And a Partridge in a Pear Tree
by J. B. Polk
On the first day of Christmas, Snow White sent me a partridge in a pear tree, which, of course, took me by surprise and made no sense at all. The partridge was made of wrought iron, with sharp claws stuck to a branch, the tail extending behind in long copper and tin feathers. The pear tree was hideous, misshapen, as if handcrafted in an outburst of madness by an artisan recently graduated from a lunatic arts academy.
“Go figure,” I thought. “Maybe it is art after all; one never knows with them contemporary artists. The same things were said about Picasso and that crazy painter with a waxed moustache.”
It arrived after dark, so there wasn’t much I could do with it. I simply deposited it in one corner of the Enchanted Forest, next to a toadstool, thinking I’d take a second look the next morning. And then I forgot all about it.
To be honest, I did not expect to hear from Snow White again after she had left the cottage in a huff. And there was a bit of bad blood between us since she got hold of her stepmother’s magic mirror and stared into it the whole time, seeking validation.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” she’d ask over and over. And the obsequious thing would say: “You, Snow White. You with your black hair and your snow-white skin are the fairest of them all.”
I, on the other hand, thought she was ugly inside and out. I knew; I had lived with her for a while. To me, she looked like the Bride of Frankenstein but not as sweet.
Call it prejudice or whatever, there was just something not quite right about Snow White and, besides, fairytale princesses are meant to be plump and blonde. Her being stick-thin and dark-haired simply did not fit into the fairytale world. But I kept mum because things like that were simply not “politically correct,” even in Fairyland.
Then, on the second day of Christmas, Snow White sent me two turtle doves. Plus, there was that metal partridge in the pear tree from the night before that I had nearly forgotten. The whole thing was getting curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say.
What was she plotting? I didn’t trust her. After all, there were certain rules and regulations that all Fairyland inhabitants had to abide by, and by sending those things she heeded neither rules nor regulations. In fact, her actions very evidently went against rule 10 and two-thirds, paragraph b, third line: “Therefore, you shall live and let the other Fairyland inhabitants live, and you shall abstain from making a nuisance of yourselves.” Despite all the legalese, it was quite clear. Clear to me but, apparently, not to her.
On the third day of Christmas, I got up early and made a beeline for the door, thinking I’d find three French hens and... I did. Three fat feathery creatures in a large wicker cage, merrily clucking and depositing their excrements right under their feet. The smell was awful.
I’m quite obsessive with cleanliness and, to tell you the truth, it was one of the things that we fell out over: her slovenly habits. I picked up the cage, wondering whether I should bring it in or leave it by the toadstool, next to the partridge and the pear tree. In the end, I felt sorry for the poor birds, who had done nothing wrong, and I brought them into the kitchen. They stank up the place so much that not even half a pound of wildflower potpourri could take away the reek.
On the fourth day of Christmas... Yes, you guessed it: four calling birds. They were calling me a slave driver, a misogynous gnome, and a dozen other nasty names I did not deserve. Let’s be honest: nobody tied her to a bedpost, nobody forced her to stay, nobody told her she had to clean and cook for us. It was not sexism but practicality: while we went about lumberjacking and hi-hoing, she was supposed to get lunch ready. It was just a fair exchange. Anyway, she was a lousy cook who lacked imagination and never went beyond stewed venison with roast potatoes and apple pie for dessert.
Besides, it was she who had trespassed on private property, she who slept in a bed that was not hers. The sheets had just been changed and needed redoing! She could clearly see from the moment she entered that the house belonged to dwarves. Seven of them. So, by the look of it, she was not the sharpest knife in the drawer if she decided to stay in a place where things were too small for her.
“I feel so cramped here,” she’d moan all day long. “I’m so used to the spacious palace rooms! I miss my maid who used to comb my hair!” On and on and on like a broken record. She should have well gone back to the damn palace if she was feeling so out of place.
The rings did not arrive until after midday of the fifth day. By then I thought: “She has finally got bored.” But no such luck. There they were, in a little box wrapped in tissue paper. Golden, mind you, not gold. Not even silver, just some cheap crap that Hunter had probably won for her in the local amusement park.
I was angry now but also quite curious. What message was she trying to send me? I wracked my brains, trying to remember if there had ever been something similar in Fairyland history and even thought of going down to the Enchanted Castle to have a look in the library. But I finally decided to wait and see.
When the six geese a-laying arrived, I felt that my world was beginning to crumble. I felt broken. Until only a few days before — to be exact, six days — I had been one happy dwarf. Yes, yes, in my own special way like a hermit after the other six had left for pastures new, apart from Bashful who had died of apoplexy. I’d potter around the forest collecting berries, nuts, and honey. I’d cook a bit. From time to time, I even managed to trap a rabbit or find roadkill that had not gone off too much to put into my stews. But now all I could think of was Snow White and her darn gifts. If gifts indeed they were. Truth was, the only thing I wanted was to go back to the kind of life I had had before Snow White appeared on the scene.
I glanced around the kitchen and suddenly remembered the story of the Trojan Horse. “And what if...?”
I quickly took out the cage with the hens and shooed out the turtle doves and the geese a-laying, but not before one of them dropped a large speckled egg on the floor.
I’ll scramble it for breakfast tomorrow. With fungi, I thought. Tomorrow?! My mind screamed with concern. Tomorrow I should expect the swans a-swimming!
I spent a sleepless night. I considered myself a normal dwarf, at least in comparison with the freaks one would find elsewhere in our world. Just think of the odd thirteen in Middle Earth and their peculiar physiognomies and names: Dwalin, Balin and so on. I, on the other hand, was averagely handsome and had a nice-sounding and easy to remember name: Dopey. It went well with my character. But now my life was a shambles, and I felt like looking over my shoulder all the time.
At 10 a.m., when I opened the door, I could see no seven swans a-swimming. In fact, not even one swan swam around. My thoughts sounded sibilantly silent like the silly tongue twister I had learnt at school: “Swan swam over the sea. Swim, swan, swim!”
I was really nervous now and decided to have a look around. I found them a-swimming, all right, on the Troll Lake that slashed the green canvas of the forest like a silver-encrusted knife. I congratulated myself on my poetic, even if only mental, description of the place then went back to the house. Let them a-swim to their hearts’ content. I would simply ignore them and ignore her and whatever message she was trying to send.
The mooing woke me up at dawn and I thought: “Eight maids a milking means eight cows a mooing!” This time, I simply barricaded the door and did not leave the cottage until it got dark, and I was desperate for a pee. And I did pee: directly on the metal partridge and the weird-looking pear tree. I peed long and with vengeance, thinking of how the bird would soon get rusty and eventually its metal feathers would fall off. I then went back in to think what to do. Nothing came to my mind.
Day nine greeted me with music. It was not the kind of music that I liked but something I’d never heard before: noisy, cacophonous, foreign, so completely out of character with the Enchanted Forest where all one could hear was the buzzing of grasshoppers and the tweeting of swallows while they swoop low, their chess piece-colored chests nearly grazing the ground before flying high up again.
And it was that raucous noise that the nine ladies were dancing to: starkers! I closed my eyes tight, slammed the door and ran to my bed, covering my head with a pillow trying to shut off the noise and the unsightly spectacle. The au naturel ladies were old and wrinkled. It was probably the ugliest performance I had ever seen in my life. Well, maybe apart from watching Grumpy, Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sneezy and Sleepy take a shower when we used to live together.
By day ten, I was so exhausted I could hardly remember my name. My hands were shaking when I tried to pour water from the kettle into the tea mug. I had no desire whatsoever to open the door and face what I thought would be another hideous show: ten lords a-leaping. Definitely, I was not prepared to see elderly males prancing around the cottage with their wobbly bits hanging. I stayed in all day and peed into the stew pot instead.
It rained throughout the night. The rain stirred me into wakefulness long before dawn. I sat up in the darkness, listening to the spatter of drops on the windowpanes. I strained my ear to the good, clean country rain and to the thunder that sounded like the ripping of a giant canvas. I’d almost been been squeezed dry of hope that nothing would happen the next day when I heard them: the eleven pipers piping! Out of tune, off-key and all at the same time.
I had always been convinced that music, as well as laughter, tears, rain and certain childhood aromas, could bring relief to broken souls and, if played correctly, could even mend them completely. I remembered my grandfather Sean the Leprechaun who had originally come to the Enchanted Forest from Galway. In the evenings, he’d take out his custom-made fiddle and his tin whistle and, tapping his heels, he would flood the room with “Drops of Brandy” or “Bonnie Kate.” But the racket outside was not music! It was driving me mad.
I took the poker from the fireplace and ran out to lash out at the discordant band. They just laughed and kept playing faster and louder, leaving me no choice but to go back in. In my rage, I forgot to empty the stew pot and had to use a beer tumbler during the day to relive myself. At such a rate I would quickly run out of kitchen utensils.
Although I knew what to expect on the twelfth day of Christmas, I was not really prepared for it when it actually happened. The noise came from right outside the window, and the walls shook as if in an earthquake. I knew from school that loud noise could lead to permanent tinnitus or hearing loss and could create physical and psychological stress. Was I prepared for more stress? The hell I was not!
I quickly threw a few things into my old carpet bag, not much more than a toothbrush and some clothes. I knew Grumpy would take me in. We used to be quite close in the old days. I left the cottage without even bothering to lock up, in a hurry to catch the 11.05 a.m. Magic Carpet. I didn’t look back.
* * *
“We’ve done it!” Hunter’s voice was thick with glee. “We’ve finally done it! And it’s thanks to you, love, for thinking all this up,” he said and took Snow White’s fair hand in his brown and leathery one.
“Luckily, the last one was Dopey. He’d always been highly-strung, gullible, and easy to manipulate,” she blew a lock of black hair from her forehead.
“I’ve lived around here long enough to know he would not move as much as an inch of his own free will. So the only thing we could do was to... help him along,” Snow White laughed and reached into her handbag for the speaking mirror.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the cleverest of them all?” she asked.
“You are, Snow White, you are the cleverest of them all. And the wickedest, as well,” the mirror answered.
Snow White smiled as her mobile phone pinged with a message.
“OK, let’s get back to work,” she said depositing the mirror back in the handbag and taking out the phone.
“The bulldozers will be here in half an hour,” she said.
“They will pull down this ugly cottage and clear the space of all the trees. Then the architect will bring the plans, and we can start to subdivide. All aboveboard, legal and a fully Recycle, Reduce, Reuse project, as is the fashion of the day.
“We will have around eleven or twelve nice-sized plots, each with a pool with a filtering system, no PVC and a barbecue area for the outdoorsy types. Plus, one plot by the Troll Lake. That will sell for double the price. I’ve already got an enquiry from Peter Pan. Thank heavens, he has grown up and is willing to invest in prime property. He and Wendy are planning to have a busload of kids.
“And the Mad Hatter is thinking of building a tearoom here. Just imagine: white cotton tablecloths, nice china, and Oolong with scones. Skimmed milk, of course. Alice will finance it with the inheritance she got from the White Rabbit.” Her gaze roamed over the forest and stopped on the toadstool and the partridge in a pear tree.
“I’m thinking of naming this housing development The Twelve Days of Christmas,” she said and laughed long and hard.
Copyright © 2020 by J. B. Polk