Shades of Unreality by Cynthia Sally Haggard

SHADES OF UNREALITY

Cynthia Sally Haggard

Lady Cecylee Neville (1415-1495) was born a few months before King Henry V’s glorious victory at Agincourt. When she was nine years old, she was betrothed to Richard, Duke of York, a cousin to King Henry VI. Eventually, Cecylee became the mother of thirteen children, including Edward IV and his younger brother Richard III, whose bones were recently discovered beneath a car park in Leicester. Lady Cecylee’s six hundredth birthday occurred on 3 May 2015. This piece tells of an adventure she had recently.

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Since my death, I have tried to stay abreast of the goings-on in this world of ours, and I must confess I am most curious about this twenty-first century. Never before have ladies held power so openly. But it is not just the ladies that interest me, but the toys they play with. Truly, it is magical. Fancy being able to talk to someone miles away whom you cannot see. Or fix the image of a person for eternity. Or do calculations merely by moving your fingers around. Or convert currency. And all on a little thingy that is about the size of a pack of playing cards.

My scribe remarked recently that my six hundredth birthday was nigh, so on the occasion of the marking of my Great Age, I decided to pay a visit, closing my eyes to make my wish.

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When I opened them, I was staring at a something I didn’t understand. I appeared to be in a guardroom, because everything was in muted colors, creams, silvers, blacks. On top of a marble bench sat something that might be an animal. I had to peer closely at it, as I couldn’t see clearly. It was as if I were gazing through some thin gauzy curtains. Every so often, the curtains would lift and shift as if disturbed by a breeze. Then they would settle and the scene would gradually grow clearer. The animal resembled a cat with deep sea-green eyes and orange fur. But something wasn’t quite right, because it was bigger than most cats I know, and it seemed—softer somehow. I studied it carefully. Underneath its fur were not muscles and skin, but—padding. It didn’t look quite real.

“Look!” it exclaimed.

I jumped back, startled. Had that cat spoken?

It held up a large sheaf of something, some very large sheets of paper, so finely made that the light shone through. I had never seen paper with such evenly made fineness in my life. It reminded me of a bolt of silk. As I scrutinized it, I realized it was covered all over with extremely small writing. Or rather, marks formed by moveable type, of the sort used by Master Caxton.

“British Government Contemplates Robot Rights,” declared the cat, flourishing those papers.

“Why would that be a problem?” asked a deep voice. The contrast in pitch made me realize that the strange cat must be female. I looked around. Another shape materialized, but this time it was off-white. Large and roundish, it possessed a bear-shaped face. But what drew my attention was its bow-tie, which was pink and covered in blue flowers.

I have seen bears before. During my girlhood, I inhabited a castle in a rather wild part of the country on the Scotch Marches, and there were plenty of wild animals there, howling wolves, snuffling boar, and cantankerous bears. But the bears I’d seen were black or brown, and were large, muscly, fearsome creatures. This thing was not only the wrong color, it was—stuffed. Like that strange cat, no muscle nor sinew rippled below its skin. It appeared padded with something, mayhap down feathers, and its stuffing made it strangely docile, even sweet-natured.

Then it came to me. These must be Pouppées, the toys of a Royal child. Soon he would come toddling into the room. Perhaps my scribe wanted me to meet him, for I have a large experience of children, being the mother of thirteen.

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