Thursday, 12 February 2009

A Love Story

High on a hill was a lonely goat who was getting on in years. Day after day he would roam the dry cliffs, chewing meditative scraps of yellow grass. There were hardly any birds in these parts, and reckless human adventurers never paid his mountain much attention. Day after day the sun shone palely overhead and always sank without a murmur. It snowed in winter, a few sparse flakes. Then again, every season was winter there.

To be specific, he was a Bernese Mountain Goat. He was really very alone.

One morning, as he was partaking of yet another meal of dry grass, the goat felt a curious thing. A sharp little spasm passed through him; his hoofs tingled, and his tail twitched. At the same time an odd feeling welled up in his lungs and, not knowing what to do with it, he let it go. A low moan unlike any sound he had ever heard before tore itself from his throat and went cascading down the steep ravine, striking off the rocks, resounding dully on the bones of the earth. Space shattered at the impact of its pain. It was, like it sounded, the cry of a dying being. For many years he had been slowly dying, and now his heart was finally broken.

The goat, being a goat, did not know this. Immediately lapsing back into his usual state of indifference, he wondered if something was the matter with his diet. For he certainly felt sick, in an uneasy sort of way. He couldn't exactly grasp what, but something was wrong, yes, something was not there which ought to be. It was like indigestion, he thought, but in the wrong place.

While this observation was passing through his brain, he heard something. What was it? What could it be? You see, except the clip-clop of his hoofs and the screech of kites passing in the night- and the wind howling in the pines, the crackle of twigs, and the soft swish of snow on his pelt- he was quite unacquainted with sound. And this was, unbelievably, the sound of another living creature. He struggled to find order in his thoughts. Over the years he had almost forgotten that other entities besides himself, the mountain, and the sky existed- could exist. Now, the last atom of consciousness fell into place. He turned and looked down, down, deep into the ravine, suddenly knowing- knowing- that there was someone there, hiding in the shadows. He was not alone.

"Can you hear me?" said the goat.

"I can hear you," said the someone.

"Where did you come from?" said the goat.

"I was always here," came the reply.

"I never saw you," challenged the goat.

"You never looked."

A pause. He considered this argument.

"Would you like some grass?" the goat offered.


"It's a nice view from up here," he tried again.

No reply.

"Of course," faltered the goat, suddenly unsure of himself, "it's very quiet at night... not that I mind. And sometimes it's cold too, but you get used to it. There's plenty of food..."

His voice trailed away. Still, there was silence. A waiting silence.

"Will you be my friend?" the goat whispered.

"I am your friend," his friend whispered back.

Silence, as this new feeling sunk in. A cricket chirped nearby. The mountains were still.

"Will you come live with me?" said the goat.

"I am with you now."

"Why can't I see you?" said the goat.

"I am only an echo," said the echo.

Silence. The goat did not know what an echo was, but it did not seem to matter much at the moment.

"I love you."

Silence. The wind rustled through patches of wild furze, but it had no voice. The cricket had stopped chirping.

"Will you stay with me?" he asked.

"I will stay with you," came the reply.

The goat stepped up to the edge of the cliff and looked down, far down, but there was nobody below.

"Come up," he called into the vast emptiness, "Come up and stay with me."

"I am only an echo," said the voice. Sadly. The goat found that he knew what sadness was. It told him what to do.

"I love you," he said simply. Then he stepped forward, off the edge, and disappeared into the chasm.

There are no more Bernese Mountain Goats on that hill. As for the last one- he found what he had been searching for in the darkness of that ravine, falling in space towards something greater. The certainty of hope. A moment of peace. In the end, he knew he wasn't alone anymore. In the end, he knew how to live.

The one he loved kept her word. She went with him and was never heard of again in those empty gorges and desolate woods. Somewhere, they are still together. Somewhere, a once-lonely mountain goat has found happiness.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Ecstasy, Agony

The boy liked making paper planes. Their clean streamlined shapes stood erect on his palm, wings quivering, ready for flight. He hated to let them go. Even on the most promising gust of wind they would only glide a few feet, hovering over the terrace parapet for a moment before fluttering brokenly to the grassless field below where every neighbourhood boy except him played cricket. Next morning they were scraps of litter waiting for the ragpicker to arrive.

The newly-rich novelist crossing the street stopped to stare at the glossy stacks in the bookshop display window. A bronzed young hero, the male lead of the movie adaptation, smiled off the front cover of the current bestseller. A banner overhead screamed that this was the book version of the famous award-winning movie, now on special sale. The author did not dare pick up a copy. Maybe the very words in it had changed, as had everything else. Passing by the window, he walked slowly home to where yet another royalties cheque was waiting for him.

The old woman grumbled to the few callers she had about the difficulties involved in keeping a garden. A horde of eager grandchildren on a weekend visit had dragged her, protesting, to the tiny patch of earth behind the house, and together they had worked the earth, sowing sunflowers and magnolias and tender sweet pea blooms. Now the children's visits are few and far between, and spring is late coming. The grandmother spends her afternoons on the cold porch, a walking stick clutched in one arthritic hand and a shawl in the other. Ragged patches of grass have taken over the little garden and the flowers have given way to weeds.

...And on the final day, the artist judged his work and found it beautiful. Breathing life into it, he let it walk, then run, then fly. Far away it flew, beyond the vision of its creator, and lived, and grew, and flourished. And then one day it died, uncared for in all its independence. The maker, berated by his creation's last breath, had nobody else to blame. Even today you can hear him suffer.