Kammermusik

A story from JBP’s Maps of meaning:

Once upon a time there was a man who had a long hard journey ahead of him. He was trudging along the way, over the boulders and through the brushes, when he saw a little shiny gnome with big white teeth and a black toupee sitting by the side of the road. He was drumming on a log with two white bones, and
humming oddly to himself. The little gnome said,

“John – why work so hard? Why walk so fast? Who knows if you’ll ever get there anyway? Come over here. I have something to show you.”

So John walked off the road. He was sick of walking, anyhow, because people kept throwing sticks and stones at him. The little gnome said,
“I have a shiny red jewel I would like to sell you. Cheap. Here it is,”

and from beneath his cloak he pulled the biggest ruby that the man had ever seen. It must have weighed a hundred pounds, and it shone like the sun.

The gnome said,

“Do you like it? It is an enchanted stone. What will you offer me for it?”

and the man said,

“I don’t have much – much money. But I will give you everything I have.”

The gnome looked displeased, so John added:

“I could pay some more monthly.”

So the gnome accepted:

“Fair enough! Buy now – pay later. Sounds good to me. I’m all for the installment plan.”

So the man gave the gnome all his money, and promised to pay the rest later. And the gnome walked back into the bush by the road, clacking his teeth and giggling and twitching. The more the man thought about his ruby, and the great deal he got, the happier he became. He started back on the road, with a light heart, but soon discovered that he couldn’t make much progress, because a hundred pounds was a lot to carry. He said to himself:

“Why continue, anyway? I have what I want. Why don’t I just stand here, holding my ruby – and when people walk by, they can see how well I have already done!”

So he stopped. A little while later, one of his friends came along, and saw him standing there. His friend
said,

“John, why don’t you come along with me? I have just opened a new business, and I could really use some help! Come along quick! It will be opening soon!”

The man thought that sounded good, but his friend was in a hurry. Besides, couldn’t he see the ruby? How could he speed along beside him? Where would he put his jewel? So he said, “thanks, but I have to take care of my jewel. Maybe I’ll see you later.”

His friend looked at him like he was crazy – but he was trying to get somewhere quick. So he just shrugged a bit and said,“Okay, John. See you later,”and he sped on down the road.

A little while later, another friend came by, and he said,

“John! Nice to see you! I am going back to school! There are lots of wonderful things to learn! Lots of great things to do! The world is full of unsolved problems! I could use some company! Would you like to come along?”and the man thought that sounded pretty good – but his friend looked like he was in a hurry. Besides, it was tiring, standing beside the road, holding the jewel, and he needed all the energy he had for that. So he said to his friend “thanks, but I have to take care of my jewel. Isn’t it beautiful? Maybe I’ll see you later.”

His friend looked at him like he was crazy – but he was trying to get somewhere quick. So he just shrugged and said, “hope everything goes all right with you. See you later.”
Many friends came and went, and the years went by. The jewel got heavier and heavier, but the man got more and more attached to it. The only thing was, nobody seemed to notice how beautiful it was. People would rush by, and talk about their plans
and nobody had a ruby as big and nobody seemed likely to get a ruby as big so you’d think that someone might have said something something, at least, like “nice ruby, John. Sure wish I had one like that.”

But it never happened.

Then one day someone new came down the road. He was bent over, and he was thin, and his hair was grey, although he did not look that old. He was carrying a big dirty rock carefully in his arms, and he was not making much progress.

The strange figure approached, and glanced up at John. Then he grinned, and said,

“Why are you standing there stupidly, with a big ugly rock in your tired old hands? You look pretty daft. I bet you wish you had a big ruby, like the one I am carrying!” and John thought “this poor man is deluded. He is carrying a rock – it is me that has the ruby!” so he said, “excuse me sir, but you are sadly mistaken. I am the one with the jewel. I met a little gnome by the side of the road, and he sold it to me. I am still paying for it – although not so very much! You are carrying a rock!”

The tired stranger – who looked pretty damn annoyed – said, “I don’t know what game you are playing, mister. You have a rock. I have a jewel. The little gnome you described sold it to me – and he said it was the only one! I have been carrying it for twenty years, and I will never let it go!”and John said, “but I have been carrying mine for twenty years, too. It can’t be just a rock!”

Rock or jewel? On and on they argued.

Suddenly – out stepped the little gnome – as if he had never left! Only this time – he wasn’t so little. He was bigger, and redder, and menacing, and his laugh sounded like the rattling of chains.

“Quit arguing, you two! I’ve never seen a sight quite so pathetic. You’re carrying rocks – both of you. And if you ever would have had the sense to put them down for a second or two, you would have seen that! Oh well – at least you were diligent. And I played a mean trick. I feel bad.”
“So – I’m going to give you what you really deserve. Do you want what you really deserve?” and John and the thin stranger nodded eagerly. Finally, they thought.

“You haven’t seen anything yet. Throw down your rocks!”

So John and the thin stranger obeyed. Each rock split down the middle, when it hit the ground. Out flowed a river of ravenous white worms, which rushed towards the men, and devoured them whole, while they thrashed about and screamed.

Soon, nothing was left – except a leg bone from each. The little gnome picked them up, and walked off the road. He sat down by a hollow log, and started to drum.

He drummed, and he waited, and he hummed an odd little tune:

“A picture of food
feeds the whole hungry clan
the image of good
makes the whole healthy man
Why walk the mile?
Why do the work?
Just smile the smile!
success
after all
is a quirk!
Life isn’t real
that’s the message I give
It’s easy that way
plus
who wants to live?”