Rare Ben

 This is a very short story I wrote.  If you read it and critiqued it, it will be much appreciated.

 Rare Ben

A man named Benjamin Jonson was sitting in the Mermaid Pub drinking stout and writing.  Ink fell from his pen leaving black splotches all over his papers and the table.  What Ben was writing though deserved no better treatment than what he constantly administered.  He was writing poetry.  It was not bad poetry, but good penmanship was a thing that he considered was "a belittling of the middle class citizens to tickle the pride of the wealthy."  Though, whether or not it was good or bad poetry this sentiment showed up in much of it.  Ben was honest; honestly confused.  His appearance deserved it's own tail.  His clothes were brave and gay so as to attract only the attention of fools and women. These flamboyant clothes were wrapped around a portly torso, fat arms and two lifeless gnarled stumps that were off duty from carrying the former obesity. Ben's face was a healthy amount of round and chubby. Given brief glance he appeared to be smuggling two billiard balls in his mouth with his upper lip concealed by a bushy curly tipped blanket, that created a puppet face for Mr. Jonson when his mouth was barking out slurred vowels and consonants . And everywhere he was present it seemed as though he came in from a violent shower; dripping from any precipice to be found on his body. He was a moist man, and had been most of his life.

Despite his unflattering outer layer Ben's anima saw himself as a pleasant person. He was pretentious, proud and overly friendly with anyone that provided conversation. Loud in everything, in which he was employed ("Loud" - a word his friends said hardly does him justice) and his regular friends had a general uneasiness when they were in his company.  Constantly peaked on their toes, waiting his next unlicensed shout or unwarranted gufaw.  The pleasant person that Ben saw was a considerate man.  He had a vague notion of the meaning of the word "considerate", but regardless insisted on reminding himself that he was it.  He never questioned his actions.  The muse of social cue maintained absence in his life, and confused himself when manners were expected from the setting.  Luckily, he did poorly enough in these situations he was never invited to another again.  This, he did not resent, but took as a blessing.

So, Ben sat nested in his own fat, writing his poetry, and every minute and a half he took a sip of his glass, a gobble of his cake and surveyed the pub inspecting it's patrons.  He looked with expectancy.  An expectancy that people ought to be admiring him. Though, one of the many times he patrolled his eyes, a certain man came through the doors of the Mermaid. It was William Shakespeare, a friend of Ben's by name only and relentless force, for William was a man that studied others for their characters (as a natural playwrite would) whether he could relate with them or not. He was a socially minded business man. "Billy!" Will heard the beckoning call of his ball and chain he called "companion" and saw that everyone had submitted their attention to the two and their relationship, which inconveniently existed on opposite ends of the Mermaid. "Billy, come on over!", came the howl of dooming command.  Peering slowly over his shoulder the glance revealed the rotund mass of high energy, which immediately made William's muscles tense.  Will prepared himself with a long sigh and knew he would now attempt to maintain his bright attitude he had gained earlier. Will turned around completely and saw very excited, bloated Ben drastically leaning forward over the table with a smile that would frighten any non-perfidious child. William resisted his temptation to run and decided he should talk to Ben so that people in the pub could return to their business.  But with every step he took forward, his mind told him, "You'll regret this!", and the image of Jonson only grew hazier and duller as he drew nearer.  By the time William reached his final destination he fell from mental consciousness and saw nothing.  A happy place.

"Billy, good Billy! How is my most enjoyed play-write friend?" Said Ben.

William came back as if revived by dark arts.  Evaluating his circumstance once more he girded up his mind for the terrible exchange and with loving inflection returned to Ben's question.

"Your only play-write friend is well, Ben. I see that you are attacking me with flattery, Mr. Jonson; it suggests that you have had good fortune since we last met in the odd hours of my home. Perhaps you have gained a mutual love so as a maiden could tolerate, or you have found graces with the Queen, as did Walter?"  William gave great efforts to abide by the morals of Christianity; he did this by pretending he was conversing with a stranger.

Ben gave a roaring abrupt laugh that again shook the foundation of the pub, startling those in their work.  William gave looks of apology to the people, but unaware Ben continued and said, "It's got no connection to love, and you should know that I don't want what Wally's got, Billy." William always got bad indigestion when Ben addressed him by "Billy" in sequence. But he became ill worn to correct Ben anymore and let him proceed to make the mistake.

"Not at all; I am merely excited to see you, friend. I have not accompanied anyone yet today. In fact, I knocked at Bacon's door for a few minutes but he did not answer; no matter the force I put behind my fist. I suppose he was either gone or he had hit the bottle hard, after a long train of thought had conquered him; probably, no one was there to strike him upside the ol' noggin and tell him, 'quit with all of your supposed philosophy when man has never been farther away from the truth than you are making us.'" It was a strange thing for Ben to suggest that Fancis Bacon would drink himself into utter stupor, since William had much respect for Bacon, and saw him as completely honorable and a man of God.

"I am happy that I may bring you joy, Ben; I am also sure that Francis was most likely out of his home."  Correction with the utmost politeness was no match for the thick skull of Ben Jonson.

Ben released a benefit-of-the-doubt grunt as though he knew Bacon better than Will. He did not. "If you believe he was, so be it. Have you any fresh work you wish to share with your undocumented editor?" If the soul had a mouth n which to regurgitate, Will's certainly did at hearing this statement. He had seen Ben's unedited plays and prayed that nobody ever hired him as their own personal con-editor.

Will responded with a motion towards constructive discussion, "I don't have it with me, but I'm working through Henry V, and I cannot seem to create an interesting character with a healthy number of flaws; this would be easier if I was not doing it specifically for the Queen."

"Well there's always the aristocrats, of whom to make fools, right Will! They are too easy since you can just write them into a play." Ben said this with his most condescending tone, and William replied, "You really should remember that the Queen is friends with those aristocrats, and whether or not you fancy them I'd say you best stay on Her pleasant side."  A light appeared in Shakespeare's brain.  "Though, I do think I have been stricken with a fine idea for my character Fallstaf." Ben peered at William, curious to hear Him continue speaking. When the silence was strung out too long, Ben having no timing broke back in and said, "I do believe then you owe it to me this brilliant idea as I have clearly been a contributor to your man Fallstaf."

"Oh yes, you have helped with it, but you will have to see the play at it's premier, like everyone else." Ben became disappointed and exerted a complaining sigh, but soon he had forgotten about it; Ben Jonson was also famous for a wavering attention span.

Seconds after, another man walked through the doors of the Mermaid. He was a tall, slender and handsome man that stood straight as though he deserved the right. No one in the Mermaid noticed him, as he was a man that did not live by his advertisement, but some looked up anyway. It was Jonson's and Shakespeare's friend, Walter Raleigh, and he was holding a bound package between his arm and torso. Ben did not find it necessary to shout his friend over saving the pub from disruption; Walter had already noticed them (or at least William) and walked his way toward the two. Ben and Will both stood up to greet him with congratulations since he had recently returned from his second colonization of Virginia in America.

Will started to Walter, with joy and relief detectable in his voice and said, "Good man, Raleigh! So grand to see your face again at the Mermaid. It has been too long and I have missed your company and conversation." They shook hands rigorously and Walter added, "Always a pleasure to hear from you William. I'll be in a mood to see what plays you written in my absence."

Walter then turned to see a plump Ben Jonson, smiling gleefully as though he were really apart of the reunion. Last Walter had seen Ben he knew that Ben made no significant lifestyle changes, from his increase in size. "Mr. Jonson, so nice to see you are . . . . living." Walter was finding it difficult to attach another clause, to appear somewhat excited.

"You too, Wally! So had you any close encounters with those savage Indians? Any life or death over there?" Ben said, this in robust exuberance. He was a man who wished he had signed up for the Queen's army but knew it would interfere, to his displeasure with his current habits.

Walter answered, "On the contrary Ben. In fact, I have adopted a part of the Indian's way."  And holding the package he had walked in with said, "Gentlemen, I present to you - Tobacco!"

Raleigh dropped the package he was holding before, on to the table. It was a rounded rectangle bound together by strings. Walter took a sharpened knife and cut the package open, to let a mess of ground leaves fall on the table.  A silence started and three faces loomed over the material.  A face great joy.  A face of inquisitiveness.  And a face of exalted disinterest.

"Walter," said Will in a half joking manner, "I am worried for your sanity as you have not brought us anything worthy of a gift, but a landscaper's day's work." Walter said nothing, but propped his hands on his hips and smiled at the product, and then at Will. Ben had not spoken for a near thirty seconds and became worn of his own silence.  By now he had not said anything in thirty seconds and there were people with ears to hear him.  How could he resist that temptation?

 "Bill has his point, Wally. This is not a spoil I work for, and neither should you work for it. Can I offer a beer and cake for you;  you've been too long away from luxury and forgetfulness of conventions at home, I believe, is a vice on my standard."

Walter ignored both of their comments and continued to pull out pieces of his coat pockets and put them together to make his pipe. "I was unaware once too of tobacco, and the blessing it is on the world. Let me show you with the pipe." Walter packed his pipe full since he was already a regular smoker. As he lit his pipe William had a skeptical eyebrow raised and Ben had his arms crossed with assumed sanity. Though, soon enough a cloud was gathered from Walter's new hobby and the other two men made faces of confusion, but enlightenment was approaching fast for them.

Moments later, William could not hold back his interest for the weed, and broke the silence saying, "Walter, I have undoubtedly been humbled, for I have only had the experience second hand, and become desirous. Could I bother you for a "smoke" to quench this curiosity I have harbored?" Walter chuckled and reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, presented another pipe and said, "Mr. Shakespeare, I would never in my present life deny a man who petitioned a smoke of me, for it's simplicity in pleasure is to easy for gifts. I'd prefer that I had offered you the opportunity prior to your asking."

Shakespeare lit the pipe and was on his way to ascension. Walter had turned again to see a disappointed Ben Jonson looking down with uninvited defeat.  A compassion grew in Raleigh's heart for the heathen, like it had for the Indians.  "If I am not mistaken," Walter said, "Ben, it seems as though I should offer you a bit of this leaf. I would would be less of a man if I failed to do so." Ben stared with vague and negative implications on his face, while Walter had his arm extended, with his last pipe in hand. After battling what Ben wanted to be seen as and what Ben wanted to do, He accepted Walter's invitation so that he can gain a closeness for similarity with the other two. Ben packed and lit his pipe.

The three of them sat around the rectangular table puffed out smoke into the air; and although the air was once clear and now was not, the man's brains were operating in a sixth sense despite that they looked blankly at the walls. There nested a play-write who was a man of many words and often of his own. Another who was an adventurer and a poet. He was a man more willing than others to be a servant of those above, but naturally gained followers by giving honor. And one more agent who failed to ever obey an order, and live by social standard; though he quickly picked up any current style that the hedonists presented him. However, all of these contrasting characters were not at odds. In one and a half hours the men had not uttered a spoken word; nor was a grunt of adjustment heard. The smell and taste of tobacco had made them equal, and nothing was said because nothing had to be said. They all understood each other as committed smokers.

Time passed and the three men finished their bowls achieving contentment. Will attempted to give a speech in honor of the tobacco leaf, but all that he could put together was, "Walter, I . . . .I do believe . . . . for this is . . . . if I had . . . ." William sat back down baffled, because he already ruined his own moment to display his talent in great poetry. Ben looked on passed his companions, and his eyes widened into clairvoyance of his circumstance. Ben Jonson, for once in his older life, knew the proper thing he should say. He stood erect and seemed taller than he ever had, and from his lips fell the mot juste.

"Tobacco, I do assert, without fear of contradiction from the Avon Skylark, is the most soothing, sovereign and precious weed that ever our dear old Mother Earth tendered to the use of man. Let him who would contradict that most mild, but sincere and enthusiastic assertion, look to his undertaker, Sir Walter, your health."

Had the other two known what was coming they would have applauded, but Ben had already sat back down and his mind was miles away again.

They, after this, drained their mugs and parted ways for other businesses. Walter and William both new that this experience should gain regular occurrence. They never had once enjoyed the company of "Rare Ben" until the Muse of Tobacco kissed Walter Raleigh and William Shakespeare both to a point where patience was no longer required of them. Their thoughts lofted upward and lost all affectation for Mr. Ben Jonson.

- By Evan Gunn Wilson