I am excited to be a part of the unveiling of Helena Hann-Basquiat’s soon to be released book – Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two! Below is an excerpt she so lovingly provided for your reading pleasure. If you like what you are reading…go on over to her Facebook page and follow her for all the details about this soon to be launched book (click here – to get there – because I’m nice and helpful like that).
Countess Penelope and the Banana Bread Debacle
I arrived home the other night to find the Countess Penelope – you remember Penny, darlings – feisty but sweet, likes to dress like it’s Hallowe’en at Lewis Carroll’s house, real knack for neologism (that means making words up, darlings) – lounging on the couch watching Phineas and Ferb and laughing like it was the funniest thing in the whole world. However, there was something peculiar about her laugh that gave me pause. It was as if her laugh were coming from miles away, like it was muted, somehow. I put it out of my mind for the time being.
I’d had a long pointless day of filling out paperwork and cutting seemingly hundreds of checks for the various clientele of the casting agency that I work for, and all I really wanted to do was have a quick hot shower and then sit down in front of a fan and enjoy the feeling of the artificial breeze on my wet skin. We have A/C darlings – we’re not savages – but there’s still something to be said for the old standby of wet skin and a cool breeze to relax, refresh and reinvigorate as it refrigerates.
Penny and I had nothing going on, and so it looked like the simple desires of my exhausted little heart were going to be met. Little did I know that my evening was going to get even more interesting, a trifle more relaxing, and that the next day I would require a trip to the massage therapist to attend to my aching appendages.
I had my shower and came back to the living room wearing one towel wrapped around my head like a turban (yes, boys, we all really do know how to do that – as young girls, we are taken aside in groups of three or four and given all kinds of secret instruction when you’re not paying attention) and one wrapped around my body, and sat the fan in front of my favourite chair in preparation for my big evening of doing nothing.
As is my custom, whether it be thirty below or thirty above (that’s Celsius, darlings – just think “very cold or very warm”) I made myself a pot of tea, and poured myself a cup.
“Penny, darling,” I asked politely, “would you care for a cup of tea?”
“Oh, thawt would be luffly, dahling,” the Countess of Arcadia, recent resident of Buckingham Palace replied, miming the aristocratic pinkie finger position for holding a tea cup. “Oh, and doooo help yourself to some ba-naaaah-na bread, dahling, it is simply to diiiie for. Yes. Quite. And such. Be a deah and cut me another teensy slice, would you. I’m still feeling a mite peckish don’t you know. Yes. Quite.”
I smiled in spite of my absolute exhaustion, and said, “Right away, Mum,” adopting my own feeble attempt at Penny’s cockney urchin, which the situation simply begged for. I had learned, though, that it was dangerous to start making requests of the Countess – one time she spoke like Countess Penelope the lemur Queen of Madagascar for an entire week, even in public, until it started morphing, as her voices tend to after a while, back into the original Dickensian street urchin that she first launched on me all those years ago upon my return from California. Still, I had the phrase “I like to move it” stuck in my head for weeks afterward.
I found the banana bread wrapped in tinfoil on the counter, and cut a couple of slices off the already partly devoured loaf.
“How many slices have you already had?” I asked the Countess Arcade, who was laughing so hard at the antics of Perry the Platypus that her face was bunched up and she had tears in her eyes. She held up two fingers, and then seemed to consider that and added a third. Her manic laughter should have clued me in, but by the time I realized what was going on, it was already far too late.
“Geez, save me some, you piggie!” I teased, and oinked at her, triggering another mad bout of laughter. I reluctantly handed Penny her fourth piece of banana bread and a cup of tea and then sat down and sipped my own, enjoying the fan drying my wet skin. It felt really nice; in about an hour it would feel positively transcendent.
I wolfed down my slice, washed it down with my tea, not realizing how hungry I actually was. I was going to get myself another slice when something about the aftertaste made me stop.
“What did you put in there, Penny?” I asked, trying to place the secret ingredient. “Is that ginger or something? It’s unusual.”
“I know, right?” Penny said loudly, as if she couldn’t control the volume of her voice. “I thought it tasted funny! I don’t know what they put in it.”
“Wait,” I said, mildly alarmed. “You didn’t make this?”
“Hell, no, bitch!” The Countess Penelope of Arcadia, late of the Bronx blurted, then slammed a hand over own mouth in embarrassment. “Omygod, Helena, I’m sorry! I don’t know what’s come over me.”
“Oh, I think I do,” I mused, aware that I had already eaten a slice myself. “Just where did you get it?”
“These boys on campus,” she said, the cheer fading from her voice, “They said they were raising money for… um… I forget, Helena, but I feel funny, do I feel funny looking to you?”
“Oh, you’re hysterical, darling,” I said, trying hard to be a responsible adult but not having a hypocritical bone in my body, I was having a really hard time.
“I can’t feel my mouth,” Penny said, demonstrating this by sticking her tongue out and rolling it around her lips. “Nothing. Twenty dollars is a lot for loaf of.. uh, banana bread, don’t you think?”
“Actually,” I said, “that sounds about right.” Then I cut myself another slice. In for a penny, in for a pound, you might say.
About an hour and a half later, the Countess had passed out and was snoring like a pug. I, however, was staring into the fan and singing The Crystal Ship by The Doors, crooning into the wavering air and listening to my voice be transformed into something robotic and otherworldly. The song ended (and when had I turned the stereo on? I couldn’t remember doing that) and in the silence that followed, I suddenly became aware that I needed chocolate milk. It wasn’t that I wanted chocolate milk, darlings, because wants we can rationalize away and ignore – no, I needed chocolate milk, but the kitchen seemed so far away.
“Penny,” I whispered, afraid someone might hear me and realize that I was very stoned. “Penny!”
She laid still, only her rising and falling chest and the occasional unladylike snort proving that she was, indeed, still among the living.
“Penny!” I said a little louder. “Penny, I need some chocolate milk!”
It was becoming clear to me that if I was to procure the precious pasteurized potable, I was going to have to close the distance between my chair and the kitchen.
No problem. I could do that. No problem.
The problem arose when my legs refused to carry my weight, and I wobbled my way to the kitchen on trembling legs, like a newborn fawn stumbling away from its mother for the first time. I made it to the fridge and clung to the door handle like I was just learning to roller skate and had made it to a pole. At that moment I swore to myself that I was just going to stay there. I was going to sit down in front of the fridge, get some chocolate milk, and sleep right there on the kitchen floor.
That’s not what happened though, because I woke up in my chair the next morning, still feeling pretty tingly and numb (or ningly and tumb, as Penny said) and clutching an empty carton of chocolate milk.
“Let’s not do this again, okay?” I begged the Countess. “I’m getting too old for this shit.”
The Countess nodded, and then crawled off to her bed, where she remained for, as far as I know, the rest of the day.
I, however, had to go to work, despite the fact that I felt like I’d been hit by a bus.
Later that day, I scheduled a massage for myself, because my legs felt like they were two elastic bands that had been stretched until they ripped. It felt glorious, and I moaned in pleasure and relief.
“Oh my god,” the magnificent masseuse remarked. “What did you do to your legs?”
I’d like to tell you that I confessed to accidentally eating some banana bread laced with weed. It would sure make me look better if I told you that I had a good laugh about it with her, and that I feigned shock and ignorance on the subject of drugs, and that we shared an After-School Special-esque moment on the dangers of marijuana. I’d like to tell you that I wasn’t so embarrassed by the whole thing, and how old it made me feel, but the truth is, I was terribly embarrassed by the whole thing, and it made me feel really old. And that’s the truth. Not like this little bit of lawn fertilizer.
“Oh, I’m training to run a marathon,” I said.
“Wow!” she exclaimed. “Good for you!”
“Yeah,” I said. “It’s hard work, but it keeps me young.”
“Well, you look great,” she said, working my legs with her glorious hands.
“Why, thank you, darling.”
 A children’s show. A Disney show, no less, but it’s hilarious and has amazing music. And Richard O’Brien, who wrote The Rocky Horror Show (and was Riff Raff in the film) does a voice in it.
 This was Penny doing her very best King Julian, from the Madagascar franchise, originally played by Sacha Baron Cohen.
 Perry the Platypus is a secret agent in Phineas and Ferb.
 I may or may not have stood up, opened up my towel, held my arms wide and said “I am the Lizard Queen!”
Some people attribute the invention of the Ampersand to her, but she has never made that claim herself.
Last year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and is about to release Volume Two, along with a Shakespearean style tragi-comedy, entitled Penelope, Countess of Arcadia.
Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell. VISCERA, a collection of strange tales, will be published by Sirens Call Publications later this year. Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or and http://www.whoisjessica.com Connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat , and keep up with her ever growing body of work at GOODREADS, or visit her AMAZON PAGE