Last night, I dreamt that I was a story teller and failing to decide on, and for that matter, correctly remember an existing story, I decided to make one up. This is the story I dreamt…
We all have things we desire, often toys of some description. Whether the cars are small enough to race around our living room or the roads. Whether the house we long for is for our dolls or a castle in the mountains fit for a princess, or simply something better than we have. Whether the planes are radio controlled or private jets. Yes, there are all sorts of toys that tempt us. Or, perhaps what we crave is something less materialistic: a dream job, a person or a pet to love, or some other undefined form of fulfilment or source of happiness. Yes, we all long for something that is perceived as being beyond our immediate reach.
At this time, my particular object of desire happened to be a rocking chair. No, don’t laugh! It was a remarkably beautiful chair, large with intricately carved dark wood, rather old and most definitely beyond my means, as it languished in the window of an antique shop. The padded leather seat even had a curled up tortoiseshell cat on it. I had assumed it was one of those realistic stuffed or toy ones as it was always there in the same position, until it startled me one day by opening an eye and examining me disdainfully before going back to sleep. I could see myself curled up with a book on that capacious seat so easily that I began to regard it as my chair. Indeed, I became quite agitated if I noticed anyone else looking at it too intently, in case they should take it into their head to buy it. Fortunately, nobody seemed to take quite as much interest in it as I did.
My routine took me past the shop daily and I felt rather like a child gazing longingly into a toy shop window, although I stopped short of pressing my nose against it. Well, I say that, but I did effect a nasal collision with the glass whilst peering intently at the carvings on one occasion…Ah yes, those carvings…There always seemed to be something new to see, almost as though they were constantly changing. With hindsight, I suppose I should have known there was something not quite ordinary about that chair.
Anyway, my daily routine of passing and yearning went on for some little while, until I fortuitously found myself the beneficiary of the estate of a relative I hadn’t even known. It was one of those cases where the person, who happened to have some convolutedly distant relationship to my family, had died intestate and the lawyers had done the decent thing and tracked down the closest kin, which just happened to be me. Now before you get too excited, it wasn’t a huge life-changing sort of legacy. Nothing in the order of mansions or private jets, but I did acquire a larger house, parts of which dated back to at least the 16th century and some cash, once the lawyers had filled their boots. It was enough to pay off some bills, make life a little more comfortable and buy myself a few treats and luxuries. Naturally, the larger house, although already furnished, could accommodate some additional furniture and my first purchase once I had moved in was the rocking chair, which suited the oak panelled library perfectly. (Oh yes, the house had a library and a great many books).
I found myself spending a good deal of time in the library, rocking gently and exploring the books in preference to watching endless repeats or rubbish on television to pass the time. In fact, the chair needed little encouragement to rock and seemed to maintain momentum almost without effort on my part. On one such occasion, I was flicking through a book and tracing the little acorn and oak leaf carvings on the arm of the chair and said, “I could really do with a cup of tea”. I have no idea why I spoke out loud since there was nobody else in the room. Well, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a strange little chap, looking for all the world like an elf, appeared at my elbow with exactly that. I won’t repeat exactly what I said in my alarm, but it wasn’t, “Thank you very much that’s just the ticket”. Strange men, (for varying definitions of strange and men), arriving with cups of tea are not exactly unheard of, but they usually sashay across a cafe floor or come in through the door, rather than simply materialising out of thin air. Needless to say, I did not accept the proffered cup of steaming liquid – I’ve read the stories and I know where that sort of thing can lead – instead, I demanded to know who the creature was and what it was doing in my library.
“You wished for tea and I came to grant your wish”, the creature, let’s call him an elf, said in an ingratiating tone, holding the cup out.
“Look, who are you?” I asked.
“I bring tea you wished for”, he replied stubbonly.
“I did not wish for strange…er…creatures to materialise in my library waving cups of tea at me”, I said, adding “Besides, what sort of tea is that? I bet you don’t even know what variety of tea I like, let alone how I take it. I mean, does it have sugar?”
He shrugged. “Is tea”, he replied, as if that was in any way an adequate answer and thrust the cup of dark brown liquid towards me insistently.
At this point a real person did arrive with a cup of real tea (Earl Grey, milk, no sugar, if you must know) and I woke up, so we continue the story from here on in what passes for the real world).
“I most certainly did not wish for that!”, I exclaimed recoiling, which caused the chair to rock back and then, inevitably, forward again, whereupon the elf leapt back and the cup flew from his grasp on the floor.
“Yes, you did, or I wouldn’t have come”, he pouted, regarding the broken cup balefully.
“I did not”, I repeated, beginning to get a measure of the situation and pointing at the shards of china and expanding puddle of tea on the floor, I added carefully, “And you can clean that up too.”
“If that’s what you wish”, he said with a sly expression.
Well, I wasn’t falling for that.
“I did not ask you to appear out of nowhere and throw tea around, so you can clean up that mess and disappear back to where you came from”, I replied.
Sighing heavily, his narrow shoulders drooped and muttering something about this coming out of his wages, he waved a complicated sigil in the air with his hands and the mess disappeared.
“Well done,” I conceded, fairly impressed but trying not to let on. “Now, you still haven’t told me who you are and what possessed you to pop up out of nowhere.”
He sighed again.
“Well, I’m waiting…”, I said.
“You wish for me to tell you about myself?”, he asked hopefully, perking up a little.
“No”, I replied firmly. “Let’s get one thing straight. There is categorically and unequivocally to be no wishing whatsoever involved in this discussion. I am simply asking you a question. In the extremely unlikely event that I should desire to make a wish, I will quite unambiguously state in advance that this is what I am doing. Do I make myself clear?”
He nodded glumly. “And while we are at it”, I added, “you can explain your thinly veiled attempts to extract a wish from me, so we all know where we stand, OK?”
He sighed even more hugely and nodded his assent.
“Pardon?”, I asked.
“Yuss”, he mumbled, shuffling his feet.
“Right, so spill. What’s all this about?”, I asked again.
“Wood sprite”, he muttered, and added, “Trapped” waving a finger at the chair miserably.
I waited for him to elaborate.
“Thought to trick you into letting me go for a wish”, he mumbled with dismay, “but you’re too powerful witch.”
I laughed, making him start.
“I didn’t trap you and I’m not keeping you,” I said. I didn’t deny being a witch, just in case he tried to pull something.
His eyes narrowed in suspicion and disbelief. “You let me go?” he asked.
“Sure”, I replied and found myself on the floor as he and the chair vanished.
“Oi!” I cried, “Come back here!”
He reappeared immediately, looking unhappy. The chair was back too, but I remained on the floor.
“What are you playing at?” I asked irritably and got to my feet. “I said you could push off, but I didn’t say you could take my chair with you.“
“Home”, he said plaintively.
“Yes, go home, but leave my chair here”, I said, resuming my seat.
“Home”, he repeated, pointing at the chair.
“Ohhhh, I see”, I said as the penny dropped. “You live in the wood of the chair.”
“Yes”, he said.
“So that means that because I own the chair, I…umm… own you?” I asked.
“What’s with the wish trick thing then?” I added.
“Wish is payment”, he said simply.
“So if I accept a wish, you are no longer bound to me, but then I lose the chair too?”
He nodded and repeated, “Home. Nowhere else to go. Tree gone.”
“Hmmm, we seem to have a bit of a problem here”, I said. “I need some tea to think this over…”, quickly adding, “not the wished for kind. I’ll go and make some. Wait here.”
“Would you like some?” I asked him as I reached the door. He grimaced and shook his head.
I returned with the tea a few minutes later and he was still standing where I’d left him, the chair rocking gently by his side. I sat on a different chair by a small table and regarded them thoughtfully.
“So let’s get this straight. Your home is the chair?”, I asked.
“And you are happy there?”
He nodded again.
“Do you mind me sitting on the chair?”
He thought for a moment and then shook his head.
“Or the chair being here in this room?”
After the briefest pause, he shook his head again.
“So the problem is me owning the chair, your home, and therefore you, right?”
“And I need to make a wish, the granting of which buys back the chair, and therefore, you, back from me?”
He nodded vigorously.
“You wish now?”, he asked eagerly.
“But I don’t want to let the chair go”, I replied and he looked crestfallen.
“OK, I can see we have a problem to solve.” I sipped my tea while I thought about it. He said nothing and just watched me until I’d finished and put down my cup.
“I think I may have a solution”, I said. He cocked his head attentively.
“Let’s just say, speaking entirely theoretically and with no actual wishing involved, that I were to, entirely hypothetically, you understand, make a wish such that I released you and your home, but in return you remained here together with your home voluntarily until, say, we both agreed to part company. What would you say?”
He looked at me suspiciously and thought about it for a good, long while, then said, “Same as now!” flatly.
“Well, not entirely. The arrangement would be a voluntary within certain parameters like, say, a job.”
“A job?” he asked, looking confused.
“Yes, a job. Working in return for payment. In this case, the payment, made by me, would be to look after your home and for your part…well…I’m sure we could come up with something mutually acceptable. Are you actually any good at making tea?”
He shrugged. “Can make whatever you like.”
Well, to cut a longish story short, this is how I have ended up with a rather excellent, if slightly peculiar-looking butler. Oh, I don’t take advantage of him really. Once he’d settled in to the arrangement, he quite enjoyed having something to do after centuries of just lurking in a chair. I made it clear he was entitled to 5 weeks holiday a year, and since he grasped the concept, he takes himself (and the chair) off from time to time. My own demands are mostly in the realms of cups and pots of tea, at which he has become rather adept, and a little light housekeeping, all of which he accomplishes with a few waves of his hands, while I devote myself to reading and rocking.