The long journey from nursery to rhymes was fraught with heartless atrocities inflicted on those that built the heart in the first place. It was an old story but then, they all were, weren’t they?
The Pharaoh had ordered the fingers chopped off every workman’s hand, that had chiseled and pulleyed and caressed the stones that would pay homage several centuries past to the important dead royals. So also, the petty workers, the small masons of imagination were destined to fall and be crushed under the feet of grander ideas that flew on the wings of classroom marks.
The writer, he sat, in deep comtemplation of the worthiness of his works. He was writing a prologue, a worthy diatribe on how he hoped to make the ugly world a little better, with his ideas. All at once, an image intruded into his mind and made the words, thus far marching in perfect order, run into one another. He growled in annoyance and then looked about furtively. Loss of control was not permitted in his world and what was he, master of imagination, if he could not control his own mind?
He took a deep breath and exhaled softly. Balance, balance, balance, he chanted to himself. Extreme actions led to disarray. That had been the subject of his book. Moderate politics, the need for the middle ground. But just as he got to that part, the image flared up again.
With a howl of frustration, he realized a little man was standing in front of him.
“Who are you?!” he thundered.
“Don’t you know me? You remember us.”
He wrung his hands, trying to say something that would not unleash the panic working its way up his throat. He wanted to yell that he had no idea. But how would that look, admitting that a total stranger had materialized right before his eyes, inside his own house? His reputation for cool rationale, for objective viewpoint would be completely ruined if he admitted to such things.
“We are not strangers, Jack.”
“Who…who are you?”
“I’m Jack, too. Come on, you do know us. Don’t be so strange. Don’t be a stranger!”
Jack gulped, looking at the other Jack. Yes, he did know the man. It was impossible but he did remember. A flash of nostalgia, not entirely pleasant swept over him. It had been years, many, many years.
“We used to be your favorite poem, Jack. Till you decided that you only wanted to read the big people.”
The little Jack stared back accusingly at the big Jack, his words forlorn. The plump matron behind him waddled forward and took his hand. She had been there all along but they’d been standing so close it was like they were one person. With a shock, Jack (the bigger one), realized that she was at least thrice the size of Jack (the smaller one).
“How did you get here? I mean, what are you doing here? I had forgotten about you.”
“It was a difficult journey. First the sea of words that came and washed us all away. And then troops of rote-learning. But the real monster was the scourge of routine when you left the walls of learning.”
A loud harrumph sounded next to the little man. Jack patted the lady’s arm and continued.
“Walls of learning, indeed. Barbaric marauders, all of them. Such a peaceful, fertile land we all lived in, until you let those horrors in. We lost most of our numbers in the first ten years.”
Jack could barely believe what he was hearing but he sat transfixed, rooted to his chair and a hapless victim to the visions that the other Jack was running before his eyes. Yes, yes, he could see the atrocity of cramming in all those new ideas, dislodging the previous tenants. At that time it had felt exhilarating and he hadn’t spared a thought for what was being scattered. His mind, after all, was not a container but a bottomless sea that could house many different beings.
“Yes, maybe. There was enough space at least initially” said the other Jack, clearly seeing the big Jack’s thoughts swim through the visions he was conjuring up.
“But,” he continued, “They didn’t seem content with that. They had to vanquish every one of us, obliviate us from your memory in order to exist. An idea that eats up another idea isn’t an idea at all, it’s a parasite! And you let a horde of them take us over!”
“The right idea won out at the end. It’s the way of the world. Survival of the fittest.” said the Big Jack.
“Ah, that one. That’s one of the Darwin guy’s pets, isn’t it? And what did he know of imagination? What did he do except live with his head in the past and explain how things were then? What good did that do to your kind?”
“He was right. The better idea won, after all. If it couldn’t stand the test of reason, it didn’t deserve to exist.”
A loud gasp escaped the fat lady and the little Jack quivered in his miniscule shoes. When he spoke again, it was in the gruff voice of his grandfather.
“Bite your tongue, boy! A warrior will kill better than a poet. But a treasurer will pull a kingdom through famine in a way the warrior never will. Have you forgotten even that one? The golden edict?”
Jack’s puzzled expression grated on Jack’s nerves but he patiently, if not petulantly enunciated,
“There is a place for everyone in this universe.”
It was simple, it was profound and it was true, Jack knew that. In fact, wasn’t that the very premise of his new book? An acceptance of differences, embracing the variations rather than trying to do away with them…that’s what he prescribed as the way to govern the new integrated world.
“Finally. HMMMMMMPP. He used to be-HMMMPH-such a bright boy. Took him this long to get here. HARRRUMMMPHH”
The woman’s harrumping seemed a tad more sensible now as they were more words than sounds.
“Okay, yes, you are right.”
“I’m sorry. Very sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Hmph. That. Hmmph. Much. Harrum. Is. Hmph. Obvious.”
“Give him a chance, m’love. He’s coming around.” The other Jack patted his wife’s meaty arm with his bony fingers.
“But how did you get here? How did you survive?”
“Like, I said, it wasn’t easy. The soldiers threw us into jail first. But I passed through the bars easy-peasy and got us out of there.”
As he spoke he turned and the big Jack could now see that in profile, the little Jack was lean to the point of flatness. He was no more than a card, a paper cutout of a man.
“We hid inside your sleep and only one of us would get out at a time, to forage for food or a way forward. You see, we’re only visible when we’re together. All those times, you woke up and your guard-thoughts passed us off as stray dreams.”
“But how did you get out of my mind?”
“That was the nub, it was. We almost got caught. We nearly ran headlonjg into a mountain of rational thinking. But that’s where my lady showed her true worth.”
It was rather difficult to think of the matron as a superheroine. As Jack had that thought, a vision of her in spandex tights flashed and she directed a look of extreme hostility at him. In irritation, he swatted it away, aided by the guardian host of tidy thinking.
“None of that. I’m telling you the story.”
“So what happened then?”
“I wrapped myself around her waist and she dropped her apron over me. And then we rolled down the mountain. As you can see, she’s well suited to rolling evenly.”
The grin he gave his wife, was one of pure devotion and the lady, brimming with rage only a second ago, was all smiles again.
“But what about the last vestige of control?” said Jack, picturing the foot soldiers at the base of the mountain, the impenetrable (or so he had thought) fortress that no beings such as Jack should have been able to penetrate.
“Gave her a full search, didn’t they?” chuckled the other Jack. The lady was laughing too now, trumpeting in bursts.
“When they felt around her waist, she jiggled so much that it alarmed a few of the guards. Then she said that she had always been chubby and the last few meals that you had been having, especially the lobster, were causing extra tyres and other strange eruptions. Which is why she had to get out of your consciousness before she burst.”
Jack was stumped. He had had a splitting headache when he woke up that morning which he had put down to too much of rich food for dinner and lunch the previous day. Obviously that was the very time, the renegade Jack and his wife had been outwitting his carefully erected barricades. He sighed.
“You are asking us?”
The lady Jill trumpeted at him but her look was triumphant.
“Okay, okay, I know.”
“Yes, it’s about the book, isn’t it? That’s what has been missing. Opposites can be complementary.”
“Yes, look at the two of us, Jack. Weren’t we meant for each other?” said the other Jack, a blissful look on his face as he kissed Jill on her meaty jowl. The other Jack nodded and turned.
It took him a fair bit of searching but when he finally found what he was looking for, in the back of his son’s cupboard, he knew exactly which page to turn to.
Jack Spratt could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so between them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean
When he returned to his desk, the couple had gone. Back into his imagination, ensconced in their rightful home with all correct formalities. He turned to his work. That prologue would not be needed now. He scrolled to the top of the document and deleted the bold line right at the top. He had a new title. He typed it in and read it. Then he backspaced and interchanged two words. The lady had saved the day so it was only proper she be mentioned first.
A Meal For Jill & Jack Spratt hit the stands two months later.
Epilogue: I’m picking up a series I begun a good while ago called ‘I Am Jill’. Those of you who didn’t recognize the reference, it’s inspired by the line “I am Jack’s cold sweat” from the movie Fight Club.