and the voice of the present
“Hello?” he says, peering into the mouth of a dark hole in the ground, perfectly round and fringed with tufts of wet green grass, slick from this morning’s storm.
He hears the faintness of his voice’s echo reverberating softly on.
“Anyone in there?”
The Donkey-Eared One, satisfied that he is alone, that the hole is just a hole, that, while there is no explanation for it, it is, nevertheless, safe, proceeds to sit down next to it and begin to tell his tale and secrets to the lonely field.
“Once, I was afraid. I was petrified.”
He stops. He pauses. He starts again.
“No. That is something else.”
–Once, I was the King. And before I was the King, I was the prince, and I went to a school for princes, where I was taught the Quadrivium and then the Trivium, and I was taught the tongue of Angles, and of Jutes, and I was taught the Holy Bible, and the Holy Charter, and the Virginia Compromise, and the Names of the Days, and the Orders of the Animals, and the Numbers of the Elements, and I was learned in rhetoric, argument, and logic, and between studies, we were given leave to play, outside, on great large green fields, with a playground at the top of a hill, next to an empty field where a house had once stood and where one could make out the remnants of cellar stairs and foundations. And below the playground, a hill wound down, and to the left, a dark, black, brick building, and in its shadow, a great tree, and then, at the foot of a hill, a great ball field, larger than a soccer pitch, larger than a football field, in which children would play great and enormous games of tag.
Further, in the far north corner of the field, stood a grove of pine trees, and a clearing in it, where sometimes, children would gather, and pretend to marry each other.
And I ran with the best of them, and, befitting my Princely status, and my precocious cleverness and wisdom, gathered around me a band of children.
Much is not remembered, of course, the mind sets aside childish things as it works and winds its way through the world, but I remember one boy chasing a girl, the girl I loved in my secret youth, and I remember trying to stop him, and him kicking me between the legs and me bending over in great pain. The girl got away, and I got no thanks.
And I remember another time, ranging with my band of youthful hooligans, and hearing tell of these child-marriages happening in the pine grove, and vowing to disrupt it, for in Heaven there is no Marriage, ranged over there like Pan’s Lost Boys and Indians, and whooping and wailing, beat the bounds and—
The coming to it, the crisis, the great moment of conflict–that I forget–but something occurred. And then, then all ways forgiven.
As years went on, I grew a little taller, and our school, in some cruel twist of arcane real estate law above both head and spirit of my young Princely self, banished us from our child’s fields, and pinned us in across the way, on another field, that was large, but thinner, and with fewer landmarks, and a lesser grove, and was the loss of magic which came with that year a loss of the land or was it simply a loss of my youth —
Here, ten thousand days later, I say, truly, I have never lost my youth, it was the land that was magic, the land, and the children in it, and we were banished, and that banishment, that exile, that reenactment of our Great Exile, was the secret heartbreak of my childhood–
I know not where my gift comes from, no more than I know why, or where, or when I came to wear these Donkey Ears that I cover with a hat and hide in shame and tell to no one except you, sweet grass, sweet field, but I do know that since I was a Princeling, I could change all I touched to gold, nay, not even touch, all I saw, gilded, transmuted, as if I were the master of the Philosopher’s Stone and could turn lump to lamp, as if I were the Long-Named Imp who knew the secret of spinning straw to gold, as if I were the Goose, the Famed Spruce Goose, whose every expression was priceless.
And so as child, then as boy, then as man, I have steadfastly stood and spun my gold, and have grown rich in my own mind, and have even found way to hide my riches, to cover them back with lead and dross and sackcloth, and only take them out in secret times like these.
Why hide the gold, you say? Well, the Cossacks, for one, the Cossacks are always coming, the Cats, the Great Cats, lurking in shadows, hunting us poor Humes.
Anyway, that is how it went, for many years, growing into my own, and yet, one day, I know not when, I woke, and on that day found myself Donkey-Eared. And I found a cap and put it on, and have worn that cap ever since.
And I have told no one. Until now. No lovers. No doctors. No mothers. No fathers. No brothers, or sisters, or friends. My ears are my secret. And in the dark of night, I worry myself with fright, that maybe, maybe, the Donkey Ears are spreading, coming, eating at me, that maybe, one day, they will spread and spread and spread until all I am are Donkey Ears, and then, what then?
Aye, the world is hard, and full of dark magic, and witches, and curses, and I seem to have fallen under one, though I know not how or why.
And the ears itch, and I can hear everything, every little thing that anyone ever says about me, and they fill up with thick wax which smells of slightly rotten food, and, of course, it goes without saying, my love life has suffered.
But mostly, mostly, mostly, the worst worst worst part is the secret, the secret, the keeping of the secret. Oh it burns me, it is like an itch that can’t be scratched, that beneath this cap, I am this, but no one sees it, no one knows, that they might know, but don’t, and won’t, as long as I keep it that way.
In the beginning, the secret literally drove me mad, like a sharp and painful fire that never ceased. But here’s the way of pain — eventually, one gets used to it. One learns how to inhale deeper. And longer. And the pain comes, and it goes, and goes again, and eventually, it simply becomes a part of you. And that’s that.
That’s how the pain is now. Dull, managed, constant, in the back.
And that’s why I come here, every now and then, to whisper in holes, to speak the truth to empty fields, to scream my secrets to the sky.”
The speaker paused, and looked again down the hole. He thought he had heard something, and that thinking had sharpened every sense, including, most critically, that sense of pain that was always with him, at the edge of his perceptions.
No. It was nothing. Only his own voice, echoing off the walls of the earthen hole, coming back to him once more.