Storytimer: Potter.

October 9th, 2013

The caterpillar was a very little thing, but it spoke loudly; so very loudly without a word needing to be said.
Here, said its sides. Look at me. I bristle with orange and black. Touch me not, these colours say no to food. I am bitter, I am bad to the tongue and the cheek and the chew. Leave me be. Ten thousand thousand generations of my kind were eaten, ten thousand thousand generations of yours learned this lesson, learned my colours, learned my words. Touch me not, eat me not, harm me not.
It was a little greasy smear on the smooth sunny stone that made the door-step of Monni’s home, its sides turned dark and orange in death. This was why her chair was turned away from the door this morning. She didn’t want to look at such things while she made pots.
Turn, turn, turn. A little wooden table with a little flat plate on it. Turn, turn, turn. A blob of clay, growing up and up and up, inch by inch under her fingers.
Needs a bit more water. There.
Turn, turn turn away the minutes. It’s not as big a job as it looks, but the time will still fly. Even Monni couldn’t shape a pot in a second. Not even Monni, whose jars and cups and bowls and plates outlived the buildings they were kept in, come fire or tumbledown. Not even Monni, whose little squiggly mark was scribbled across the bottom of almost every container for miles around. Not even Monni.
She enjoyed her job too much to rush it.
Turn, turn, turned out fine. From bits and pieces came a jar.
Now for the lid.
BOOM came the door, then the THUMP of a hard heel in a coarse-worn shoe on the stone.
“Wife! Monni! I’m here!”
Monni didn’t look at the door. She had something important to do.
“Wife! Monni! I’m home again! Look up, will you woman? Look up! I’ve brought back things again, worthwhile things from the wide world out there! I brought things – look, foods and stones and sticks! I’ve brought news – weather, gossip, sights I saw! Look up from that dusty mud-corner of yours, small wife, and pay attention to what I’ve done out in the big world.”
“Hello. You are not my husband,” said Monni. She looked up.
Monni didn’t like looking at the giant man. It encouraged him.
“There you are – I almost thought you were gone away, gone for good into that small world of yours,” he said. Then he laughed, because he liked his own jokes the best. “A pinch of dirt and water and some fire thrown in after. Do you do anything else? My world is the real world, and it is the widest world, the world that eats you alive if you don’t watch and turns you into real leather if you do. Yours is a little table that I can cross in a step.”
“If I can put it on my table,” said Monni, “I can shape anything into anything that will ever be.”
The giant man laughed at that, scratched himself, and walked out the door. As he left, his heavy feet trod on the caterpillar’s body again, just for the fun of it.
His plans for the night were the same as always: eat, drink, sleep, wake up early and repeat. Somewhere in there he would decide to come and annoy Monni again.
“People like those pots of yours,” he’d told her, over and over. “You should make them give you more. You could have feasts every night and morning. You could have a house six times this one’s size. You should listen to me – I’d take care of you like that, as a husband.”
“I don’t care,” she’d told him. And he didn’t listen.

“He just won’t listen,” she told her brother Morra.
“Well, what if you yell?” he asked. Morra was there to pick up the most recent batch of pots Monni had cooked up, to take them down to the village. Every week Morra came hiking up the trail to Monni’s lonely house, and every week he came back up with some food. Unlike the large man’s food, this was things Monni could eat.
“I’ve yelled, I’ve screamed, I’ve whispered, I’ve cursed. He won’t listen.”
“Huh,” said Morra. “What if we all told him to knock it off?”
“He won’t listen.”
“Well… what if we won’t listen to him? How’d he like that?”
“He doesn’t care about it,” groaned Monni. “He’ll just talk and talk and talk. His mouth’s so big, no wonder he’s always hungry.”
“We have to talk to him if he wants to get any business done in the village,” said Morra. “Those furs of his won’t turn into food on their own, and I know for a fact he’s too lazy to like hunting more than he needs to. He’ll have to lay off of you or starve himself down to a manageable size.”
Monni made her mistake here. She opened her mouth to say that maybe you should be careful around giant men, especially hungry ones with inflated opinions of themselves and easily-needled pride, but then the idea of a miserable thinned-down giant man filled her head so temptingly that she closed it again. It was too fine a thing to pass up.
“Sure,” she said. “Try it.”

The giant man came walking into the village on his long, long legs the next day. His belly had been full of meat and bone when he finished his morning hunt, but now it was empty again and he would rely on his dangling fistful of furs to replace it. He was a greedy thing, but he held enough self-control in himself to leave the little bits of fuzz and fluff alone, for promise of greater meals later.
“Here,” he said, as he threw a fur to Old Mabil. “Take this! It’s fine, it’s fierce, it will warm you well! Now give me your meats; I know you have extras and I’m hungry for them.”
Old Mabil looked at the giant man and didn’t say anything.
“Are you deaf?” said the giant man. “I know you aren’t. I saw you talking to your wife just a minute ago! Give me the meats!”
Old Mabil shifted a little in his seat on his step and looked over the giant’s shoulder. He cleared his throat a little.
“Well?!” said the giant man.
Old Mabil pursed his lips. “Ehh. Gonna get damp tomorrow with that cloud I see there. You see it?”
“I see it,” said Old Mabil’s wife.
“Yuh,” said Old Mabil. And he started to gather up his things and carry them inside.
The giant man hissed a little to himself and spat on the doorstep, which sizzled. He was hot with anger.
“Fine!” he roared. “You there! You have more crops than you’d ever need! I’ve see them growing in your backyard! Give me a bushel and I will give you three pelts, each shinier than the last!”
Mipli the gardener didn’t look up from his hoeing.
“Do you have dirt in your ears?” demanded the giant man. “Give me food, you dust-blown leaf!”
Mipli looked up, swatted at his eyes, and swore. “These bugs!” he said. “These insects! Pfah! They must be trying to get in at me before it’s too damp tomorrow. These bugs!” He swished his hat through the air, shook his head twice, and went back to his work.
The giant man swore, and his swear was considerably fiercer and hotter than Mipli’s, sending shimmers through the air. He stomped down the village so hard that he left little cracks in the ground, and he stood in its center like a tree all alone.
“I will fill the arms of the first person to feed me with enough furs to coat a house in them!” he yelled. “Twice over!”
The street was empty. Everyone had gone inside for dinner.
The giant man frowned. The giant man clenched his fists. And then the giant man stomped off into the hills, chewing on the bloody bits of fur that were left of his pelts. And as he chewed, he thought, and he had a LOT of chewing to do. By the time he was at Monni’s house, he was done thinking and ready to act.
“Monni!” he called. “Monni! I have a humble request for you!”
“Hello,” said Monni. “You are not my husband. You will not become my husband.”
“Oh Monni, your world is so small that you think my big world cannot change. Monni, I ask for a piece of pottery, that is all. Just a piece of pottery.”
Monni blinked. “Pottery? What kind?”
“A small jar,” said the giant man. “About so big.” And he measured a broad circle with his hands. It was small for a giant, but it was nearly big enough to hold a normal man entire. “Can you do this?”
“Of course,” said Monni. “I’ll shape it now, and you can come back and pick it up tomorrow when it’s through firing.”
So Monni worked, pleasantly surprised that her problems had vanished so quickly, and the giant man grumbled away his hungry night on twigs and stones and spite. And by midday he was at her door again.
“Is it solid?” he asked. “Will it hold without breaking?”
“It’s one of my pots,” said Monni. “My pots will hold anything, for as long as they need to.”
“Good,” said the giant man. And he left without saying thank-you, which Monni had more or less expected. It was still easily the most pleasant conversation she’d ever had with him.

The first thing the giant man did with his jar, he walked down to the village, balancing it carefully on his head.
“Hey you!” he shouted. “All you people, all you people who won’t give me food. Will you trade with me now, eh, now that I’ve got this pot for trade? I’ll give you a fair deal, I will. I’ve walked farther and more than all of you together, I’ve seen things you haven’t, and I say this is the best deal you’ll have ever heard. Come, look at how big it is! Whatever you need, this pot can hold it. I’m the only person who could carry this down from the potter, and so I had it made to benefit all you little people down here.”
The people gathered around for a bit, because they saw that was one of Monni’s wares, and they knew she wouldn’t have made it for the giant man unless he’d stopped annoying her. “I’ll trade for it,” said Old Mabil. “Could use a place to keep the jerky. Will it hold ‘em all?”
“Absolutely,” promised the giant man. “Look here!” And with one sweep of his long, long arms he tucked up all of Old Mabil’s dried meats and showed them all how tidily they fit in there.
“Will it keep my crops safe?” asked Mipli.
“Twice as much as a stone wall,” swore the giant man. He picked up Mipli’s grains a fistful at a time and they all fit in there, even with the meat.
“What about me?”
“And me!”
“Could it fit…”
By the end of the afternoon the giant man stood there with the giant pot in his arms, and after the whole village had had a turn at filling it up it was still not more than half-full.
“Well!” said the giant man. “Do you now all believe me when I say this is a fine pot?”
They all did.
“Indeed! Too fine to trade for such a little bit of food. But maybe if you try harder again tomorrow, I will give it to you. Good-bye!”
And with that the giant plucked up the pot, food and all, and ran away laughing. He ran all the way up to his cave in the high hills before he stopped the last of his giggles, and that was only as he ate his meal. He was so hungry and so rushed that he didn’t even empty out the food, let alone cook it. He plunked the pot straight into his mouth and crunched it all up in one big mouthful, belched, and slept like a stone for two days.

“Your pot broke,” the giant man complained to Monni.
“They hold as long as they need to,” she told him.
“Huh! I guess that’s true,” he said. “But now I need another one. This one will need to be bigger. At least this big.” And he measured a very big circle with his hands, one easily bigger than he was, and he was not a small man.
“I can do that,” said Monni. And she did, and the very next day the giant man came and picked up his enormous new pot, with big handles on the sides for his big hands to grip. But he didn’t go down to the village with it, no. The giant man was not stupid enough to think that those people would fall for the same trick twice.
So instead he waited until dark, and he crept down to the village, making only the smallest stomps with his enormous rock-hard feet, breathing only a little bit heavier than a spider.
He went to the fields, and he took his pot off his head.
“Now pot,” he said, “you do your job properly.” And though it didn’t have ears Monni’s pot obeyed him, because that’s what Monni’s pots did. It did its job properly, and when the giant man scooped up all the fields around the village and dumped them into it, it kept doing it.
When the giant man scooped up the fishing weirs down in the river and dumped them into it, it kept doing it.
When the giant man scooped up the berry bushes and dumped them into it, it kept doing it.
Only when the giant man had carefully plucked the last oak tree free, acorns and all, and dropped it into the pot did it fill up. And it didn’t spill a single thing all the long windy way up the lost trails to the high hills, where the giant man was once again unable to restrain himself and ate the thing entire in a display of no manners whatsoever. He belched loudly and slept for three days straight before he awoke again – still hungry!

“Your other pot broke too!” said the giant man.
Monni was at her table again, her back to the door.
“Well? Can you replace it?”
“My brother came by this morning,” she said. “And he told an interesting tale.”
“Oh?” said the giant man. “I hadn’t heard of anything interesting happening around here. I travel far and wide, and all the great things were far away when I saw them.”
“He said that the fields were empty of crops.”
“The crows, I warrant.”
“He said the river was near-dry, and fishless.”
“Ah, this drought, this drought! Let Old Mabil say what he pleases of the damp, damp is not wet, and dew is no rain!”
“He said that no berries remained on a single bush, and that the trees for acorn-flour were all gone.”
“Squirrels and bears, or the other way around. The bears especially – mark my words, last year was a poor year for berries and now they’re on the craze-eating again, hungry things. Their pelts are most fine again, though!”
“And the funniest thing,” said Monni, “was that all up and down the village were little tiny holes, pick-pick-pock, as if someone had been stepping on their toes all over the place. But they were much too big to belong to anyone that lived there.”
“Huh!” said the giant man. “How strange.”
Monni stopped turning her table.
“I will need a new pot,” said the giant man. “This big.” And he held his arms out as wide as he could, so that he could’ve hugged a whole family of himself if he’d wished it.
“You need a new home,” said Monni. “Far away.”
The giant man frowned. “You make pots,” he said. “Make me a pot.”
“No. Go away.”
“Make me a pot now! It’s what you do! It’s all your small world is good for! What do you care about what I do out there in the big world, the real world, when you live in here and do nothing but poke at mud!”
Monni said nothing. But her table started turning again.
The giant man frowned. The giant man clenched his fists. And the giant man reached out and grabbed Monni in one hand and her work-table in the other and ran, ran, ran like the wind, over and away, far away from the low hills where Monni lived, up through the far hills where no one lived, and up and up and up and up into the high hills, where he lived in his cave, which was where he put Monni. Far away in a dark corner at the very back was where her table was, and the giant man piled up many rocks between her and daylight.
“There, you see?” said the giant man. “I am a kindly person, and will be a good husband to you. Look, I have brought your little world with you, so you can put yourself away and go back to being happy!”
“You are not my husband,” said Monni. “And I have nowhere to fire my clay.”
“Monni my wife, I wish only the best for you,” said the giant man. “I would hate to see my wife come to harm with a hot fire! Better to concern yourself with small things, soft things. Do not worry – I will take all your creations and fire them up safe and sound for you, and I’ll even pick out which ones I like first and do you the favor of discarding all the other rubbish. What if you made something sharp and cut yourself – or me, eh? No, I’ll do all those decisions for you. Now make me a pot big enough to hold hills and forests or you’re not getting dinner!”
Monni sat there in the dark. And as she sat, she thought, and she had a lot of thinking to do.
But Monni was a much faster thinker than the giant man was, and that’s why he didn’t have time to see that she was up to something before she answered him.
“Fine,” she said. “But I’ll need a lot of clay. I’ll make it with thin walls, but that’ll only go so far. Get me as much clay as you can carry, and I’ll shape your pot for you.”
“Good, good,” said the giant man. “I know a place far away, farther than you’d ever dream!” And within an hour he was back with armfuls of warm red clay.
“I’ll need water, too,” said Monni. “You left all of my supplies back at my house.”
“A good spring is a mere day’s-travel away for a smaller man than me,” boasted the giant man. Soon enough he came back with enough to make a pond with.
“Now go away and let me work,” said Monni.
“Fine!” said the giant man. “Good! Great!”
But he only went just outside the cave mouth, because he didn’t quite trust Monni. And as he waited, he thought to himself of pots that could scoop a range of hills in a single sweep, or drain lakes, or swallow the sky and all its birds. And he licked his lips.

“How’s it going in there?” asked the giant man after a little while.
“Fine!” said Monni.

“Is it almost done?” asked the giant man some time later.
“No, not yet,” said Monni.

“Aren’t you through with that pot yet?” demanded the giant man.
He waited.


The rocks took some time to move, but the giant man was in a hurry and flailed impatiently. As he threw stones aside, his hand touched something soft. Then the light came in and oh my, oh my his jaw did drop as he saw what Monni had made. The pot was complete: a pot that could hold mountains, empty oceans, and drain the clouds away as soup. It was soft, it was still damp.
He saw what Monni made. He did not see Monni.
“Where are you, my wife, Monni my wife, my wife?” he called. “Hiding from your husband? I will have to beat you if you do such things!”
And he listened, and he listened, and he heard a small shuffling sound. And as he heard it he thought he knew what was happening and he smiled. Monni was hiding in the pot!
“A good spot to scurry, my wife!” he called. “A very good spot! But large as it is, I will find you! You’re not used to this sort of size. I live it! Every day I live it and love it! You are small, and all alone in a big place, and this is why I will always catch you! So!”
And the giant man tore a great hole in the side of Monni’s giant pot and lunged in after her, swinging his arms and shouting. But right away he landed face-first in something soft and familiar.
“Another pot?” he asked. “Monni my wife, you cannot hide from me that way! You’ll only hem yourself in smaller and scareder! I’ll have you later or now, but I will have you. Stop running!”
And so the giant man tore another hole in the side of the smaller pot, and he rushed in, straight into a third, and then a fourth, and a fifth. Pot after pot after pot were tucked inside one another in Monni’s giant pot, and they curved away and away no matter which direction the giant man tore. Soon he’d doubled back on himself to try and find a way out, then tripled, then quadrupled.
And as he shouted this Monni smiled and stepped out from behind the giant pot, where she’d been quietly waiting all along in her usual place at her stool, behind her work-table.
And Monni put her hands to what lay upon her table, and she shaped it.
It was not easy, but Monni’s craft never was. The clay fought her – it whirled against her fingers, it groaned, it screamed, it whined – but it was on her table. And if anything lay upon Monni’s able, she could shape it into anything that would ever be, from the very large to the very, very, very, very, very small.
And when Monni’s hands had done their work, all that was left was a squat, ugly little thing that resembled the unfavourite offspring of a jar and a bowl.

Things got better. They usually do. Trees grow back. Rains come again. Fields fill up.
Monni went back to her home, and went back to making pots for other people. The ones she wanted to make, the way she wanted to make.
The first one she put into the fire after she got back was a funny choice though, her brother told her, and not typical of her skill.
After all, how many people would want a half-cracked chamberpot?

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