John Crace trims Anne Tylers modern update on Shakespeares battle of the sexes to an evenly matched 800 words
Kate Battista was gardening out back when she heard the telephone ring. She sighed heavily, knowing it could only be her father demanding that she drop everything she was doing and bring the sandwich he had forgotten that morning to his laboratory across town.
Sure Dad, she said, not thinking to suggest he just went out to a cafe and buy one for himself. For a supposedly intelligent and independent 29-year-old woman, Kate was capable of acts of extraordinary stupidity. Still, this wasnt the time to get hung up on minor points of feminism or plot coherence, so she willingly surrendered to the two-hour trudge. It wasnt as if she had anything better to do. Apart from her job, of course.
This sandwich has gone a bit stale so Ill pass, said her father. By the way, my research into autoimmune disorders appears to be going nowhere so my assistant Pyoder Cherbakov… Its Pyotr, said Pyotr.
Pyoder is likely to be deported as his visa runs out next month. So I was wondering if you would be prepared to marry him so he can stay in the US? Kate thought carefully about this before deciding, on balance, this wasnt something she was happy to do. Maybe Pyoder could marry your sister, Bunny, instead, her father said. But Bunny is only 15. She is an airhead, though.
Kate left to go to the school where she worked as a teaching assistant. Im sorry Im late, but I had to take my dad a sandwich, she explained to a very angry Mrs Darling, the headteacher. Youve got to stop being so strong-willed, said Mrs Darling. Some of the parents have complained that you havent told their children they are geniuses. Thats got to stop. Yes, Mrs Darling.
Kate went home to prepare dinner for Bunny and her father. Though Bunny was extremely dim, she was quite pretty and had attracted the attention of Eddie, the 20-year-old next-door neighbour. Kate wondered if any man would ever fancy her. After dinner, Kates father took her to one side and explained that her mother had suffered from postnatal depression for 14 years and the moment she had recovered she had dropped down dead with a heart defect caused by Bunnys birth.
I wondered why she hadnt been around much lately, said Kate. That changes everything. Maybe I will marry Pyotr for you, after all. So Pyotr and Kate went on a date. Isnt this the point at which we are supposed to engage in thrilling comic banter? said Pyotr. I suppose so, said Kate. But I cant think of anything interesting or comedic to say. Though now you mention it, you can be a bit controlling and sexist. And you are a bit of a shrew! Dont think you are going to tame me!
Kate was unexpectedly excited on her wedding day and was a bit disappointed that Pyotr hadnt shown up at the church on time. Wheres Pyoder? her father asked. That joke wasnt funny the first time, she said. In which case it should be right at home here, he replied.
Just then, Kate received a text from Pyotr. Im on my way. Theres been an emergency. Then, when he arrived, he said: Lets get this over with. We have to get back to the lab as soon as possible. This wasnt quite the wedding she had imagined but there was something surprisingly attractive about Pyotr when he was this assertive.
Bunny let out all the mice, Pyotr said. All our research is ruined. I didnt, I promise, wept Bunny. In which case it must have been Eddie. Hes a vegan. OK, OK, it was me, Eddie said. But the mice are all safe so you can go back to your wedding party.
As they danced together, Pyotr told Kate that it hadnt been easy for him having been brought up as an orphan and coming to America not knowing anyone, and that if he had behaved a bit awkwardly at times it was because he was a bit shy and didnt understand American customs. Thats OK, Kate announced to the entire wedding party. It must be difficult being a man these days when you arent allowed to express your feelings properly. I really respect Pyotrs attempts to become emotionally literate.
Everyone applauded wildly and even Bunny seemed quite pleased. Kiss me Kate, said Pyotr. So she did.
Epilogue: They had a son called Louie, Kate won a gardening prize and they all lived happily ever after.
Digested read, digested: The laming of the shrew.