Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Shig Cobb or The Fairy Mumbler

January (thus far) has not been my biggest word-count month. Most spare hours (and there haven't been many) have been spent writing and rewriting my Cottleston Pie paraphernalia like synposes and query letters. Not the most delightful of tasks. I have written absolutely nothing in the next Vivi & Farnham mystery but as soon as I get back in town after my mini vacation to a married friend's, I intend to dig back in. I do, however seem to have a genius for bothering in other stories that I really ought not to be looking at. First there was Darley Coom, the story that begins on a train out of London. I feathered about in that a little more this month...and now I can't find what came of it. This probably means that I wrote it by hand on an obscure piece of paper and will never find it again. *huff* The other night I felt like writing but not writing in Scotch'd the Snakes because I hadn't worked back up to it. What came out of this mood was "Shig Cobb" or "The Fairy Mumbler," and I am unreasonably attached to the one-thousand words that make up its opening scene. Sometime I will finish it...

I even dedicated the first painting with my new watercolors to this scrap.

Few people—if any—believed in fairies those days. The fairies themselves, perhaps, hardly believed, which merely shows how far ignorance can go, left to bite its own hindquarters.
When milk curdled in the cool-sweating dairy, Goody Lindsay invoked curses on heat and drought. When the largest hay-crop went moldy all in one night—and that not even a damp one—Farmer Faggot shook his fist and bemoaned the heavy dew. No one, of course, suggested fairy-mischief, because fairies didn't exist. Hadn't for years. Never had, mayhap.
There was, however, one person quite concerned with the existence-or-not of fairies. His name was Shig and he was a small thing with hands like corncobs and a crumpled left shoulder, and shoes too big for his feet so that wherever he went, he shuffled.
“Daft Shig,” the villagers called him.
“Cobble-fist,” others spat.
“Run along, Cobb.”
So early on in age—perhaps five years, perhaps seven—Shig received a surname: the first gift of his life, beyond that gift of life to begin with. Shig Cobb: fairy-mumbler. The fairy-mumbler part had not come into his story yet. Not officially. It was there, at any rate, but not recognized and appointed as it would be later on, for Shig Cobb, along with his other misfortunes, was mute. Mumbling to anyone, fairies or people, seemed out of the question.
“Won't you speak, Shig?” the baker, whom he worked for, had used to ask him.
He would ask this question every day while pounding out the dough, fat and white like himself, but Shig never spoke. Perhaps he would not. Perhaps he could not. It was difficult to say in the case of such a quiet fellow as him, and so the baker aired the invitation daily.
“Your hands, Shig...what happened to them?” the baker ventured to ask one cloying, hot afternoon in late August. He was not an ill-natured fellow, this baker, just rather nosy, and it irked him to no end to employ and care for a boy with lumpety-crumpety hands and not have the satisfaction of at least knowing what had caused it.
Shig fiercened and narrowed his shoulder upward till they looked like a peregrine's wings, baiting for flight.
“Mind me not, boy.” The baker flumped the white, white dough over again in a floury, cumulus cloud. “Here's me thinking that if you could, you'd tell me to mind my own apron strings, and here's me thinking you'd be right.”
Ever so slightly, Shig's body slid down into its constant shrug: right shoulder lower than the hitched-up left, eyebrows arranged likewise.
“Will you be kind enough to slide these rolls into the oven and mind them while I pass a mead-y hour at the public house?”
Of course there came no answer—silly of him to look for one—but the baker watched Shig slide off his flour barrel, take the stone tray in his stumpy, bumpy hands, and ease it into the oven as gently as could be wished.
“They'll rest easy, won't they, under your care?” He eyed Shig and a beetling fondness for the creature pricked behind his eyes. “I wonder, boy, do you sing to them that they rise so high? Do you save all your sweet songs and pretty words to coax my bread along? For God in Heaven knows bread never tasted better nor lasted longer than Shig's bread.”
The boy was silent. The baker was pensive. But a leathern jug of good, golden mead awaited him at the Red-Shank and before long, all thoughts of Shig and his bread were swept away in a sip of the honey-lipped mug.

As soon as the baker had gone, Shig Cobb dragged his flour barrel to the side of the oven and climbed up to watch the progress of his bread. Shig belonged to no one as far as he could tell, and probably never had. Well, if he had, he could certainly not remember any part of it, so what good was that? But as long as he made sure the dough rose and the coals marked the loaves' cheeks with kisses summer-brown, he belonged. To the bakery. To the bread. Bread did not last long, unlike clay pots or wooden chairs or many another thing. Shig was glad, in his wordless way, that he'd chosen bread. Bread must be made fresh every day. Every day, Shig belonged.
You couldn't say that about many trades.
“...do you sing to them that they rise so high?” The baker's fond question wrestled between Shig's ears and bothered him. He did not sing but he wanted to sing, and it was only just the other night that he had dreamed of singing the only song he knew—a short Latin hymn—for an audience of nodding poppies. He had sung louder and more graciously than anyone he'd ever heard—even the miller's heart-faced daughter—and the baker had called him “son,” and then he'd awakened and realized the singing was not him, but was the miller's heart-faced daughter after all on her passage river-way with the miller's dusty cow.
He had been frustrated. He'd cried.
For it was a true thing that Shig Cobb could not talk. If he stuck his tongue out and crossed his eyes and thought incredibly hard, Shig sometimes thought he could remember having been able to speak. But he had been too scared to say anything when he'd come to this village three years back, and had been too shy to say anything for a long time after that, and had finally stopped trying to say anything at all. No one wanted to talk to him, for one thing. Shig Cobb was the brunt of many jokes, but never invited to speak with the jokesters. Even the baker, lazy soul, did not expect or want answers to his clumsy questions.

So Shig did not speak and he certainly did not sing. Not ever. Not that afternoon. Instead, he perched on the flour barrel and rested his bruised knees against the warm flanks of the oven, and told himself fairy stories with the silent voice in his head that could make words and was fond of it.

There y'are. It's a small thing but a sweet one, and I wouldn't mind finishing it out, though I've no idea where it ought to go from here. This is always a delightful and slightly-frightening stage of a project. Some of my best work recently has come from not knowing what is coming up but loving the characters...think John Out-the-Window. Perhaps this unclarity will bode well for me when I rip back into Scotch'd the Snakes. Because I'm still hung up over a certain little detail of plot. I have been re-reading Anon, Sir, Anon, though, and getting back in the mood, so here's to getting back in town and buckling down to work. :)


Sarah Cnossen said...

Aww, this is darling, Rachel! I love your style. :] And would enjoy reading more of this sweet tale.

Hope your have a lovely day!

Anonymous said...

This sounds like such a sweet and cozy book, and I absolutely love the style that comes through in your excerpt. Also, Shig Cobb is such a cute and whimsical name, and I love the drawing.

Hannah Joy said...

This is adorable and your watercolor! So beautiful!

Abby said...

This is... I don't know the word for it, intriguing perhaps? I like it a lot. If it was a full book I would definitely read more. For some reason, I really liked the description of the miller's daughter as 'heart-faced' and the first paragraph was amusing. The painting is cute!

Janie said...

Looks like I'm not alone in saying I'd like to read more.

Rachel Heffington said...

Why thank you, Janie, and welcome to The Inkpen Authoress!