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John and Maggie

or The Path of Dead Sparrows
© 2011

Neverwas: Forgotten Tales of Albion
Neverwas: Forgotten Tales of Albion

Once upon a time there was a happy forester, named Will, who lived in the edge of the dark wildwood with his wife, Gwen, and two dear children; the boy called John and the girl called Maggie. They lived in modest comfort in a cozy little cottage made of stone with a cheery iron stove and real glass window! John made a living from cutting wood and, though this is very poor work, he loved the forest and found hidden treasure in gathering nuts and fruit, which he would sell at the market in the village. In this way he made enough to buy a steel bill to cut deadwood and brush and to prune the wild trees till he had made for himself a fine orchard hidden in the forest deeps. He even made enough to give his children each a silver penny on their birthdays and another on feast of Christmas.

His children knew how strong and brave their father was, for hidden dangers lurk within the wildwood, outlaws and gnomes and every horrid wight! Because they loved their father, the children saved their pennies and bought for him a silver watch with springs and gears and when the watch was opened it played Will’s favorite song, which (though you might not guess of such a sober and righteous man) was “Mother Watkins Ale”. Next to his own dear family, Will loved nothing more than his stout bill and his silver watch.

But to pay for such a fine life, Will was a very busy man. Five days a week he must hie to the wood with his bill and his barrow to gather wood or harvest the nuts and fruits which he sold. On the sixth day he was off to the village before the crack of dawn to sell his gleanings and to pay the piper for the feast.

Now, Gwen knew the value of a goodman who treated her well and gave her such a fine house and babes. But such hard work and long hours left Will so tired that most days he would come home and, after a fine meal and a pipe of Merkian Tabac, he would sit in his fine chair by the fire and fall fast asleep listening to the children learning their letters and their maths by the light of the hearth. Poor Gwen met this with good enough cheer, but no matter how she scolded herself, she felt lonely and missed the days when she and Will were young and had no babes underfoot. But she never spoke a word to trouble good Will or the babes, and suffered her lot in silence, till the babes were mucking the barn or away in the meadow chasing the goat.

Then she would stand as she beat the rugs or hung the wash to dry, and bemoan her lot. She cursed the forest and the silence. She wished for other women to talk to and she cursed Will for a fool to work so hard and mind her so little.

One day while Will was away to market and Gwen stood hanging the linens to dry, a man approached who was fair of face and brow. He was a strapping man with a well turned calf who looked for all the world like her Will, till looking a second time she spied the flaw. He bowed with courtly grace and begged a crust of bread and a cup of tea. Being good folk and generous as well, Gwen invited the stranger to stay for tea. While they sat, the stranger asked if Gwen had heard of a man called Will.

“Why my own dear husband is named Will!” Gwen exclaimed. “Perhaps he is the one you seek.”

They spoke further and it was soon established that he was Robert, Will’s own dear brother. They talked and talked and the time fled by, for Gwen had missed the converse of strangers these many years. Soon they fell to laughing and embraced like old friends, though there was something more to that embrace then was proper for a brother and sister in law. And as he left, he asked that Gwen say nothing of his visit, for he wished to surprise his brother whom he had not seen in many years. She was inclined to cast him out and tell her husband all, but Robert plead and importuned so sweetly that she forgave him and agreed to hold her tongue.

Robert continued to return each day while the children were in the fields doing their chores and regailed Gwen with tales of travels to foreign lands and adventures the likes of which few ever dare. The talk was so exciting and the company so sweet that Gwen grew quite fond of Robert, and in no time the brotherly kiss upon the cheek grew into something rather more intimate and not the sort of thing a good wife should ever do! If a woman yields once she’s done for, and so, because she had given in the first time, she was hard pressed to avoid so the second., till nothing was left to withhold.

One day when Will was once again at market, the children returned home for tea and found Robert comfortably seated in Will’s chair by the fire. John was quite perplexed and stood examining the stranger who had invaded their cozy home. Maggie, who was younger, marched straight to the chair and stood with her arms akimbo and her face screwed into a frown. She stared deeply into Robert’s eyes and demanded, “Why are you sitting in my father’s chair!”

“Why because it suits me, don’t you think?” Robert replied with narrowed eyes.

Gwen swept in to gather her babes and, holding them tightly, told them Robert was their father’s brother who had come a great distance to plan a surprise for them all. At that, Robert gave her a wicked smile and Gwen giggled so sweetly that the children were quite surprised, for they had seldom seen Gwen with so light a heart, short of a glass of Christmas cheer.

Gwen announced tea and the children were astonished at the table that was set for them. There were cakes and cheese, even tiny tarts made with strawberries preserved with honey. When they had eaten their fill, the babes cleared while Robert returned to the fire, and (wouldn’t you know) he began to smoke Will’s very own pipe. He sat in the chair and Gwen lit next to him, perched on the arm of the chair. The babes looked on with eyes like saucers as Gwen explained that uncle Robert would be coming to visit whenever Will was away. He would help Gwen in the cottage, John and Maggie would continue to tend the animals and the garden. There were two rules that they must strictly observe, they must not enter the cottage while Robert was there and they must never speak of Robert to Will (for that would spoil the surprise).

“And I’ll have your oath on it, my dears,” Gwen said sternly. “You must swear by thy father’s own head never to tell him what you know, until Robert and I have sprung the surprise.”

* * * *

That night after Will had come home and the babes were abed, they lay whispering of all that had transpired. They worried what Robert’s true intentions might be, yet they had given a solem oath, on their own dear father’s life, to keep silent, so they tossed and turned till sleep finally caught them and resolved to do as they’d been told. For adult affairs are no business of children.

The next day and the next Robert came to the cottage soon after Will had left, and he left again just before tea. This habit continued as the days wore on into weeks and the weeks into months. Yet the children were faithful to their promise and never entered the cottage until Robert had left. They carried pails to work filled with bread and cheese for luncheon and they wanted for nothing. Still they worried. Soon the leaves began to fall and the shadows grew longer. The cold of winter seemed to nip at them though he was still a ways off.

One sunny day the air was warm and butterflies flitted about the meadow, when a wave of clouuds swept accross the sky like a curtain and it grew quite chilly indeed. Poor Jon and Maggie were soon chilled to the bone and sat with chattering teeth, huddled together for warmth.

“We must return home for our cloaks, lest we catch a chill and die,” Maggie said.

“Nay, Maggie, for we have give our oath on the life of our own dear father. Should we break our promise we risk the life of the one who is dearest to us both!” John cried.

Our story continues:

If you like this story and want to read more check out the eBook Neverwas: Forgotten Tales of Albion on Smashwords.

The Bullfinch and the General

© 2010

Another quick fairy tale for the characters in Redmantle to tell. Feedback is appreciated.

Neverwas: Forgotten Tales of Albion
Neverwas: Forgotten Tales of Albion

There was to be a war between the Kingdom of Albs and the Ogres of the Winilli Empire. The Ogres were ruled by a great and mighty wizard named Hunding, and he had gathered the goodly fae of Englemark, ogres of Thanreach and men of Alemann and joined them with the gnomes of Finnland to make a mighty empire. But Hunding was not satisfied and sought to join the Albar of Albion and the Elsar of Kumria and Gealland to his great Empire, and thus the lots were cast and Hunding sailed against the white walls of Kumberland to conquer.

Now King Aellir of Kumberland was a most puissant warrior and, although a son of man, he was persuasive uniting the Albar and Elsar fae with the men of Kumberland and the Fichtas of Caledon. Faced with so great an army of mortal foes, the giants were pushed back into the sea, though they continued to raid and torment the poor folk of the isle of Albion. The piracy took a great toll and soon there were no merchants to carry goods from Far Lugada, nor spices from the mythical east. The people were worn and bedraggled and the army of Albion began to shrink.

But just as the war demanded a heavy cost of the poor Albinos, the giants paid a heavy tariff as well. Ships were lost to storm and fire. Some were sunk by great stones thrown by massive engines of war. And to make a hard situation yet more fell, men at sea cannot gather nor mill, neither can they sow. The faithful ogre wives and children planted and harvested, milled and stored as best they could, but a farm suffers without the hand of the farmer. Crops rotted in the field, grain soured in the barn and sickness claimed many ogre babes in their cribs. The giant was an ogre of the fiercest cast, yet his heart went out to the families left fatherless and hungry. He was wont to release those with brothers or fathers lost in battle or at sea, and send them home to care for their families and those of their brothers and fathers.

Twixt hardship and loss, in time, the armies of man and ogre were used up entirely and with none left to fight for them, the two great rulers faced one-another in single combat. Though they traded powerful blows that shook the earth and caused the stones to tremble, neither could gain victory over the other. The giant was amazed for no sooner had he wounded the king, than the wound would dry up and the scabs flake away revealing new flesh as clear as if the man were never wounded. This was a truly strange thing, but the king had a secret, for in his dealings with the Alsar, he had been given a magical talisman embrued with the darkest and most arcane powers known to fae or man.

Aellir was the child of an Allemann walkyr and an Elsar maid from Englemark. And he had carved a home for the men of Kumberland from the wild Andred Forest. He was a mighty warrior and acquitted himself handily with the seax and the spear. Yet every wound he delivered to the great ogre, sealed itself as soon as it was made for the giants and gnomes are creatures of the earth and it sustains them.

Yet such mighty wounds cannot be dismissed so easily, and where the giant was healed the earth was sickened, and for every death blow that threatened to whelm the man-king the sea was poisoned to restore him. The mighty fury that moved these princes was a force to be reckoned with, yet even anger and rage must eventually run their course and be drained. In time the mighty foes began to take note of the horror their feud had wrought and they were ashamed, though neither could gain the advantage to kill his opponent and be done with the destruction. With each blow it became apparent that their war would poison the land and sea till neither had a kingdom left to rule.

Aellir spoke first, as he thrust up under the breastplate of his opponent and pierced the ogre’s beating heart. “Hunding you are named, and a dog you are to kill the earth to sate your greed.”

“And you Halfling are a shame on the head of your dread mother, enslaving your brother Elsar and leading men to conquer,” the giant Hunding. growled as he clove through Aellir’s shoulder.

“It seems we shall never agree,” Aellir said. “Yet for the peace of our people and the health of the land, we must cease this war.”

With that, he thrust his spear till the tip brushed the nose of the giant, yet he did not push the attack instead parrying the giant’s great axe. “Desist I say,” Aellir said. “We must parley and find a peace for the sake of those we cherish, if not our own.”

“Aye,” answered Hunding, “put up thy sword and spear and we shall forge a peace, together.”

With that they called for a tent and sat down to bargain, and if ever a negotiation could be called a battle, such was the exchange between those princes. Day and night they brangled and cursed, taunted and cajoled, plead and wept till the servants who fed them began to collapse from exhaustion. Yet, new servants were summoned, and on they went till a year had passed, and with first flower of spring their compact was at last forged.

The bargain was elegant in it’s simplicity. Neither prince would give ground nor cease to pursue his own ends within the lands of their own domain. Hunding would seize what he could wrest from Lugada, and Aellir would take what he could grasp of the isles. Yet, the sea would be sacred, a no-man’s land free from war and bound only by the Law of the Sea and the rule of the great captains. But, to seal their bargain and prevent further conflict, there would be a price. Each man loved his own child better than himself. Aellir had three daughters named Redbury, Elspeth, and Adyith. They were each very different having certain qualities unique and precious among women. Hunding had not been blessed with so many and had only his dear ogre bairn, Goeener. Aellir, who had plenty, would give up his least daughter to marry Hunding’s only son, and their lands would thus be joined by the blood of matrimony and the joy of grandchildren.

Now, while the twain had fought, the fae of Albion and Russia had been left to their own devices. War between the two had depleted the walkyr and ogres till there were scarce enough to hold the land they had, and the fae had been left to grow strong in arms and numbers. The gnomes had been driven from the earth and huddled in the highest mountains till the sickness caused by the dueling princes was past. But the green forest of the fae, protected from the sickened earth and the battle, had given them hope of pushing mankind back into the scrub where he’d been born.

Being a halfling, half Elsar and half man, Aellir believed that the Elsar he conquered served him faithfully and cheerfully. But such was not the case. For, unbeknownst to the king, his closest adviser was a wicked fae, a spy for the queen of Els, Mav herself. She who would would feign see war continue, for, while the war continued, fae were hunted by neither man nor giant. To this end, she had secretly made a pact with Brahm Oberon, King of the Albar to drive the walkyr of Kumberland back into the sea.

When Aellir returned to his palace to prepare for the betrothal, his adviser came to him and convinced him not to give his least daughter, who was a most fair and thoughtful young woman, but instead to send his oldest daughter who had been widowed during the war and who had born a son fit to be heir to the throne of Kumberland. Thus would Hunding be cheated, for while they had agreed upon his least daughter, the written compact was vague and could be fulfilled thus.

So when Hunding sent his seneschal to collect the maiden bride, King Aellir sent his Eldest, Redbury, a plain woman of considerable grace and devoted to her father. The seneshal stayed that night and dined as a guest of the court, but only the eldest daughter was present at the high table and in the morning he left, taking the young widow with him, believing her to be Adyith. As they left, king Aellir stood on the battlements and waved to his daughter, but standing beside him was the Elsar counselor grinning wickedly at the deception.

Now giants, as you well know, have the keenest of vision for things far distant, though they may be fooled by that which is under their noses. So as the carriage moved off, the seneshal looked sharply at the fae standing with the King and recognized him for the trickster Pukt of Mav’s own court! This same fae had accosted him on the road, to warn him of treachery at the hand of King Aellir. Thinking that some mischief must be afoot, the seneshal began to coax the young widow to speak, and soon they were chatting quite comfortably about the wonders to be found in Thanreach.

Finally, he began to ask after the princess’ preferences. How would she like her rooms to be, what sort of maids would she require, questions such as these lulled the woman into a sense of safety and she was unprepared when the seneshal began in earnest. First he told her of the wondrous beasts that we herded and the many treats that could be found at table. Then he asked casually, who would you most like to present with a gift of thirty young oxen not yet broken to the plow. “Why to my father,” she exclaimed, “for he deserves a bride price fit for a king.”

Nodding, the seneshal continued. “And who should receive a tiara of the finest emeralds?” Now the widow was sly, and knew not to mention her sisters. So she thought a moment and replied, “Why, to my dear nurse who taught me my letters and read to me fine tales of Deacons in Shining Armor, and damosels in distress.”

“And who shall get the sugar plums my master serves each night?” he asked while her heart was full of fancy.

“Why, my own dear son should have his fill of them, my Lord. He is a sweet boy and sweets to the sweet!” she cried.

The seneshal was angered, but the poor widow was so distraught he sent her home saying, “Return to your son madame. The fault is thy father’s, but he shall soon regret having tricked my master.”

When the seneshal arrived home, he announced to the king and the court the result of his long journey. He was wroth to return empty handed and demanded that the Emperor once more prosecute war against Albion for the honor of giants and Emperor Hunding. Instead, Hunding merely smiled and sent again for the daughter of King Aellir. This time he sent his own brother to gather the girl and bring her to him. But, when the brother went to Albion, Aellir once again followed the advice of Pukt, his fae counselor, and sent instead his middle daughter, Elspeth, who was devious in mind and outspoken, though beautiful as any woman might wish and capable of grace and dignity, when it suited her purpose.

But Pukt appeared to the ogre princeling at an inn, where they stopped for the night, and told him that the king had once again treated falsely with the giants. The next day as the Hunding’s brother was bringing the girl to him he regaled her with the wonders she would see in Thanreach. When he had lulled Elspeth with sweet tales, he inquired of her, “In all the world there are no finer craftsmen than the gnomes and giants of my brother’s kingdom. If you found a fine swordsmith, and he offered you his finest blade for the mere sight of your beauty, what would you do?”

“Why, I should fly home and present the blade to my father as a gift!”

“And should you find a fine jeweler who offered you his finest ring, fit only for a maiden of chaste virtue, for nothing more than a lock of thy fair hair?”

“Why, I should fly home and present it to my older sister, for she is a lovely maiden and I shall soon be wed.”

“And should you discover a fine toymaker who offered you his finest doll should you but allow him the honor of a single dance?”

“Why, I should fly home to present it to my least sister, for she still plays with dolls and has tea with the fae who lives in the inglenook of her hearth.”

At this, Hunding’s brother realized he’d been tricked and sent her home to her mother, returning home himself to demand that his brother make war for the honor of giantkind, and of his kingdom.

Finally, Hunding sent his own son, Goeener who had only just become a man and must be accompanied by twenty armsmen and a nurse. He gave his son the charge to collect fair Adyith, and none other, before he returned. However, Hunding was advanced in years and though giants are long lived, his creaky bones betrayed him as he hunted a great daw, with wings as broad as the beam of a galleon, and he fell from a great height and died on the rocky shore below.

Word was sent by Eastmark fae, who rode the winds at the root of a giant osprey’s wings.

The message arrived just as Goeener mounted the steps to enter Aellir’s palace, while the least princess watched from the window of her tower suit. When Goeener heard of his father’s death, he took up his father’s sword that had been brought to him by the fae messenger, and in that moment was transformed from a handsome young princeling to a great ogre, every bit as huge and fearsome as his father.

Since Goeener stood on the very steps of the palace when he heard the news and was transformed, the King’s least daughter saw all this transpire, though she could not see the face of the prince. She was frightened to see the fearsome monster she would soon be wed to, and ran to her father and pleaded with him to release her from his vow, for she felt like a prize sow to be won by the yeoman who shot the keenest yard. Her father had run out of daughters, but he had yet another plan to rid them of their obligation. He was certain he could discourage the new emperor from ever troubling them again. So he told his daughter to bide in patience and wait his decision. But she was frightened and, though she loved her father, she mistrusted his counselors and she fled to her tower to weep.

While she was there, a beautiful fae princess appeared to Adyith and offered to help her escape. Doubting the fairy’s intentions, she asked what the fae would require in return for her aid. The fairy explained that she was the girl’s own fae godmother, and that she sought to protect the princess from the new emperor’s cruel dominion.

Finally relenting, princess Adyith followed the fairy’s instructions and stood upon the sill of her window. There she threw a magical red riding mantel, given to her by the fairy, about her shoulders and was immediately transformed into a beautiful Bullfinch. Her silver dress became the finch’s wings and tail, while her raven hair became the finch’s black hood. Everything she wore was transformed with her, save her silver slippers beaded with pearls, for a bird has no use for slippers.

She flew from the window and soon was lost in the shear joy of flight. She flew for hours till she grew hungry and cold and began to wonder what a bullfinch might eat. As she hunted and devoured several juicy flies, she found a beautiful young minstrel singing and playing his harp, beneath a spreading chestnut tree. The young man’s song captured her heart and she landed in the branches above his head to listen as he sang of great battles and lands long lost to the forest. He sang of lost love and dead heroes and finally his song turned to regret for the wrongs great men do.

His song was so touching and his voice so sweet that poor Adyith began to weep, but as she was a bird, her wails came forth as the song of the Bullfinch. The young man was in his own turn enraptured and sat quietly listening to the heart-breaking song of the princess for she too knew sorrow. In a single day, she had lost her father and her home as she fled marriage to young ogre. And, though it seemed hardly possible, she wished for the love of a fine and comely man like the minstrel.

The minstrel wished to keep such a beautiful song bird for his own, and he coaxed Adyith from her perch as she gladly flew to light on his shoulder. The minstrel took her with him to the nearby village and had made for her a beautiful golden cage. The cage was a wondrous construction with mirrors and perches of the finest silver, but it had no door. Instead, the entrance was open with a perch set before it like a porch, and the princess was free to fly about at her whim. This was strange and welcome, as Adyith had no wish to be trapped in a cage to live out her life as a songbird. Yet she didn’t wish to leave the beautiful young man and his sweet voice. She might have transformed and met him as herself, but she feared to reveal herself to minstrel lest the goodman be frightened by the magic of her transformation, or that her father or her fiancee might hear tales and come to take her away. . . .

Our story continues:

If you like this story and want to read more check out the eBook Neverwas: Forgotten Tales of Albion on Smashwords.

Period or Coma?

I wonder if the following really reads right. Is it too pedantic and does it really hint at what it’s like traveling by horse through Essex in the 17th century. Comments would be welcome.

The Ladies were soon packed into the coach and the last of the luggage bound in place before the sun had begun to peak over the roofs and gables on the town. They moved out at a brisk pace, letting the horses burn some of the restlessness that had them whickering and stamping while loading. Even the normally placid team of four pulling the wagon were frisking a bit and nipping the air. As the day wore on they cleared the outskirt of the Tilbury and were soon wending their way through the cots and pastures. Once out of the village they made good time and before the hour they were just pulling into Laindon.

The Suggested Audience

My most memorable Thanksgiving really only be came memorable the following spring. That may seem a bit exaggerated, but let me give you some background. I don’t know about every nook and cranny of the US but most places I’ve lived, turkeys have been a premium used to lure buyers of more costly products. Turkey is everywhere. There’s turkey loaf, and roast turkey, hot hat sandwiches, turkey ham (a personal favorite), turkey bacon (something the inconceivable Evers may appreciate), and turkey even finds its way into hotdogs and luncheon meats that have no business being poultry products. But none of those uses of turkey involve the anatomically intact bird.

Real intact turkey roasted for hours –with or without a stuffing– gets relegated to the the Thanksgiving and possibly Christmas holiday. The birds are slaughtered as much as two years prior and with the magic of cryonics kept below 0 deg. F until needed for the various meat-bird products aforementioned. That’s fine except that these turkeys really can’t take much longer in the vault of Mr. Freeze so they are raised a much more toasty 40 deg and put out there for shoppers to boggle over at under $2 per pound, “with a purchase of $25 or more, not combinable with other offers, and please remove it from our store before it begins to leak the rosy red effluvium of decay.”

In our family we love to take advantage of these cheap (ahem) birds. We buy large ones in excess of 20 pounds and serve turkey casserole, turkey sandwiches and “was there turkey in that surprise?” for the next week. My father loved his turkey so it was welcome. When I left the area to attend residential college it occurred to me that this wealth of bird-like substance could help with the plight of the poor student.

A friend of mine, I’ll call Chet, was renting a cottage just across the street from the school. It made life easy for him. He could roll out of bed and into class and be back to sleep before the warmth of his sheets had faded. Despite his habit of sleeping through lectures, Chet was an honor student. Some might even suggest he was Idiot Savant if it weren’t for his broad base of interests. But, while Chet was an avid fan of … well … eating, he was largely useless in the kitchen. His mother was a fan of fringe diets and fads, like using wheat gluten in place of meat. Chet had never learned how to cook anything more challenging than an MRE. For this reason he was feared and dreaded in the local Chinese buffets, a major feature of a town of 40k permanent residents with 4 universities, a tech school, a Bible school and a junior college.

I felt sorry for Chet. The buffets mostly barred him, his money was short and he’d exhausted the uses of macaroni and freeze-dried ramen. So I made The Suggestion. Remember, I was thinking what a great idea it would be to use the wealth of Thanksgiving Poultry for the betterment of Student-kind. So I called up Chet and while he was bemoaning a particularly unsatisfying meal of spaghetti and popcorn with not marinara, I said, “Why don’t you get a turkey.” It was rapidly approaching the season and they were there to be had.

“How can I afford a turkey? Their so big!” he replied.

“Yes,” I said smugly. “But they’re offered as premiums. Buy ‘X’ number of dollars worth of groceries and they give you a turkey for cheap. Sometimes free, or only five dollars.”

“But I can’t eat much turkey by myself.”

“No. But you can cut it up!”

Bear in mind, Chet was a fan of the Medieval RPGS. More than that he was involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Now this lot were serious about their dress up and role play, but they didn’t have even a moderator with polyhedral dice to limit their fantasies. They carried live steel reproductions of weapons, though somehow an awful lot of the falchions seemed to come from the lawn and garden center. Machetes are not just for breakfast anymore.

So while a bone saw and joint knives were not likely to be available to him, axes and large hacking weapons were. I was confident he would manage to defeat the fowl beast and rescue his cavitating belly. In a series of calls, I explained that he needed to cut the beast into quarters like a chicken. He could then place each quarter into a freezer bag and refreeze them before the carcass had warmed. He would then be able to thaw and roast one quarter each month. The plentiful left overs would carry him through until he could eat no more turkey, then he could repeat the process the following month.

Self satisfied I went back to analyzing the relative merits of Hawthorne and Mather. I visited Chet often that winter. We played cards, talked endlessly about fiction and music. Even compared plans for the future, (he is in avionic software design while I am hawking a book that hasn’t sold yet). But through it all there was a sort of funk that settled over his house. And by Funk I mean the horrible odor of an open grave.

Now I have a sensitive nose. When I was young and had all my taste buds, I could often unravel a recipe’ or guess what was being cooked, from odor alone. I would walk through the front door and rattle off the ingredients before sitting. But Chet had a less sensitive nose. Chet also did not bathe in winter. And I have to admit, it took a while before I was certain the odor was not him. It took a while longer to be certain what I was sensing wasn’t simply a strong sense of foreboding. When I assured myself it was rotting flesh, it took a while to broach the subject. (Daumer had been a news item not long prior)

Finally, I slipped and just blurted out that the house stank. Chet was dumb-struck. He wasn’t used to such blunt language and it shamed him (sorry). I soon realized that, he was NOT going to pull a cleaver from his back pocket and chase me about, wearing a hockey mask. But the question remained, “What was the odor? How had this happened?” Then, as he was stumbling through a half mumbled explanation, it finally dawned on me. I told Chet how to quarter a bird. I told him how to freeze it. I’d even given him cooking tips and he’d been eating it. What I hadn’t done was pedantically spell out what to do with the organs and neck.

Chet had been at a loss. I hadn’t told him to freeze them and he didn’t know if they were food, so he’d left them in the sink. When the odor got too bad, he’d put them in the garbage can under the sink, the one he never emptied. Finally, when the centimeter long maggots and other undesirables got to be too much for him, Chet cleaned house — by packing the garbage, maggots and other sundries into 10 gal. trash bags, which he then deposited on the rear porch of his house, having never hired a contractor to take his garbage away.

Coming from Long Island, NY where trash pickup was a city utility that was bundled into the water bill, he’d tried leaving the cans out a few weeks and finally gotten tired of having the dogs turn them over. Used to being ignored, he simply hauled the garbage back to his porch, intending to let his landlord take care of it when he vacated in the summer.

In the end, we were still remembering the leftovers of his Thanksgiving the following May. And hayfever was a blessing to all concerned. It all goes to show, you have to know your audience and remember to include the details they won’t get on their own.