Our gift to you - a beautifully written gem on the magic of storytelling.
Under the Oak
by Nicky Goodman
There was pleasure, praise, solemnity; horror, pain, and tragedy, drinking from the watering hole at Double Indemnity Creek. They began gathering; filled terracotta urns, burned Frankincense in the shade of the Oak and waited for a storyteller to spread her quilt out on the green. She came, her gait slower than usual, her red hands resting on her guts, her patchwork hanging from her shoulder - and she asked a little one to take it, shake it out, and make it smooth on the soft ground. Soon, men, women, and children from the river felt the sun hotter on their backs, heard the sign that the story was waiting, left their eyes on what they had been doing, and took their ears up the slippery banks. Some exchanged quiet greetings with each other; all found a comfortable spot or a square of the patch, and all waited quietly.
"Big Mother," a child's voice called out. "Why are your hands so red, there, holding your tummy?" and the child's mother shushed the child and scolded, "Hush! Listen with your ears, your mind and heart, child! Now is not the time for the questioning." The child, grumpy, closed eyes tight but placed little hands on a small swollen stomach, sweetly full of sherbet lemon dips bought with a coin from the weekend treat stop at Miss Felicity's general store in town.
From the eldest bough of the Oak, golden in the sunlight and moving to and fro in the breeze, was a rope swing. The child's Grandfather had weaved the rope from luscious grasses, and had dried and burned fourteen strands with wax and fire. And Grandmother had plaited seven in each, making two ropes for the wood plank of the swing. So well it was made that it had lasted lifetimes, and Sam, fed up with waiting, opened both eyes to catch the prop swinging in the breeze.
"Mother! Can I play on the swing while we wait for the story?" and the cheekiness raised gasps and whispers amongst the resting crowd. "Hush child!" the mother scolded, "By Jupiter be still! Now is not the time for fooling around. Peg your fluttering tent to the ground, and wait." The child, ashamed, looked down, and at exactly that moment another child, knowing that it would vex little Sam, got up grinning from a little square patch and sat on the plank of the swing. Sam, distracted by the movement, glared at the child and forgot the quiet.
"Mother! That’s not fair! Why can she play on the swing while I have to sit still, here, fiddling with stones?" Sam's mother, tired of these outbursts, raised her arms to the sky and cried, "By Neptune, little one!" but said not another word. Sam, black with grumpiness, closed both eyes tight to it all, and couldn't help but wish she'd fall.
Stubborn little Sam kept both eyes firmly, and then less firmly shut, until dancing light sparked and petalled each eyelid with trails and shapes. Sam heard incredible music lifting these patterned lanterns into the future, and forgetting a bad temper, smiled at the pictures created. At exactly that very moment, a nomadic old man and his friendly dog came upon the group under the Oak. He had brought boiled eggs and loaves of bread; glanced at The Mother, and shared them around to all at the gathering. Sam opened eyes and was delighted. A ravenous appetite had hit while dancing with eye-lit-lids, and after eating plenty, Sam pulled a golden thread of wheat from tiny teeth, and rested happy hands on a small, savoury-sweet potbelly.
"Mother! Mother! Life is beautiful!" Sam screamed, and the company, mouths full of egg and bread, laughed and laughed under the tree, until the leaves laughed along too, and the boughs shook, the trunk chuckled with fun, the earth moved, and the world spun.
When the gathering quietened and the tree stilled, the storyteller, with red hands resting on her guts, shifted slightly on the quilt. With expectation, all eyes and ears turned and fixed themselves on her open mouth, but not a word came out. Instead, a sigh; a deeply exhaled breath hummed around the crowd and stilled all noise. She lifted her red hands from her guts, rested them face up, and from her palms Sam's very own eyelid dance appeared in full, all seen, there in the palms of her hands - birds, monkeys, lions, snakes, and all the wonderful beauty, there in front of the eyes.
"Mother! Mother! Can you see it? It's fantastic – a wonderful magic show under the Oak!" and Sam's mother smiled, touched both shoulders and said,
"Hush, child of mine! I can't see wonder as you do!" and Sam's heart sank and nearly broke in two. "But, by Love, I do know child, it is you who is wonderful..." and Sam blushed deeply, and then smiled too.