Telling Tales 147
“What did I say about good times bringing out the worst?
“I’m minding my own business, not looking for trouble. All of a sudden there’s this woman yelling at me, ‘Fire, burn,’ she say, ‘burn stick! Stick won’t beat dog! Dog won’t bite pig! Pig won’t jump the ditch and I won’t get home tonight!’ She’s older, though I don’t know what her age has to do with the story. In any case, what am I to jump through hoops for her? I don’t think much more of it for a few hours until the stream nearby douses me for not burning the stick! Naturally I start burning, nothing against the stick, I’m only trying to keep from going out, but as a result the stick beats the dog, the dog bites the pig, the pig jumps the ditch, and the old woman goes on her merry way.
“A little too cut and dried for my taste. I decided to get to the meat of the problem. If the pig was the problem, why didn’t she pick up the stick and beat the animal herself without having to run through the dog, me, some water, an ox, a butcher, a rope, a rat, a cat, and a cow? That’s how many steps it took!”
“I’m not following your chain of thought,” said the old man.
“Not my fault you can’t keep up,” grumbled the flames. “Cow makes milk. Old woman gives milk to cat so cat attacks rat for her. Rat gnaws rope. Rope hangs butcher. Butcher threatens ox. Ox drinks water, water splashes me, and you got the first part already. Understand?”
“I’m actually missing exactly why everyone did everything that they said they were going to do.”
“How difficult is it to get you to understand a story?” The flames leapt up the chimney in their outrage.
“You need to spend more time on the people and who they are, that will help explain why they do the things they do. Not only that, you must have been in a different place than this one if the rope was willing to work for you.”
“What do you mean?” asked the fire, suspicion making the coals glow a brighter orange.
“You heard the story last night about Marya who became the great gray wolf?”
“Simply because I was here doesn’t mean I was paying attention to every little thing you said.”
“It wasn’t me who told the story, it was Irina, the bartender.”
“You mean the woman you offended just now?”
The old man sighed. “Yes. That one.”
“She told the story about the wolf?”
“Missed that,” said the fire, so the old man explained how, in the story, Marya had fallen into a well and discovered a world below where there was a talking shovel and a talking hearth, talking coal, and more, which led her to decided that she was dead until she was corrected by Mother Holle. “Right, because things talk.”
“Not everything talks,” the old man said. “This chair, here, it doesn’t speak.”
“Sure it does,” countered the flames.
“Not to my ears.”
“I could make it so you’d hear,” offered the flickering orange and yellow, leaping in anticipation.
“I suspect that would be neither good for me nor good for the chair.”
“But if I take you at your word that all these things happened, you must have come to this place by some means.”
“That? That’s what you want to know?” The fire was incredulous and it showed it in green and blue flashes. “Very well, here goes.”