Aye aye, lad. You made it then. You cut it so fine I was beginning to think you might not be coming. Still, it’s quite some trudge up the track, especially in your bare feet. You aren’t the first to make my heart skip at this late hour. But let’s not be hanging about. We’ve a bird to be readying if you want to earn your groats.
Now then, I think we went through all the particulars back in Grimston the other day. You’re clear on what we’re doing, yes? I know, I know. I know the funny side, lad. You go smirking all you like, but they’re talking about these little events of mine from York to London. The King even sent a knight to the farm once. He paid his penny like three score others, said he’d return and spread the word.
See lad, this in’t no little stunt, some cynical magician’s play for the crowd. It’s bigger than that. It’s bigger than the both of us. If everyone plays their part to rights then what we do here this morning will be — special. It’ll do something for everyone. The crowd in particular. I want them to feel the touch of something higher, you see. Do you get me, lad? I need you to want that for them too? It in’t about the money. It’s about what the moment does for them.
Now, let me look at you. You’re a scrawny rake, aren’t you. Yes, quite the little peasant. Good. You see I can’t be too heedful. These gatherings must be carefully played. Everything must look just right. The crowd will be watching me and Muriel, the bird that is, for the most part, but by the end of it all attention will be on you. Your part’s an essential one, and that’s where the risk is. I can’t use the same boy twice, you see. Some familiar faces come along to these gatherings, those as can’t bear to see a miracle just the once. It wouldn’t do for them to recognise the boy. No hint of trickery, you see. We’ve got to keep it just right.
Now, then. We should get Muriel ready. Hold this. Keep it wrapped. It’s the egg.
Muriel it was, who got me started, my wife, not the bird. Smashing lass she was, always found the best in people. There wasn’t a day as would pass when I wouldn’t see her out helping some lost soul or other. When the crops failed for half the valley, she made sure we shared our own. No one went without. Not with her around. And when the Black Death found us, she was there, helping the bereaved, seeing them through. I always thought it’d be me as’d get finished first, the way she always had life enough in her for everyone. But it wasn’t. Somehow she spent herself sooner than I. And with her gone I didn’t know what to do.
But then two nights after she passed away, I fancied she whispered, Give them hope. Just like that. Give them hope. They just came to me, those words, in her voice, so I had to believe it was her, I was in that much of a state. And anyway, hope, it was just like her. Hope, I thought, what a lovely idea. And since nothing offers more hope than gold, I bought a goose.
If you could see me now, eh, Muriel.
Right, unwrap the egg and I’ll hold Muriel firm: the bird, not my wife, eh. Real gold, you ask? No, just gilt on carved wood but it looks the part well enough.
Now, while I prise her so, just ease it in, wide end first. No no, lad, don’t back away. Either you do the egg or you hold her, and you’re welcome to hold her but I warn you, she’ll bite you something terrible. Come on, lad, I can’t do both jobs. She’ll flap and bark but you needn’t wince. It’s hole enough to lay an egg so there’s plenty of room to push one in. You see, the trick’s in knowing when to insert it so she doesn’t start laying before the crowd arrives.
Good work, lad. No, don’t you worry about the bird. She always hoots so once it’s in but she’ll be fine soon enough. Now, you need to scarper. We mustn’t be caught nattering. You’re clear on everything, yes? Stand at the front. Muriel will be right here, with me. She’ll lay, the crowd will gasp and I’ll say, Behold, friends, a golden egg — now witness our holy goose offer her alchemy to the poor, watch as she chooses her wretched beneficiary. Everyone here will be praying that moment, thinking will it be them, will it be them, it has to be them. But you just sprinkle these wheat seeds at your feet and Muriel will come to you, all right. I’ll say, The goose has chosen this poor waif. I’ll bring the egg to you, saying something grand. You just grab it, then run fast, that way, and try looking chuffed.
What’s that? Your money. You’ll get two groats as agreed. Return the egg before midday and you’ll have your payment.
Mind, lad, breathe a word to a soul and you’ve more than groats coming to you. Now off with you. Oh and lad. Before you go. I sense you’re still something of the cynic. But mark me, when you’re standing here with the rest of them, take a look around. Don’t make it obvious but have a glance at the faces to your left and right. See what you see in them. See what those faces say to you as they watch Muriel lay. And you decide for yourself how far the penny they paid has taken them this day. You’ll see, lad. You’ll see what I mean.
Martin A. Reed‘s fiction and poetry has appeared in print in Critical Quarterly, Litro, Radgepacket, Conceit and several erotic anthologies. He can be found online at elimae, Red Peter, Parasitic Cavity, IS&T, Six Sentences, decongested.com and others. He performs his work at live venues throughout the UK and is a member of The Fiction Workhouse.