Storytime: Seed Money.

August 22nd, 2016

Teacher En was out of money again. This was unfortunate, especially since she was in a bar, and doubly so, because she had just drunk it.
“Pay with your wallet or with your kneecaps,” the barkeep kindly informed her.
“A fair offer,” she said. “But I’ve got a better one.”
“A better one what?”
“I’ve just told you that,” said Teacher En, a little irritated. “A bet. I’ll bet you I can take this old bar nut from the deepest crevice of your floorboards and grow it into a tree that soars higher than any may have ever imagined anywhere.”
The barkeep was interested despite herself – it had been years and years since there’d been a tree to shade the front stoop and cool away the fierce noons – but she was wary of old weird wanderers and deadbeats besides. “I accept your bet,” she said, “but on one condition: me and my sons get to do whatever we can to stop you short of uprooting the thing and throwing it away.”
“This is fair,” said Teacher En, and they shook hands and right then and there Teacher En stepped out the front door one two three four strides and moved some dirt with her thumb and plonked down the old bar nut. Just as she moved to sweep it back over, she paused for a second and leaned close to the little hole.
“Get a move on,” she whispered. And it was buried.
“Now it’s my turn,” said the barkeep. And she called her sons, her three big and variously fat sons, and all of them unzipped their pants and turned the little dimple in the soil into an (extremely acid) latrine.
“A good bet,” the barkeep told Teacher En, “but maybe not a wise one. Tell you what: you can do the washing-up tonight, if you’d like. If you’re good at it and keep going for the rest of the week, you can pay with that instead of your kneecaps.”
The old woman smiled. “Kind of you. It’s been too long since I’ve dealt with a good dish anyways.”

The next day the barkeep woke up early from the shouts and hoots outside. She emerged with an itch in one hand and a scratch in the other and had to blink for a good five minutes before the sight in front of her made any sense: look at that, a whole seedling had sprung up out of the soil. A foot tall and stretching for the sun.
“Now how’d it live through that?” she asked, and asked, and asked, but nobody had an answer until they leaned down close and saw the waxy coating of its form, sealing outside from in.
“Well, you’re a cleverer person than you look,” she said to Teacher En, who’d just finished last night’s dishes and was setting the washcloths out to dry on the railing. “But it’s my turn now.” And she and her three big and variously fat sons went over that seedling with tweezers and peeled and plucked every single strip of bark from it until it was as soft and naked as a newborn.
“Nice try,” the barkeep told Teacher En. “Your turn.”
The old woman squatted down next to the seedling and turned over its biggest leaf and carefully put her mouth to it.
“Hurry up now,” she muttered, and let it be again.
A shout from indoors came; the morning had begun, and there were new dishes to be washed.

The next day the barkeep woke up late, hung-over from a round of self-congratulation. She staggered outdoors with an ache in her pants and her head and hurt her nose pretty badly on the sapling, which was now ten feet tall and covered in thorny barbs on a layer of bark that could’ve been used as a warship’s hull.
“How’d you do that?” she demanded of Teacher En, storming back inside. “Do you have people out there switching trees on me every evening?”
“I travel by myself with myself only,” said Teacher En, who was shoulder-deep inside a particularly stubborn mug. “And sometimes I leave myself behind to get some peace and quiet. Feel free to stay up and keep watching, but if you’ll look at the soil, you’ll see nobody’s been digging out there all week.”
“After today we won’t need to check,” vowed the barkeep. And her three big and variously fat sons fetched her stepladder and she went up there and plucked every single leaf from the crown of the sapling, and snapped off many of the smaller green twigs.
Then they went in before rush hour started, and only just made it. Teacher En had to help wait tables to keep up. But that evening she walked down to the sapling, and she bent down to the nearest knothole.
“Rush it up,” she scolded. And was done.

The next day the barkeep woke up early because it was so quiet. Deathly quiet. The air was still and creaking.
She tiptoed downstairs past arrays of – surprisingly well-cleaned – mugs and bottles and over a freshly-scrubbed floor and stepped out into a small crowd of morning regulars, each and every single one of which was staring up dead-eyed at the tree.
It was big, but hard to measure. Over a hundred feet tall everything looks the same. The fresh green leaves waved mockingly.
“Right,” she said. “That’s it. Bring me the pitch.”
It took many, many buckets and the three tallest ladders in town, but by evening’s dimming the barkeep and her three big and variously fat sons had coated every inch of the tree they could reach with pitch. As the sun set, fire spat and clawed its way up its sides like hungry cats.
“You’ve been a good employee,” the barkeep told Teacher En, as she took over the shift in the dying light. “But I think you’ve got a poor knack for gambling.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” said Teacher En. And she took her break there, which she spent sitting next to the blazing trunk and warming her hands. As she sat up to head back in for the dishes, she leaned in close to the embers and the roots.
“Walk it off, finish up,” she sighed.

The barkeep woke up at her accustomed hour. She walked downstairs and nothing was unusual. She was so on edge that she nearly jumped out of her skin twice over, and it came as a great relief when she looked out the window and saw the largest tree she’d ever dreamed in front of her building, blotting out half the sun and waving cheerfully in the breeze.
She sighed, half-disappointed, half-relieved, and she and her three large and variously fat and entirely confused sons walked over to the till where Teacher Enn was counting out the cash and told her the bet was won.
“Yes,” said Teacher En with a grimace. “I did bite off more than I could chew, didn’t I? Well, I’m half-done the week already, so I suppose I can pay you through that rather than with my kneecaps.”
“But how have you failed, teacher?” they asked her. “Your seedling has grown all out of recognition and sense in every way.”
“Yes,” she said. “But it has completely failed to fly.”

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