– Prologue –
Every Life Is Like a Seed
The Little Girl sat on the edge of the bed. She was studying a sycamore seed in a small glass jar. She called it a helicopter seed. After a while of turning the glass jar this way and that she looked at the Old Man who was lying in the bed. “Why do you have to die, Grandfather?” she said.
“That is a good question”, he said. “I have wondered about that.”
After a while of shared silence, the Little Girl asked again, “But why do you have to die, Grandfather?”
Grandfather smiled, his eyes focused on the Little Girl. He stroked her hair. She put the glass jar in his wrinkled hands. He held it up into the bright morning sunlight that streamed into the room through the window until it caught the seed and it glowed as though it had burst into white flame. To the Girl it appeared, strangely, as though the Old Man seemed to be holding a much heavier weight in his hand than a seed in a small jar. The effort exhausted him and his hand dropped to the bed. He seemed far away for a while before he gathered himself again. Eventually, he replied, “I’ve come to think that every life is a seed.”
The Little Girl thought about this. “Do you mean because we will put you in the ground when you’re dead?” she said.
“Yes, a bit like that. Something grows from how we live. Every life is a seed of another tomorrow. We can’t say what will come of it. There are so many possible different tomorrows.”
“How many tomorrows are there?” the Girl asked.
“That is hard to tell. I don’t think I could possibly know,” said Grandfather. “I have sometimes thought that with all of my life, with all this time I had, I have been telling a tale, a tale of two different kinds of tomorrow.”
The Girl asked, “Will you tell me that tale?”
“I’ll try,” he said.
– 1 –
The Boy and The Horse
Things had changed when the Boy moved house. Before, there had been open spaces. Things had had their place and they had been small against a wide horizon. There had been stars in the night sky. Now things were huge. The sky was a pale patch of blue high up, framed by rooftops. Streets were lit by orange lights at night. His Horse was tied up in the bicycle shelter down below in the square courtyard, not under the milky way by the open fire.
– 2 –
Dreams of a Giant
It was a cool autumn morning after a night of rain. The Boy was walking his Horse by its headcollar along the pavement on his way to school when the mist hanging low over the grey streets reminded him of how they had once followed their noses through the woods, over the tor and along the stone wall until they turned left through the open gate at the same time as the first sun rays pierced the morning mist and lit up the dew drops caught in the spiders’ webs in the tall grass and thistles which had turned wooden.
This was one of the moments the Boy had collected in his jars. He had brought with him 139 unlabelled jars which, on first glance, may have appeared empty. He had carefully packed them into five moving-boxes, kept a watchful eye on them in the van, carried them up the five flights of the winding staircase with the polished banister and treads to his room in their new flat under the roof where he unpacked them again, with equal care, checking the contents of each before arranging them on his windowsill and bookshelves. With a sharp pang, he remembered his mother’s large glass which had somehow (he often searched his memory but just did not know how) cracked in his care.
On closer inspection, his collection of jars contained sand grains, specks of dust, air, water. There was a preserving jar which contained the dappled light of the woods and another with the summer breeze of the open moorland. A small jar contained the leap across the brook on the back of his White Winged Horse. One jar contained a water boatman as the sunlight glistened in the stream.
The Boy had taken great care to capture only the moment, not the river boatman itself. He had taken the same care with the flight of the kingfisher darting upstream, the taste of the first steaming crust of bread he had baked in the oven in the glade, and the sound of the owl at new moon.
He remembered every little detail about the things and creatures, the moments that had come and gone. These were the moments when he had felt the stirring. They were the whispers of a feeling, gone before he could quite grasp them, yet subtle and fleeting as they may have been, they stirred him and to the Boy’s mind, they were the dreams of the Giant who lay asleep in all things. He had seen him asleep in the field of wheat as the wind tugged at his hair, seen him snooze in the dappled light of the glade, in the rockfaces of the tors, seen his wrinkled face in the bark of trees, his nostrils flaring in a pile of leaves.
It was the work of the Boy and the Horse to explore the Giant’s dreams and to capture their essence in this way.
– 3 –
In this way, the Horse and the Boy had always been together for as long as he could remember. But, then, things had changed.
The long day of moving boxes and furniture had finally come to an end. All the while, the Horse had waited patiently, nibbling the odd blade of grass that grew between the pavement slabs of the courtyard or looking up to the small patch of blue sky above. At last, the Boy ran downstairs to help the Horse up the winding staircase.
Almost immediately, the Boy became embarrassedly aware of how much noise the Horse’s iron-clad hooves made as they hit the hard treads of the staircase. Next, he noticed, with terror, the scratches and scuffs that had appeared on the polished treads. He raced to fetch towels and jumpers and the belt from his towel dressing gown which he combined to wrap around the Horse’s hooves. He hastily polished the stairs, before they tried climbing the stairs again.
They took their time and, treading very carefully and quietly, they made good progress. The initial panic had faded with the light in the stairwell and they enjoyed the cool air on their faces as they heaved upwards. The Boy was telling the Horse animatedly about his room under the roof.
They had almost made their way to the second landing when, with a deafening clatter and bang, the Horse, Boy in tow, slipped and crashed down a whole flight of stairs before they both came to rest on the first landing. The Boy had been winded by the fall. The Horse was equally stunned and whinnied questioningly toward the Boy who reached for the mane and stroked the Horse reassuringly.
They were about to get back on their feet when the Boy froze at the sight of a pair of eyes looking on from a crack in the door. They belonged to the Neighbour. His cheeks flushed. He tried to explain, stammered and stuttered, but the words did not come.
It was silent for a moment. Then the lights went on in the stairwell and his mother and father raced down the staircase, calling his name, “Jonathan! Jonathan!”
“Are you alright?” they called. “What has happened?”
They were concerned for him up until the moment when they reached him and saw him lying on the landing, the scratches in the wooden floor and stairs, and his clothes strewn about. The Boy felt his mother’s embrace but also saw the change in her face and his father’s. He saw them take in the scene and noticing the eyes looking on from the dark door. Then, “What has happened?” became “What have you done?”
Once more, he tried to explain. He mentioned how the Horse’s hooves had made such a racket and scratched the floor and that he had wrapped them in clothes and how that had made them slippery which had led to the crash.
It was silent once more. The lights went out. Someone fumbled, found a switch and they came back on again.
“Which horse?” said his father. “Oh, Jonathan. How embarrassing! On our first day… Look at all of these scratches… The dirt… Your things…” said his mother.
Which Horse? Had his father really said, “Which horse?” Could they not see him lying there, probably bruised and definitely in pain. But he couldn’t speak.
A strange feeling took hold of him as he shrank back against the bannister. The bannister, the floor and the Horse seemed the only solid things in his life, everything else was changing. He felt faint. His insides were churning.
When he caught himself again, something happened that he could not explain and could not stop. He observed himself acting against what he himself wanted. He hid in the only place available, somewhere deep inside, very far away. Without knowing what that meant, he gave up on something and forced himself back on his feet. He mumbled, “Sorry”. The eyes looked him up and down, disapprovingly, and disappeared back into the dark her flat and the door closed.
“Gather your things together”, said his mother.
“Go to your room”, said his father. “I will see whether I can fix the stairs.”
With that they left him to it and disappeared.
The Boy told himself that there was no changing it: the Horse had to stay outside in the bicycle shed down in the courtyard, and he led it down the stairs and to the shed where he tied it up. Then, he hugged it fiercely and tried to say something that would justify what had happened.
The Horse did snuffle him back, but there was also a flicker of something dark in the great Horse’s eyes, a deep fire was burning strong, and from it, a spark leapt and it went into the Boy.
It made the Boy let go and take a step back, head bowed. They both shivered in a cold breeze.
The Boy turned and made his way back through the heavy door, up the winding staircase and into his room. He pulled up his pyjamas, and as he did so, he climbed into a heavy sadness.
The Boy tried to go to sleep. But he could not.
All through the night, the Horse shifted its weight from one leg to another, its horseshoes clanging against the cobblestones of the courtyard as it whinnied quietly, restlessly, and the moon poured bright light into the bicycle shed and into the Boy’s room.
– 4 –
The Horse Takes Flight
The Boy was walking his Horse by its headcollar along the pavement on his way to school. The mist was hanging low over the grey streets stretching endlessly before them.
A sycamore seed floated through the air in its twisting flight. It landed in a puddle. The Boy knelt and took an empty jar from his school bag and put the seed inside. When he had stored it away again safely, his gaze fell on a face that looked back at him from the puddle. It was the face of the Giant. The Giant was awake and he was smiling at the Boy, but it appeared that he might also be crying. The Boy could not tell for certain as the Giant seemed to shudder and fade. He looked up and then realised what was causing the tremors which were disturbing the puddle. His Horse was galloping away. The Boy screamed. The Horse turned its head back. The Boy saw that the Horse felt a strong urge to turn back. But a mighty will pulled its eyes away from the Boy and toward the open skies beyond the City, galloped up the street, spread its wings and took flight.
– 5 –
The Boy Stays Behind
The Boy got up. He yelled and shouted. “Come back! Come back!” he called. Tears streamed down his face. He ran as hard as he ever had. He did not care what anyone thought of him.
He ran and he ran and he ran. The Horse had long disappeared, and the Boy was no longer in the town but he was still running. He had without knowing how run uphill and entered a wood. He wanted to get high up to try and see where the Horse had flown.
He pushed forward and stumbled many times until eventually his path came to an end at a precipice from where he could look out from the stillness of the woods and back down on to the red rooftops of the city below.
He caught his breath. Leaves rustled as they fell behind him. Smoke rose from chimney stacks and fused with the grey sky. Cranes turned slowly. A muffled din of hammering and banging rose up against the background of a rushing white noise of trams, buses, cars and lorries drawn forward by invisible strings.
Barges hung low in the leaden river which wound its way between the buildings, stretched out ever more thinly towards a single point on the horizon. The Boy knew that it mouthed into the sea beyond. He had seen it before.
There, ahead, against the wide open space: for a moment he thought he had seen his Horse, wings stretched wide. He strained and blinked but it was gone, only swallowed up by the clouds he hoped or perhaps it had never been. Then, in a flash before his mind’s eye he saw himself following the Horse out to sea in a three-masted barque under full sail. He wondered at this image as he looked toward the invisible sea ahead with a pang.
A bell rang in the distance calling the hour from one of the onion-dome topped church towers.
He glanced charily down at the city. He yearned to follow his Horse. In his heart he knew which way to travel, yet he knew not how, and as he stood the feeling of being alone came over him, the feeling that he was very small and separate in a huge world, and where there had always been a sense of warmth and home and being connected to things, it was now cold and empty and lonely. Shame settled over him like an invisible mist that stuck to him. There was no one thing that he had done which made him feel guilty. Instead he felt wrong in himself, he felt that there was something wrong with him as he was.
The wood with its darkness and trees and shrubs and the path in front of him was both that wood and, as in a double vision, it was also another mysterious thing that reached out to him and touched him inside with a terror akin in quality to the beauty of the moments he had captured in his glass jars.
An overpowering force drew him back through the woods, down the hill and into the city, which for one half of him was the wrong direction, and yet his other half moved his legs and made him run and with every step he took he was torn further apart took and an as yet imperceptible rumbling had begun. Something within him began straining against his outer edges. He hardly noticed how the glass of the small jar with the sycamore seed inside in his pocket warmed his fingers as he walked.
He arrived at the building, sweaty and dishevelled. He entered the hallway which was dimly lit. He stopped at his classroom door. He could not enter. The sense of self-consciousness loneliness was so great that he could not move forward or back. Instead he listened to the voices from the inside, the teacher, the children, which strangely soothed him. He stood there, his gaze far away, until the caretaker found him by the door. The door opened, and he was led in. He found himself standing in the bright light as the voices hushed. He blushed. His heart beat in his ears. A blackness welled up behind his eyes. He fought to stay standing, feeling all eyes on him and inside the sense that it was all his fault but what he could not say. “Sorry I’m late,” he mumbled and sat down.
to be continued