Dedicated to the BORED and the OGRE.
|“I am bored. There is nothing to do – only rain, rain, rain, ... and more rain.” Rose said.
A gentle breeze moved the grass into flowing waves, the intermittent mist rain of the last few days soaked into the earth. In the weeping willow tree, pairs of wet sparrows sat preening themselves. The rosebush held a spider's web, where a few drops grew in size and fell to the soil with a splash.
In the living room, the log fire burned with a welcome heat. The various game pieces; snakes-and-ladders, Monopoly, and pick-up-sticks, lay where the kids left them.
None of these registered into Rose's mind, her eyes stared into the distance, not taking anything in.
“What are your plans now - getting married or finishing school?" Pat sprawled all over the settee. “I would get married to a handsome prince, if any were around. I will still be in that horrid school for three more years, then - freedom!”
Rose slowly registered what her sister said. She turned away from the window.” I am sure anything with pants on would take your fancy Patricia, and why would I want to become a slave to some disgusting pig. Prince - my foot!”
Almost talking to herself, she muttered softly. “I want more than being a cow. There must be more to life than what we have here. More than what Mother has; food, sleep, and popping a calf every year. Being judged like some common stock. I really do not want to be a cow to one of these ... these … what can we call them, as I would insult a pig, to call our local gentry, pigs.”
“Not all men are pigs Rose, some, like Father, and Sir John, and even the Preacher Jones, are decent. Also a few of the boys at school do behave themselves rather well.”
“Yes, my Sister Dear, because they smile at your prettiness, you think that they are being polite? Why, only last week, did you not come home, all upset about what Billy and his friends called you, names, and being horrible to you?”
“They are not all like that … “ Pat replied weakly,
“They are, and you encourage them with your slutty behaviour, all coy and shy. Who are you fooling? Definitely not the Billy-goats.”
“You know you are not allowed to call me that word... MOTHER!”
Mother came into the living room; “Now, how many times do I have to ask you not to carry on like banshees. What is the problem, Pat, is the house burning down – or worse?”
“Rose is calling me names again, Mother!” Pat put on her best 'poor me, I'm a baby' face.
Susan smiled inwardly, she knew the battle between her eldest siblings has been rehashed, over and over. As always, this storm in a tea-cup will escalate into a full scale battle if not stopped in time. Putting on her stern face; “You ladies know better as to be calling each other names, this is no way to act, and you know it. What is the problem?”
“I did not call her names, I said she acted like ….”
“Not true, she called me a slut!”
“I did not!”
“That is enough! Patricia, go and help Helen with the washing, now, not later, go now.” There were times when the girls knew when to put up a show, and clearly, this was not the time. Pat slunk off to help the charlady.
“I did not call her names Mother, I said she acted like one.”
“You know it is not fair to do that, anyway ...”
Rose interrupted. “I'm bored Mother, I'm bored out of my skull. Is this all there is to life; rain, and washing and ironing, and feeding? Is this what I have to live for, for the rest of my life?”
Rose left out the part about the calves, as they were a large family, and although there was not a 'calf' every year, there were six in twenty years. For some reason, which made no sense to Rose, she knew her mother was very proud of her brood, and no one would dare demean anything or anyone.
“Idle hands, my girl … to start your healing, please pick up all these toys and game pieces and put them away. And no, there is more to life than this. We will have a talk on this a bit later.”
“Yes Mother.” About the devil and idle hands, Rose must have heard it a thousand times.
Lunch was served and all the young children retired for an afternoon nap.
Mother went to Mother's-room, where only the invited were allowed. Yards of material went in and came out as a dress, a shirt, or some form of usable item. Mostly the invited was measured up, (Rose always had Frankenstein in mind, making new parts for his monster) and soon after, the invited was the proud owner of a new garment.
At lunch, Mother had asked Rose to join her after lunch. Everyone knew there would be a talk, and privacy was required. Even the Master of the house respected the sanctity of the room. As a matter of strange fact to the kids, they had never seen their father enter Mother's room.
Mother sat in her recliner, knitting, yarn turning into socks, and the stitches never dropped. Never did Mother bother to look where the knitting was going, click - clack, the needles moved, a sip of hot chocolate in-between, and the conversation flowed.
“Rose, do you have any plans, as your basic schooling is done? Soon you will have to decide where you want to go with your future. As you are plainly not interested in a beau at the moment, or seem to be sure of what you want, can I suggest something?”
This was not a question to be answered, Rose looked at the needles, then at her mother, almost mesmerized, and listened.
“When the rain stops, I want you to take a picnic basket out to the woods and spend the day there all on your own.”
“The woods ... I thought it was forbidden for us to go there alone? Do I have to take anything with me, Mother?”
"It is time for you to face the forbidden, the instruction is for the young ones, and not for young ladies who have to start facing things. I will ask Helen to pack a special basket for you. Only you, the basket, and a blanket, nothing else. Do wear a pair of decent walking shoes and sensible clothes for a field outing. Maybe, at the end of the day, you may have an idea as to what you want to do. Not everyone is content to be a mother, or cut out to be one. I hope you find your answer out there. We will talk again my girl.”
Although Rose did not quite understand all of the talk, she knew it was special in some way, and rushed over to the window to see the first rays of sunshine peeping through the clouds, as if her mother willed it. She waited in anticipation, maybe she was going to see the burning bush, and all she saw was the faint outline of a rainbow.
The next morning, at sunrise, Rose was up and looked out.
There it was, the perfect day, and with unusual vigor, she set about doing her morning chores. As the eldest, she was responsible to supervise the younger children. Each able bodied child had assigned chores to do. Even if it was only collecting chicken eggs under the supervision of Rose. It taught appreciation of the softness of certain things, and the total joy of being the first to bring in the news of the new born chicks.
Rose, suitably dressed for the outing, collected her basket, and set off to the woods. The closer she got, the bigger the trees became. She never realised how old and how big these trees were. From home, the trees always looked small, almost insignificant. All the kids were told from a tender age, never to venture near these trees. Stories of all nasty things, even monsters, were hinted at.
The nearest tree seemed even more gnarled and aged than the other, it drew her closer. On a few branches, the white markings of some bird droppings were clear, as if someone was reckless with a can of white paint. The grass was almost lawn-like beneath the tree, and she spread her blanket out over the grass. She placed the basket on the one corner of the blanket, in the shade, near the trunk as Helen did ask her to wait till she reached the trees before opening the basket. It was supposed to be a surprise, almost like a birthday party for one, and as she had worked up quite a thirst, she could hardly wait.
She rubbed her hands together from the redness from carrying the basket. At the last part of the journey, she started swopping hands frequently. She sat on her haunches, and removed the dowel rod from the lid, and she closed her eyes to surprise herself to the full vision of what treasures were packed into the basket, the aroma that permeated from the basket, promised many delights.
The wait was well worth it. With the lid fully open, Rose removed the top linen cover cloth, which was bordered with quaint stitched flowers, as she had seen her mother do it so well.
Then… savoury delights, the likes of which she had never even seen in Helen's over-abundant pantry, all wrapped up individually, only for her. There were sweet, salt, spicy, with herbs, a feast for a princess, which she felt like at that moment. The small thermos flasks; one cold lemonade, the other with her favourite herbal mint tea, and a third with chocolate drink, as sweet as can be. She sipped, tasted, all in good time, each flavour savoured, as a connoisseur would. There was no rush.
Rose found a small white bag on top, almost like a tobacco pouch. It had a lollipop embroidered on the outside, and inside were six lollipops. Attached was a linen note, on which the words “for visitors only” were written. Puzzled, Rose put the bag to one side, her mother had said, to take things as they came, and not to question, only observe.
Even a well will be filled with one pebble at a time, and Rose was well filled. She lay back against the massive trunk of the old tree, closed her eyes, and the sounds filtered into her mind.
The breeze whispering through the leaves, birds talking about their daily things. Somewhere an owl was hooting “Who.”
Rose thought it silly, owls “Woo”, not “Who”, and then she answered “Who, who.”
The owl answered clearly and closer “Who?”
Rose thought to tease the owl and called “Who goes there.”
The owl answered clearly “Well, I asked first - Who?”
She froze in body and mind, she knew it was the owl that spoke, no doubt in her mind, yet, an owl? Slowly she opened her one eye, and then the other, and sure enough, there on the painted branch, sat a massive owl, looking at her this way, then that way, as if to weigh her up as a potential meal.
'Well, at last we meet, Missy Rose. Well, speak up, I am not a mind reader, you know.”
“Who are you?”
“Woo, I am Woo, as was my father, and his father, as far back as there is time, we are all called Woo. I have known you all your life, as I know all your family who has lived on this land, well back into time. Well, how are you?”
“I am fine Sir Woo, I must have dozed off. Would you like a sweet, or something?” Immediately Rose felt rather a fool, offering an owl a treat. She had the idea - this was only a dream - and it is fine. Anything is possible in a dream.
“Well, now that is awfully nice of you to offer, thank you Missy Rose. Well, I do not have much of a sweet tooth” at which the owl winked, Rose could swear she saw a smile. “If you were to have, by any chance, a tasty piece of chicken, or maybe a chocolate mouse?”
She started sorting through the items still in the basket. There was a drumstick, in wax paper, and with tiny bowed ribbon. She unwrapped it, and there it was - raw? She got to her feet, offered Woo the drumstick...
Woo took it gently with his claw, “Well, thank you, Missy Rose, this sure looks delicious. Be sure to thank the cook for me.” He proceeded to rip pieces out and swallow these down.
Not to be a bad hostess, Rose took a savoury item for herself, and nibbled at it almost mouse-like. She thought to herself - what a strange dream to have
“Is it true what they say about owls?”
“Well, is what true Missy Rose?”
“If an owl hoots around a house it means someone is going to die?”
“Well, that is an old wives' tale, Missy Rose, there may be a mouse or two, if the owl is lucky. Many strange things, humans say about us. The only truth is, we eat mice and rats, and I have family in other countries that would catch bigger prey.”
“And about you being all wise, owls are supposed to know everything, Sir Woo.” In amazement, Rose saw Woo swallow the last remnants of the chicken whole, a slight ruffle of his feathers and he mock-started grooming his feathers.
After a few feathers were tended to, “Well, I have no wisdom, other than what my mother and my father taught me. First is; to tend to myself always, because I must be in the best condition to be able to fly. I need to fly to provide food for myself and my family. Well, secondly; when I decide upon something, I must be sure it is the best I can do under the conditions, as a mistake will surely hurt me. When I see prey, I must know I can catch it, and not it catch me. Well lastly; I must listen to my inner voice, as it will never lie to me, and Mother Nature will speak to me through this voice. Telling me if the year will be a good year or a lean year and accordingly we will plan our family.”
“You do family planning, Sir Woo? A person needs to very clever to know about such things. You really know if it will be a good year or not?”
“Well, in future - believe - believe in what you see, what you can judge from what you see. I have a cousin who lives in the barn at your home. Every spring, go and count the eggs, if there is one or two, and the cats and rats did not take any, be sure, it will be a lean year. If there are many more eggs, it will be a good year. And if there are none, see if my cousin is still around. Well, things sometimes go wrong, that is another truth. Then you know, and you too, can be as wise as an owl” and then Woo really gave a woo-woo-woo laugh, and Rose joined in the mirth.
She, be as wise as an owl, very funny. she thought.
The basket was visited a few more times, a few more chicken pieces went Woo's way, Rose nibbled more. Then she asked a question which rested heavily on her mind, “What should I do with my life, Sir Woo?”
“Well, what do you want to do, what is your dream, what would make you happy, Missy Rose?”
“Dreams ... I have made plans, I have never had dreams, where would one find a dream, Sir Woo?”
“There is one who keeps dreams, and he lives deeper into this wood. What you have to do, is take the bag of lollipops there,” and Woo pointed his point feather at the bag with the lollipops, “take one out, pretend to eat it, never eat it, only pretend, and then you have to follow your inner voice. The voice will lead you, listen well to it. And Rose, do not eat any lollipops.”
“Do not concern yourself with the blanket and basket, I will see to them. You should go, as the day is getting shorter.”
She took the bag of lollipops and put it into her pocket, and started walking deeper into the trees. As she walked, she became aware of footsteps which followed her, she stopped, and there … she heard the steps more clearly. She went behind the trunk of a tree to hide. Sauntering was a person coming her way. The person went past the tree a few steps, then stopped. She flattened herself against the tree, hoping to melt into it.
“Ah, I smell you, I smell the lollipops, you can come out now, and I will not harm you.”
Rose was afraid, still, inside herself, she knew that this person would not harm her. She stepped out from behind the tree. There stood a person, somewhat shorter, and much stockier than herself. And as for looks, and the only nice thing she could see is that he was shorter than she.
“Your first ogre, little girl?” Growled he, not too loud, only to intimidate her, because he had the aroma of lollipops in his mind, and wanted those delights.
“I'm not your little girl, I am Rose. I have heard about ogres, although I have never met one. And I am not afraid of ogres.” All of this with as much bravado as she could muster at that moment
“Welcome to my world, Rose, can I have a lollipop?” The direct approach, the ogre has not had a decent lollipop in a long time, and the smell was there, they were good, very good.
“Are you the one who has dreams? I was told I would find someone here who would be able to help me.”
“If you give me a lollipop, I will tell you, and anyway, I must know if these lollies are worth anything. Maybe they would be too sweet or too sour, and I would not want to trade for those.” The ogre's mouth started salivating at the mere thought of the lollies, as all his senses told him, these were quality. He knew lollipops.
Rose thought about it, it sounded fair; still, she was not totally sure. “How do I know I can trust you, you may grab my lollipops … “
The ogre's pride stepped in. “Me, a common criminal - young girl? I am a merchant, and I trade dreams. I am allowed a fair profit for my wares, why, there are people who would pay very dearly for a dream. Here you come with lollies! If I were a criminal I could hit you over the head with a club and make off with your wares.” Then softer “Anyways, Mother Nature would get to hear of it, and I will be in trouble.”
Things were slowly becoming clearer to Rose. “How would Mother Nature know, there is no one to see us?” She felt the value of her wares, and her safety, were more assured.
“There are eyes everywhere, you can look around and you will see them. Even you cannot steal my dreams. You can barter with me for a deal, and we will agree. A dream for your lollipops that is how we do it here.”
She looked around, and then she saw eyes -- squirrels, robins, thrush, quail, and more, all around, all going on about their business, yet, it seemed as if they were eavesdropping.
“Were do you get these dreams?” Rose was now relaxed, and she thought. It is only a dream, there is no harm.
Ogre thought about the question for a while. “I catch rainbows.”
“You catch rainbows - rainbows are not dreams?”
“True, yet - at the end of the rainbow is a dream. Most people know there is something precious there, and most people would dream of a pot of gold. In fact, anyone who knows how, can catch a rainbow in a pot, and it would become their dream. People had the art long ago, then they lost it. Now only my family, we kept the art alive. We are the sole distributors and traders of dreams.” Ogre was impressed with his speech, as he did not get many opportunities to deliver it.
“All people have dreams; you trade with them all, why you must be very rich?” Rose meant the compliment.
“Not all people have dreams, and some rainbows are smaller than other. Or less bright, or there are the multiple ones, it is not every one who wants a dream, or who barter for it. I do not want gold or riches, what will I do with those? I want value, good stuff, things which will make me happy, such as those lollipops you have.”
“Good, let us talk, I want to see the rainbows, then I will give you a sample.”
They walked for a short distance and then took a small pathway though a very overgrown area where Rose had to stoop very low to follow behind the ogre.
At the other side was a massive oak tree, which had an opening on the side. Ogre had made himself a place to live, it was very basic, and all over, there were gourds of all sizes.
He took a small gourd, put it to his ear and shook it gently. “This is a small rainbow; it is good for a person who does not want too much from life. You look like you would want a bit more from life.” He took a fair sized gourd, shook it gently, and almost offered it to Rose.”Sample first!”
Taking the lollipop, the ogre set the gourd down, and with the stance of a wine taster; twirled the lollipop, sniffed it, gave it a tiny lick, and then gobbled it up, as someone starved for a long time.
He smacked his lips with glee.”Another sample.” he demanded.
She took another lollipop from the bag, “I'll give, if you give.”
As the lollipop was offered, the ogre grabbed the lollipop and popped it into his mouth and retracted the gourd. Chewing and laughing at his clever move.
“Hey, you said you are honest?” Rose was ready for war.
“Now, now, little girl, I never agreed to nothing, you held out the lollipop and I simply took it.”
More mirth and she knew she was bested. Her mind started turning over and over about her options. Then she decided. “I'll give you two lollipops for that big gourd there.” It felt if the gourd called to her, and she could see the little eyes of the ogre, they reflected; 'thinking hard'. The ogre tried to take the gourd in his pudgy short fingers, and then he took both hands and held the bigger gourd in both his hands. He held the gourd out towards Rose, who took three lollipops out from the bag. His eyes turned into saucers, as Rose put the bag into her pocket, and then took two lollipops in one hand and one in the other.
“I will give you these two in exchange for the gourd in your hands. Do you agree, Sir Ogre?”
Ogre puffed up, Sir! My, my. “What about that one, make it three, and we have a deal.”
“You agree to give me the gourd in your hands, and you get the lollipops in my hands, do you agree?”
With that, Rose placed the single lollipop's stick into her mouth, and took the other one from her other hand. Ogre looked on, and his mind saw lollipop-mouth, and he almost shouted.”Yes, I agree.” He grabbed at both the lollies, letting go of the gourd, Rose dropped the lollipops and caught the gourd, and spit the other lollipop over the ogre's head into the thicket.
Her inner voice said “RUN” and she turned and ran as fast as her legs would allow.
Ogre started after Rose, then he remembered the third lollipop and started searching for it, there he was, a lollipop in each hand, and one in the thicket, and he sat down, perplexed.
She ran as fast as she could, her precious gourd tightly gripped between her hands, holding it close to her. Once out of the wooded area, she homed in on her tree, and out of breath, folded down onto the blanket, catching her breath and looking at the gourd in wonderment.
Carefully lifting the bung from the gourd, she peeked into the opening. The rainbow poured out, the colours mixed up all round her and fusing into her whole being, in a while, all the colour went into her.
She put the bung back onto the gourd, and put the gourd into the basket. She took the flask, opened it, sipped of the chocolate drink, closed and put it away. Then she lay back, closed her eyes, and thought on her dream of her dream.
“Woo, woo, woo.” woke her, and she jumped up, and the owl flew away.
“Woo?” She called at the owl. She saw the sun which was very low.
In a bit of a daze, she packed up, and started back home.
All the way home she thought about her dream, the dream of the dream. She felt no different, only, as she looked up to the sky, there, a feeling of oneness with it. What I would not give to be able to fly up there with the birds. She shook her head. What a ridiculous notion?
She walked into the home just as the sun went past the horizon.
She went to the kitchen and put the basket on the table. She felt the last lollipop in her pocket, took it out, and put it on the table next to the basket. Frowning, she opened the lid, and took out the gourd.
Then the words hit her, Be sure to thank the cook – raw chicken, and she looked up at where all the kitchen utensils were, and there, where it has always been, a gourd, similar to the one in her hands.
Helen was busy stirring something for supper in a big pot on the stove and became aware of Rose. “How was the trip, my Dear, any wiser?”
Rose walked up to Helen and said. “The owl sends regards.Thank you for everything, and I need to hug now.” A silent hug followed, and the basket was unpacked in silence.
“Can I ask, if you could ask for anything, why are you here, here in a kitchen, and not somewhere else?”
“Life has its own way sometimes. Children were never to be mine, and I got taken in by a family who appreciates me. Where I can feel wanted and get free reign to serve as I please. It feels good to be treated as family if you never had one yourself. That was my dream, and your parents made it come true for the last twenty years for me. I suppose I was born to serve, and I do it well. I am proud of myself for that.”
“And we forget to say thank you so many times...”
“Never you mind, the second helpings, and empty plates, are all the thanks I really need from the small ones.”
“I need to see my Mother, is she in her room?”
A gentle knock, she opened the door, and peeked in. Her mother got up from her recliner and held out for a hug.
Then her mother sat down again, as did she. She toyed with the gourd, and her mother held out her hand, asking to hold it, she gave it, almost as a baby would be passed on. “Do you want to put it in your room, or you can add it to the other?”
Only then, did she notice the row of gourds above the curtain railing. She never noticed them before, and they were always there. After all, gourds are gourds, till you meet them personally. It became clear to her, this family has been collecting gourds for a very long time.
Mother looked fondly at the gourd, almost inspecting it, or seeing whether it differed from the other. She offered it back, and Rose indicated for Mother to keep it.
“Mother, I do not quite understand?” She stopped and considered how to proceed.
“What is to understand, my girl, you did get your answer?” and Rose confirmed with a nod.
“We women, not all, live for a life with a king, and a few children, and a castle of our own where we can be the queen. Your father is a fair ruler, and if a man is treated as a king in his own castle, most will behave as such. And I even have my own treasury, my room, which is mine and only mine. I am content with my dream. This is what I wanted, and what I got.”
With that, the evening supper bell was rung, and Rose again hugged her mother, and went out to help Helen in the kitchen.
There, sprawled all over the settee, was Pat, sucking on the lollipop, she treated the lollipop as if it was something totally special, as if it had hypnotized her, licking, nibbling, she seemed almost in a trance.
“Where did you get that lollipop, Pat?”
“Are there more … I would sell my soul for more of these, this is divine, heavenly, where did they come from. It is the best.”
“That is mine, dear Sister.” With that, Rose walked up to Pat,
Pat saw her coming, and was way too slow to fend off the hug from her sister, and got a kiss as well.
”Yes Patricia, what happened now?”
“Mother, Rose hugged me, and kissed me! I think she has gone mad Mother!”
“Yes Dear, and it is a good madness, you should try it one day.”
At supper it went as usual, and eventually the father asked. “Rose, I understand you went soul searching today. Get any the wiser?”
“Yes Father, I have decided to further my studies, and then I am going to fly.”
The whole family, in almost unison.”Fly?”
Father piped in. “Does that mean we will have to keep all the goose feathers for you so that your mother can knit you some wings?” The best joke the young ones had heard in a long while … and a minor riot followed as the younger ones imitated flying.
“No, sillies, fly an aero plane, a real aero plane, in the sky, up there.” And all looked up to where she was showing.
Only the father looked at his wife with a frown, and she shrugged her shoulders, and gave the mystical smile that the father could still not understand.