In the end of "The Great Game," there's a scene where Sherlock is sitting huddled up in a chair in his flat yelling at the telly, and John is typing away at his laptop, and on the wall by John is one of the most hideous light fixtures I've ever seen, an animal skull with horns, bulbous eyes, and an electrical cord coming from it. I wondered why on earth Sherlock and/or John would have such a thing, and from that pondering came this little story. It takes place in the middle of my "Not Your Housekeeper" story but can be enjoyed by itself. All you need to know is that it is 2001, and Sherlock has left England in a snit with his brother and encountered Mrs. Hudson in Florida, helped her with the case against her husband, and gone on to MIT for a year. Mrs. Hudson has been writing emails to her cousin Esther about her encounters with the strange and endearing Sherlock Holmes.
20 February 2001
As you know, dear Esther, it was Valentine's Day a few days ago, and since I could not bear the thought of spending it in Miami with Harold and the trial and everything looming over me, I took some time away for myself. I always wanted to drive up along what they call the East Coast here, and Harold never would. Of course I know February is not the best time to take such a drive, especially after the horrible storms we've had all through December and into January, but it's been beautiful for a month now, and I just wanted to get away. And it is such an adventure driving on the wrong side of the road!
I invited a friend to go along with me, a very sweet lady called Betty Higgins, but she couldn't. But she made me promise to do something that seems to be a regular activity among some Americans and pop in on several antique and "thrift" stores along the way. She took me to a thrift store in Miami, and I realized they're just like charity shops back home. Of course I don't do my household buying in charity shops, but she assured me that in America it's considered a bit of an adventure to try to find really valuable objects at thrift stores. I had my doubts about this, but I promised to look into a few, for her sake.
And, do you know, Esther, I found myself really quite enjoying it. The countryside isn't much to look at in February, even though there's so much difference in it from state to state, so one has to find other ways to get the sort of atmosphere and culture of the different regions, and I found this, oddly enough, in the little shops in the towns, the antique stores and "thrift" stores. It's all America, of course, and you'd never mistake it for anything else, but there are as many differences as traveling from Yorkshire to London, and more, too, because it's so big. It took me four days to get to Massachusetts because I stopped in every village and town I came to and looked about and bought, I dare say, a lot of rubbish I don't need.
And then I was in Massachusetts, and I realized that the whole point of the whole trip was to see Sherlock. Funny I didn't know it before that, isn't it? Of course it was Valentine's Day by the time I arrived, but I rather doubted Sherlock had plans for the occasion. He's not the sentimental sort to go mooning over romantic holidays (pity the poor girl he falls in love with, if he ever does!), and anyway I get the feeling that he's not at all interested in that sort of thing. You know, relationships.
So I rang him when I arrived, and wonder of wonders, he answered. He hates the telephone, prefers emailing; I think it's because he knows his social skills aren't the best, and it hardly matters with emails. First thing he did was give me directions to his lodgings. I mean, the first thing. He didn't even say, "Hello, Mrs. Hudson." He said, "You can find me at such-and-such a place, Mrs. Hudson." And of course I said, "How on earth do you know I'm here?" and he said, "It's obvious," and proceeded to lay out all the reasons why he expected to find me in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Valentine's Day. Of course he was proud of himself, the dear boy. But he was surprised when he found out what I wanted to do in Cambridge on Valentine's Day. "Go to charity shops?" he exclaimed, and then, after a moment's speculation, he said, "All right. Come pick me up."
Well, I was surprised that he would want to go with me—I certainly hadn't expected him to. I thought we could have tea together or something. But he went with me the whole day, and he enjoyed himself. He said he hadn't thought to examine charity shops as a way of coming to an understanding of a city but it was quite a splendid idea. And of course he was splendid, though unconventional as always. He could look at any item in a shop and tell you what sort of person had owned it before—though he said he wasn't as adept at reading American items as British ones. Half the store clerks thought he was a loony and tried to kick him out of their stores, and the other half thought he was a magician and followed him about. I noticed the following ones tended to be young women. He hardly noticed them, of course. Well, noticed. He saw everything about them, practically told them their own mothers' names. But he didn't notice them. He saw an assortment of facts, not a complete person, in all the strangers he met. I think he sees a person in me, I'm fairly certain he does. Maybe it's easier to deal with strangers as bundles of facts. He's not a shy boy, but he certainly doesn't deal with people well.
Anyway, we had a lovely day. I bought any number of things, but Sherlock only bought one thing, and it was the strangest thing! I still don't know what he sees in it, unless it has something to do with his liking for skulls… Is it healthy, I wonder, for a young man to like a dead structural thing better than the living thing it came from? What would he do if I took his precious skull away, I wonder? Anyway, what he bought was this hideous sort of huge animal skull, painted a shiny black, with horns to it, and these bulging, macabre light bulb things in the eye sockets. The thing plugged into the wall and the eyes lit up. I never saw such a hideous thing before, but he loved it. He leapt upon it when he saw it and practically hugged it. He said, What was a thing like that doing in the eastern side of the United States? It was obviously a steer skull, crafted in the 1970s by a poor but creative Southwestern artist (male, in his 20s, left-handed) who scavenged what he could to make his works of art. The fact that it was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was a testament to the peregrinations of rootless Americans, which are responsible for the wide variety of their creativity and the endless changes that take place here. (Those were almost his exact words.) He was nearly enthusiastic. He didn't want to leave it in the car when we had dinner in one of those quaint places they call a "diner," but I made him. I wasn't going to look at it while I was eating.
Even without the skull thing some people at the diner looked at us a little strangely, like they were wondering why a young man and an oldish woman were having dinner together on Valentine's Day, but our waitress said what a sweet thing it was for a young man to take his mother out to dinner. Sherlock tried to correct her, but I shushed him and left her a big tip later. I don't mind being taken for Sherlock's mother.
When I left him at his flat later, he surprised me by giving me a hug goodbye. I wonder if he minds being all alone in this big country. He surrounds himself with interesting and weird things, but what sort of companionship are they? He really should have a flatmate, though he'd probably drive him out in a fortnight. But, you know, the sort of person who's used to unusual situations and interested in unusual, brilliant people and doesn't mind weird things like steer skulls turned into lamps but won't make many demands on him, you know, emotional-type demands. I doubt such a person exists. And I don't know that Sherlock knows he needs a person like that.
Well, the next day I drove home again, and when I arrived, yesterday, I was ready to face the situation with my husband again. I don't know if it was being away or enjoying myself or seeing Sherlock or all of them together that did it, but I feel like a new woman. And that's what I've been doing for the last week.