The following short-short story was written October 10, 1995, in a journal I kept beside the bed in order to record thoughts and ideas, even dreams. I still keep a journal by the bed.
This little tale came just as I was falling asleep, and I haven’t done anything to it since, except for transcribing it to the computer. It came to mind this Thanksgiving as I considered all the things for which I’m grateful, and how sometimes blessings come in disguise.
One day, the young boy’s tutor tried one last time to show him the unimportance of physical beauty. The boy, handsome and groomed and well-deported, was nonetheless reluctant to follow his tutor’s request to enter the small, out-of-the-way room.
“Very well, then,” said the tutor, calmly closing the door and dropping the heavy key into his pocket. “We shall leave these treasures for another time, and immerse ourselves in a sea of mathematics.”
The handsome boy shook his curls and thrust out his chin. “No! Show me this room!”
The tutor’s brows arched. “Oh! I’m so sorry, Master. I thought you were not interested in this room.”
“I’d rather see this room than study more numbers!”
“Then mathematics, it is.” The tutor tucked a large volume securely under his arm and proceeded toward the library at a quick and deliberate pace. Reluctantly, the boy followed, scowling and far slower than his teacher.
Later, while laboring through a particularly intricate piece of poetry, he looked up suddenly and demanded, “What is in the room?”
The tutor shrugged and twirled his pen. “Oh, nothing much. Then, again,” he leaned across the desk, “it could be something very much indeed.”
He held up a mirror that lay beside a lamp. “Look into this.”
The boy did so, and smiled. It was a pleasing sight, he thought, adjusting his collar and smoothing back his curls.
“Is it you?” asked the tutor.
“Of course, it is!” replied the boy, astonished yet sneering. “What would you expect?”
The tutor smiled. “Oh, no! This is merely an image, a reflection of the real person.” He brought the key from his pocket. “Are you ready for the room?”
The boy kept himself in check by squeezing his hands together behind his back. The tutor seemed to take an eternity just to unlock the door. It finally opened quietly, falling back to reveal shelves full of old money caskets. Some were plain, some were carved; some were of wood, and some of gold or silver. All were covered with dust.
“Now,” said the tutor triumphantly, “choose the casket with the treasure.”
The boy’s eyes brightened, and he walked toward the shelves slowly, almost reverently. He reached out to open a beautifully embossed casket.
“No, young sir, do not touch. You must go by appearance alone.”
The boy moved down the row. Suddenly, from the corner of his eye, he saw the glitter of a jewel-encrusted lid. Eagerly, he reached for the casket, blew off the dust, and turned to his tutor.
“This is the one!” he crowed.
The tutor just smiled. “Open it.”
The boy threw back the lid, then exclaimed in disgust, “Why, there’s nothing here!”
“Of course not, dear boy,” said the tutor, unruffled. “Try again.”
This time, the boy chose a gold box. Nothing. He picked a silver casket. Nothing. Soon, all the most beautiful caskets were piled on the floor, open and empty. The boy turned to his tutor, eyes flashing.
“What kind of silly game are you playing?” he asked, his face flushed and teeth clenched. “There is no treasure here.”
“Oh, but you haven’t looked yet!”
“What?!” The boy gestured at the pile. “What is all this, then?”
The tutor smiled. “Do you recall a Scripture passage about a treasure hidden in earthen vessels? You would never expect water to come from a wine bottle, nor wine from a common pitcher, would you? I thought you liked a good battle of wits, lad. Try again.”
The boy looked around the shelves one more time. In a spirit of vengefulness, he grabbed the plainest, most scarred casket and flung it open. Inside were lumps of hard black wax.
“Here’s your treasure!” he mocked, thrusting the box at his teacher.
“Why, so it is!”
“You can’t be serious!”
“But I am!” The tutor reached for one of the black wax objects and broke off a piece. Suddenly, an emerald and a patch of gold glittered through.
“What does all this mean?” asked the bewildered boy, gesturing at the caskets surrounding his feet, and indicating the beautiful ring that now lay in the tutor’s palm.
“All that’s gold does not glitter,” the tutor broke open another wax ball to reveal a pearl and diamond brooch, “just as beauty does not indicate goodness.”
He looked the boy straight in the eyes. “So, tell me, did you see yourself, or merely an image, in the mirror?”
[The above story was written just now, for the first time, so it is quite rough. However, I had to write it down before it was forgotten.]
The writing is a bit pretentious and awkward — hey, it was scribbled down in a rush! — but I may clean it up someday, maybe compile an anthology of my short writing (essays, poems, stories). It’d be nice, too, if my photography skills had advanced enough that I could enhance the text with photos. Someday. Right now, I’m working on a novel-length manuscript, and then there’ll be another two novels (at least): one incomplete, one not yet begun. I’m not sure which is more difficult: a sprawling novel that allows me room to explore the characters and the setting, or a short story that forces me to keep the narrative pointed and contained. But that’s fodder for another blog post.