Sport 23: Spring 1999
Louise Wrightson — Fairy Tale
When the last fist opens slowly like a flower,
and neighbours speak calmly across fences,
and the broken glass and bloodstains are hosed away
by soldiers eager to start night classes in ikebana—
When the battles are over, forever and ever,
and you and I say sorry for our mischief (and mean it),
all the children we have lost will come back.
They will advance like an army, raising dust,
on some distant plain, in some far-off country,
their hearts beating like small sound drums,
their names and stories pinned to their clothes,
flapping in a warm wind like paper flags.
Children lost to us by accident or design.
Babies abandoned on doorsteps and ice floes.
Teenagers who spun off to other galaxies.
And a brother and sister missing in a fairy tale.
The first sighting will be by a woman living alone
in a run-down cottage on the edge of the plain
where the dry grass stops and the dust begins.
She'll be washing a few breakfast dishes, listening
to the radio, and staring out at the horizon, thinking—
Nothing ever happens in such a godforsaken dump,
except perhaps a dust storm or a lonely swooping bird.
She will wipe her hands on a cloth and go outside,
bewildered and afraid, past the dusty parsley to her gate,
walking into history, shading her eyes from the sun,
a few hours away from front page world headlines,
and a guest appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Not much happens out there Oprah.
Sometimes a bird gets blown off course.
One year, a cosmetic salesman crawled up the path.
He'd driven out on to the plain to watch the sunset.
The dust storm that blew up broke all the records.
Only his moisturisers and the Almighty saved him.
That morning, I was washing dishes.
At first, I thought it was just another blow.
But this time, it was coming in from the South,
and it was making one hell of a racket.
The babies were whimpering and howling.
The toddlers were bawling and screaming.
The teenagers were bitching and gabbling.
And they were all covered in a fine sepia dust.
They looked like extras in a biblical movie.
And just as I though—All I've got in the fridge
is half a chicken, and some home-made lemonade—
a kid called out—Hey lady! We're really hungry!
And all over the world anyone who can soft boil
an egg will spring to their feet and tie on an apron.
Retired generals dozing on porches will jerk awake,
and salute their sleepy dogs (and their faithful wives),
before they ferret out maps and identify resources.
Soldiers will abandon bronze chrysanthemum buds,
blossom and twisted willow to commandeer transport.
Councillors will fold their boring agendas into darts,
and with unprecedented passion and probity,
debate the best sewage systems and recycling options.
Environmentalists will commission impact reports,
hire portable toilets and fret about the ozone layer.
An opportunist will start revising Catering for Crowds
and updating Soups for Any Occasion.
Intrepid reporters, notebooks clenched in their teeth,
and pockets full of toffees, will parachute on to the plain,
and land beside buses bulging with baked potatoes.
Helicopters, stuffed to the rotors with sushi and salads,
will buzz and dip above convoys of trucks and vans,
piled high with crusty pizzas and scented curries.
Milk tankers will thunder across the plain like buffalo,
past caterers (insisting on table cloths and table manners)
struggling with trestle tables, marquees and paper plates.
And the crunching, licking, swallowing and slurping
will be recorded for posterity by the BBC and broadcast
worldwide to their hysterical, happy listeners—
Until all the children are fed, the plates are licked clean
and the cooks can collapse, leaving the dishes until tomorrow.
And after a lengthy, satisfied, global silence,
interrupted by an occasional burp, suckle or sigh,
someone will say (to no one in particular)—pudding?
So that elderly aunts (who have been waiting for their cue)
can flourish their family recipe books, wave their whisks,
and conjure up jellies that wink like grandfathers,
sorbets as sharp as a loving mother's tongue,
trifles as festive as fair-grounds, and meringues
so light they bob above the marquees like summer yachts.
And when the world runs out of sugar and eggs,
and even the greediest child turns pale and trembles
at the suggestion of another hokey pokey ice-cream—
When the children droop and wilt like thirsty pot plants,
we will tuck them up to sleep all around the world,
in beds and bathtubs, churches, tents and casinos,
on couches and trampolines, or under the wide and starry sky,
topped and tailed, replete and re-united, to dream of breakfast.