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The Moralistic Tale of Arthur Legg
Amongst the mannequins
Arthur Legg didn't need a nickname. He discovered to his dismay on his first day at school that his real name was quite sufficient. And this, together with his obvious deformity often made him an instant target for ridicule.
"Here he comes!" the older boys would shout in unison as he hobbled towards them in the playground, "Arfa Leg!"
Children can sometimes be oblivious to harsh treatment and unkind words when inflicted on anyone else but themselves and although most of Arthur's classmates were not as cruel when alone with him, when in a group they would gang up on him, making his life a misery. It was difficult for them to ignore the unfortunate connection between Arthur's name and his congenital abnormality, however much the teacher chastised them for their insensitivity.
Arthur's mother, during the first trimester of her pregnancy, had suffered dreadfully with a severe form of morning sickness that lasted all day. The ever helpful family doctor came to her assistance with a new wonder-drug that made her feel instantly well again. The year of Arthur's birth was 1961. A breech baby, he was thrust into the world feet first, or rather foot first, for poor Arthur was born with half of one leg missing.
"Just one of those things," the doctor told Arthur's mother with candour, "Mother nature sometimes gets the blueprint wrong and the limb buds don't develop properly, if at all." But it later came to light that there was a more sinister explanation. "Arthur is most likely a victim of the drug, Thalidomide." admitted the doctor, his textbook open at the relevant page on his desk." Ah... yes here we are Teratogenesis." What a frightening name, thought Arthur's mother and indeed it was. "A malformation of the developing foetus caused by a substance ingested by the mother during pregnancy," the doctor quoted from the text book in a knowledgeable fashion and Arthur's mother vowed there and then never again to take any medication.
Arthur’s mother loved him dearly and didn't blame herself for his affliction but she could have prevented him further distress had she not burdened him with such an unfortunate name. "Isn't it just adding insult to injury in naming him so?" well meaning friends inquired at the christening, but she was unrepentant and most adamant in her choice.
"It was the name of the boy's father and his father before him. Who am I to break a family tradition of such long-standing?" she replied steadfastly. So Arthur Legg he was.
As young Arthur grew older, the perpetual taunting served to make him a stronger person and he became almost fearless in the face of adversity. In most circumstances he could pass as normal, the quality of his prosthetic limb improving each time he went for a fitting. And with special built-up shoes, his awkwardness of movement was far less pronounced. There soon came a time when neither his deformity nor his name were any longer a constant source of derision.
But then at the age of ten, in most regrettable circumstances, Arthur did eventually acquire another nickname. All-out war erupted between two rival gangs in the neighbourhood and Arthur caught in the crossfire, was subsequently hit in the eye with a stone. Thrown, (ironically perhaps) by a lad who didn't know Arthur possessed an artificial limb and wrongly assumed he would get out of the way long before the projectile homed in on its unfortunate target).
As a result of this incident, Arthur lost his right eye and would need to be fitted with an artificial glass one, but in the meantime he had to wear an eye-patch so the surrounding tissue had a chance to heal. 'Nelson' was now the obvious choice for his new nickname.
No longer a subject of ridicule, Arthur now achieved the enviable status of battle-scared war hero. He enjoyed this new-found popularity and when his glass eye was fitted, his contemporaries plied him with money and sweets to watch him remove it, so they could glare at the bare socket behind. But he would never let them hold his eye in their hands for fear that they might not return it.
As Arthur reached maturity he became known as 'Artificial Arthur' and eventually 'Arty' for short, which he liked.
The patterns of childhood are often repeated in adult life and this was certainly true of Arthur. He began to develop a strange fascination for anything artificial, in fact some would say that his fascination was bordering upon obsessive.
He purchased a mock Tudor house, complete with fake oak beams and imitation wood-worm; nothing was as it appeared. From the artificial flowers which adorned the conservatory to the singing plastic parrot in a cage, everything had to be ersatz.
And Arthur enjoyed fooling people, deriving an almost perverse pleasure in revealing that everything in sight was merely a clever imitation. "Oh what a marvellous collection!" they would often explain, casting admiring glances at his book-cases full of rather too neatly arranged leather-bound volumes. "How wonderful to be so widely read!"
"Oh they're just dummies," Arthur would reply unashamedly with a crafty chuckle and a glint in his one good eye. "They're not real books - they're just for show you know!"
Arthur was most pleased when his hair began to fall out prematurely - now he could go and buy a toupee. Soon he had accumulated a whole drawer full of wigs, one for every day of the week in various colours and textures.
Life as a single person was reasonably enjoyable for Arthur but at the age of twenty five something dreadful happened. ‘Luscious Lucy’ his willing companion of almost five years disintegrated into a heap of shrivelled plastic one night, as he attempted to make love to her. Maybe it was time for Arthur to find a real woman.
But instead Arthur found Cynthia, the ideal partner that his local dating agency had found for him. She was literally made for him; from her peroxide blonde hair down to her imitation leather shoes she was in a word, unreal. Her teeth were her own but that was where the originality stopped. False nails, false eyelashes and silicone breast implants were Cynthia's finest attributes. She was the proud owner of a tummy tuck and extensive re-constructive surgery to various parts of her anatomy... too numerous and diverse to mention. And Arthur adored her - she was beyond his wildest dreams - the love of his life.
The pair lived happily together for several years, contented in their manufactured existence, until Cynthia decided she wanted a real baby and Arthur did not. All good things must come to an end and Cynthia departed from Arthur's life forever, leaving him with only his virtual reality computer games for company. And he still had his synthesizer; he could conjure up an entire orchestra at the touch of a button, to rival the Royal Philharmonic - wasn't that fantastic? "We didn't know you could play all those different instruments!" Arthur’s friends would applaud when he played back the recordings he'd made.
Arthur's spurious life ended abruptly and untimely at the age of forty one. Suddenly, while arranging a display of manikins in the front window of the shop where he worked, he suffered a massive heart attack, falling silently to the floor. But no-one noticed him lying there amongst the realistic manikins sprawled haphazardly around him.
"A very tragic set of circumstances!" declared the doctor, when the alarm was finally raised. It transpired that Arthur had died from a faulty valve in his heart and had someone spotted him as he collapsed in the display window they might have been able to revive him, and the surgeons fitted him with an artificial one.
The funeral was a simple affair, arranged strictly according to Arthur's wishes. Everyone admired the quality of the coffin, which gave every appearance of solid oak. The cortège parked outside the cemetery gates, the narrow passage through to the graveyard not quite large enough for vehicular access. The pall-bearers and mourners would have to walk a long, winding path to the grave-side.
The funeral director gazed heavenwards at the threatening grey clouds directly overhead and muttered some inaudible expletive under his breath. Slowly at first, it began to rain and then the skies opened as huge hailstones drummed relentlessly down on the lid of Arthur's coffin. Mourners and pall-bearers alike beat a hasty retreat to the shelter of the church.
"Why do you look so worried?" the minister asked the funeral director, inquisitively.
"Ah... well you see," he began to explain pensively as he carefully emptied the rain from the brim of his tall black hat, "This isn't a real oak coffin. It's just bio-degradable cardboard, thinly coated with a plastic, wood-effect veneer, and in this rain ... well you never know do you?"