Write On!

Sit on a Wall

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm

by Jennifer Strange

He watches from his window, his garden, his horse. Every morning, we prepare the horse for a ride to the riverfront and back, and he watches; I know he thinks he has spotted him when he finally pushes to gallop. Just before tea every afternoon, he takes a walk through the garden and peers around every break of hedge to find him. And anyone meeting him for business would assume he had had enough or needed some fresh air to clear his mind for decision, but he has only been sitting distracted so long and must retreat to the window for the real business: has he now set himself at the fountain? The king’s organizes his daily calendar around the great oaf.

But he is gone now.

They say he was once a man of letters who never wrote a false word about the human heart, for he understood it all—the greed, the fear, the love. He managed all the king’s books and all the king’s lies, and he made them all true by visiting the wronged ones and paying everything even. He hosted dinner parties that no one ever wanted to leave, for the company was so rare and the host so gracious: he was responsible for introducing to each other the most unlikely of friends from all corners of the city. He wore shoes no one noticed and lifted his eyebrows just so you knew he had heard you.

But they all say different things about how he fell. The expert in crookneck squash who farms across the cemetery from St. Mark’s says he saw him walk into church one day with his head down and not emerge until the next day, his head lower still. The queen’s farrier says he had long loved the wife of a friend, and that he had confessed only to be spurned. One of the housemaids said he had never been true—that all his good had been a ruse to make the king notice him, to earn fame, and when the king turned out mad after all, he suddenly looked a bit mad himself.

Whatever it was, he turned his face to pie and drink. An excuse to be with friends, an escape from guilt, something to prove he was wheat and not chaff? Perhaps all, but he became an expert in the stuff. Meat pies, berry cobblers, peach pie in season, chicken pot pies, single-crust and double-crust, flakey or with biscuits, sweet or savory. And he knew the right brew for each one. And when he had drunk, he wrote no words whatsoever (though we understand this is uncommon) and forgot whatever company he had kept or abused them terribly with his wit—after only a drink or two, his words revealed clearly all his fear and fawning.

The king had lost sense years before and remembered him as he had been, bless his soul. But we had to remove him from the king’s presence. He had become utterly useless. Couldn’t even read a map anymore, and he added the strangest volumes to the library—a handwritten biography of one of the king’s horses, for example. When he sat for tea, he clattered his cup about the saucer and spilled copious amounts of cream on the carpet. When he walked the gardens, he crouched behind the king and clipped leaves from bushes, emptying his pockets into the fountain while he whistled a minuet.

We gave him a cottage well appointed with books, a globe, a desk with enough paper, a butler with orders to keep a full pantry and never want for pies or beer, and a guard. He was invited to walk about as he wished, though one of the king’s men was to go with him always.

Over those months (or was it just weeks?), the pies and brew pushed out his sides so that we called him again the greatest man in the city. He walked very little and sat very often, with the cook delivering pies and a glass at regular intervals wherever he would go, which wasn’t ever far from his cottage. Sometimes while he ate, he would fall asleep where he sat and not pull to his mouth the spoon he had just filled anew.

One day, his guard called for help—the oaf wished to climb the city wall. So they hoisted him up and he sat. For two days or more, he sat on the wall. His cook brought pies enough for a large family, and he drank barrels. He forgot all that he had ever tried to do. He could not recall a single name of a single person he had ever invited to dinner. He moaned as he looked out from the city.

And then you know the story: he had a great fall. You would not have recognized him if you had seen him. In fact, you would have wondered if he had ever been a man. No horse or man could have healed him: he had a great fall.

The king mourned him, so we too had to as well. He too tried to remember him as he had been, but we could not help remembering what he had become, which was what he really had been all along. The greatest man, the largest man, and so the most pieces we ever found fallen.

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