Practically Perfect (G)

I was so happy to have him back that I nearly spilled the offending stuff all down the front of his gown. I told him not to worry, that I had just the thing to help the bitter flavor of the drug, and I reached for the evening’s teacart. I had taken the sugar bowl and was doling a small amount directly onto the spoon, sing-songing as I did so, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” This had quite an affect on Bert. An animation came to his features that I had not previously witnessed.

“You knew ‘er then?” he said, “You knew my Mary?”

I then admitted that I had, in my youth, been the charge of a most unique nanny by the name of Mary Poppins, though I had not until that moment remembered the origin of that tuneful enticement which I had used so frequently as both nurse and mother.

He studied my face intently for the moment, asking my name. I gave him both, married and maiden, and again he came to life, grinning broad and yellow and holding my hand between his.

“Number 17, Cherry Tree Lane! You’re little Jane Banks!”

I promise you, Michael, he said just that and I suppose my ex­pression must have been as pop-eyed and slack-jawed as yours is bound to be as you read this, for Bert immediately broke into a high, phlegmy laugh of delight. A good laugh, I had to share it. “How on earth-?” I finally managed.

He claimed to have met you and I and poor little Barbera and John, during that season (indeed, that he had even swept our chimney) and went on in an enthusiastic remembrance of impossible events which we had supposedly shared with Mary Poppins. Teas taken on the ceiling, picnics in chalk paintings, conversations with zoo animals, dressing the night sky with paper stars! Utter barking madness and yet, I confess, familiar madness – like half-remembered dreams of childhood. I betrayed nothing one way or the other as, I have learned in my time amongst the disturbed, it isn’t wise to either validate or disavow their delusions. Instead I urged him on to tell me more of Ms. Poppins herself and at this a blissful calm settled over his features. He sighed deep and long and began to speak in tones of sheer adulation.

“Practic’lly perfect in ev’ry way she was. ‘Appiness bloomed all around ‘er,” he said, and he rambled on about daisies and doves and his heart beating like a brass band, and I suddenly knew what the old man had been sobbing about. Though I had trouble reconciling this vision of his one great love with the vain martinet who once upon a time marshaled us about with a crisp, “Spit-spot!”

I asked him whatever became of Ms. Poppins, for even though I quite recall the four of us pleading with Mother and Father to keep her on, we never saw her again.

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