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Saturday, 19 December 2015

From shining star to sea: the journey of an unlikely promise

Succulents are perfect for Adelaide summers
We are in the midst of a record-breaking heatwave. I am so grateful to live in the Adelaide Hills where the trees give refreshment even in scorching weather. We have seen koalas a lot more than usual as they move into the suburbs in search of water. The magpies, wattle birds and silvereyes appreciate our birdbath, which has to be topped up frequently. The garden is surviving the heat well – my deep watering approach seems to be working but it requires daily diligence as I use a sprinkler mornings and evenings in different areas of the yard. We used to have it all rigged up with automatic systems, but the garden has changed and the system has aged beyond usefulness.

In recognition of Christmas in one week’s time, here is a Christmas story with a difference. It is based on a rather odd Victorian Christmas card (c. 1880).

From shining star to sea: the journey of an unlikely promise         
Robbi lay back down on a rock near the shore, terrified, yet almost relieved that his fears were being realised. It was a fool’s journey, but what else can a mouse do? He tried to explain it to the lobsters again.
                There was much clacking of claws. It dawned on the mouse that they were laughing. He wished they would kill him and be done with it. His mission made no sense anyway.
                The last of the sunlight was swallowed by the ocean. The mouse, still wet, began to shiver. An order was given to carry him to the beach for a gathering of the clan. Robbi’s tail was pinched in a large claw and he was dragged to the sand, pressed by dozens of hard-shelled bodies.
The biggest lobster spoke at him. ‘There was an ancient promise about a message from the King of the Land. Frankly, it sounds like nonsense. But truth comes in strange packages. You might go to our King, if you’re convincing. Speak up.’
                The mouse trembled; he knew he had no powers of persuasion. His death was imminent.
                He spoke quickly, hastening the inevitable. ‘I was in a forest. A large beast was caught in a hunter’s trap, a net of thick rope binding it. When I realised it a was a lion, I knew I should have listened to my father.
                ‘The lion did not kill me with its huge paws. It asked for help. I chewed through the rope in all the places the lion told me, and expected to be eaten for my troubles.
                ‘I darted away as he wriggled free, but froze with terror as a roar shook the ground. He bellowed, “I, the King of the Land, thank you, little mouse. If you dare, come close again.”
                ‘My legs were stiff with fear, but I went close. After all, even though he’s a lion, he is my King.
                ‘"You are a brave soul,” he said. “I will need you again one day. Will you do what I ask if I call you?”
                ‘Not long afterwards a new star had appeared in the sky. Every creature began rehearsing old stories of a long-forgotten promise. The King called me. He said the time of reconciliation had begun. He sent me to the King of the Sea to say: Peace, Joy, Health and Happiness from the King of the Heavens.
                ‘I warned him I would fail. I had so many reasons why he should entrust the message to someone else, but he would not listen. He asked, “Will you go?”
                ‘What can a mouse do? I said yes. And here I am.’
                A hint of moonrise lit the underside of a cloud, making the lobsters restless. They twitched their antennae, waiting for a signal from the Boss. He was in deep silence.
                ‘Boll! I charge you with taking this mouse to the King.’
                Boll, the mouse’s former guard, stepped forward. ‘But I can’t.’
                ‘You can and you will. Go, and may the favour of the King of the Heavens follow you. Oh, you’d better take this.’ He passed it a white oilskin with some incomprehensible words written on it. Then he dismissed the young lobster with an imperious wave of a claw.
                The rest of the clan fled to the safety of the dark waters as the moon lit the winter night.
                Only Boll and Robbi remained on the beach, shifting uneasily. ‘What do you think it says?’ the mouse asked the lobster, indicating the oilskin in its claw.
                ‘How should I know?’
                ‘Oh.’ Gulping, the mouse said, ‘We’d better just go.’
                ‘Right. Er, how? You can’t swim.’
                ‘I can, if my head is above the water.’
                ‘Right. Ride on my back.’
                Robbi climbed on and slid off the other side.
                Boll clacked. ‘Better hang on to one set of my feelers. I’ll use the others.’
                They tried again, with more success, and Boll took a few steps. ‘Okay up there? Hold the message.’ It handed the oilskin to the mouse.
                ‘Okay,’ Robbi said, all his senses alert. ‘Let’s go.’
The Boss watched from his rock at the water’s edge. It was the strangest sight in all his long years, a mouse on the back of a small lobster, the white oilskin message hanging down from a paw. One mouthful and they’d both be gone. The skin had been in the Boss’s family for generations. But what can a lobster do? It was the King of Heaven’s problem now.

I echo the message of the King of Heaven: may you have Peace, Joy, Health and Happiness this Christmas and in the new year.

See you next time!

Claire Belberg