Telling Tales 44
Strength in Numbers
“You’re speaking nonsense,” it accused her, which she thought were interesting words for a shovel to say to a girl.
“Not at all. Iron melts, does it not? You did not come in to the world this way. You were given a shape by a smith in a forge.”
“True,” the shovel agreed, and while it considered her words, she lifted the dough from the side of the hearth and held it in her hands. “You’re not saying anything bad about my father are you?”
“The smith? Surely not! You are perfectly proportioned!” It was a funny thing, she thought, to see a shovel preen.
“I am,” the shovel agreed, tilting slightly so that the sun would catch it at its best angle. “Day in and day out I shovel, and yet I am undented.”
“Magnificent,” she agreed. “How hot was your father’s forge?”
The shovel considered. “Hot. Much hotter than this oven.”
“I bet you could make it that hot. You’re strong and fast.”
“I’m sure I could! But I would need a great deal more coal.”
She looked down at the pile of coal, which was slightly larger now that the shovel had been talking and not shoveling. Even the dough in her hands was bigger than it had been. “I think you are wrong,” the young woman said.
“I know my coal,” huffed the shovel.
“Not about the coal, about your life.”
“I beg your pardon,” huffed the shovel again. “I think I know my own life fairly well.”
“Hello?” whispered the hearth. “I’m getting chilly.”
PLINK went the coal, and another lump appeared on the pile. PLINK PLINK.
“I’m nearly done with the bread,” called the bag from the far side. “I’m going to be hungry soon.”
“Look at your shape,” she said, and moved the dough around, as it was getting quite heavy and large now. “You say you dig, but digging is work, and you do it for love. There is no hardship for you.” The shovel granted her this was true. PLINK went the coal. PLINK PLINK. “I look at your shape,” and as she said these words she moved around the shovel so as to take in its magnificence from all sides, “and I don’t see dirt or grime. I know hard work. There is no shame in it, quite the opposite, but what you do here with your friends, this is a dance.” PLINK went the coal. PLINK PLINK. “Listen to the coal.”
“But I didn’t say anything,” the coal said. PLINK. PLINK PLINK.
She returned the dough to the shelf above the hearth and held her arms up to the shovel. “May I?” If it could have, the shovel would have blushed. Instead it hemmed and hawed and finally allowed, that yes, she could. They danced. “One-two-three, one-two-three,” she counted. Plink-plink-plink, went the coal, plink-plink-plink. She let the pile grow. “One-tw0-three, dig-two-three, shovel-two-three.”
“ROAR-two-three!” bellowed the oven as the flames leapt high.
“Fall-two-three,” said the dough, dropping a lump into the chimney.
“Bake-two-three,” said the oven.
“BURP-two-three,” finished the bag, but even as it was swallowing the bread, the young woman was already digging.
“Shovel-two-three!” cried the shovel as she let it go. The coal didn’t grow too fast and it didn’t get too small. Neither did the dough. The oven didn’t get too hot and the bag didn’t get too full.
“I’m definitely dead,” she thought, “but it’s not so bad.” She watched them dance, the coal rising and falling like the tide. It made her happy just to watch them.