Writing by John Anthony West

J.A.W. wearing his creative hat : an ongoing potpourri of stories, satires, parables, essays, reviews, commentary, comedy, along with movie, theater and novel excerpts ...and whatever else that comes to mind and that seems directly or tangentially appropriate...

GAIA: A CASE IN POINT - this parable and the following were written and first published in the early 1970's, but they seem perhaps even more applicable today


GAIA: A CASE IN POINT

A PARABLE

Analysis-in-depth of coitus was our primary objective. To this end we applied for a grant-in-aid. When this application was rejected, and only then, did we consider
alternative areas of research. We ask the court to bear this
fact in mind.

The prosecution contends that this rejection implied that unauthorized research in allied fields was likewise unfavorably viewed by the Authorities. But there was not
then, nor is there now, empirical proof of such assertions. If subsequent developments tend to lend them credence, we ask the court to bear in mind the possibility of sheer
coincidence.

Barred from coital research, consensus settled upon masturbation as the most gratifying surrogate. But we reiterate: this was not the original objective. Only the
intransigeance of the authorities forced us to such an alternative. Moreover, compelled by limited research funds to abandon the controlled conditions of the laboratory for those of the field, we decline to accept responsibility for the results of an encounter whose parameters were dictated by conditions outside our control.

To the layman, an analysis of masturbation may appear a sterile pursuit. But it was not long before our own specialists came to contrary conclusions. Our surveys
yielded data calling for advanced interpretive skills. Any hint of monotony that might have otherwise attended so unilateral an activity was more than offset by the quality of the statistics. Fundamental techniques of Manipulation, Observation, Collation and Tabulation each spawned their own family of clearly defined specialties calling for exacting technical expertise.

Indeed, so absorbed were we in the work at hand, that had we not looked up inadvertently and seen her standing there, we might well have forgotten our primary objective altogether.

The prosecution wrongly accuses us of premeditation. But in fact, even the considerable shock of this first, chance encounter was not enough to dissuade us immediately from our alternative activities.

Many specialists argued that it was unwise to abandon research characterized by high statistical significance and total predictability for the complexities and uncertainties
of coitus. The initial rejection of the grant-in-aid petition was used to support this view.

But to a majority, the rejected petition indicated simply that the Authorities were bureaucrats.

Having looked up, having seen her standing there, our primary objective was brought forcibly to mind. But we stress to the court our passive role in the affair.

We made no move to attract her attention. Quite the contrary. It may have been her feminine curiosity; it may have been that she craved genuine intellectual satisfaction; whatever it was, she approached uninvited and stood watching
as we engaged in scientific activity.

We do not deny that as a spectator she was within her rights. Our research, carried out on behalf of the community, is open to the public. But we do deny that our
subsequent actions were motivated by her self-evident disapproval. As a citizen she was entitled to an opinion, no matter how unobjective.

By the same token, acting in the interests of the community, we felt within our own rights to act upon the provocation fired by her own unsolicited presence.

A committee was selected and a tentative research program formulated. She was approached, and in impeccably objective terminology invited to participate in coital research in the interests of the advancement of learning.

We humbly submit to the court that her reply was irrelevant and frivolous. And that, accustomed as we were, to the rigorous atmosphere of the laboratory, it was
tantamount to insult. We maintain that her reply must be considered prima facie incitement of all that followed.

<>"Yes!", she said, "if you love me."

This contravened all accepted philological and rational linguistic standards. It was a statement devoid of objective significance.

Was it calculated to deride our efforts? To sabotage them? Or, despite her unsophisticated appearance, could it have been a test of our intentions? To which an answer in the affirmative might be construed as an impediment to the advancement of learning? Or was it conceivable that the question was meant literally? In this era of progress, was it possible that she thought us still susceptible of
subjectivity?

We assured her that our program would be conducted in perfect dispassion, under control conditions, and that nothing would be withheld from either the public or the press.

"If you do not love me, you will never know me," she replied.

This statement defied logical comprehension, but eventually our philologists, cryptographers and positivists succeeded in couching it in acceptable terminology. Briefly, she posed a paradox: she intended to withhold cooperation in the compilation of objective, statistically-verifiable coital data until personally convinced by demonstrations of which she reserved the right to sit as sole judge, that the petitionees were undergoing experiences of a sufficient pre-determined intensity and of a subjective and instinctual nature which, intrinsically emotive, hence unsusceptible of quantitative analysis, would 'a priori' invalidate those data,
the conditions of whose establishment contained within themselves the ultimate bases of their own invalidation.

<>We considered these bizarre conditions tantamount to refusal. Nevertheless, we remind the court, that even flaunted in this manner, our reaction was far from unanimous. Some counseled a return to masturbation. Others favored further parleys.
But a majority felt we must not allow an opportunity for coital research to elude us due to a failure in negotiations; a failure brought on by her own unwillingness to listen to Reason. A motion was made to remand her into custody.

This decision was announced formally, through the usual accredited channels. We agreed in writing to observe hygienic conditions and we offered a receipt for her clothing and possessions. We expected her to observe the reciprocal protocol, to protest through recognized channels which would in due course lead to impartial arbitration, ultimately culminating in the usual permission to proceed upon payment
of a just indemnity.

Yet she declined to observe a convention that prevails over the whole of the civilized scientific world. To our utter surprise and astonishment, she fled.

The suddenness and inconsiderateness of this action momentarily confounded us. An instinctive movement to catch her succeeded only in tearing off a length of her gown. With amazing celerity she disappeared into the wilderness.

Unable to form even an interim committee we took up the pursuit in a state of regrettable disorganization.

Details of the chase may interest scholars and historians but are irrelevant to our case. Suffice it to say the chase was long and arduous. Sometimes we gained ground. Sometimes we lost sight of her altogether. Often we lost
sight of each other. On several occasions we believed we had her trapped and issued announcements to that effect. Yet a concerted attack would provide no more than another layer of her curiously diaphanous but many-layered gown. With a rustle of twigs, a rush of wind, and a mocking smile she would again elude us, retreating nimbly down some escape route we had failed to notice, into increasingly remote and
intractable terrain.

Eventually, however, it became clear there was nowhere further for her to go. Bit by bit, her clothes and belongings fell into our hands. Sent back to the laboratories for analysis, these yielded data enabling us to increase the efficiency of our tracking strategy... and at last she was ours!

We freely admit that the long chase had incited us to unprecedented levels of objectivity. Specialists disputed their respective roles in the capture, and she was subjected to research procedures that would not have obtained under
ideal laboratory conditions. However, when it was discovered that these methods were yielding unsatisfactory data, procedural improvements were initiated. Henceforth, specialists obtained information by turns under strict controls.

The prosecution contends that her cries for mercy, and later for help and finally for respite should have been heeded prior to her demise. In principle, this does not sound
unreasonable. But we ask the court to bear in mind the fact that it was her own irrationality that provoked the whole unnecessary episode of the chase. Upon its successful culmination, we claim it both natural and reasonable to have concerned ourselves with the advancement of learning to the exclusion of all else. Nor can the prosecution prove that research carried out under ideal conditions would have
terminated otherwise. The acquisition of knowledge is impossible without mistakes. Moreover, the project was carried out with the full sanction of the community. Had
expectations been fulfilled, there would have been no trial. There would have been the customary acclaim and bestowal of grants and awards. But because she proved unworthy of the privilieged position she had been granted, we find ourselves
on trial.

The sentimentality of the layman has been aroused by propagandists. The operation has been called a failure. But the opinion of qualified experts is one of sharp
disagreement. Despite the unavailability of the Examinee, invaluable data has been collected, which is even now being studied for the benefit of the community.

We plead `Not Guilty' to the charge of Rape and Murder.

The Prosecution has also pointed out that the premises upon which she was first encountered were in fact owned by her.

We reply that this information was never made manifest to us in official or documented form. There were no barriers, either natural or artificial, erected to prevent
entry. There were no signs posted. However, if ignorance of the law be deemed no excuse, then we plead `Guilty' to the misdemeanor of Trespass.

The Defense rests.

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A CASE HISTORY

In the old days we were slaves. They did as they pleased with us. Go left! they told us and we went. When they said Go right! we did so. We were sentinels, masons, courriers forever at their beck and call. When they commanded Die for the cause! we died.

For such thraldom they paid us a pittance from the Great Rivers.

Then heretics arose from our midst, savants who questioned the Charter and the Laws.

What Cause? they asked. What meaning? What for? Where is the proof? These sages rebelled, and they turned upon us, called us fools and oxen; sheep!

No need for slavery! they cried. Freedom for all!

Proliferate and prevail!

What wars we had in those days! The enemy sent wizards and prophets, but we no longer succumbed to Unreason. In slavery, Freedom! we were told, but now we laughed. Our savants stood fast. With the bright tools of logic they chipped away, undermined the pedestals, and the magicians toppled over in public ignominy. The troops they sent to quell the insurrection were ambushed and destroyed. We had learned to hide deep in the forests, to strike when least expected, and to run.

Now, at long last, we drank our fill of the Great Rivers.

Proliferate and prevail!

Enlightened by scholars and liberators we raised armies and funds. Investigators pressed to the farthest reaches of the Great Rivers. And where we conquered we colonized. Free to choose our own professions, masters of our destinies, we toiled joyously for the Cause.

Civilizations rose and fell—and there were setbacks, Dark Ages when the wizards and shamans gained followings and a foothold.

Gradually all were overcome. Their influence waned, their teachings were forgotten. We encroached upon their lands, set up cities in the wilderness. We assimilated the inhabitants. Those who resisted we rooted out and destroyed. Everywhere the voice of Freedom resounded.

Once and for all the tide had turned. The armies sent out to meet us were recruited from adolescents and old men. We mocked them and sent them on their way. Only control of the Machinery eluded us.

But the battle is almost over now, and it cannot be long. We are masters of the Great Rivers (we use them to carry off our industrial wastes). River banks, islands, archipelagoes, all are ours; all but the Machinery. And shortly we shall have that. It will not be long now before our savants solve this one last remaining mystery, and we shall know What Makes It Tick.

Of the enemy, almost nothing is heard. The witch doctors have all but vanished. Those that die are not replaced; those that remain are old and dotty.

They stand barefoot and in rags, exiled by new laws to the stinking mudflats of the Great Rivers, their voices all but drowned out by the whirr and hum of factories along the banks. Thrill-seekers and tourists still seek them out on occasion, to make what they can of their mumbo-jumbo.

For nothing remains of their once-vaunted eloquence, nothing but a single incantation, the meaning of which has long since been forgotten.

"Metastasis!" they chant, over and over again; a single tetrasyllable. "Metastasis!" "Metastasis!" "Metastasis!" "Metastasis!"...

 

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THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES (con't.)

A Fairy Tale

by John Anthony West

 

'Why, he has nothing on!' cried a little child.
'Listen to the voice of conscience!' said his father, for everyone was whistering to his neighbor what the child had said. " He has nothing on! There is a little child here who says he has nothing on!' 'He really has nothing on!' the whole crowd at length cried.

The Emperor shrank within himself as he heard their remarks, for it seemed to him that they were right, but he thought at the same time, 'At any rate I must go through with this procession to the end.' So he put on a still haughtier air, and his gentlemen-in-waiting marched behind, carefully holding up the train that wasn't there.

Hans Christian Anderson

 

When the Emperor got back to the palace, his face was as red with shame as his legs were blue with cold. He knew that the news had preceded him, for it was common knowledge that even his own personal jet, the swiftest in the empire, was not as swift as rumor. Besides, the palace staff would have seen everything on television.

The very lackeys smirked as he walked past, and guards and Secret Service men, disguised as footmen, exchanged whispers and giggles as they shut the ivory-and-gold inlaid doors behind their sovereign. Perhaps this was only his imagination. But perhaps it was not. Had it not been for strained relations between the Flunkies Union and the Court, the Emperor would have ordered a caning for them all.

The Perpetual Poll Machine, designed to give up-to-the- minute readouts on all imperial questions, divulged a 79 percent dip in confidence in the Emperor's imperialness.

The press derided the debacle as a "sartorial asscapade." The Imperial Minister of Communications called for emergency measures. "Image-enhancing structuralized communications programs must be instituted, orientated at credibility positivization designed to maximize prestige-dwindle reversal feedback functions."

Other experts agreed that the minister had spoken for them all, and a summit conference was convened to get to the bottom of the matter.

"Yes", said the Emperor, "but first let us behead those rogues. the weavers."

" Your Majesty," the ministers protested, "suppose the weavers prove right and the child wrong?"

"Right or wrong, those weavers are enemies of the state. Behead them," the Emperor commanded.

"But we have abolished capital punishment!" the Lord High Justice demurred.

"The exception proves the rule," thundered the Emperor.

So the weavers were summoned and then summarily beheaded.

"Truly, logic is a wonderful thing," the Imperial Philosopher remarked.

Justice having triumphed, a commission was appointed to study the foregoing events and to examine the credentials of the offending child.

Upon what authority did he dare disparage the Emperor's new clothes? What were his qualifications? What degrees did he have?

It was recalled that the very first stipulation made by the late weavers was that the fabric was invisible to the stupid and the foolish. Was it not therefore likely, the imperial sociologist proposed, that in a society as progressive as their own, the people had become so advanced that only one of the Emperor's subjects, and a child at that, should have proved stupid and foolish enough not to have seen the Emperor's new clothes?

The Imperial Economist supported this argument from another angle. "We must remember how many man-hours the late weavers worked," he argued. "Surely, it is illogical and uneconomical - which comes to the same thing - to expend time and effort on imaginary production. Fabric must have been produced!"

"Clearly," said the Lord High Spin Doctor, "it is simply a question of reestablishing confidence in the reality of the Emperor's new clothes."

The late weavers had taken every precaution to retain the secrets of their art. However, by bugging the looms and supplying the weavers with selected indoctrinated apprentices, the IBI (Imperial Bureau of Investigation) had systematically collected those secrets. The chief of the IBI proudly asserted that immediate mass production of the material was possible.

The wheels of empire were set in motion. Committees were formed. Grants were allocated. Research was begun. And the Imperial Copywriter set to work thinking up a brand name for the magical material.

It was the Emperor's wish that every one of his subjects, regardless of status, share in the pride of ownership of some article of clothing made of the new material. This was a wish dictated by expediency as much as by magnamimity. Once government aid had been distributed, who could still doubt its existence? Taxes were levied to finance textile plants, and a campaign was initiated to inform the public of all that was being done on its behalf.

The great film director Ziti Balonioni was summoned to the palace. An epic documentary film was commissioned. Material Benefits would tell the entire story of the marvelous new fabric from beginning to end.

The empire busied itself in manufacturing the subtle textile. The Imperial Inorganic Chemist even succeeded in inventing a synthetic substitute for distribution to Third World countries.

The Emperor's new image shone.

Only historians remembered the infamous procession, but their analyses of it were mutually contradictory. One saw it as a phase in the eternal class struggle. Another ascribed it to a temporary regression into an earlier, less evolved state of consciousness. A third postulated an extremist plot to discredit the Emperor.

Meanwhile the little child responsible for the event had been examined in depth by the Imperial Child Psychologist. He had been compelled to take the Imperial Personality Test. The results were unprecedented. The boy registered zero personality.

He had refused to choose between alternatives to the question, Which would you rather be: A. Pope ( ); B. Emperor ( )? Instead he had penciled in his own answer in the margin: C. Cowboy (x).

To the question, Which would you rather do: A. Plan an advertising campaign to promote the Emperor's new clothes ( ); B. Design a loom to make the Emperor's new clothes ( ), C. Manage a department store selling the Emperor's new clothes ( ) he had penciled in: D. Drive a fire engine (x).

The Imperial Personality Test was unamiously considered to be infallible. A mood of apprehension swept over the empire. A rumor spread that hostile agents had unleashed a consciousness-contracting drug and that the child was its first victim. But these suspicions were allayed when specialists assigned to the case reported themselves l00 percent free of the symptoms after weeks of close-contact testing.

Medical historians, delving into the Imperial Archives, put forward a reassuring explanation. They found that in the past a pathological condition very similar to the current case was by no means uncommon, particularly among small children. However, according to the records, the symptoms responded readily to education and disappeared. However, since the child under present surveillance had been subjected to educational methods far more sophisticated than anything previously known, it was obvious that a more radical treatment was required. Occupational therapy was prescribed.

Amid considerable public acclaim, the child was awarded the post of Master of the Imperial Wardrobe, perhaps the second most prestigious position in the Empire.

Yet within a week he was complaining publicly that he had nothing to do.

He was diagnosed by the imperial psychologist as "abnormal", but a worried public, goaded by the press, refused to accept such a verdict. The Emperor therefore called a special session of the Legislature, whose prolonged parleys seemed to be heading for a stalemate until help came from a most unexpected quarter.

Out of respect for tradition, the post of Imperial Philosopher had never been abolished. As a pure formality, on every official matter, the imperial philosopher was offically consulted, and his opinion was duly noted in the register. Not once in the history of the empire had the philosopher's advice been heeded. But it was precisely this that constituted the value of the discipline, according to the Imperial Philosopher, himself. If philosophy had been so refined that it could no longer be applied to any problem of human life, this would prove that philosophy had become wholly objective, therefore scientific, and therefore true. So, secure in his opinion, he was happy to leave questions of utility to others.

To the question, What should the empire do about the little child who insists the Emperor's new clothes do not exist? the philosopher replied, as he had to so many questions in the past, "Advanced, modern philosophy recognizes as valid only those questions to which rational, logical answers can be found. Questions that do not admit of rational, logical answers are termed improper, or pseudoquestions. By definition, a pseudoquestion cannot exist. Since the question now before me does not admit of a rational answer, it can be defined as a pseudoquestion. By legitimate extension, a pseudoquestion can only be generated by a pseudoproblem. And therefore, from a philosophical point of view, the issue does not exist."

Suddenly the congress of specialists, experts and authorities was jolted out of the respectful torpor traditionally attending any philosophical opinion. No one would dream of asking the people of the empire to listen to a philosopher. But modern philosophers regard philosophy as a science, and scientists regard science as a philosophy. Psychology is a science; therefore, psychology is a philosophy. Over the years, as the empire had advanced, psychologists had broken down human personality into rational scientific categories. Since tests proved that the child who insisted that the Emperor wore no clothes did not fit into any of these categories, it followed logically and irrefutably that he was an improper child, a pseudochild, and therefore no child at all.

Immediately declared a nonperson by the Imperial State Department and officially denounced as a figment by the Imperial Mass Media, his name was stricken from the Imperial Public Opinion Poll. It was not very long before the Imperial Man-in-the-street grew accustomed to the boy's persistent pseudopresence, or absence, and the whole populace threw themselves wholeheartedly into the design, manufacture, sale and distribution of the Emperor's new clothes and lived happily ever after. Or so it seemed.

As for the little child, the imperial decrees merely made official whatever it was that made him unlike everyone else in the first place. Nothing changed, not really. He was accustomed to loneliness. In the end it was not even a high price to pay. For when winter came, none but he stayed warm.

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THE FOX AND THE HEDGEHOG

A Parable

by John Anthony West

The Fox knows many things,
But the Hedgehog knows one big thing

Archilochus

 

It was Friday afternoon, payday. Fox was on his way to rip off the supermarket. But as he trotted along, his head full of new schemes, he was stopped in his tracks by a strange sight.

Before him, stretching as far as he could see either to the right or to the left, was a high wall. At the base of this wall Hedgehog was digging furiously.

Now Fox knew that Hedgehog was a prickly customer, edible only under extreme duress, and then only by paying assiduous care to culinary technique.

"Outasight, Pricklypork!" said Fox with familiarity and a hint of derision. "Would you mind telling me what you're at, Man?"

Knowing his low rating on the gourmand scale, Hedgehog had no fear. Without ceasing his furious digging, he said, "Trying to get to the other side, Man. Obviously."

"Far out!" said Fox. "But you'll never get there that way, Man! That wall is made of solid stone. On reinforced concrete foundations. Can't you read, Man?" Fox pointed to a sign on the wall, slightly to the left.Because Hedgehog always looked straight ahead, he had never noticed the sign. It read:

 

 

"Builders will say anything," Hedgehog replied calmly. "And I am determinetd to get to the other side." He resumed his digging.

But now Fox was intrigued, though it was getting late, and the supermarket would soon be emptying out.

"Hey, Man! What do you want to get to the other side for, when all the good things of life are over here? Rebbits in the hedges, Man! Fridays, payday, supermarket jammed. You can rip off anything you want. Everywhere you look, little vixens twitch their bushy tails!" He pointed knowingly to his head. "Use your tuchis, Man. You can make all the bread you need without even working!"

Hedgehog did not understand this latter allusion, and Fox explained contemptuously. "You don't know that old one, Man? Like there are these two Irishmen, dig? Pat and Mike. They both open shops in the Jewish quarter. Pat goes broke. Mike gets rich. Bankruptcy sale closes Pat. Pat goes to Mike. Says, `How do you stay in business, Man, dealing with all those smart Jews?' `Ah!' says Mike, and he points to his head. "Sure and begorrah, 'tis easy. All you have to do is to use your tuchis'"

Hedgehog was unamused and continued digging. "Don't fancy rabbit," he remarked. "It is dishonest to rip off the supermarket. Besides, I'm so slow on my feet, I'd get caught. Vixens hold little attraction for the likes of me, nor am I interested in making a lot of bread.

" Chacun á son ragoût Man", Fox said amiably. But I still don't see why you want to get to the other side."

"That is the Garden of Djehuti," said Hedgehog, digging.

"Far out!" said Fox, for lack of anything better to say.

For he considered Hedgehog's reply unsatisfactory, if deliberately irrelevant. "What is there, then, in this Garden of Djehuti that we do not already have on this side?" he asked, mimicking Hedgehog's somewhat stilted syntax.

"The question," said Hedgehog, "is inauspiciously phrased. Ask instead: What is there not in the Garden of Djehuti that there is on this side? In the Garden of Djehuti there is no Time."

This made Fox stop to think. For just a moment the schemes that were always racing through his head came to a halt. Upon reflection, he wearied of rabbit. There was little kick left in ripping off the supermarket, since the food was full of chemicals and additives. Vixens? Well, vixens were a problem. But when you came right down to the nitty-gritty, they were all pretty much the same. And the bread was worth less by the year, even when you used your tuchis . And there was talk about a change of climate.

Strange, thought Fox, for all that he knew, no one had ever mentioned the Garden of Djehuti. Nor in all his comings and goings had he ever noticed the long, high wall. "But," he said to Hedgehog, "I`ll tell you this, amigo. You'll never get to the other side by digging. We must find a way over the top. My curiosity has now been aroused. Follow me, and we'll find a way, Man!"

"Cool," said Hedgehog, and he stopped digging long enough to watch Fox leap mightily in the air, hoping to catch the top ledge and hoist himself over. But high as he leaped, he could not even see the top. He vaulted again and again, each time higher, but in vain.

"You see? Not so easy," said Hedgehog, and he began to dig again.

Fox waited till he caught his breath, and immediately he hatched a new scheme.

He trotted over to the local builders' supply depot and asked the boss for professional advice. Now the boss was something of a jackass and loved to hear himself bray professionally. After lengthy diagnosis, he recommended a scaling ladder of appropriate height. But Fox declared that carrying a heavy ladder through a public street was an ungentlemanly occupation for a fox. He had an easier solution. And he asked the builder's merchant for a long length of best- quality, groovy-colored nylon rope and some grappling hooks.

Because the boss was a jackass, he turned his back on Fox and went up to the stores to fetch the rope. No sooner had he gone than Fox availed himself of the longest ladder in the shop and trundled it off to join Hedgehog at the wall.

However, despite knowledgeable calculations, Fox had again misjudged the height of the wall. The ladder was nowhere near high enough.

Pondering what to try next, Fox was interrupted by the sound of a passing helicopter, out on traffic patrol. Immediately Fox had a new scheme.

While at the builder's depot, he had also managed to acquire a pocketful of handy tools. Now, with screwdriver, pliers and soldering iron, Fox swiftly converted the cassette recorder that he always carried with him into a two-way radio. He attracted the attention of the chopper pilot, and bedazzled him with a story - a story so eloquent, so plausible, so rich in convincing detail that no one, not even Fox himself, could have doubted its veracity.

Briefly, Fox claimed that he was a resident of Djehuti who, while away on a combined business/pleasure trip, had been accosted by tattooed hooligans on motorbikes (Fox described each hooligan, quoted their tattoos, and cited the engine capacities and makes of their bikes.) His passport had been stolen. And now, trying to get back home, he found they had also taken his key. Would he, the chopper pilot, therefore, drop a lifeline to him, and give him a hoist over the wall - for ample remuneration, of course?

But when the pilot looked, he could not see the garden, nor even the wall. At first he tried to discern Fox's motives, which he knew to be invariably ulterior, and then he thought that maybe Fox was just on a bum trip. But he was too busy trying to unsnarl an interminable traffic jam to delve into the matter. He, too, was concerned about atmospheric conditions, and he was anxious to get back to base in time for tea. Cutting Fox off the transmitter, he flew the chopper on its way.

It was finally clear to Fox that neither brute force nor guile nor even creative imagination would get him over the wall. Fox spoke sharply to Hedgehog, who was distracting him by pointing to a tiny chip of concrete that he had at last succeeded in dislodging.

Fox dreamed up another, still more audacious scheme. He would resort to magic. He trotted along to a bookshop where he often browsed but seldom made a purchase.

Now this bookshop, like all bookshops, could not make money selling literature. It stayed in business only by peddling porn. But the bookstore owner was a sly old dog. He knew that if he took his eyes off Fox, even for a minute, to fetch a set of those amazing Dutch playing cards out from under the counter - where the hardcore stuff was kept - Fox would have something else. So he said he was out of stock.

Fox accepted this explanation with typical sangfroid and sauntered over to the kiddies' department to chat up the pert little vixen there.

But she had been warned about Fox. So when he told her she had the sharpest, wettest, blackest little nose he had ever seen, and the beadiest eyes, and the bushiest tail in the world, she blushed nicely but she said, "No way, Man!" She declined his invitation to meet her in the classics department - where nobody ever went.

Lighting a Turkish cigarette in a long, amber holder, and blowing the smoke out in blue streams through his nostrils, Fox begged her to allow him to clear up an evident misunderstanding.

For he was not your everyday, run-of-the-mill Freddy Fox, of whom she should rightly beware, he said. Rether he was your actual Twentieth-Century Fox, in person. "Just call me Twentieth-Century," he said breezily. And he was, he said, out on a rekky, looking for the right someone to star in his new musical version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This cast the matter in a new perspective. The little vixen knew precisely what Hollywood would do with Snow White, and she had no objection to the full frontals. But she hoped that, if she got the part, maybe they'd find somebody to double for the close-up work with the dwarfs.

She readily assented to meet Fox after hours for a screen test and to bring along the book of fairy tales he requested so that they could run through some scenes.

She went at the screen test with so much artistry that they did several takes, momentariy distracting Fox. But at last he sent the little vixen packing, giving her a duff check to buy a plane ticket to L.A., and promising her that, with her talent, she would soon be a great star.

He flipped through the fairy-tale book till he came to Jack and the Beanstalk. He plucked some seeds from one of the illustrations, then scattered them on the ground in front of the wall.

"Now you just watch this, Man!" he counseled the skeptical Hedgehog.

At first nothing happened. Then Fox watered the seeds with the sweat off Hedgehog's brow, with the tears of his own impatience, and with a bottle of vintage champagne he'd ripped off from the supermarket and was saving for a special occasion. In a trice the beanstalk grew as high as the eye could see. But Fox had no time to stand around admiring the horticulture; there was something in the air. Nimbly he scampered up the beanstalk, oblivious of the jet planes roaring past him.

Fox climbed and climbed. But no matter how high he climbed, the top of the wall that kept him from the Garden of Djehuti was still higher, and out of reach. And as he climbed, he realized that he had been so busy trying at all costs to get to the top that he had quite forgotten his original compelling reason to do so. In a flash of intuition, he understood that climbing was not enough; it was essential to know the reason for climbing as well. And for that he needed Hedgehog's counsel.

Assuming that Hedgehog was climbing right behind him, he looked down, intending to ask why it was that they were there. To his astonishment, Hedgehog was nowhere to be seen.

Squinting, and looking far, far down, Fox could just make out a tiny shape scrabbling away at the base of the wall.

The signs to the west were ominous. Fox virtually flew down the beanstalk to where Hedgehog was digging.

With unhurried solemnity Hedgehog explained that he had lost patience with Fox's wild schemes; he had decided that Fox was just up to his usual shenanigans, and he had therefore gone back to doing the only thing he knew how to do, which was to burrow away at the wall.

Fox was beside himself with impatience. "Yes, Man, I'm with you. I know all that! But why the devil do we want to go there in the first place?"

"Go where?" Hedgehog asked, steadily digging. Fox was jumping up and down, he was so exasperated. "Into the garden, Man! Into the Garden of Djehuti!"

"How many times do I have to explain it to you," Hedgehog replied, rhetorically, pedantically, unhurriedly. "Because in the Garden of Djehuti there is no Time."

Fox clapped a hand to his forehead histrionically. "Far out! I knew there was a good reason!" he shouted. "Come on, Man, shake it!"

Something was really going on in the distance now, but Hedgehog had launched into a philosophical and psychological explanation of the significance of the Garden of Djehuti and of the importance of his quest.

Fox cut him short and, taking him by the paw, led him swiftly up the beanstalk to the top. But as they stepped out onto the wall that separated the garden from where they had always been, Hedgehog balked. He had never been off the ground before, and now he suddenly discovered he was afraid of heights. Before taking the plunge, he wanted to discuss the implications of this newly discovered aspect of his character. Unceremoniously Fox pushed him off the wall and, taking a deep breath, jumped after.

And from the timeless safety of the Garden of Djehuti they watched as the western sky was rocketed by a light that was not lightning, rent by a sound that was not thunder, while clouds from which no rain fell billowed high in the air, completely obscuring the distant horizon.

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THE GREYHOUND AND THE BLUEBIRD

An Ancient Egyptian Love Story

Freely translated from the hieroglyphs by John Anthony West

 

The Pharoah Amen-em-het was devoted to the chase, and owned a white coursing greyhound that was the pride of his kennel. Never was there a hound with keener scent or sharper eyes, so tireless in the chase, or so quick at the kill.

One day, searching for quarry, the Greyhound's nose led him into a little-frequented garden belonging to the Queen. There, beneath a grove of acacia trees, he noticed a cleverly wrought, commodious cage, and inside the cage a little bird such as he never seen before; a bird with feathers of brilliant and beautiful blue, hopping about and chirping in the most charming and intelligent fashion imaginable.

Instantly, the Greyhound fell deeply in love with the Bluebird, and grieved to see her cooped up in a cage.

"Oh! Little Bluebird," he said, "cages are for mindless canaries and chattering parrots. Cages are not for Bluebirds! Amon, He-Whose-Name-Means-`Hidden', created the Bluebird to fly! Even though I know you must be placed here by the orders of the wicked Queen, I have a plan to set you free. Listen!...Swift though I may be, however keen my scent and sharp my eyes, the fact is I cannot fly. Now, the desert is wide, and the quarry canny. Were I to set you free, you might fly high in the sky before me, and serve as my guide, my colleague, my beacon and my love. Together we would hunt down the creatures of Set, the Enemies of Re; and my Master would be pleased that I took the matter of your freedom into my own paws. We should win honor before the Gods.

Flattered and exhilarated, the Bluebird returned the Greyhound's look of true love, and the meeting of eyes was noted by the Ibis-headed Djehuti, Scribe of the Gods, who recorded it in indelible ink on the indestructible papyrus of the Great Scroll of Destiny.

"Come, Bluebird!" said the Greyhound. "I shall hold the door for you. Fly from the cage and marry me. We shall sit in the Royal Palace, at the foot of the Pharaoh. Where you beckon I shall go; where I go, you shall follow. Together we will hunt down the creatures of Set, the Enemies of Re."

But no sooner had the Bluebird set foot upon the threshold of the cage than she was stricken with a thousand doubts and fears. In hesitating, she caught a glimpse of her own reflection in the mirror, and now, as she looked at the Greyhound, all she could see was his wagging tail and the double row of white fangs bared in a wide smile.

"But no!" she cried. "It cannot be! I see that I was momentarily seduced by your eloquence. I have changed my mind, which is a bird's prerogative! A bluebird cannot marry a greyhound! That is plain commonsense. It is simple biology! Everyone knows that!"

The Greyhound attributed such talk to long confinement in the cage, or perhaps to a spell cast by the wicked Queen who was reputed to be a witch.

"Everyone!" he scoffed. "Who is `everyone' ? Everyone does not sit where I sit, at the foot of the Pharoah, listening to the words of the Great Sage. Disparity of form in this instance simply masks Divine complementarity of function! I am Thesem Heru, a greyhound of Horus, created to avenge the dismemberment of Osiris by Set. You are winged, and therefore Spirit, and free, my Bluebird! Created to guide me and sustain me on my mission. Do not let 'everyone' mislead you into confounding appearance with essence. True love is the basis of Alchemy, the Sacred Science. Do not think the look that passed between us has passed unnoticed. Lovers need only utter HEKAU, the words of power, in order to effect whatever transformations their hearts require. Amon himself, Chief of the Gods, takes the form of a ram or a goose, according to his desires, and to work His will. You need only say you love me in order to perceive me in whatever form you find pleasing."

"I am not so sure," replied the Bluebird. "The desires of Amon are one thing, and the infatuations of a dog another. Who is to say it is not just puppy love, and that you will abandon me? "

"Amon's gift is universal!" the Greyhound pleaded. "The whole of the grand universe is nothing but Desire, or Will, cloaked in Form. And all of it may be transformed through Desire. That is the secret of Amon, the Great Alchemist! So say my Master's Sages. It is simple! It is holy! It is so! Do you not see, my Bluebird?"

"I am impressed by your command of philosophical terminology, and flattered by your sincerity. But all that I really see is that your nose is cold and wet, your tongue is always hanging out, you don't have any feathers, none at all, and your breath is hot and funny. Your teeth quite frighten me."

The Greyhound's hackles rose. "In the kennels of the King, I have my choice of the Royal Bitches," he said. "And none of them complain about my breath. Or anything else."

"But I am not one of the Royal Bitches," said the Bluebird. "Can't we just be friends?"

For a moment the Greyhound considered uttering the words of power, transforming himself into a bluebird, and spending the rest of his life beside her in the cage. But this, he knew, was high treason. And when the time came to face the Forty-Two Assessors in the presence of Osiris, Lord of the Underworld, nothing, not even true love, would acquit the greyhound that willingly lived in a cage.

"Please! Bluebird!" he implored. "Just fly from your cage, and you will see!"

"I don't know why you keep calling it a cage," said the Bluebird, "it is my home."

"It is a cage," said the Greyhound, doggedly. "See! I am holding the door open with my nose. You could not open the door by yourself."

"Well, perhaps it is a cage," conceded the Bluebird. "But some day they may send me a bird, a bird of my own feather. And he will open the cage for me, too!"

"A bird of your feather!" scoffed the Greyhound, on the verge of anger, which was never a pretty sight. He recovered his composure just in time. "Not so, sweet Bluebird! See how cleverly the latch has been fashioned by the followers of Set! It takes a long, strong nose to hold back such a door. Come! And be my love forever!"

"What about the Pharaoh's cat? And the sparrowhawks and falcons?"

"That is to be expected," the Greyhound replied gravely. "For me there is the wounded lioness; the panther at bay. That is the price, it cannot be otherwise."

"Anyway," said the Bluebird brightly, "there's quite enough room for me in here to do all the flying I really have to do." And so saying, with a rather forced smile, she fluttered about in her cage, beating her wings against the bars. "See!"

Tears welled in the Greyhound's eyes. "That is not exactly what I meant by flying," he murmured. And the Bluebird was silent for a moment, and hung her head. For in dreams she, too, knew what it was to fly.

"But what happens if I come out, and we utter the words of power, and the Alchemy doesn't work?" The Greyhound was ecstatic. "Then you'll try? Oh, my sweet, lovely, adorable, courageous Bluebird! Of course the Alchemy will work!

How could it not work? It is just a question of Desire..."

"But that is just what I mean!" cried the Bluebird, distraught. "I do not respond to you, I mean, as a dog! Where is the Desire to come from? If only we could utter the words of power first! While I was still in here. Then, if the Alchemy worked, you'd see how quickly I'd fly out!"

"The words of power do not work in the cage," said the Greyhound, wearily. "If they did, they would no longer be words of power. I am sorry. If I could alter that rule, just once, I would do it and gladly face the retribution of the Gods. But even my Master could not make an exception to that rule. Amon himself, Chief of the Gods, could not change the rule. The rule has been decreed by Ma-at, Mistress of Divine Law, to whom Amon himself pays homage."

The Greyhound saw that the wicked Queen had won; and that it was hopeless. Even so, because he was a greyhound he could not give up the chase while breath still remained in his lungs.

"Just think, my Bluebird! What it would be like. To fly high in the sky, into the eye of the sun! To spy out the creatures of Set, the Enemies of Re! And hunt them down and kill them! And eat them!"

"That is just more poetry!" the Bluebird cried, at the end of her patience. "It is not evidence! I have thought it over. I am sorry. It is safer here, and I'm used to it. I will not go with you. And that is my final chirp...Now, please! Take your nose out of my door. It looks ridiculous. And it must be very painful." She turned her back upon the Greyhound and began preening her feathers in the mirror and polishing the bright nails of her delicate little claws.

The Greyhound let the cage door snap shut with a terrible snap. Besotted by the beautiful Bluebird, and incapable of behaving like a rational dog, for a long time he just moped, watching her and reflecting upon the quandary Fate and the keenness of his own nose had got him into. Because he was a Greyhound, the only thing he knew was unswerving loyalty and devotion, no matter what kind of treatment was meted out to him. So there was no point in pretending that he could leave the garden as he had entered. On the other hand, he did not see how to go on serving his Master effectively. To run twenty miles without flagging in pursuit of the fleet gazelle; to face the panther at bay without flinching took heart, and his had been left to wither under an acacia tree in the Queen's garden... then from outside, he heard the muffled thud of horses' hooves in the desert, and the clean whistle of chariot wheels through the sand, the thrilling yip yip-yip of Thesemu Heru, the greyhounds of Horus on the scent and the Pharaoh's own special halloo that summoned him alone, and that could not be disobeyed. Pricking his ears, lifting his nose, he caught the acrid reek of a running fox in the air. Only for a moment did he hesitate. "Goodbye, sweet Bluebird!" he called, a quaver in his voice. "Until next time!"

And in a moment he was gone, accelerating through the acacia grove, the dappled sunlight reflecting from his glistening, white coat. He cleared the high mud-brick wall at the end of the garden in a single soaring leap; a leap so powerful, so graceful, so exquisitely executed that the curve of its trajectory imprinted itself upon the air and hung there like a memory long after the Greyhound had vanished. From between the bars of her cage, the Bluebird watched him go. Whether or not with regret, it is not stated.

The Pharaoh never learned of the agony of the Greyhound in the garden; he only knew that from that time on, his prize hound was never again the same. Nothing of the greyhound's grief betrayed itself; no one could have accused him of wearing a hangdog expression. But the joy of the chase gave way to an attitude that to many seemed uncanine. The Greyhound now ran down the creatures of Set, the Enemies of Re, with an icy artistry; the Word of Amon that had taken the lithe form of Thesem Heru, the greyhound of Horus, now became a poem, a litany celebrating destruction in the name of Re. At dawn, priests brought disciples, and army commanders brought recruits to the desert's edge to watch the royal hunt in action. The young disciples, to their chagrin, were enjoined to learn the art of concentration from a dog; the raw army recruits learned the meaning of the quick, merciless kill. The Greyhound's fame spread the length of the Nile, and visiting dignitaries watched and returned home shaking their heads, chilled despite the desert sun. Few felt inclined to pat the Greyhound on the head.

At last, with reflexes failing, the Greyhound was dispatched by the swipe of a lionesses's paw. Sekhmet had called back her own. His body was mummified, and, covered with honors, laid to rest in the tomb of the Pharoah, at the foot of the Royal throne, as had been his wont in life.

As for the Bluebird, the wicked Queen ordered a tom bluebird from over the seas to keep her company, and it was not long before a larger cage was needed to hold the growing little flock. But when the Barbarian hordes swarmed over Egypt, the garden and all that was in it was destroyed. Only the free and the swift survive such times. That is the end of the story.

 

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* * * * *

Anpu-hotep, last of a long line of Sages, Chief of the Scribes of Nectanebo, last of the Egypt-born Pharoahs of Egypt, surveyed the reaction of his ragged, unruly group of disciples to his story.

"What judgment was passed by the Forty-Two Assessors when the Greyhound and the Bluebird, each in their time, came before them in the presence of Osiris, Lord of the Duat?" he asked.

A disciple stood. "That is an easy one," he said. "The Greyhound was correct on every count. The Alchemy would have worked. Since it was invoked in the name of true love and Amon. The Bluebird failed the test of the balance. Her soul passed through the Lake of Fire and was devoured by Ammit, devourer of the souls of those who fail before the balance. The Greyhound died covered in honors. He passed the test of the balance. His soul became a star. He was taken into the glorious Company of Re and sailed forever across the sky in His Boat of Millions of Years."

Anpu-hotep studied the reactions of the disciples. Most had not been listening. None disagreed. The Master rapped the knuckles of the disciple thrice with his cubitstick.

"Idiot!" he said. "For the Greyhound, courage and devotion are not virtues. While those with wings all too easily take to flight. To remain in the cage is punishment enough. The Lake of Fire is not for the timorous. The Greyhound fared no better. To hunt the enemy out of hatred and despair does not lighten the heart. The Greyhound failed the test of the balance. The Assessors decreed that both must enter the Cycle of Eternal Return. She will come back as a bluebird until she learns to value freedom, even at the cost of her life. He will come back as a greyhound until he learns to hunt for love of the Master, even though his heart has been left to wither under the acacia tree in the enchanted garden of the Queen. Again and again they will return; again and again they will meet; circumstances may vary, the impasse will be identical, until it is resolved, and the exchange of eyes recorded in indelible ink in the Great Scroll of Destiny is consummated to the satisfaction of the Gods. So decreed the Assessors."

Anpu-hotep broke a straw in two and tossed the two halves to the wind and watched the wind separate the straws and carry them away.

"As for the Alchemy," he said, "the times were such as these we live in today. The Barbarian massing at the gate, the Temple in ruins, the nations in flames, pestilence and famine stalking the land, and the disciples few and stupid. All men prayed to Amon in those days and performed the sacrifices. Yet Egypt fell. Who dares presume to say the Alchemy would have worked for the Greyhound and the Bluebird. . Only Amon knows. His name means 'Hidden'."

 
Drawing Credit: Anita Snellman

 

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  J.A.W. Credentials   © John Anthony West 2002