Telling Tales 29
A Funny Little Tangle of String
“I suppose I should describe the thing that I found, beyond it being a tangle of string, anyway. It was that – a tangle of string – except that it only looked like a tangle. It was about the size of my two fists together, side by side. It wasn’t a full knot, either, not like a tangled ball, more like a wad. You could see through it in places and sometimes it gave off these whitish, bluish sparks inside. Made your hands tingle if you were holding it when that happened. Funniest thing. Hard to say what color it was. Brown, maybe. And the string that made it up, it was tough and rigid. You couldn’t really bend it. Didn’t seem to have a beginning or an ending, just all middle.
“Didn’t look valuable, either, and don’t think I didn’t have it checked. I did. I have a man down by the mountains – no, not those mountains, the ones east of here, yes, Anatoly is his name. You know him? Then you know how good he is. If it’s a jewel or a piece of furniture or some antique sword, Anatoly is your man. He can put a price on anything, or so I thought, but it turns out that even old Anatoly has his limits. ‘Sergei,’ he said to me, he said, ‘Sergei, I can put a price on anything that has been sold. I’ve never seen anything like this before in all my years. Could be valuable. Could be the most valuable thing you’ll ever hold in your hands in your lifetime, but that’s exactly the thing. Who’s to say, Sergei, eh? Who’s to say?’ Sure, he offered to buy it from me, but he wouldn’t give me much because he didn’t know what he could sell it for, as I said . Who wants the only thing of its kind in the world? I mean, sure, if you had the only one of a special diamond, by all means. But that’s a class of object, if you get my meaning. This? This didn’t fit in anywhere.
“What do you mean, where did I find it? Oh, I didn’t? Oh. Well, then.
“I’m never one for an empty cart, not I. I’d sold most of things – what? Hay. Why do you care? Well, I wasn’t selling hay in Anatoly’s city! Did I say I was? No! I had unloaded my hay in that little village by the sea, just south of the mountains, right, Tsar Pytor’s realm, that’s the one, and I knew that there was a good market for… well, don’t think I’m going to tell you all of my secrets. I’ll just say this, I bought what I needed to and headed out for Anatoly’s place, or at least, that was my plan.
“There was this alley – well, not quite an alley, not much more space between these two buildings than a man could walk down comfortably. And a man like me could walk down it uncomfortably. You all know the kind of space I’m talking about. Light just doesn’t get down there. It’s always muddy, it’s always dark, it’s usually cool, and it’s an excellent place for mosquitos. No, I wasn’t walking down it at first, will you let me tell my own story? I didn’t see you interrupting everyone else! I saw a glint of light, that’s all, and then it was gone, a couple of tiny sparks. Caught my eye. Couldn’t have been the sun back there, of course, so I went back and picked it up, the funny little tangle of string.