A Mythical Tale by Kaye Linden
Ma scratched the stubble on her ninety year old chin. “You want me to paint a chair?”
Her friend Stephanie nodded. “One we can auction. Just fix up an old chair and give it that ‘Ma’ look.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Are you raising money for something?”
“For that young guy you cured last week,” Stephanie said. “He’s too weak to work and can’t pay rent.”
“Well, I had better create a stunning chair then,” Ma said.
Ricky, Ma’s white cockatoo, flew from Ma’s shoulder to the dumpster at the back of Ma’s café. She squawked and screeched and screeched and squawked until Ma limped to where Ricky was perched. Stephanie followed.
“What in the name of the spirits are you screaming about?” Ma asked.
Ricky pecked at the metal dumpster until Ma shrugged her shoulders, opened the lid and peered inside. “Well, I’ll be a three- legged kingfisher! Someone’s thrown out an old chair.”
Ricky nodded her head up and down and down and up and flapped her wings. Ma reached into her pocket and pulled a dog biscuit from her treat stash. Ricky snapped the morsel from Ma’s fingers and crunched down on the biscuit with her curved yellow beak, eyes gleaming. Ma smiled. “Such bad manners,” she said.
“Get over here and help us, Jack,” Ma shouted to Jack the three-legged dingo whose scrawny face peered out from behind the dumpster. Jack limped over to Ma, tail between his legs. Stephanie and Ma lifted out the old chair and Jack sniffed at it.
“Must have been a tribal chair,” Ma said as she examined the faded drawings and the traditional mulga wood. “Mulga wood with two legs in back and one in front—belonged to the Migga-Migga tribe.”
“Lucky,” Stephanie said as she ambled off.
“Not just luck,” Ma mumbled.
Some hours later, Ma had almost finished sanding the tripod chair. She sanded deep with a large piece of river rock, grounding the wood in preparation for paint. She called to the few remaining Tasmanian Devils to carve their tales of loss and sorrow into the wood. Their hissing, biting and scratching created a raw base for colors manufactured from desert mud. Ma invited Ricky and the crows to peck the chair, fly into it with their beaks and further mar the wood with their talons. She sprinkled the chair with red sands and golden down from young birds that had dropped their baby feathers when learning to fly. The magpies, crows and cockatoos added their pecking imprints and Jack added bite marks with his needle teeth. Jack tried to drag away the chair during a tea break but the birds told on him.
“Naughty Jack,” Ma said wagging her finger at the cowering dog.
“Time to color,” Ma said to the birds as she painted the chair with a base coat of orange paste from earth mud. She filled in cracks and bite marks with fine pink quartz ground up with a mortar and pestle and invited neighborhood children to add their favorite tiny totem figures.
They played ring a rosy around the chair, jumped over it, climbed through the three legs, painted stick figures underneath the seat while resting on their backs. They painted the sun shining and the sun setting, women running and women gathering water reeds, men hunting wallaby with spears and men holding babies, children catching fish with nets, children cooking cakes over fire, dingoes jumping on desert rats and dingoes rolling around in play.
Ma and the children dragged the chair on walkabout, further into the red desert amid massive termite mounds, into damp caves and through giant ants’ nests. Here they gathered ochre and termite wings, tiny fractured pebbles and white bat paste, ancient shell pieces from primeval oceans. These they added in random touches. The chair absorbed moisture from the morning dew and magic from lightning spirits who flashed black fire marks into the wood.
For seven nights and seven days the little children, the middle children and the older children created and recreated, fashioned and refashioned, carved and recarved. On the seventh day they rested, nodded their heads, crossed their arms and smiled. “It is good, Ma,” they said.
“The next day when Stephanie came for morning tea, Ma showed her the chair. Stephanie nodded her head. “What a rare piece of art,” she said. “We’ll add a book of tales from the customers at your café, Ma—tales of priests turning into rabbis, rabbis turning into shamans, medicine men with crow bodies, tales of healing through dying and tales of living in spite of it all.”
A few days later, Ma and Jack carried the crow- ravaged, cockatoo -pecked, devil- scratched, totem- painted chair into the café for auction. She placed it next to a sign:
Chair and valuable tale collection for auction.
Highest bidder wins this ancient tribal chair, fashioned by little children, outback spirits and lightning gods.
The café customers tried to sit in the painted chair but Ma asked Jack and the Tasmanian Devil to stand guard. Jack bit the devil on the neck and the devil scratched Jack’s head and both howled and whooped and screamed. Ma banished Jack to the back of the room and patched up the devil’s neck wound with a massive gauze bandage.
The customers frowned and wrung their hands, circling the prize, drooling and trying to pat the devil who spat and hissed. Everyone talked about the magical piece. Fights broke out in the café, front teeth broke, fingernails bent backwards and noses were bloodied. Ma banished more people from the room.
The customers cussed Jack for “starting the fuss over a bloody stupid chair that had only three legs.” That afternoon, Ma’s café walls trembled, expanded, contracted and heaved with a hundred customers pushing and pulling and vying for the prize.
“I have to have it,” one man said. “I need all the magic I can get.”
“Well, I do too,” an old lady said as she shoved the man aside and hit him over the head with her umbrella. “Out of my way.”
Ma rolled her eyes. “These old people are difficult.”
Jack frowned. “You can say that again, Ma!”
He sat on his two back legs and with his remaining foot held a bandage over his head wound.
Ma stood up and faced the crowd. “Auction time. Any disorderly conduct and I will banish you from the room till you come back with enough chocolate and kangaroo tail soup to feed everyone.”
Stephanie placed the chair up higher on the bar where the customers could better see the tiny kangaroo drawings, the painted totem symbols, the shell pieces glued to the legs, the red and silver sands sparkling among painted white clouds and setting and rising suns. Ma pointed out the dark black zigzag markings from the jumping lightning gods and the burnt etchings on the seat from the fire spirits.
“Do I have an offer?” Ma shouted over the babble.
“A hundred dollars,” Midget the midget called out.
“Do I have another?”
“A hundred and fifty,” Nakachi the shaman hissed. The candle flames flickered as he shot a lightning bolt across the room. Ma glared a warning at Nakachi.
“Three thousand,” Nakachi shouted and I will instill the power of flight into the chair.
A gasp rolled over the crowd. “What fun,” one woman said.
The front door opened and shut with a slam. All heads turned. Jack pranced through the crowd on three legs, whirling around in circles and throwing chocolate kangaroos into the crowd.
“I want the chair. Four thousand dollars and I’ll put it up for cheap rent. Then everyone can absorb the magic.”
The crowd applauded. “Yay for Jack,” they called out.
“What a great idea,” one customer said. “I can’t afford to buy it but I could pay rent.”
“Five thousand!” Nakachi called out.
“Five thousand dollars! Do I hear six?” Ma continued.
“A hundred and two dollars,” Midget shouted again.
Ma held up an open palm. “Midget, that’s not the way it works. You have to bid higher.”
“A hundred and three,” Midget called out, his chest puffed with apparent pride.
“The chair is going to the one who bid five thousand dollars. Do I hear six?” She waited. “Remember, it comes with a book of tales. You might learn something.”
Midget held up his hand. “Six hundred.” Ma shook her head at Midget.
“Six thousand dollars,” Jack whinnied. He cleared his throat. “Six thousand.”
A gasp rolled through the crowd.
“Going, going …GONE — the three- legged chair to the three- legged dog for six thousand dollars,” Ma said.
Jack howled and laughed with his toothy grin, lips curled upwards, ears pointed up, tail wagging.
“It’s mine, it’s mine, got it just in time.” He threw a glance at Nakachi who stared back with unblinking black eyes.
“We’ll drink to Jack,” a customer said and the crowd raised their ale glasses to the health of the dingo who would rent the magic chair to the rest of them. Jack dragged the chair out of the room.
“Wait Jack,” Ma said. “You owe us money.”
“Once I gather money from the rent, you’ll get the money. I might just rent it to the sick man too.” He threw an I.O.U. at Ma.
“JACK!” Ma shouted. She crossed her arms over her chest and a deep growl rose up her throat. Her eyes narrowed and her body straightened so that she appeared much larger. She hobbled after Jack but he had taken flight in the chair, Nakachi in pursuit. The sky lit up with lightning from Nakachi’s fingers and the earth vibrated from Jack’s thunderous howls.
Ma watched their shadows disappear into the horizon.
“I do it every time,” Ma grumbled. “I always get tricked by those tricksters.”
It began to rain tales—pages and pages of magic stories. Ma looked to the skies and laughed.
Copyright Linden 2012