1: The Great Fire
The zealously guarded story of the Poetry House begins precisely in 1694, when Sam, a travelling musician lost his valuables in the Great Fire of Wiggleyshire. His given name was Samuel Bechamel and he was a French harpist and a cook. He was not a very good harpist, to be honest, but he did make an excellent cook. People at Dijon, where he was born, said that the problem with Sam was that all his passion went into preparing delicious meals, so he had none of it left for his music. Sam could only play two songs on the harp, but he was capable of preparing 79 different kinds of eggs, and was known to have invented chocolate covered raisins when he was only 3 years old. So why did he become a travelling musician? The answer is simple: Sam wanted to see the world.
But although Sam travelled a lot, he was never alone, Asparagus, his dog, was always with him. Sam found him sleeping on the porch of his home the day he left Dijon and from then on they became inseparable. Asparagus kept Sam away from loneliness and trouble (at least most of the time), and in turn, Sam did the same for him. As far as Sam was concerned the only difference between them was that Asparagus was furrier and could follow the trail of a red fox for miles; apart from that they slept in the same bed, ate the same food and even dressed alike (you’ll never believe this, but Asparagus even wore a hat).
It was noon on the 5th day of September when Sam and Asparagus arrived in Wiggleyshire with very long faces. The inseparable couple had had an argument for the first time in seven years and four days. That morning Asparagus had growled at Madam Curvalier, Sam’s benefactor, when she refused to pay his monthly stipend saying “she was no longer to waste generosity in such an absence of artistic talent”.
“I don’t know how many times I‘ve told you one should never growl, nor even grin, to people that are going to give you money” Sam said to Asparagus, “no matter how stupid they are.”
But Asparagus wouldn’t listen.
Sam tried explaining how they needed the money and how asparragu’s attitude wasn’t helping.
Asparragus showed no sign of him paying attention and even turned his head away in the most disdainful manner.
It seemed like they had reached a dead end.
So that day, for the first time in seven years and four days, Sam went to out eat leaving Asparagus behind, in the room they had booked for the night.
Autumn and darkness had fallen heavily on Wiggleyshire when Sam returned to the Figgly Inn (also called the Piggly Inn, the Tinggley House or the “rotten slum”, depending who you were talking to). He had walked all the way to the other side of town to think things over and was ready to speak to Asparagus again and make things right, but when he got to the top of Contrition Street the Tinggley House was not there. The police told him the “rotten slum” had been one of the first buildings to be engulfed by the flames.
There were no words to spell out his loss, so when required to describe his valuables, Sam declared:
27 gold pieces (£32.8)
5 guineas (£5.5)
4 French Louisdores (£2.12)
1 Performance suit (£2)
1 Linen shirt (15s)
1 hat (5s)
10 silverplatted buttons (£1)
1 Chest (7s)
1 harp (£2.50)
-Le cuisinier françois (3s)
-Le pastissier françois (3s)
-Le Cuisinier royal et bourgois (3s)
Asparagus, a most dear relative.
In the police files he was listed as a harpist and given £5 in compensation for the burnt instrument and performance suit. As for Asparagus the local newspaper was kind enough to include a death notice:
ASPARAGUS, Loyal friend and companion of harpist Sam Bechamel. Could hunt red tail foxes and take care of small children. Very clean, never soiled where he wasn’t supposed to. Died in Fire, September, 1694.
2: The Window
Without Asparagus around, loneliness had begun to creep inside Sam. At first it tried to come in through his eyes but tears washed it away, then it tried his ears, and there loneliness found an obstacle free way because Sam had refused to receive comforting words from the towns people.
Sam was lost. He had been sitting on the front steps of the police station for a very long time, not knowing exactly how long because ashes from the fire covered the sky making it impossible to tell between day and night.
Destiny never closes a door without opening a window and here is what it opened for Sam: just when loneliness had almost congested every cell of his body, he took his hat off and with a sigh placed it on the floor. Almost immediately, a man dropped a golden coin in it.
“Cheer up lad!” the man said.
It was Lord Cubbington, town’s banker and lady’s man. Extravagant, is probably the best word to describe him. Lord Cubbington slept all day and conducted his various businesses during the night, he was allergic to wind always wore a red string tied around his left index finger, and didn’t like the taste of water. People said he had picked the strangest habits during his journeys to America and China. I once even heard that he ate worms for breakfast, and that he grew something called coconuts to extract silk from them. But, truth be told, even though John (that was Cubbington’s name) was quite strange, he was a good fellow with a particularly warm heart for other’s misfortunes.
Sam felt the weight of the golden coin now resting proudly in his hat and bemused he lifted his head to find what he thought was an angel. The confusion came, you’ll see, from Lord Cubbington’s attire. This day (as many other days) he was dressed entirely in white except for a black velvet cap, but even that was topped with a luscious white plume. His shoes were of white velvet, his stockings were made of white knitted silk (most likely from his home-grown coconuts), and both his doublet and short breeches were of white velvet embroidered with silver threads. So yes, Lord Cubbington looked like an angel all dressed in white (and that is why every single lady in town, married or not, had something or other to do with him).
“Well, thank you” uttered Sam.
“There is a reason for every thing, you know” said Lord Cubbington emphatically.
Sam was, for once, speechless.
“There are no coincidences in this life” Lord Cubbington continued, “everything is part of a master plan that has been perfectly choreographed to its last detail. So there’s no need to worry, just keep your head up, think of the abundance of life, and I assure you that everything will turn out fine”
“Are you an …” said Sam.
But before Lord Cubbington could answer his question a knot of galloping wind rushed through the street and tipped Sam’s hat over. The golden coin started to roll down the street in a jumble of autumn leaves. It gained incredible speed and was dangerously heading to the sewage. Sam’s heart pounded and with a leap (worthy of an agile frog) he recovered the coin just in time.
“That was close,” Sam said turning towards the angel. But there was no one there. Not even up the street. Sam was perplexed; he was certain that he had seen an angel because it even had disappeared.
But Lord Cubbington was no angel (at least not in the biblical sense). What really happened was that he had seen the wind coming (he had a special sensitivity due to his allergy) so before the gush of air hit them, he had gotten in an alley to protect himself.
The gush of air had cleared the ashes from the sky. Sam could now tell with certainty it was a crisp early morning. As for the loneliness, he checked and noticed he could only feel it resting in his left elbow, so he figured it would eventually go away.
3: The Swerving Plan
Sam had the impression from the walk he had taken before the Great Fire, that Wiggleyshire was not very big. He had taken the Main Parade (whose official and unpopular name was Undeviating Road) from north to south and calculated he had crossed from one end to the other in less than 20 minutes. But now walking in full daylight, Sam understood why it was called Wigglyshire.
The town was planned in the late 600 AD by a man called Jefferson Swerving, a middle aged bachelor engineer with a taste for curves (of all kinds). He was appointed by his Majesty the King to transform the insipid town of Wigglyshire into a “a royal settling of breath taking grandeur”. That was no petty chore (especially given the King’s tendency to beheading), but he was not appalled, oh no, the engineer was a fearless man.
First, he went on seclusion for six months to the mountains of Braviera to get inspiration from nature. He took precise notes of the daring contour of sinuosity of every single mountain in the region. By the time he left, he personally knew every dimple, every crack and every turn of every mountain. He filled hundreds of notebooks with notes about undulation and winding sketches (that unfortunately would later be burnt in the Great Fire that killed Asparagus).
Then, when Mr. Swerving returned from this twisted retreat, he travelled to study the flora and fauna of the famous Island of Ricurvo. No one seems to know where this island is or if it really exists or if Jefferson Swerving just made it all up, took the expense money from the Royal Treasury, and spent two years eating cream pudding in his estate. But, what we do know, is that when he came back, he made an announcement in what was then the town center and unveiled, (to a couple of passersby) the new plan for the construction of what he called the “Mesmerizingly Wiggly Town of Wiggleyshire”
I once got to see the original map Mr. Sweving sent to the King, and I have to say it looked very much like the insides of a human being (intestines, if you know what I mean). The only straight street was the Main Parade, which ran through town from north to south like a spinal cord and from each side emanated an intricate pattern of wiggly streets. To say it plainly the map looked like a box full of ribbons winding in and out the Main Parade in the most capricious manner.
The King loved Jefferson Swerving’s idea and immediately assigned a gigantic amount of money to build what the people started to call “Serpentine Village”. Curves were believed to be the representation of everything good and prosperous to come; sinuosity in every single form and manner was the vehicle that was transporting everyone to abundance. There were many changes, everything became round. The town’s people took it so seriously that even an edict banning the use of sharp edges in speech, buildings and art was proclaimed.
A rounder way of life where the pursuit of fatness was considered ravishingly sensuous, and the generous offering of free food and drink to anyone who would help out in the construction, attracted a lot of persons to Wiggleyshire. At the beginning this brought a lot of educated people to town, all the region’s greatest painters, merchants and poets were there to praise and profit. But then, as the offer became widely known, Wiggleyshire became extremely crowded. There wasn’t enough space for everybody so people started sleeping and defecating on the streets. More and more construction funds were spent on feeding the notably lazy volunteers, until one day the construction came to a halt. A permanent halt. Only the serpentine of streets, buildings and houses on the East part of Parade were completed. The West was never even started so it began to grow in an uncontrollably dangerously square manner.
The East part of town is what Sam discovered walking that crisp autumn morning. He walked for hours in the maze of wiggly streets with a whole in his stomach and the golden coin burning in his pocket.
4: The Smell
Sam figured it had been two days since he had last eaten. It was noon already so every single house he passed on the winding streets of East Wiggleyshire exuded some delicious smell. The first scent he recognized was that of ale and steak coming out of a tavern with a red door. He paused and took a long deep breath, as if he could eat that steak from its smell. A few steps ahead a woman opened a window on a round tavern and the smell of fresh made bread surrounded him, practically sweeping him off the ground. But just when Sam thought he couldn’t take it anymore, he passed by a quaint little cottage where the smell of walnuts and baked apples was so strong he even stopped to smell the walls, (and was very close to licking them). Now he was certain he couldn’t bear the weight of hunger any longer.
He sat on a wooden bench that was propped on the back of a building opposite the sweet smelling cottage and with a deep sigh started thinking what would Asparagus do in a situation like this.
“He would have probably gone for the food” he thought. “Because Asparagus was the sort of fellow who would just jump and get hold of the situation really. He wouldn’t be here sitting on a bench being tortured by food. He wouldn’t be calculating every penny. Oh no Asparagus would already be eating in the best place he could find and then, with a full stomach, he would figure out what to do with whatever money he had left. No one can think proper thoughts with an empty stomach, he would have said. But not really, because he couldn’t literally speak, although there were some times when I’m sure that...”
“Are you the one who lost the doggy to the fire?” said a tiny voice.
Sam looked at the sweet girl covered in freckles that was staring at him.
“Yes” he said
“Well then, my Mommy says you can come inside”
“Mhm she said she is going to give you food and board for one night out of utter pity”
“Mhm she said utter pity because you had lost your dog. My mother likes doggies very much. I love them too. And we saw your dog through the window at the fire”
“You saw Asparagus?”
“No I said we saw your dog! And it was very, very sad. Everyone tried to get him out but no one could because the door was locked. My mommy says the doggie died like daddy”
“Oh I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Well you don’t have to be sorry because I see him every day, so I don’t really miss him.”
The little girl stood quietly for a few seconds and then started playing with her dress.
“Shall we go then mister? Mommy is waiting and she doesn’t like waiting very much. Besides, Miss Beth just made apple crumble with warm walnuts and we’re going to miss it if you take so long!”
The girl started pulling on Sam’s coat, so he got off the bench and followed her across the street to the door of the sweet smelling cottage. On top of the door Sam saw a dangling black sign with golden letters that read:
“Quigly Tea House: A palace of herbal bliss”
The little girl swung the door open and then disappeared inside.
5: The Itch
The prospect of having warm apple crumble, made Sam’s heart pound so hard he could feel the thumping in his head. He was one step away from entering the tea house and being full again, when he felt a terrible itch on his right ankle.
At first, he didn’t take it very seriously, so he bent down took his boot off and scratched the itch through a convenient hole in his sock. But before he could make the itch go, he felt another sting on his left calf. So he used his other hand to scratch. Sam was now in a knot rampantly scratching both legs and ankles and knees when he realized what was going on.
He had had itching fits in the past. The first day it happened a heavy storm of apples and leaves fell down on him. It was the day he left his home in Dijon; the itch was so bad he had had to strip down to his underwear and rub himself against an apple tree. From then on, he had had other itchings, but the only thing he knew about them was that no matter the intensity, if it itched, then something big was going to happen.
If seen from a distance one may have thought Sam was a stage performer rehearsing a very complicated dance. But to him it felt more like vicious ants crawling inside his worn velvet suit biting everywhere. There was a very high level of coordination that was needed to calm an itching; it was a masterful combination between placement, strength and speed. This fit was considerably strong and Sam figured he would need at least five pairs of hands to ease the itch, but he had only one; so he he used his right hand to scratch his head, the left one to scratch his stomach and crotch, rubbed his bootless feet on the ground and scrapped his lower back and bottom against the tea house’s wall.
“Can I help you?” a voice said.
“Actually you can” said Sam stepping away from the wall without opening his eyes. “Right shoulder. There, to the right, down, down, now to left. There! Now stronger! Ah! That feels good!”
And as it always happened, the itch went away as unexpectedly as it started.
When Sam turned around to get his boots back on and thank the stranger, he saw a woman, a very delicate woman with milky soft skin sprinkled with cinnamon freckles. Her raspberry lips were slightly parted in a smile and her profound green eyes were examining Sam. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun at the bottom of her neck.
Sam thought that this beautiful creature must be the little girl’s mother, the one that didn’t like waiting.
“Thank you, Madam, for your help, I mean” Sam said while struggling to get his boots back on.
“Glad to be of assistance. The name is Mrs. Quigly, how do you do? Now would you come inside, we’ve been waiting for you” she said.
“Certainly Madame, I’m sorry if I kept you waiting but I got this most sudden itch and no matter how hard I tried, the pungency...”
“It’s called dirt. Now please do come in”
“Yes, yes well thank you and sorry”
Tucking his shirt inside his pants Sam followed the woman.
“Before we go in, I need to warn you that you shouldn’t stare like that. At a lady. You shouldn’t stare at a lady like that. Especially not to a married one, like me. My husband has a very strong temper and he is not going to appreciate you staring. Is that clear?” the woman said straightening her apron.
Without waiting for Sam’s reply she swung the wooden door into which the little girl had gone in earlier. Mrs. Quigly looked so in control, yet so sweet it remained Sam of pie, a freshly baked pear pie to be exact.
“So are you coming?” she said, “There is roasted lamb and warm crumble”