Archive for May, 2017

Storytime: The Orchard.

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

The trees were whispering lively strong that day. Maybe it was the steady sun, giving them all the good things and watching them grow. Maybe it was the soft wind, shaking their branches and filling the air with their rustling plans.
Maybe it was something else. Passing secretive, were those trees. But they could be persuaded to share, for a price.
And oh, she knew that price, the gardener did.
Under her chime, under the bough, under the leafiest, smallest of the orchard she waited, the gardener and her cups and her little mortar and littler pestle. Aged earth granted aged flesh.
Today there would be three. Busy. But that was people for you, the ones that weren’t trees.

The first was a slight, pale thing. Torn and frayed at the edges from worries and wears on the inside. It trembled in the breeze, and would’ve trembled without it too.
“Do you have dreams?” it asked.
“All dreams,” said the gardener. “Ever.”
“I have a dream. Can I find it here?”
“What is this dream?”
“I would dream to be strong,” it said. “I would dream to speak out when my friends are slighted, to protest when asked to do wrong, to stop harm when I see it done, to witness my bad acts and stop them before they reach my hands. Can you grant me this dream?”
“Yes, I can grant you that dream,” said the gardener. She selected a cup from the old stump of her table-top, and it was a very common cup indeed – wood, plain wood, fresh wood that was almost from any tree you’d ever seen. “Follow me.”
The walk through the orchard was quiet, but that was normal whether the gardener walked with thin trembling things or boisterous loud ones or by herself. The trees induced it. Nobody likes to interrupt a long-running conversation, whether from politeness or awkwardness, and this was very old indeed.
“Here,” said the gardener, at the edge of the grove, by a thin sapling. “Lie down.”
The slight, pale thing lay down in the soft grass and looked up at the sky, which was marbled. Thick warm blue and soft cool white, mushed up like scrambled eggs. The sapling’s branches flickered at the edge of the eyes – elusive, bare, but tipped with something that could be green.
A cup intruded upon this, trailing a mild scent that could’ve been bitter or maybe not. “Drink,” said the gardener. “This fruit came from this tree, and your dream is inside it.”
The slight, pale thing drank, and when the cup was empty it fell back entirely and closed its eyes and was gone.
“A very common dream,” said the gardener in the face of sleep. “But this is no bad thing.” She eyed the tree’s branches, squinting in place of glasses. “And maybe it may be, if it not maybe not.”

When the gardener came back to her chime and her bough the second visitor was already there and waiting, which did not surprise her very much. The trees had been awfully gossipy of it – it was fidgeting as it stood there, snapping a twig into smaller and smaller pieces and picking at the bark. Its muscles seemed to jump of their own volition, like startled weasels.
“Hello there, uh, oh, hi,” it said. It dropped the twig, almost swore, then started over. “Hey.”
“Hello,” said the gardener. “Where did you find that?”
“Found what?” asked the fidgeter. “Oh, that. Not sure. Hey do you have any dreams? I was wondering if you had dreams. Do you have a dream I think I might’ve been thinking of? It was a, it was a specific kind. It was big. I got bigger, and I knew more, and people listened, and I changed the world. I changed it. I did. Because it was a big idea, so big it changed it. I made things different. Better, I’m sure. Me. Can you think of a dream like that?”
“You know,” said the gardener, “I’m nearly sure I did. Follow me.”
The path they took was bumpy and more sticks than stones and stones than dirt. But the gardener was sure-steady as a tortoise, and the fidgeter, for all its shambling gait, seemed to find out where its feet were meant to be eventually. At the heart of the orchard they halted, at the foot of a winding, wandering thing whose trunk had branched and branched and branched until its twigs were nearly trunks in themselves, and whose crown was somewhere out of sight and above mind.
“Lie down,” said the gardener, and the fidgeter did this even if it took a while for it to find a spot that made its head comfortable – the ground was littered with broken branches and dead leaves.
“Drink,” said the gardener, holding a spiraling cup in her wrinkled palm. It had two or three openings and it took a moment and a bit of spillages for the fidgeter to find out where its lips should be.
“Tastes like ash, eurgh – or wait, just clean water, or wait, maybe-” and the gardener was alone again, although this one’s eyes, she saw, did not shut.
“A good sign,” she said, “for a dream that may be good or bad. Good luck, I suppose.”

The walk back for the third was longest of all, because the gardener’s hips were passing lax in their duty by this time.
Her third was just coming up the path as she sat down. Steady of gaze, strong of stride. Bright-eyed.
“You have dreams,” it said, forcefully.
“The trees have the dreams,” said the gardener. “I just make them easier to swallow.”
“Nevertheless, you can give them. I have a most rare and powerful dream, and I want to know if it is within your ability to understand this and grant me access to it, which I want very much.”
“Please, tell me,” said the gardener.
The bright-eyed thing leaned forward, shoulders hunched in the earnestness of the deathly serious, and it opened its mouth and it spoke. “I would see a world of mirror. I would see all those who do not look like me; who do not speak like me; who do not think like me; who were born in places I was not; who were taught things I was not taught; who act in ways do not; who have families that I do not see, I would imagine them gone, all of them, forever and in all places, until I am all that is left and I am many and I am all that there is and ever will be, unchanging. Can you grant me this rare and powerful dream?”
“Oh dear, my dear, oh dear,” said the gardener, and her laughter made her hands shake as she picked up her largest cup, which was carved from dead solid stone. “That is the oldest dream of them all.”

It was not a walk. It was barely a stroll. Just the other side of the path to the orchard it lay, outside the bounds and outside all company; a solitary, giant thing. Its bark was knotted, its trunk was twisted, and its branches seemed reluctant to spread, tucked tight against its sides. Its roots spread far and wide and passing shallow, and the ground was covered with its dead needles. It was a tricky thing to approach without losing foot, especially with the bright-eyed thing refusing to look down. But they managed it, and at its base the gardener pointed at the ground and said “here.” Her voice was loud and harsh against the flat air. There was no wind here, and the silence pressed down.
The bright-eyed thing sat down, but there was a frown that marred its face. “This prickles. Is there nothing better to sit against? Do you have a pillow?”
“It is what it is, and nothing less,” said the gardener. “It’s a shameful thing, to pretend a dream isn’t what it is. I wouldn’t dare.” She reached out her arms, gripping the ancient cup two-handed and wobbling. Old pungency seeped from its sides. “Here. Drink, and dream.”
The bright-eyed thing jerked its head back. “No, no, not like this, it’s meant to be”
The gardener lifted her arms up over her head and dropped the cup, which landed home with a firm smack, and she was alone again.
But the bright-eyed thing wasn’t. She could already feel the roots creeping under her feet, eager to anchor themselves. She could hear the groan of all those buried voices, under sap and bile.
“Congratulations,” she said, as she picked up the empty cup.

The needles were sharp underfoot, and though it was the shortest the walk back home seemed oh so painful.
But the wind was still there when she returned, and so were the whispers of the orchard.

Storytime: Mother’s Day.

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017

“Happy mother’s day!” said the sea turtle.
“Well, that’s a surprise,” said the sea turtle’s mother. “I can’t say I expected that.”
“It did take me forty years to find you,” the sea turtle admitted. “But you know, you DID bury us in the sand and swim away immediately.”
“Fair true, fair true. So. Did you get me a present?”
“Well, we were going to make you a nice brunch-”
“Ooh!”
“-but Barry was going to get the groceries, and a seagull ate him –”
“Ooh.”
“-and Janice was the one who was going to work the pancakes, and she was buried too deep and suffocated before she could dig her way out of the nest –”
“Oh.”
“And the rest were eaten by various fish one way or t’other. Sharks, a lot of us. I’m all that’s left, sad to say.”
They bobbed there in the current, considering all this.
“And what was your job, may I ask?”
“Oh. I had to wish you happy mother’s day.”
“Well done.”
“Don’t mention it. Well, see ya.”

“Happy mother’s day!” said the bear.
“Well isn’t that just adorable,” said the bear’s mother. “And what have you got there?”
“’s a cooler!”
“Well that’s nice.”
“’s blue!”
“A good colour.”
“Got sandwiches innit!”
“Oh my!”
“’n those guys wannit back!”
“Well. That DOES explain the crashing noises. Tell you what dear, I’ll hold onto this for you – thank you so much, it’s really very lovely – and you climb this tree for a moment.”
“Aw.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll save some for you.”

“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant.
“Happy mother’s day!” said the ant. “The others said to say ‘happy mother’s day!’, but they couldn’t fit in the brooding chamber.”
“That’s very kind of you all,” said the queen ant, their mother. “May I make a request?”
“Yes!” they chorused.
“Could you please take care of your younger sisters today? They grow up so fast, and they really do need a nursemaid or four dozen.”
“We do that every day,” one said. “That’s just normal.”
“Girls, please kill and dismember your sister and feed her to the babies.”
“Augh!”
“Thank you very much, all of you! Such lovely daughters I have.”

“Happy mother’s day,” said the elephant.
“Fuck off,” said the elephant’s mother.
“I got you a present.”
“Go to hell.”
“It’s a really nice one.”
“It’s shit and so are you.”
“It’s this little shiny thing I pulled off a car.”
“I never want to see you again.”
“Look ma I TOLD you I’m sorry that our gestation period is nearly two years, and I feel real bad about-”
The elephant’s mother rammed him repeatedly until he ran away into the bush and left his birth herd forever, as was customary for his age group.
“NOW it’s a happy mother’s day,” she said.

“Happy mother’s day,” said the cowbird. “Can you feed me? I’m starving away here.”
“Are you sure?” asked the mother warbler. “I’m sure I just fed you. And wait, did you say-”
“Yes, it’s mother’s day. A happy one. I demand you bring me breakfast in bed. Peep peep peep oh no I’m withering away, feed me feed me feed me aaaauuuugh.”
“Alright, if you say so.”
“Sucker.”

“Happy mother’s day,” said the global community to the planet at large.
“Well, that’s nice,” said the planet. “What brought this on?”
“I need a loan.”
“Oh.”
“Just a little one though.”
“How much?”
“Everything you’ve got times like one point five, at negative interest.”
“That’s-”
“Thanks mom. See ya.”

Storytime: The Monarch

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

“Pillories.”
It was a beautiful blue sky.
“Shackles.”
Most people would give a lot to see that kind of sky.
“Thumbscrews.”
But at that particular moment, naked and bleeding on his back, in that meadow, the king would’ve given more and more besides to make it go away behind those tiny white wisps of cloud.
“Knives! Torches! Pinchers! Salt!” screamed the king, and collapsed even farther in on himself, with a thump.
One of the little white clouds detached itself from the sky and landed on the tip of his nose.
“Hello,” she said.
“Begone, my subject,” said the king. “I am suffering in silent dignity.”
“Goodness,” said the cloud. “That must be hard. Why are you doing that?”
“I am the rightful king, and I have been deposed and betrayed and backstabbed and exiled and stabbed.”
“You said stabbed twice.”
“The second time was less metaphorical than the first.” The king winced. “And now I am left to cook to death on my back in this damnedable meadow of mine. If the thirst won’t take me first.”
“This meadow is yours?”
The king glared, and if his eyes were feeble oh his brows so very much made up for that. They beetled with the fury of a full jungle topsoil. “ALL things here are mine, as I am king. This is my meadow, my grass, my boiling, awful sky, and you are my subject and MY cloud, damn you. Why you do not cloak this sun from me, I do not know. More treason, no doubt.”
“I am a butterfly, actually,” said the butterfly as politely as she could. “And I didn’t know I was yours. Is there anything I should do to help?”
The king wheezed out a grand, slow sigh.
“Pardon?”
The king’s eye twitched.
“Hello?”
The king’s pulse wobbled alarmingly, then hiccupped reluctantly back to normal.
“Oh dear.”

When the king woke up again, he sputtered. His mouth was full of soft sweetness, mixed with the tiniest granules. His face smelled like flowers.
“Don’t spit it out! Don’t spit it out! It’ll take AGES to get all that nectar back in you!”
The king swallowed, then passed out again. The next few days were like that.

“It was my sons, you see,” he told the butterfly.
“Was what?”
“Who committed the grandest of treasons, my subject. They turned upon me for an early inheritance, to take what was mine from me and divide it up amongst themselves. But I’ll warrant they’ve already fallen to their own backbiting – the first betrayal makes the second so much smoother. Swine! Filth! I’ll have them placed in a gibbet and garroted! I’ll have them scalded with branding irons, then placed in iron maidens! I’ll see them drawn and quartered in this very meadow, under this damned, burning, always-searing sky!”
“Oh that sounds very nice,” said the butterfly. “When you’ve finished drawing them, may I see the pictures?”
The king tried to explain, but as he rasped he shifted and writhed in pain. “Ah!”
“Is it the backstab? You said there was a backstab-”
“The sunburn. The sunburn. Always the damned, damned, damned sunburn,” he moaned. So he turned over – painfully – onto his stomach, showing his pale spine to the world and hiding his reddened face under his beard. And he refused to say another word but made his way to painful, prolonged sleep.
His dreams were full of whispers, a soft susurrus that didn’t come from anything as complicated as a mouth. Tiny, hairy legs brushed his ears, and he whimpered until he was gone again.

When he woke, he was covered in the lightest, airiest sheet he could’ve imagined, something between a robe and a blanket. It was pale in the morning glow.
“What is this?” he asked the butterfly.
“Spider-silk,” she told him. “Most of them are quite friendly if you’re too big for them to eat. And I’m a little too big, and you’re MUCH too big, so they were a little friendly enough to feel much too friendly. Is it nice?”
The king hadn’t felt anything so smooth since his childhood cradle. And here was where he found his problem: he couldn’t nod regally to signal his gratitude, because his head was squished into the dirt against his beard.
So he did something else, something he hadn’t done for. Well. Maybe ever.
“Thank you,” he said. And he meant it.

There were good days and bad days.
On the good days, the king stood up, and walked all the way to the tree at the edge of the meadow and back.
On the bad days the king tripped over a root at the tree and fell over on his injured back and couldn’t get back up again, or even turn himself over.
There had only been one bad day. But it had been enough.
“Are you alright?” asked the butterfly.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” said the king. “It’s nice and shady here, anyways. It’s good to have a break from the sun. Nobody should be boiled like that.” He yawned. “You know, I had people boiled once.”
“Really? What for?”
The king shrugged. “Foolishness.”
“They must have been very foolish indeed to need it boiled out of them like that.”
“Oh no, the foolishness wasn’t theirs.” The king scratched at his beard. “This is a good meadow. I feel silly to have never seen it until now.”
“But you said it was yours.”
“Oh, everything is mine,” said the king. “But most of it I hardly had any use for. A real pity. I feel like I could’ve done a lot with that. It’s all over now, though. I don’t think I can be a king anymore. No throne, no court. No crown.”
“What’s a throne?”
“A sort of seat.”
“Well, you have the tree. What’s a court?”
“A bunch of subje – of people, who help you.”
“You have us. What’s a crown?”
The king tried to left his hand to his brow, but all his arm would do was shake. “A sort of hat. It goes on your head. Goodnig” and that was the end of that conversation, as it had been so many.

When the king woke up at sunset, there was weight in his lap. Not much, but weight.
Reeds and stems, willow and weeds. Woven in silk, beaded with water, and smelling just a little like fresh pollen.
“You’re still a king now, aren’t you?” asked the butterfly.
The king smiled. “I suppose so. But still, not for much longer. Do you know, I’m seeing more than a hundred of you?”
“There ARE more than a hundred of us. How do you think we carried the crown here?”
The king was covered in little white clouds, each as delicate as a baby’s breath. He wanted to laugh, but was afraid to hurt them. Or his lungs.
“Thank you,” he told them. “Thank you all so much. But even if I was well, I think you’d be much finer monarchs than I ever was. You should keep this. I can’t wear it.”
“But we don’t have crowns, or thrones, or courts,” said the butterfly.
“Those aren’t the real things that make a king or queen,” said the king. “It’s what others think about you. And right at this moment, I am most definitely your subject. And I will show you exactly what I think.”
And the king reached up with one trembling, withered finger to his brow, and with another he tapped the tip of the butterfly’s face, and when his finger came away the butterfly had turned from the whitest of clouds to the bright strong orange of the cloudy evening sky.
“Thank you,” said the old man. And he died.

The monarchs ranged far, after that, and travelled wide and furiously.
But they remembered the little places and things wherever they roamed. And one in particular.