Storytime: The Builder.

September 30th, 2015

Humphrey was a small boy. Humphrey was a quick boy. But you’d be forgiven for not noticing those things, because above all else Humphrey was a quiet boy, as soundproofed as a padded room and as slender as a needle. He was so quiet that his mother couldn’t concentrate with him in the house; the sheer volume of his silence was fit to drive her up the wall. Then one day she watched the boy trip and hurt himself without so much as an ‘ouch’ and that was the last straw.
“It’s not helpful to do that,” she reproached him, bandaging his knee with one hand and swatting him with the other. “It’s not healthy to keep all your troubles bottled up inside. Nobody likes a whiner, but no-one, and I mean NO-ONE, loves a martyr. You’ve got to get all this off your chest or you’ll live in its shadow your whole life.”
Now, maybe it hadn’t been noticed because of his being such a quiet boy, but Humphrey was also a very literal boy, and he felt at his chest and was a bit confused and annoyed that he couldn’t find anything there. Still, there was something to what his mother had told him. He had to take all the bad things in him and get them out.
So he went down to the creek, and pulled up a nice thick wad of clay. And he shaped it and kneaded it and wrote ‘MY MOM DOESN’T LIKE ME’ on it, signed it ‘HUMPHREY,’ and waited for it to dry in the sun.
And then he dropped into the creek and went home, feeling better already.

Humphrey grew, and what’s more he grew garrulous. He and his young friends laughed and yelled and ran up and down all day and his mother began to miss his overwhelming noiselessness. So she consoled herself by yelling and cursing, and maybe one or two more swattings.
Splish, splash into the creek went ‘I’M A PROPER HELLION’ and ‘I WAS TOLD TO HUSH UP OR I’D GET A THICK EAR.’ Humphrey was getting good at them now; they were proper bricks in shape if not in matter. Which was good, because they were just the foundation.
Teenage years came in. ‘ZITS’ and ‘UGLY’ and ‘TOUCHED BAD THINGS’ went out, plunk clonk clank. Humphrey acquired and learned to operate a small potter’s oven, then upgraded to a bricklayer’s old furnace.
“Where do you spend all day?” his father asked him suspiciously.
“Dunno,” said Humphrey. That evening, ‘LAYABOUT’ and ‘LAZY GOOD-FOR-NOTHING’ and ‘UNGRATEFUL’ were placed.
By the time Humphrey’s schooling was nearing completion, the tower had begun to attract some comment. Many of the neighbours were complaining that it was obstructing their view, or their property rights, or both, and so Humphrey’s parents were sent down to the creek to reason with him.
“Knock it off,” his father told him, kindly.
“Please don’t do this, sweetie,” said his mother, angrily.
Humphrey flipped two more bricks on top of the new battlement and gave them the finger, then went back downstairs to his furnace.
“College’ll fix him, don’t fret,” said his mother.
“Or a good day’s work,” groused his father.

Humphrey didn’t go to college. Humphrey didn’t do a good days work. But he DID work on his tower, day in and day out. ‘A BIRD POOPED ON ME,’ was a proper huge slab, and it soon had seventeen siblings. ‘FUNNY LOOKS FROM PEDESTRIANS’ was another. ‘PARENTS THREATENED TO CALL LOONY BIN’ made a great balcony.
Then one day, as Humphrey was about to hoist up ‘A NEIGHBOR LOOKED UPON ME WITH FEAR IN HIS EYES’ to its new resting place, he stopped, considered it, then broke it.
‘PEASANT DARED NOT PAY PROPER RESPECT’ went up instead, and things started to go a bit downhill.
Those were Humphrey’s salad days. The tower rose, and the people fell under its shadow. Its literal, very large shadow. Petitioners came to his door; at first only farmers who begged that Humphrey’s darkness not fall upon their fields and stunt their crops, then mothers who wanted to scare their children straight; politicians who wanted a rival’s house blighted of sun; summer-poached quarry workers who pled for shade; neighbors from the north who pined for the endless night of their childhoods – for a few days.
Every morning Humphrey held court from fourteen hundred feet, his face a mask of patience. And every evening Humphrey slaved in his furnace, sliding out ‘BORED BY SERFS’ and ‘BESET BY INSOLENCE’ by the barrelful. And the tower grew taller, and the lines grew longer, and the shadow grew deeper.

At age thirty-five Humphrey-on-High was the most urgent and pressing threat to a free world that humanity had ever know. His tower was visible from eighty-five percent of the planet’s surface, and its shadow all that plus another fifty percent. The gifts to appease his wrath, the valiant efforts at undermining or exploding his structure, the carefully-reasoned arguments, all had come and gone and been put into another round of bricks, and some people were beginning to get worried. If nothing else, Humphrey’s average life expectancy would have his tower getting too big for the structural integrity of the earth’s core to support before he retired and REALLY got crabby.
And it was then, at the peak of his power and his arrogance and his contempt, that Humphrey-on-High stood upon the heights of his grievances and his throne of troubles and looked down and heard absolutely nothing.
“Who’s doing that?!” he snapped.
An extremely small girl stepped back in that way children do: trying to look innocent, yet preparing to run.
“Quit being so quiet near me, I can’t hardly think,” said Humphrey. “What are you doing here anyways; I’ve half a mind to loom at you and your family unto seven generations for this persnickety truculence.”
She shrugged. “’kin’frrks”
“SPEAK UP,” yelled Humphrey.
“Looking for rocks,” said the girl, a little louder. “Pretty rocks.”
“These are my rocks and you can’t have them,” said Humphrey. “Go home. Go home and find your own rocks. You can’t, because they’re all mine everywhere. Go away.”
“Dnseeyrnmnem,” muttered the girl.
“SPEAK. UP,” suggested Humphrey.
“Don’t see your name on them,” she shot back.
Humphrey was so enraged he did a little dance as he ate at his beard in sheer, pants-scrabbling fury. “You little BUGLETTE!” he screamed. “I’ve been insulted and angered and punished and pummeled and abused and agitated my WHOLE LIFE and I’ve NEVER FORGOTTEN ANY OF IT and it’s ALL. HERE. And now you doubt it? You doubt ME? I’ll show you!”
And Humphrey raced, raced, raced down to the bottom of his tower of resentment, down the dark miles and rotten corridors, through forgotten vaults of vehemence and buried tombs of fumes and at the base, at the deepest pit, at the groaning center of its deepest dungeon, he found mud and a soupy sort of lump. A kind of child’s version of a rectangle, not even mud-fired.
THUMP THUMP THUMP up his tower ran Humphrey, feet slamming home like bats against fresh fruit, and at the pinnacle of his anger he held the brick high and read it aloud.
“MY MOM DOESN’T LIKE ME,” he yelled at the top of his lungs over the slow roar of mortar-on-stone, leaning forward into the syllables. “HUM. PH. RY!”
The little girl squinted up the ages of the gloomy, creaking tower at the little blob, slowly dissolving in his waving hand.
“That’s IT?” she asked.
And as Humphrey opened his mouth to shout her dead on the spot, his eyes flickered across the old, old brick in his palm, and it did look awful small and strange to his eyes, much smaller than he’d remembered.
But his heart hardened. This was something he had to get off his chest.
“Yes!” he said. “This IS it! This is ALL it! These are my troubles, heaped high and true, and I will NOT keep them inside!”
And at that moment the stone underneath his foot turned its slow coughing into a sudden wheeze, and Humphrey found that all his problems were suddenly very small, very fragile, and a long, long way away.

It was pleasant for a while afterwards, in a way nobody’d ever seen before. Just being in the sunshine was enough to make you smile. But people move on from everything, even the good things.
You can’t just dwell on them forever.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.