Where had the doily gone?
You may not think this is an interesting question. After all, what is a doily? A small crocheted mat usually placed on a table, either to protect it from something, like a flower vase that may drip water when it’s just been filled, or for decoration under an object: a figurine, a tray. My particular doily was under a small glass tray on which I put my glasses. I used to regularly lose my glasses, because I only need them to see long distance, so I took them off all the time and placed them . . . on tables, on shelves, who knows where. I would spend an hour every day just wondering where my glasses had gone. And then I put a doily on a shelf, and a glass tray on top of that, and I called it my glasses tray, and put my glasses on it — consistently. After that, I always knew where I had left my glasses. It saved a lot of time and worry.
That’s the backstory.
The story is this: my oven stopped working. In Boston, I rent an apartment. It’s a very nice apartment, the first floor of a house, with windows on all sides and a back porch. It’s too expensive, but then everything is in Boston. I chose it because it’s close to the university, and also because there were so few apartments for rent in this area that I did not have much choice. Most of the apartments around here are for students: they have three or more bedrooms, so the rent can be split between a number of roommates, and they are not very well taken care of. This apartment, thank goodness, is very well taken care of — maintenance requests are answered promptly. So as soon as my oven stopped working, I was told the old stove would be replaced.
Yesterday, two workmen came to replace the stove. One was the regular maintenance man who has taken care of this house for thirty years. The other was his friend. Before they came, I looked at everything I had placed around the stove: the recipe box, the basket of napkins and placemats, the picture frame with a photograph of my daughter. I moved everything that I thought could be broken or damaged by the work of removing and installing a stove. My glasses tray was on a shelf near the kitchen, probably far enough away that it would be fine, but still . . . it was glass. So I moved it. I remember wondering if I should move the doily under it as well, but after all, it was a small crocheted mat (see definition of doily). How could it be hurt?
The stove was installed, with the usual problems (there are always problems — this time, the new stove was dented and had to be replaced even before it was installed). I was out running errands during the last part of this process. When I came back, the doily was gone.
Now, you have to understand that this is only partly about the doily. I mean, the doily is important, because it’s a small pretty thing, and I value small pretty things. It fits perfectly on that shelf, and I wanted it back. But since I read my first mystery, which was probably a Nancy Drew, I have prided myself on my ability to figure things out. After Nancy Drew, I graduated to Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Whimsy and Harriet Vane, Father Brown, Rumpole of the Bailey, and on to more modern detectives . . . Mystery lovers will be familiar with this sequence.
The doily was my gill of pickled shrimp.
If you’ve read Miss Marple mysteries, you’ll understand this reference, because Miss Marple refers to it repeatedly. I believe it’s mentioned for the first time in a short story called “The Tuesday Night Club”: Miss Marple says that a woman in her village, a Mrs. Carruthers, purchased a gill of pickled shrimp and put it in her string bag. But when she got home, the gill of pickled shrimp was gone. Mrs. Marple never tells us what happened to it, although she does mention that she later solved the mystery, which threw “a considerable light on human nature.”
The gill of pickled shrimp is the trivial mystery that nevertheless gives you an opportunity for what Sherlock Holmes calls ratiocination: the process of reasoning something out, of following a logical train of thought. My doily was missing, so I decided to ratiocinate.
Where could my doily have gone?
First, and most logically, I could have moved it myself without thinking about it. After all, I had thought about moving it before I decided not to, and there have been times when I’ve done things without thinking about them. Sometimes in my morning shower, I’ll be thinking about what I have to do that day, and wash my face twice because I forgot that I washed it the first time, and remember only when I’m washing it the second time that I’ve already gone through those motions. So, on the assumption that I had probably removed the doily to a safer place after all, I searched in all the logical places. The doily was not in any of them, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not recall having moved it. I was almost certain I had not moved it.
Second, less logically, the workmen could have taken it. Were the men who had replaced my stove doily thieves? This was highly unlikely, first because they were the sort of burly men who can lift stoves, much more likely to decorate with logos of sports teams than doilies. Now, a good detective does not judge entirely by appearances — still, I’ve found that you can get a general sense for who a person is by how they present themselves. If I went into these men’s houses, I doubt that I would find doilies! But also, they were very nice men, as careful and conscientious as stove installation allowed. I dismissed this possibility as just plain silly.
Third, could the doily have been knocked down during work? Possible, but I looked in all the places it could logically have been knocked, and it was not there. And then I remembered that the stove had been wrapped in cardboard. I had a vague memory that some of that cardboard had briefly been placed across the kitchen counter, with one corner on the shelf where my doily had been. Could the doily have gotten stuck to the cardboard? If so, where was the cardboard now? The workmen would not have taken it with them–it was trash. Logically, it must be in the trash bins along the side of the house.
I looked in the trash bins. There was no cardboard in the first one or second one, but in the third one . . . there was the cardboard, and when I moved it aside, there are the bottom of the trash bin was my doily, looking pretty and forlorn.
Reader, did I pull out the cardboard, tip the trash bin onto its side, and half crawl in to get my doily? Of course I did.
Then I immersed it in water with a great deal of dish washing liquid and let it sit. It was, shall we say, stinky. I let it dry overnight, and it’s now back on the shelf under the glass tray with my glasses on it. I solved the case of the missing doily.
You may think this is a silly little story, but it’s important to me because I want to write a mystery series myself — I have the first one all worked out. Mysteries are very hard to write. Honestly, I think they’re the hardest things to write, at a technical level. The Mystery of the Missing Doily reminded me of how much I want to write those books, and also gave me a little more confidence that I just might be able to do it.
(These are from my bookshelf. Just a small selection, of course . . .)