The biennial April 9 party was a huge success. There were jugglers. There were cooks practising how to make gruel. There was music. There were dancers and elephants and dancing elephants. A superb show.
I said to a little boy, ‘Isn’t this fantastic? What more could you ask for?’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘there aren’t any clowns.’
I nodded my understanding and told him that we had tried to get one but King Kelvin was too busy painting a meeting house and dreaming of past glories.
We even had a makeshift game of Triball, which was won by 2000 farnarkles to nil. I knew the losing coach had got his tactics wrong when his side took the field on goats and brandishing posies instead of clubs.
The clan thespians put on a great performance of Jomio and Rulette – a tribal favourite from way back. One part was particularly well done. The bit where Jomio is regretting the demise of his pet cow while holding its skull, and Rulette comes sneaking up behind him as silent as a newbie clan in the Azure Zone, muttering about his kingdom and his horse. Fantastic tension. Great drama.
As the smoke from the prairie weed bonfires engulfed the grassy hills and they turned into haze-shrouded valleys. The Progenitors hit the stage and rocked out some amazing sounds. ‘I knew Kuluk Khan before he sold his soul to the Tar Babies’, ‘Tarzan can’t grow a pear’, ‘It’s winterend, let’s eat the goats’ and ‘How do you pronounce that name’ being the highlights of the set.
Maps of various clans were on show, all beautifully presented on a hand-sewn goatskin canvas.
“Wonderful,’ I said.
‘Itth nothing. Thewing ith my thpecial thkill,’ a well-shaped lad said in high falsetto. So taken by the purity of his voice was I that I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to mimic his mannerisms, but when that led to a few advances from the Sauromati delegation I decided to return to my usual ways.
‘Ztoef,’ someone shouted as I diplomatically backed away from the delegation. I turned and saw a group of excited clanspeople waving me over.
‘We’ve got an idea for saving some engineering months,’ the spokesperson said. ‘It’s a way of building a big structure that combines a refinery, a bakery, a distillery and an apiary.’
Fascinated, I listened. This could be the greatest innovation since a second skill attempt was adopted. They had this design that bred bees in a hollowed out log stuffed with grain. When the grain was dripping with syrup they could empty the log into a barrel of fermenting goat milk and cook in a medium oven until it hardened into beer cakes. The cakes could then be kneaded into shape, mixed with herbs and spices, and toasted in the smelters. They even had a name for the end product – pizza.
‘But wouldn’t the smelter just burn the pizza?’ I asked.
They looked at me as if I had two heads. ‘Well, sure, there are teething problems in the idea. We need to do more research. We just need the resources to develop it.’
I said I’d consider it and left them to their self-congratulations.I made a mental note to put a ban on engineers smoking prairie weed when they were supposed to be working.
I walked around the clan, stopping every now and then to watch the public displays of amor-making and the pissing competition – easily won by an elephant in a hand-stitched tutu of deciduous leaves (‘ok, Thimba, pith ath you’ve never pithed before.’ hith [I mean: his] trainer thqueaked [Damn! I have to stop doing that]).
By dusk I had to go far away and breath some fresh air. I walked down to the place where a shipyard will be next month and looked out over the ferry site to the placid waters of Lake Surprise. I wondered about the spirit of April 9 and who the person was when she lived all those long years ago. All I have to go on is a memory from the collective unconscious of the clan. She was not the bravest of warriors, nor was she considered the greatest leader, but her aura held all in its thrall.
‘You are much like me, Ztoef,’ a voice to my left said.
I turned and beheld a shining light of womanhood. I warm glow instantly enveloped my body and I think I may have leaked some seminal fluid.
‘I think your administrative skills are far better than mine, but, to tell the truth, I was never any good at anything except being myself,’ she said.
When I remembered to breath again I said, ‘But your humanity has lived on throughout countless lost generations. That is your legacy.’
‘I am pleased that it has been so. And I thank you, Ztoef, for carrying on my philosophy of life.’
Shucks, I thought, and turned away in embarrassed redness at such complements from the Great One. When I turned back, there was only boring old empty space where She had been. I sighed and remembered why I’d sworn off the prairie weed. I turned as I got to the edge of the party to look back at where She had sat. A tear bubbled onto my cheek. I refused to wipe it away. Memories, collective or personal, have a way of dampening the party spirit. I stood there in quiet isolation until interrupted by a sweet voice.
‘Come on, Thtoef, danth with me.’
‘Pith of!’ I said and went to bed and curled up with my dreams.