A Plateful of Stories
The decorative plate had stood on display above the mantelpiece for as long as Christy could remember. It had a quaint little picture of a farmhouse with a picket fence and pine trees flanking the entrance; smoke billowed from the painted chimney. It wasn’t much to look at, but to Christy, it was the most beautiful painting in the world.
As a child, she’d spend hours gazing at it and imagining the scene on it. Notebook on her lap she’d scribble the stories and fantasies the plate “showed her”. She wrote about princesses and villains, dragons and wizards. As she grew older, the stories became more mundane, often reflecting bits and pieces of her own private and school life.
Christy finished high school, left for college and, upon graduation moved out, yet the plate remained above the mantelpiece. It witnessed Christy’s first toy, her first lipstick, her first crush. Her high school and college diplomas flanked it with pride.
The family fell on hard times; first Dad died, then Mom fell ill. Christy moved back in with her, and soon, what with the demands of being the sole caregiver, she was laid-off from her job. They were scraping by, and yet, through the hardship, the plate remained on the mantelpiece and it became Christy’s anchor and her crutch. Gazing at it gave her a sense of inner peace and she found enlightenment in its painted scene, because, as before, the stories flowed from her and spilled onto her notebook.
“Maybe it’s time to sell it,” Mom whispered one day, her voice so weak she could hardly raise it above a murmur.
“Not yet,” Christy said with tears in her eyes.
“This was the wedding gift your great-great-great-grandfather gave your great-great-great-grandma,” Mom wheezed, “he used to sail with the East India Trading Company and one day, he showed up at her doorstep with it and a marriage proposal. It’s been handed down for generations. No one knows how he came by it but there were rumors he stole it from a wealthy Dutch family, or that he won it in a card game. I remember my grandmother used to say she liked the story of the Duke of Wellington giving it to him as a wedding present.”
Mom coughed and continued, “it’s been with us all this time, through the fat years and now the lean years, and perhaps, it’s time to let it go.”
Christy shook her head through the tears. Mom was right, but not yet, she thought, not yet, please God, don’t take my inspiration just yet.
Instead He took Mom and left Christy alone in the house she loved so much with nothing but debt and despair.
God, please help me, Christy prayed every night, but the next day only dawned bleaker.
God was silent when the repo men came and she held on to the plate for dear life. She sat on Grandpa’s tattered high-backed chair which not even the creditors wanted and held on to the plate. One noticed the plate and told her to hand it over. Christy looked up, clutching it to her chest and shook her head, tears streaming down her face. Her expression of abject hopelessness softened him; he did a soulless job, but he wasn’t heartless. He put his finger to his lips and gave her a slight nod. The men left, and she clutched the plate closer to her.
Poverty forced Christy to move in with her cousin Janice and work as their housekeeper and nanny for a small wage. She arrived with two suitcases, one filled with clothes and the other replete with old dog-eared notebooks, and the plate.
“You should auction it,” said Janice, but Christy shook her head.
“It’s been in the family much too long now, I can’t, not yet.”
“Do you even know how much it’s worth?”
Christy shook her head, “I know it’s worth something, Dad always said it would help us out of a jam, but I just can’t do it.”
Janice understood; her fondest childhood memories were of Christy reading her the stories the plate inspired.
One day, Janice entered Christy’s bedroom meaning to ask her something, and upon noticing the room empty, crossed it to the small adjacent bathroom and knocked. No answer. Janice shrugged her shoulders and turned to leave, stubbing her toe on a suitcase by the door. The suitcase was open and Janice saw it was full of notebooks. Curious, and hating herself for it, she picked one up and opened it. She thought it would be a diary, but she beamed when she realized it was full of the stories of dragons and knights Janice remembered Christy scribbled when they were children. Janice’s eyes lit up with the sudden spark of an idea, one akin to an epiphany, and took the notebook.
A few days later, Janice snuck into Christy’s bedroom, returned the notebook and snatched another. Janice swapped notebook after notebook for months and Christy was none the wiser. One day a letter from an agent arrived for Christy; the stories she submitted interested him and a publisher offered her an advance on a book. Janice hid the letter and answered it herself. She knew it was wrong, even a crime, but she also knew Christy was so mired in misery she was now unwilling to fight the stagnation. Christy lived day in day out caring for others and never minding how to move on herself. Her one escape was the plate and the stories it inspired, so Janice, however inappropriate, lent her cousin a hand, or rather, gave her a push.
When the check with the advance came, Janice deposited it in an account she’d opened in Christy’s name. Christy was unaware that at night, Janice had been transcribing her stories for months, and was now working with the agent, presenting herself as Christy’s assistant. They published a book of twelve stories and the royalties went into Christy’s account, money trickling into it like pennies from heaven. The publisher wanted more.
Janice knew there were thousands of stories in those notebooks, but her conscience was gnawing at her. She had to tell Christy. Christy had to know she had enough money to restart her life, and with the royalties and the unpublished stories it was possible that Christy never need worry about money again. Christy needed to know the fat years were here at last.
“What’s this?” Christy asked when Janice put a book in front of her at the kitchen table.
“It’s a first edition,” smiled Janice, “and I was hoping I’d be the first person to have an autographed copy.”
Christy was perplexed. The title read A Plateful of Stories and it was written by… Christy McIntyre!
“What?” Christy looked at Janice.
Janice took a deep breath, “First, I want to apologize, I invaded your privacy when I found your notebooks, but honey, you were so stuck I had to do something. I hadn’t seen you smile in years, so I took them, one by one, and I transcribed them, and I sent one story to an agent, and he wanted more, and now they’re published and people want more.”
Janice slid a bank statement across to Christy, “I opened an account for you and you’ve been getting royalties. This book (she laid her hand on the cover) is number one on the bestseller list, and you have so many more stories to sell, you’ll never be poor again. I know that plate is your inspiration, and you don’t have to part with it anymore. Every penny here is all yours.”
Christy burst into tears, the statement showed thousands and thousands of dollars. Janice’s lips quivered and tears rolled down her cheeks as she moved her chair to Christy’s side and put her arms around her. They held each other and cried, their tears wetting the pristine, perfect book.
“Thank you,” Christy blubbered, “thank you.”