Walking Backwards for Christmas: Between the Walls: The Screen & the Toast
[Note: the featured picture is of The Screen, or as best as I’ve been able to render it during Robbin’s (temporary) absence. It’s a pocket-sized device that helps Reggie tune his guitar. In later books, mandolin, harp, bass guitar and even a harpsichord, provides harmonies if somebody at least provides either melody or roots and chords. It generates whole instrumental pieces to which to listen, and (in the later books) even generates advice on music arrangements. [spoiler alert]
Reggie will discover, in the later books, that The Screen has a personality and intelligence of its own.
It will “beep,” R2D2 like, from time to time, and even occasionally issue written warnings, opinions and life advice. No, I have no idea what its power source is — relax, please.].
Stan and I each also received a 3” x 3” Planisphere for tracking stars in the heavens throughout the year. We also received a small slide rule, a spinning top and a miniature Tarot deck. Stan got a 3” x 3” Scrabble set with board and tiles. I received a 3” x 3” Monopoly game, complete with miniature board, money, pieces, houses, hotels, dice, deeds and Chance and Community Chest cards. The cards were so small that each only had a number printed on it. One had to refer to an accompanying booklet to learn the note or instruction corresponding to the number.
I traded my Monopoly game for Stan’s Tarot deck. After seeing Bethany eyeing them wistfully I gave one of them to her.
Much as I liked Monopoly, the smile on her face made the sacrifice worthwhile. Stan received both forms of compass (the magnetic direction guide and the device for drawing circles). He also received a pen and pencil set and a tape measure. I received a pair of silver cufflinks with an odd onyx stone in the center. And in addition a rather absurdly, or so I thought at the time, a set of guitar and mandolin picks.
I suggested they should go to Gramfer, since he played the guitar. at the time, I didn’t, but he shook his head. Instead, he handed me an odd little flat screen from his swag, again 3” x 3”. It was not unlike a tiny brown Etch-a-Sketch, except that it wrote on the silver-gray screen to the user; did sounds, not images; had a set of preset keys along with the two dials; and had a pair of speakers, collectively the size of the screen, that produced crisp, clear, full sound. I’d never seen one before, nor have I since.
Gramfer said we’d deal with both the picks and screen after the repast.
He handed Stan a mirror and a clothes brush from his swag before giving the rest, including two more silver “charms,” to Bethany.
He kept only a single peacock feather for himself, sighing, “They won’t let me have the rest, not where I’m going after tonight. But this … this they may let me keep.”
He slipped off his reindeer mask.
For an unguarded moment he looked wistful, but his wistfulness evaporated a second later. He brightened and became as animated and avuncular as I’d ever seen him in life.
“Now, a toast. Pour the tea, boys, and raise yer glasses – erm – teacups. To sweet Bethany, who’s watched for more than three centuries o’er a town that put her to death, with never a word of thanks or gesture of apology. What we do tonight barely begins to atone for the wrong done you, or give you the true thanks that’s yer due. We do but what we can, on a single, isolated occasion, to ask yer pardon, and to offer you our thanks, our friendship … and our love. To Bethany.”
Stan and I slipped off our masks as well, and echoed his toast, downing cups of apricot tea from the nearest pot nearest us.
Bethany kept hers on, as she stood to reply.
“Ormercy,” she said as she stood to reply. “I be but a Malkin, a servant girl, sightless to nearly all, e’en ere I died. Naught there are as have axed me to speak, much less honoured me in the way thou before me hast, ere this dee – and ’tis past the ken of such as I to speak either wisely or beguilingly. But thank thee I with open heart for thy laud, favor and affection this dee.
“Aught have there been o’er the years who’ve stammered out words of thanks or apology – quietly, clandestinely, seen by naught but I. But seen and heard have I, yea every one of them, and tho they neither can see nor feel me, I have tried to make my thanks to them known.”
Bethany’s upper lip began to tremble. “For every last word was as crumb to a starveling and, tho yet I stayed hollow, yet too was I grateful for it. But here, this day …” Her voice caught, her eyes welled with tears. “Thanks and love at last have flowed as water rolling down a mountainside, and at last a starveling finds herself invited to the feast.”
She broke down crying.
© 2014, 2015 G. H. McCallum and Duvanian Press, all rights reserved.
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G. H. McCallum
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