course it’s a compliment.
Martin: But Owls can’t talk. How could you tell how they would talk if they could?
Mr Whrat: Imagination. Imagination does all. You know, I wish I talked like Owls. There aren’t many people who do, you know. You’re the second person I’ve met. There was another someone – he looked like a Goldfinch, but he talked exactly like an Owl. An old college friend of mine.
Martin: Ah. Yes. That’s my father.
Mr Whrat: Oh! You must be Martin then! Michael’s pen-pal! Delighted!
Martin: I’m not, really. I’m here to complain.
Mr Whrat: Do so, dear child! I don’t usually enjoy complaints, but when they are done with distinction and finesse, it’s a pure delight.
Martin (mumbling): You’re just like your son.
Mr Whrat: I beg your pardon?
Martin: What I wanted to say is this. Your son is annoying. He doesn’t do anything but annoying me. Day in, day out; he annoys me. Give him a smack and tell him to be behave.
Mr Whrat: Ha! Ha!
Martin (unbelievable): What now? Don’t say you—don’t say.
Mr Whrat (dabbing eyes with tears of laughter): How delightfully amused I am!
Martin (furious, remembering something else): Oh, how old is Michael? Tell me now.
Mr Whrat couldn’t answer – he was choking on his laughter. Martin flung the telephone back on the hook. Yet another bad day for Martin.
End of Chapter one