The Mystery of the Missing Doily

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 . . .)

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16 Responses to The Mystery of the Missing Doily

  1. Sarah says:

    Utterly familiar with your progression of mysteries and am thrilled by the notion of you writing one — as I am by all of your work. Here’s hoping the process is as compelling as figuring out where the doily had gone…

  2. cathypearl says:

    I loved reading your, The Mystery of the Missing Doily! I’m looking forward to your first mystery. I laughed when I read your progression of reading mystery authors. It follows mine exactly! I am going to look up the Nancy Drew book, “The Moonstone Castle Mystery” as it doesn’t sound familiar, but that was many decades ago. I was so relieved when you rescued your cute little doily from the dumpster!
    Best wishes, Cathy

  3. Brava! I tend to follow the “it’ll show up” approach, which, in this case, would have been too slow to save the doily from being spirited away in the garbage truck. I also applaud the creation of a pretty place for those glasses, treating them with the honor and respect givers of vision deserve. ❤

  4. Rose says:

    I have doilies my grandma and my great grandma made. I use them. When my vision was better I’d pick the most intricate and beautiful pattern I could find and make them for friends. I’m so glad you found yours and it’s back home.

  5. Rebecca says:

    This was a magical story.
    Thank you for sharing your doily’s adventure and illuminating that objects can be beloved and worthy of rescue. I’m sure your doily was very happy to be clean and back in her special place.
    PS – I would so enjoy reading a mystery novel written with your wit and style.

  6. helen says:

    Like everyone else, I would love to read some mysteries by you. Although I love your short stories too! (No pressure.) At the moment I’m impatiently waiting for the Mesmerising Girl…

    But – I do have a couple of questions. Are you quite certain that the doily you rescued is the same doily, and not another doily masquerading as such in the hope of inheritance or revenge? Was the original doily being blackmailed? Did it have a dark secret in its crocheted past? I think you should be careful and avoid any food or drink the doily may offer you…

  7. Nancy says:

    I have been a mystery fan forEVER and would love to read one of yours when published! I’m a logical thinker…a “retrace-your-stepser,” and am usually the one around my house who locates missing objects. It’s always logic. Always, Sherlock!

  8. Martin says:

    On the other hand sometimes things just go away or simply vanish, like the odd sock never to be found even though you know you put it in the clothes dryer along with the rest of the laundry…

  9. emily says:

    Nice! My lab once accidentally threw away a brand new power supply brick in a trash bag of old electronics. I hadn’t realized it was gone until the custodian had already taken the trash from our room. I went down the loading dock and saw the bag in the dumpster (probably the size of a small truck) about midway in. I looked at it for a while and decided “nope, I’m not paid enough to go dumpster diving.”

  10. Sylvia Morin says:

    I really enjoyed this anecdote! I have had similar things happen to me, and you have demonstrated how something quite mundane can be transformed into something that is literary.

    On a different note, you have had various posts that show how you keep your apartment and surroundings both tidy and beautiful. The aesthetics of your space are clearly a source of inspiration for you. My question to you, perhaps it could be a blog post, is how do you handle paper? I mean you are also an academic, which means that you have student papers to file, articles that you have read and marked up for later use, etc. I seem to be unable to really organize myself when it comes to all of the paper that seems to multiply and regenerate before my eyes. Do you have any tips? What do you do with all those read articles that you may need for a future writing and/or research project?

    • Sylvia, you’re so right, this is such a big question! And I do try to organize my papers, but this is one of my biggest personal challenges, because I have both academic papers and all the writing. I’ll have to write a blog post, I think. But I tend to throw away things that other people keep — like old drafts, although every anything I’ve handwritten. And I have a filing system for contracts, taxes, etc.

      • Sylvia says:

        Thank you, Theodora. I do appreciate the sincere response and some of your organization methods.

  11. Nancy says:

    Theodora, how is your first mystery coming along? I’m in the throes of writing an historical mystery…it is daunting, the attention to detail and the crafting of bringing it all together. Hope you’ll update your progress for us soon…

  12. Margaret Fisher Squires says:

    A delightful tale and of course I’m looking forward to the mysteries you will right! What I like best about this incident is that you did not immediately seize on the “obvious” solution that one of the workmen must have taken it. It is easy to be cynical, but you kept faith. And that contributed to the happy ending.

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