Saturday, May 21, 2011
A Grim(m) Tale
A peasant woman, recently cast off by her husband, was the tender of a small plot of land in the shadow of a magnificent castle. Struggling to till the soil, plant the seeds and tend to the crops in her husband's absence, she sought assistance from the king to help retain her modest means of living. This powerful king, possessor of all the wealth in the land, assigned her to counsel with his advisers.
On the morning of the meeting, in the hallways of the luxurious towers where many other peasants had gathered to attend similar meetings, she was met by great troops of the king's men, every one of them chipper and cheerful, all dressed in rich garments of red and gold. Her humble attire blended with that of every other peasant: a slight rumple here, a wrinkle there, the colors drab and blue.
Her name was taken, she was assigned a number: 1-1015. Now, absent of identity except for this number, she was escorted to a room partitioned with curtains, where an adviser spoke to an assembled group in the simplest of terms: "do this, do that. Believe everything you hear today. And wait for your number to be called."
All around her were the faces of death, of fleeting remnants of hope. Every age of adult was present - some elderly, many in their prime, some just past the bloom of youth. Some with skin as pale as moonlight, others with skin dark as the depths of a cave. There were whispers, voices in languages she did not comprehend; there was nervous foot-tapping and the fidgeting of many fingers.
Finally she heard "1-1015", and was escorted by yet another king's man -- equally chirpy and chipper, and, from the looks of it, well-fed. She wondered if these people had all been dosed with a potion at the start of the day -- their enthusiasm in the face of so much despair seemed impossible for anyone but the drugged.
They entered a massive auditorium -- thick with plush ruby carpets and draperies -- where row upon row of table was set with a crude stump on one side for each peasant-plaintiff. They wove their way between aisles, where she finally met the custodian of her affairs: a slight woman seated on luxurious cushions, garbed entirely in black leather, with a narrow face and hair which fell from its center part like tiny silver swords suspended from a steel line. She did not smile. Had she not partaken of the potion?
For hours they sat, discussing numbers and accounting and accountability and ability. There was maneuvering and repositioning, there was consultation with superiors and communications dispatched from afar. And there was no solution, no recasting of numbers in order to offer assistance. There was only the stance of profit from the viewpoint of the king. The adviser took out her scale, set weights on either side, and let the peasant see that, unless the king could reap abundantly from her toils, no relief would be offered. It was not that the margin was too slim, but that it didn't exist at all.
"But wait!" the peasant woman shouted.
"I've labored long and hard, hours before the spark of dawn, long past the sun's departure, through frigid winters and searing summers. I've kneeled before the taxman, signed every requisite scroll, fed my family and raised my sons to be healthy, capable men. Does this not count for anything?"
The adviser peered at the peasant with slag-heap eyes: "Our meeting is ended."
Again, a costumed king's man rose up to escort the peasant woman out.
"Now we shall go to the exit-room."
The woman, upon hearing that, envisioned a guillotine wedged into a doorway through which one must pass -- or leave one's head -- upon leaving. But the king, in a rare moment of compassion, had decided to be merciful, and the peasant woman made her exit in safety, her heart heavy, her soul burdened with loss.
(To be continued.)