Sunday, 12 October 2008
Just an old chair
This happened not all that long ago. A man called Sedgewick lost all that he had in the recession. He lost his job, his wife left him and all he was left with was his wits: the clothes on his back, a book of folktales that once was his mother's and an old wooden chair that was once his father's and the cat used to sleep on. Now this cat, Grimalkin was once kitten to that old cat who lived with Sedgewick's father. Because Sedgewick had the chair, Grimalkin went with him.
Sedgewick, having lost everything took what he had and decided to go out into the world and seek his fortune wherever it may lie. First the winds blew upon him and chilled him. Then it rained upon him and a dog would have gone for him, but Grimalkin hissed, stood his ground and then chased the dog away. You can imagine that after all this, Sedgewick was ready for the hail and the snow to have a go at him too. Instead, the sun came out and he took his way through a wood. The path was muddy and slippery after the rain. Sedgewick made his way silently, because although he felt very unhappy he felt that if he cried he would be giving in somehow. He did not intend to cry, but to be stoical and find a way to make a living somehow. Before the recession he had been a clerk in a small office and he was not highly skilled, but he was willing to put his hand to all kinds of work. He also had a fine singing voice and now, as the sun filtered through the trees and lifted his spirits a little, he sang to keep him from feeling too lonely.
After a while he came through the trees into a large enclosed meadow with a small group of trees in the middle of it. Grimalkin headed straight for the trees, he could smell his lunch there. Sedgewick put the old wooden chair down in the sunshine and sat for a little. He was starving and tired and felt a little sorry for himself. He was about to open his mother's book when an old woman appeared out of the clump of trees. She wore a green dress with a red apron and had a strangely wild look in her eyes. On her back she carried a bound bunch of kindling. Instantly Sedgewick got up and greeted her, offering her the chair and asking if he could help to carry her kindling for her. The old woman handed him the kindling and sat.
"It's not much of a chair I'm afraid," Sedgewick apologised, "But at least it's comfortable enough. I'd offer you something to eat and drink, but I'm afraid I don't have anything at all," he added.
"Humph!" the old woman said and whistled twice.
She took from her apron pocket a small box and opened it up. From inside, she took a table, a loaf of bread, a pot of jam, a hunk of cheese and three tomatoes. She dug deep into the box, though it looked very small and pulled out a bottle of wine and two fine glasses.
"Well sir, you brought the chair, so I provide the food," she said.
Sedgewick thanked her and called Grimalkin who came from the clump of trees with his eyes gleaming like two suns and his fur all over the place. In his jaws he had a pheasant he had killed. He gazed at the old woman and Sedgewick could have sworn that the cat seemed to raise an eyebrow - or would have if he'd had one. Grimalkin said nothing however. He crouched and tore at the pheasant hungrily, while the old woman offered Sedgewick a glass of wine. Sedgewick took it, for he was starving, but suddenly, Grimalkin pounced and swiped the glass from his hand. The cat sat upon his friend's lap and yowled low and dangerous at the old woman.
Sedgewick was shocked and tried to soothe the cat, but Grimalkin growled and yowled at the old woman. He even went so far as to hiss at her. The old woman watched him for a moment, her eyes narrowed as if she were thinking of eating the cat. Then she poured another glass of wine for Sedgewick, but before he could take it, the cat had swiped it spilling the wine on the ground. The old woman reached for Grimalkin, but the cat hissed again and she thought better of it. Instead she handed Sedgewick the bottle. This time however, Sedgewick had begun to wonder and he politely refused it. The old woman laughed then and changed. Her age fell away and Sedgewick found himself gazing upon a tall slim beauty with dark hair and green eyes.
"You have a good friend in that cat," she said softly, then, "As you have managed to refuse my wine three times, all the dark magics are removed and you have been so kind to me, you may have of me, three wishes," she added.
Sedgewick thought for a moment and wished Grimalkin could talk for he was clearly a wise cat. Grimalkin then stood on his friend's lap and whispered in his ear.
"My second wish is that I may have ten thousand wishes," he said to the lady.
She laughed and wagged her finger at the cat, but agreed to that. Sedgewick wished for warm clothing and a cushion for the chair. He wished for a strong umbrella and strong boots. He wished for food when he needed it for both himself and Grimalkin.
"Will you not have wealth?" the lady asked him.
"I had that once my lady, it was good while it lasted but it eventually ruined me," Sedgewick replied.
Instead, he wished for good, true friends and the ability to play music. He wished also for a guitar, a flute and a violin.
"Let them always be renewing themselves so that the guitar and violin never need new strings and the flute is always clean and clear," he said.
The lady gave him his wishes and handed him the little box.
"Whenever you are hungry, open it up and take all the food you want. But take out the table first, or the food will turn to ashes in your mouth," she told him.
He thanked her and asked her what he might give her in return. She asked that he carry the kindling for her and he was about to take it up when Grimalkin mewed. The lady laughed and curtsied to the cat.
"I do swear I will not harm either of you," she told him.
Sedgewick carried the kindling and followed the lady across the enclosed meadow and through the wood until they came to another meadow by an ancient well. There the lady took the kindling from Sedgewick and thanked him. The kindling turned to a glorious pavilion and the lady whistled twice. From under ferns and over branches; from behind rocks and toadstools all kinds of strange characters appeared and entered the pavilion. Soon music was heard - wild and wonderful music with dark, dangerous notes woven within it. Sedgewick marvelled, but Grimalkin called to him and he followed the cat from the wood.
Before long they came to a city and there, amid the grey hardness and the bleak lonelinesses, Sedgewick and Grimalkin made their home. They would play music for anyone who would care to listen and travelled from pub to pub, street corner to street corner to cheer people up through the recession. When he met others who were starving he would invite them to join him for dinner. They would come and find a wonderful table laden with the finest food and the loveliest of wines and nobody ever went hungry. Thanks to Grimalkin, the little box was never stolen. Sometimes at night, on a rooftop or in a square you might see them. Sedgewick serenading the moon while he sat on a stone step or the edge of a fountain and curled up on the cushion on the old wooden chair, a tabby cat who murmured strange secrets in his sleep.