Inspired by the following Decamot items:
haversack, computer, theatre, carol, sloth, mountain top, trump, country cottage, Joe, spin the bottle
Carol and Joe were standing on their doorstep and watching their eldest son Roland as he walked along the path into the distance getting smaller and smaller. They remained standing there long after he had disappeared from view. Carol had a tear in her eye. Finally they turned and went back inside, knowing that this mountain top view would now forever be tinged with a hint of sadness. It would always be associated with watching their first child leave home and enter into the world on his own. Without them.
Theirs is a charming home. They call it their country cottage, but it's become more like a ramshackle sequence of interlocking chambers. A basic abode that's been extended and re-extended to accommodate the needs of an ever-growing family, a family now reduced in number by one. That thought made Carol tearful again.
"It's going to be quiet without him," she muttered.
"I doubt that somehow," replied Joe looking at a mass of squabbling offspring all vying for top spot in their latest game. All that is except for Sylvester, the smallest of the lot, one that they affectionately nicknamed The Sloth - not just be he was placid to the point of lethargy, but because he had a round face with an adorable smile that could melt your heart and had with eyes so warm and deep that looking into them filled you with a sublime calmness. "Now there's one you'll never have to worrying about leaving home."
"Oh why does he have to go away?" Carol cried out ignoring her husband's attempts to mollify her.
"He's got to make his way in the world, dear."
"Yes but why away? Why not stay here? You could get him something to do on the farm, I know you could."
"You can't mother them forever. You've got to cut the apron strings and let them go."
"I know. But acting, of all things. I'm just so worried that he'll end up as poor as a church mouse."
"He'll be just fine, I know he will."
"I just wish I understood what he meant by the magic of theatre."
Roland had wanted to be an actor since he first sneaked into a theatre unnoticed and watched a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. He'd been enchanted by clothes that he'd never seen before and language he didn't understand. But he'd understood the magic immediately. And when Bottom's head was turned into that of an ass and he brayed like a donkey, Roland and laughed so hard that he was lucky that he hadn't been discovered in his hiding place under the stalls. From then on, being an actor in the theatre was all he dreamed of.
"That's not for us, we're country folk," his mother had objected.
"Why can't you be more like your younger brother Roger?" suggested his father. "He can't get enough of haystacks. Or if you must leave for the city, be more like your cousin Matt?"
"What does he do?"
"I don't know exactly, but it's something to do with computers. But he must be doing well, he lives in a posh apartment near the river."
But good sense had prevailed. His parents knew that letting him go was only fair, but on one condition: Roland must first of all go stay with Matt, allow him to show him around the city, and gain a little work experience. That way, he'd always have something to fall back on if acting didn't work out.
So on midsummer's day, poetically enough, in the year he came of age, Roland headed to the city to seek, if not his fortune, at least a roof over his head. He only had a vague idea where Matt lived. His dad had said: "Just follow this river down to the big river. Continue along the big river until you get to the city. Then head to the skyscrapers on the river bank. You can't miss Matt's building; it's across the river from St Paul's Cathedral. OK?" He'd nodded his head vigorously, but hadn't really been paying attention. He had no idea how long it would take him to get there. But he didn't did mind; this was an adventure. Safely stowed in his haversack were provisions enough to last a week. Surely it wouldn't take that long. No more than a few days he thought, less if he managed to catch the next river bus.
But Roland missed the river bus. He kept walking along the river bank anyway, hoping to jump onto a later one. He kept going until he spotted a raft adrift and floating down the river moving in the same direction that he was. As we walked along, he glanced at it from time to time. He found that to keep up with it, he had to break into a trot. And then a thought occurred to him: If he could leap onto the raft, he'd be able to, travel more quickly and with no effort. He'd not be going as fast as the river bus, but it would be quicker than going by foot. But how to leap on?
He spotted a little further along the river a tree with long branches stretching over the river. He sprinted down the river, climbed the trunk of the tree, slid along a branch, and waited for the raft to catch him up. When it did, leapt on board, landing comfortably in the middle of the raft. Now this is the life, he thought as he watched the countryside flow by as the raft took him down river.
He soon became drowsy and allowed himself to fall asleep. Which meant he didn't notice the river start to speed up, nor did he notice a waterfall approaching until it was too late. He woke up just as the raft went over and he was flung off into the river. He managed to grab a hold of his haversack before it escaped him and managed to use it as a floatation device. He bobbed along on his back, hugging the haversack to his chest like a favourite teddy. He float along like this for a hundred yards or so before the river bent to the right and managed make it to the side. He scrambled onto the riverbank on all fours and collapsed, soaking, muddy and exhausted. He lay on his side to dry in the warm summer sun.
Once dry, Roland got back to his feet and continued on his journey. Not wanting a repeat performance, Roland strayed from the edge of the river. At first he was close enough to see it from time to time. But he slowly veered further from it until he stumble upon a windy country road go going roughly in the same direction. By the time night began to fall, he'd lost sight of the river altogether. When he came to a little used bus shelter, he decided to sleep the night there and look for the river again in the morning. The morning brought with it another bright sunny day. In high spirits, Roland set off again. After a while, he came to a fork in the road. Which way to go?
He spotted a discarded bottle and decided to play spin the bottle to decide which direction to take. That done, he took the turn to the left.
Two hours of walking later and he had not got back to the river. He was on the point of retracing his footsteps when he spotted in the distance the tall buildings of the city. He looked along the skyline from West to East and spotted several skyscrapers. All tiredness now forgotten, he started to run. Half an hour later, he found the big river that his father had mentioned. An hour later, he spotted St Paul's Cathedral in the distance. Two hours later he was near the Shard, and Matt's apartment was mere minutes away. And then, there it was. But the lights were off and the apartment looked dark. Roland was worried that his cousin was not in.
He hurried up to the front door and gave it a push. It would not budge. He couldn't see any convenient doorbell, so he went round the back and saw an open window and remembered a message from his cousin: If I'm not in, I'll leave the window ajar for you. After a bit of an effort, Roland managed to climb into the apartment and found himself in the kitchen. Inside the apartment was dark and silent except for a strange rattling. It sounded like an empty tumble drier rotating with a squeak that needed oiling.
In the gloom, Roland stumbled over the doormat. The sudden movement triggered a motion sensitive light switch. A fluorescent strip bulb flickered into life and the strange rattling noise stopped.
"Ah, there you are," called out a voice that sounded out of breath. Roland's head snapped round towards the speaker and saw his cousin Matt climbing off of an old-fashioned running machine.
"Sorry I couldn't get to the door. Just getting a bit of exercise in before you got here."
"In the dark?"
"Force of habit. Don't need the light when you're on this little beauty."
"Don't you ever run outside?" asked Roland eyeing the running machine with suspicion.
"Out there? Are you mad?"
"What about getting a little fresh air?"
"Fresh?" replied his cousin incredulously. "Do you not know about the particulates that Diesel engines emit? They're lethal in the city."
"I did not know that," replied Roland truthfully, not having understood what Matt had just told him. "What is it you do in the city exactly?"
"I'm a stockbroker's assistant. I point out stocks and shares that look promising. He does the buying and selling."
"Are you any good at it?"
"Well his profits have skyrocketed since he took me on."
"Wow," replied Roland sounding impressed.
"With his first bonus, he bought me this running machine to keep me in shape."
"Wow," replied Roland sounding a little less impressed.
"I understand you want somewhere to stay. The stockbroker owns this place, I'm his flatmate. If you don't mind bunking in with me, he won't mind you staying here too."
"I don't mind at all."
"I can also find you something to do. You can be a runner on the trading floor. It will be clearing the tickets mainly, and destroying them when the bell rings at the end of the day."
"That'd be great, thanks."
"It's not a glamorous job, but it will help to get you started and get some food in your belly."
Roland started the next day, and he was good at it. Unfortunately, he was too good. After the first couple of days, he thought he could be more efficient, if he got started shortly before the bell went off, and so clear the tickets by the door before the traders thundered through it on their way home and would save him from getting trampled underfoot. On the Friday, he destroyed several tickets that were on the floor but that had yet to expire. This single action cost a trader thousands of pounds as he failed to sell stock that he'd bought short earlier in the day and had been holding on to hoping to make a killing right at the end of the trading day. Roland was ushered off of premises within minutes, and warned not to return.
Matt was disappointed for him when Roland told him about the incident later that evening. Roland reassured him that he'd spend the weekend trying to find an alternative position. Matt was sceptical. But on Sunday, Roland rushed back to the apartment full of excitement. He'd found something at the Drury Lane Theatre. Several days passed before he saw Matt again.
"Hello stranger! Not seen you for days."
"I've been working at the Drury Lane Theatre."
"Doing what exactly?"
"Clearing up in the actors' lounge. It doesn't pay well, but I get to help myself to anything that they don't eat."
"Sounds great," said Matt dubiously.
"Do you know how little actresses eat? I get whole meals left for me!"
"You're gone from the early hours of the morning and don't get back until the evening. You can't be hoovering up all that time."
"When I'm done in the actors' lounge. I watch them in the auditorium rehearsing. I want to be an actor myself one day." Matt looked him up and down.
"Can't see it myself."
"Have you looked at yourself? You're hardly acting material. Not with your physical attributes."
"I may not be leading actor material, granted. But I'm sure I could be a good character actor. I just need a lucky break."
"It would have to be one heck of a lucky break," scoffed Matt.
In late October, that lucky break came. The summer season was over, and the Theatre was scheduled to be dark for a week until preparations for the winter season got underway. Roland had the auditorium all to himself, or at least so he thought. He ran down the aisle and scampered onto the stage. He ran from the wings on stage right to the wings on stage left. He imagined the spotlight illuminating his passage, following him around as he cavorted with the actresses. He imagined testing the patience of the lighting engineer by running faster and faster to stay ahead of the spotlight, and the stopping suddenly to deliver his lines. And then a voice called out:
"Hey little fella, what're doing up there?" Rowland froze in the middle of the stage like a rabbit caught in the headlights of an oncoming juggernaut.
"Cat got your tongue little fella?" Roland shuddered.
"Don't be scared, you look a natural on that stage. I think you might be exactly what the director's been looking for."
The stage manager bent down, picked Roland up and carefully popped him into the top pocket of his shirt. Five minutes later, Roland was getting his first ever audition.
"I think we have a solution to our missing cast member problem," announced the stage manager as he walked into the director's office and showed him Roland.
"Only if the others like him," replied the director who then placed a large shoe box on his desk. He removed the lid and gently emptied out its contents. The stage manager popped Roland on the desk near three light brown house mice. They looked at him with interest. Being a field mouse, Roland was a little larger than they were and had a white belly that they lacked. They were timid at first, sniffing at the air around him. But curiosity won out. Soon the four were merrily rubbing noses and exchanging stories. Delighted with their new prodigy, the stage manager and the director went off to celebrate. Next week, they would start rehearsals for their new show: a revival of the 1905 pantomime: Cinderella.
Roland proved to be great choice. He got on well with his fellow rodent actors. He never missed a cue. And the actress playing
Cinderella adored him.
In the first week of December, Joe and Carol received a letter with a London postmark. Carol tore it open when it had barely touched the floor. Inside the envelope, along with a Christmas card from their son, were a pair of under-the-front-row tickets for the opening night of Cinderella at the Drury Lane Theatre. Carol was delighted and spoke of nothing else for a week. Two days before the show, Joe and Carol left their Hampstead Heath home for London. They arrived in good time. Carol was so excited that she barely took in the first half of the pantomime. At last a tearful Cinderella was banished to her attic bedroom by her evil stepmother and stepsisters. And so enter Roland and his rodent entourage to cheer up the disinherited Cinders. Within minutes, they had Cinderella and the audience in stitches with a carefully choreographed sequence of antics. The laughter continued solidly until Cinderella's fairy godmother finally appeared. She dramatically transformed Cinderella's rags, clogs and pumpkin into a white ball gown, glass slippers, and a carriage respectively.
"But who will pull my carriage?" asked Cinderella sweetly.
"The MICE", yelled all the children in the auditorium shrilly.
The fairy godmother looked down at Roland and the three house mice and raised her wand above her head. All the children in the auditorium cheered her on. She flicked her wrist with authority. There was loud explosion and a huge puff of smoke. Now standing where the four mice had been were three bay mares and a pure white stallion. There were gasps in the audience and spontaneous applause. The pure white stallion took several steps towards Cinderella. He then bent one of his front legs and lowered his head as though bowing to her. Before standing upright again, he turned his head ever so slightly to the side until he was looking directly at the under-the-front-row seats and winked.
Joe said quietly to his wife: "Now that's the magic of theatre!"
Carol squeaked with delight.