Unfinished Symphony, page 4
‘Dear elephant, the goldfish does not remember like you my friend. For him each moment is new, painted fresh. He stares in wonder as every morning the sun is born out of the deep blue lake. Every night he watches the moon climb gracefully into the sky. A sky filled with giant fluffy animals. You see the gold fish is blessed with the sight of a child and the world around him never stales. His bitterness, his grudges, his problems float away like clouds on the breeze, never troubling him again.’
With that the lion turned and began to walk away from the lake towards the grassy plains leaving the elephant alone with his thoughts.”
“That was an excellent tale Polly but I’m afraid all this talking has made me hungry.” William stood and offered Polly his hand. He helped her to her feet and then he reached down and collected her shoes. He led her away from the water’s edge and back towards the camp.
Together they entered the camp and Polly was conscious of the stares from the other young girls and watched as they now took notice of the young man by her side. William pointed towards the horse pen and what looked to be the cart that nearly ran Polly off the road.
Asleep in the back and cuddled like husband and wife was Archie and Skinny Pops. William laughed and Polly joined in. The sun was shining bright and the warmth from Williams hand seemed to reach inside her, she looked up and watched as the clouds seemed to melt away.
His power faded with each step, the warm sunlight draining him. Feet tired, moving through sludge, thick heavy sludge, his brow slick with sweat. The man moved amongst the shadows as best he could but he knew he must stop, he must feed, his strength failing. Stopping in the shadow of an old oak tree he reached into his coat removing his trusted violin.
His fingers ran up the dark black neck, caressing the silver ridges. He grasped and formed a c note and then he placed the violin into the crook of his neck. His other hand held the bow and he pulled it down across the strings sending out a mournful sigh. Casting his net far and wide he played a beautiful song, an enticing song.
Lost in the music he was not aware of how much time had passed. It was a rustle that drew his attention. He looked up, a dog. A large red setter crept from the bush in front of him. His red coat shined and his friendly eyes settled on the man playing his song. The dog barked a greeting and the old man’s hungry eyes did nothing to frighten him away; the music now had a hold. The dog padded forward.
“AH my sweet, would you care to dance?”
The old man continued to play as he stood. The song he played increased in its pace and tempo as he began to stamp his feet. The dog began to jump and bark like an excited puppy, forgetting his years, chasing his tail as he had done many years before. Faster and faster he went. Round and round, why couldn’t he catch it? His barks turned to whimpers as he realised he could never catch it, the tail was his but still he tried.
Running, panting, running, panting. Round and round he went as the music cut through the sounds of the forest. Colours began to rise out of the dog and the tall man leaned back, opening his mouth to drink in the song. A snack, it would sustain him.
The old man tasted the colours as they entered his stretched gullet. His violin slowed, the beat stopped as his feet became still. The dog collapsed in a heap. Its lustrous red coat was now devoid of all colour. An old weary dog lay before him.
The sound of a twig snapping broke the silence and the old man looked up, he caught movement in the trees and watched as a young boy ran away. Fool, again his hunger had caused him to act rashly, too early. If only he had waited instead of settling for that old mangy mutt he could have dined liked a king. Feeling refreshed he watched as the child ran away, he knew he could catch him now his strength was returned. He detected the subtle hints of the song he sought. Decisions, decisions, the tasty morsel fleeing through the trees or the delicacy for which he had come?
He decided to leave the small boy fleeing through the trees and sprang off in pursuit of his prey, leaving the dog alone.
“Now Polly.” Archie seemed to address everyone as he stood. “I think you will agree that our good friend Mr Pops has been a most agreeable host. The banquet he provided well, I think our empty plates say everything and then to provide us with a bed.” He burped and Polly closed her eyes. “As I was saying the empty beds show us what? What indeed? Yes. As a host, anyway, I must bid you all a safe journey and a good night.”
Archie fell back into his chair and smiled a lob-sided grin. His eyes searched around the room and then another burp escaped his mouth as his head fell forward, hitting the table with a satisfying thump. Soon his snores could be heard echoing around the table.
Polly and William excused themselves from the table and walked over to the fire in the middle of the camp. The settlement had already divided along comfortable and familiar lines. The older teenagers sat around the far side of the fire strumming a guitar and trying to steal some of the closely guarded moonshine. The small children, tired and wary of the encroaching darkness, curled on the parents laps and listened to old stories. Young couples wondered off to the lake in search of privacy and a glimpse at the stars in the heavens above.
Polly and William sat down at the edge of the fire and watched as the flames danced and hissed and cackled, listening to the song it sang. The table they had dined upon was folded away with great care, everything cleaned and packed away. The chores finally complete, the audience around the fire grew. Musical instruments were passed around, everyone was encouraged to play. Polly ended up with an old battered tambourine and poor William was given a triangle to strike.
They played a wonderful lively song, William and Polly joined in with their own instruments as the older men dictated the song with their fiddles and harps. A voice pierced through the music and seemed to speak straight to Polly. She looked around for the singer and there swaying dangerously close to the fire and still clutching his bottle of hooch stood Charlie the Tooth, his fine voice rising and falling with the melody of the song.
The music played on and on, a number of people rising to take centre stage. Each song telling a story, how they travelled, why they travelled, what they believed. The music spoke of friendships forged through hardships, the rolling hills, the cold nights. Some songs were nonsense, some songs were rude and some songs were just ridiculous. One young boy stood up and sang out the instructions for tent-building; another young girl sang the recipe for pea and ham soup. An elderly woman, barely able to stand, with a clear and strong voice sang the story of creation.
Skinny Pops stood and the music began to fade.
“Tonight we have fed and entertained as is expected of our people. Wandering hills and valleys has taught us the importance of a kind turn. We have shared our fire and our songs and we offer our hand of friendship to our guests, nay, to our brother and sister. The hour is late so off to bed with you all.” Skinny Pops walked over to the place were Charlie the tooth had fell asleep. He lifted him with great care and carried him to his cart, Charlie still keeping tight hold of his now empty bottle.
“Come on Polly.” William said as he stood. Polly gazed up at him. She was pleased her adventure had led her to this camp. As she stood all the members of the camp approached, they took her hand and with a kiss they welcomed her as a sister. Polly had never felt so welcome.
“I can show you to your bed” William said. “Skinny Pops has found you a bed in with old Jenny, it’s mighty comfortable and she is a wonderful old dear but I was wondering. I’ve got to do the watch tonight. The weather is mild and we can get it nice and warm. When I do the watch I sleep under the cart so even if it rains you won’t get wet and I was just thinking that as you …”
“I would love to stay with you.” Polly answered as William smiled back at her, the darkness hiding his embarrassment. She watched as Skinny Pops lifted Archie into his arms. “I don’t think he would miss me anyway. Come
William began to relax as he led her towards the edge of the camp. He pointed out his neighbours and amused her with stories. They came to the edge of the camp and William stopped in front of a brightly painted wooden cart, it was dark blue and it was edged and highlighted with silver. She marvelled at the intricate detail, gargoyles, angels, animals and trees were all chiselled into the wooden frame.
Williams’s mother popped her head out of the door and offered Polly her own bed.
“Only if you is sure my dear, now William you look after the young miss and you best be honourable” she said handing them a bundle of blankets and a hot flask filled with hot chocolate.
William arranged the sheets on the floor under the cart and then poured Polly a cup of hot chocolate as she climbed underneath.
“Are you really going to stay up all night?” Polly asked.
“No, I don’t think I could even if I tried. Every cart provides a watcher and we all sleep under the carts. We just lay down with our ear pressed to the floor. See.” William lay on the floor and pressed his left ear to the floor. “Try it Polly, lie down and pop your ear on the floor, just like I am.”
Polly lay down and pressed the side of her head to the floor. She couldn’t hear anything it was just fuzzy and muffled.
“William you can hear everything” she said.
“Really, I’m glad you’re staying with us tonight you must have really good ears. I was just feeling for the vibrations. I think we’ll be perfectly safe with your ears tonight.”
William began to pat down the covers and made a couple of bedlike shapes, not ideal but she was looking forwards to sleeping outside. Polly stretched out and found it to be quite comfortable. As she pulled one of the covers up and around her she felt all the weariness of the day descend on her aching limbs.
“William, can I ask you a question? Do you sit around the fire and sing every night.”
“Of course we do, those songs are our history. You see we don’t get to be reading much, only the pastor knows his words real well. So, that’s how we learn, through our songs. We tell our tales and learn our lore. Everyone plays and every one sings no matter how good or how bad, it’s just our way.”
“I imagine that’s a nice way to learn, much better than going to school.”
“I don’t know sometimes I wish that I could go and read about aliens and moon rockets. I know how to do my basic adding up but that’s all. School doesn’t sound so bad to me, wearing a nice smart uniform and being called master. I think I would suit being a master. But I suppose it always looks better than it is and singing is our way and we do alright by it. We have tales you know, old tales about songs, magic songs that keep away boggits, fairies and snooys. The old still sing them to the young before bed, it protects the little uns and the camp. Sometimes I don’t think it true but sometimes when I am down here on my own, well, I am still mighty glad they sing them. Now you make sure you be sharpening them ears. Goodnight Polly.”
Thoughts span round and round Polly’s head, there was no way she would get any sleep tonight. She listened to Williams snores and soon her own were added as she sunk further and further into the comfort of sleep.
“Polly, we must go.” Archie whispered.
Polly’s eyes struggled to open, it was still dark. She arched her back as she stretched and gently moved the covers away from her body. Polly crawled out from under the cart and continued to stretch as she stood, she reached out with her hand and pulled Archie down.
“Archie we can’t just leave. We can’t just go without saying goodbye” she said careful of raising her voice as she spoke into his ear.
“My dear child I did converse with Skinny Pops last night, I explained the danger we are in. These good folk have a name for my brother and their songs speak of him. They know him as Abaddon.”
“From what I have seen Archie he is definitely a bad `un.”
“No, no, my dear, that is his name.” Archie chuckled. “A bad `un he is indeed. Anyway they have songs to ward him off and keep their camp safe but the sooner we leave the better it will be for us all. They will not be caught unawares, not now, but we still cannot stay and we mustn’t delay.”
Polly looked under the cart at William still fast asleep, so much for springing into action when he felt the vibrations. It was a good job the mothers still sang to ward off evil because if all the night watchman had Williams’s reactions the camp would be over run before he had even stirred.
Polly asked Archie to wait and ran off into the trees. Careful to stay near the edge she foraged and collected as many wildflowers as she could. Removing one of her bobbles she fastened it around the bunch of flowers and she then pulled her hair tight into a pony tail using the remaining bobble to tie it tight.
Polly climbed back under the cart and looked at him sleeping, his wonky haircut poking out of the top of the cover and she placed the flowers alongside him. It wasn’t much, just her way of saying thank you. She edged out from under the cart and stood, Archie had begun to walk towards the line of trees and she ran to catch him.
They headed towards the river and Archie, having saved some from the banquet last night, passed a bread roll to Polly. It was wrapped in a napkin and Polly found to her delight that it was still smeared with butter. Archie then handed Polly an apple and a small canteen a tasty mixture of water and elderflower. They broke their fast as they walked through the forest and with her belly full she watched the forest come alive as the sun climbed into sky warming her.
The trees began to thin and they came across the rivers. The water undulating with the gentle breeze, waved at her as it rose and fell. Tiny suns blinking at her from the top of each crest as it caught the reflection of the bright yellow face, twinkling like Christmas tree lights.
“Polly you look radiant. I think that is the first genuine smile I have seen on your face and I do believe our sister sun is looking down in envy.”
Polly didn’t realise she had been smiling as times past played in her head. Before her mother has passed away they had come down to the river’s edge. Under the summer sun they had spent the day laughing and swimming; diving in and out of the waves, trying to catch fish with their bare hands, chasing ducks. She felt her smile pulled down by a weight in her stomach, pulling her heart string. She remembered her mother, chasing her in and out of the water, smiling and laughing; a laugh that seemed a stranger to her eyes.
“Memories, they can be bittersweet can they not? Still, they should be cherished, both the good and bad, for it is them that mould us. Make us who we are. We each carry a song, a song that stretches throughout our lives. At times it can be a crazy polka” Archie said and stamped his feet and waved his hands. Then he turned in a circle with his arms held out “at times a gentle waltz. There are times also, sad times, when it sounds like a drum beating slowly. These are hard times Polly, these are times when we are lost and most in need of laughter and song. Memories my dear can restart the song, dwell not on the sadness but on the laughter, for laughter is by far the best medicine for a tender soul.”
“Archie, my father, I think, well, I think that his song might be broke. I know he loves me but since my mother died he doesn’t seem to laugh or sing anymore and I miss him, well, miss the way he was.”
“Polly, your father, like you, has his memories. Your smile was radiant and then the sadness crept in. Her passing doesn’t change the times you shared, the happiness of that day you remembered. That is yours. You need to share these times with your father, make him see. You can restart his heart.”
They walked the edge of the river, going upstream, against the current. Every so often Archie would stop and listen and then continue. The morning was spent following this course.
“Polly this is no good, on and on the river seems to stretch and frankly I am tired of walking” Archie said as he look
A shape broke through the surface as it leapt from the water. Polly recognised the beaver as it gracefully landed on the shore and began to dance, chattering at Archie. Soon it was joined by seven more and the noise became deafening as they danced and sang along with Archie’s violin.
Archie continued to play and began shuffling his feet, he then span around and stamped a little beat. The beaver in front copied the old man, he span around and then stamped his feet. Again, Archie performed another dance which all the beavers then copied before turning and diving into the river. They shot off at a great speed, the water rippling in their wake. Polly’s eyes followed them into the centre of the river and then they vanished as the dived deep into the water.
Polly searched the surface of the river, waiting for the beavers to resurface. Her eyes spotted movement on the horizon as a boat seemed to be heading in their direction. It was a tiny wooden rowboat and Polly strained her eyes looking for the occupants but it appeared to be empty. It was then she spotted the rope at the front pulled taut as the tiny beavers towed the boat towards the shore where Archie and Polly stood.
“My dear, on a warm summer’s day it is the only way to travel” Archie said. He had stopped playing and was watching the beavers bring the boat towards the river bank.
The beavers emerged from the river with the rope in their mouths and the little wooden boat scrapped softly against the pebbles as it came to rest on the bank. The eight beavers waddled towards Archie, they started chattering loudly, jumping and flipping backwards. Archie laughed.
“Very well my good man, a song is a fair payment” he said addressing the beavers “and I am sure Polly would be delighted to dance in your company.”
Archie began to play, stamping his feet to add a beat. The beavers began slapping their feet on the floor adding their own percussion. A beaver stepped towards Polly and bowed an invitation to dance. Polly curtsied back and then twirled around to the sound of the music, her blushing cheeks soon faded as she began to enjoy the music and the beavers all surrounded her, slapping their feet, dancing and flipping backwards.