Last night, I dreamt I went to the Imaginary Writers’ Room again.
(How’s that, Daphne?)
When my dreams calmed down enough to let me get to the writers’ room in my imagination, there was a familiar-looking sign on the door: “Urgent Meeting! Come at once if convenient. If inconvenient, come all the same.”
I didn’t have to look at the ornate “ACD” at the bottom of the imaginary page to know those words. Except for the “urgent meeting” part, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had written them in this life.
I didn’t need to ask what the subject of the meeting would be. As usual, my team of my favorite great writers was gathering to help me get through the real-life emergency that has stopped services at my church, closed my temporary office, and limited my shopping choices to two: the pharmacy and the grocery.
“And it’s even closed the libraries!” cried Agatha Christie. “Of all the nerve!”
“Now, now, Dame Agatha,” said Sir Arthur. I remembered the “talkie” film I found that made me realize he sounded a great deal like my grandfather. “Think of the contagion. The virus must be stopped somehow, and if it means Margaret stays home, we’re here to help her cope.”
“That’s right, Mister — I mean Sir — Chairman,” said Robert Louis Stevenson from his customary spot on the sofa. “She needs our help. And it does look like she’s getting it.”
“Aye, Louis, a’richt,” said Arthur, agreeing with his fellow Scot. “She’s well-fixed for all of the time at home.”
“Her faither set her up well,” said Robert Burns, “All of those grand books he loved so, the omnibus editions and the biographies, and even –”
“Wheesht,” said Sir Arthur, glaring at the poet, but Burns went on.
“Even detective stories,” he said.
“She has enough of yours, Sir Arthur, to re-read from now to V-V Day,” said Daphne.
When that name drew confused looks, Daphne said, “Virus-Vaccine Day, of course.”
“So we’re left by the wayside for a while, Dame Daphne,” said Dame Agatha. “She hasn’t nearly as many of our stories to try for the first time.”
“Ahh, but the ones Margaret does have are some of her favorites,” said Daphne. ” ‘Rebecca’ is always around, and your ‘Ten Little’ whoevers, Agatha,” she added.
“Margaret even has the latter in French,” said Agatha proudly. “She likes two puzzles at once.”
“But what about help?” said Arthur. He looked around the committee table and over to Louis’ sofa.
“I’ve given her the best help,” said Robert Burns. “I’m glad to know that the anguish I went through has given Margaret something that can help her through this modern mess.”
“And that is?” said Agatha.
” ‘A Prayer Under Pressure of Violent Anguish,’ ” said Burns.
“Ahh, that is a great help,” said Louis, and Arthur nodded.
We all bowed our heads silently — even I did.
After a few moments, Agatha said loudly, “Don’t you want to hear it, Margaret?”
“I don’t need to,” I told Agatha. “I know Robert wasn’t talking to me. And you see, I have this thing called a link that I can put in the minutes of the meeting. Anyone who doesn’t know the prayer can read it at the link.”
“Amazing,” said Agatha.
“Rather,” said Daphne. “And she’s right, the prayer’s not addressed to her.”
(Actually, that line’s from the film version of a book called “Greyfriars Bobby,” a favorite in my family. But it fits this prayer.)
The room fell silent again.
“Resolve, firm resolve,” said Louis. ‘”That’s in the poem, and that’s what everybody on earth needs just now.”
“Indeed,” said Agatha. “Resolve — and books!”
I opened the door back into the rest of my imagination. “Alan, would you come in, please?” I said.
A tall, thin Englishman with striking eyes walked into the room. “Yes, of course,” he said.
“Sir Arthur, committee members, may I present Alan Milne — A.A. Milne in his bylines,” I said.
Milne shook hands around the table — we can still do that in my imagination — and walked over to the couch to greet Louis Stevenson.
“Welcome, Mr. Milne,” said Sir Arthur.
“Another man,” Daphne said to Agatha, sniffing slightly.
“Yes, but an Englishman, not a Scot,” said Agatha to Daphne.
“Yes, an Englishman,” said Milne. “And I have a reminder for Margaret and her own readers.”
“Not ‘The Red House Mystery,’ ” growled Sir Arthur, “where you had to go borrowing names I invented.”
“No, Mr. Chairman, not that,” said Alan Milne. “it’s a term I came up with myself.”
Arthur relaxed, and Louis propped himself up on one elbow on the couch.
“Sustaining Books,” said Alan.
“Oh yes?” said Daphne.
“Yes,” said Alan. “I had my son’s little bear get stuck –”
“Little!” said Agatha.
“All right, not so little in that story. But when he was stuck in a place of great tightness –”
Robert Burns spoke up here. “Ah, ye’ve learnt your capital letters properly at last!”
“Well, it’s out of consideration for Margaret,” said Alan. “Anyway, I think you all know that Pooh bear was stuck in a friend’s doorway.”
“Ah, that’s right — he asked for a book,” said Arthur.
“A sustaining book to help and comfort,” said Alan, smiling shyly.
“We’ve all had work fall in that category for Margaret,” said Agatha.
“So we have,” said Arthur. “And everyone seems to be talking about books again, now that people need to stay home to stay healthy.”
“Indeed,” said Daphne. “So will you help us keep talking about books, Alan?”
He looked around, from Agatha and Daphne on one side of the table to Arthur at the head of the table, Louis on the sofa, and Robert sitting across from the ladies.
“N-no,” he said. “I’m just visiting. I need my social distancing. I’m not good in crowds.”
With a nod to me to open the door, he was gone.
“Social distancing!” cried Agatha. “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”
“I have,” I replied. “That’s why I’m hanging around you so much — you’re the ones who don’t mind. But I think I’ll have a walk and see what my own characters are up to in the other room.”
“Well done, lass,” said Arthur.
I closed the door and walked away.
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