Friday, 2 January 2009

A Fable - Katherine Langrish

As it's New Year and the holiday season, please excuse a foolish little fable.
The Sad History of Freddie the Frog, or The Fatal consequences of Confusing Life with Literature
Once upon a time there was a small frog who lived on a traffic island in the middle of a big road. Every morning at sunrise he would hop out of the wet grass and go sit on the kerb to take car licence numbers. In this way he learned the alphabet and how to count, and so became the most learned frog in the whole of Britain. After he had worked out how to read – which took a while because the letters on registration plates were so jumbled up – he used to sit waiting for Words.
“What do you mean, waiting for Words?” asked a passing shrew.
“It’s very exciting,” replied Freddie. “You sit on the kerb. You feel the dust and grit, the warmth of the concrete. In the distance a speck approaches, doing eighty in the fast lane. It’s a Word, sleek and powerful, rushing towards me. Suddenly it’s here! There’s a roar, a shock of air, heat and noise – and it’s gone. I’m rolling over backwards in a cloud of dust, the Word printed in my brain in letters of fire! The impact! The immediacy! The fumes!”
“Huh,” snorted the shrew. “That’s not literature, man, it’s too physical. You’re getting high on the sensation, you’re missing the purity of print on paper. Did you see that newspaper which blew in the other night? Calmness, peace, words linked in stillness. Just a little fluttering in the slipstream. Tasted good, too. Rich with grease, poignant with vinegar…poetry! Your stuff? Crude. Neeeooow, whoosh, gone!”
“Dynamism!” Freddie protested stoutly.
All the same, these words of the shrew got to him. He began to have secret doubts. Many of the Words he collected were so difficult – so abstruse. They certainly didn’t form a narrative. Although he kept up his nightly recitals of monosyllabic one-Word poems (croak-u), he began to lose heart. Should he take up mathematics instead? Was it all worthwhile?
“Dynamic!” he said loudly as the shrew trotted by.
“Dangerous!” snapped the shrew. “You’ll get poisoned,” she added, “breathing the fumes. I read that in that newspaper only yesterday.”
Luckily Freddie’s eyebrows were already up. “Do you read for the meaning?” he asked with incredulous pity. The shrew shrugged and kept going.
One day a strange frog appeared on the traffic island. He was big and fat and healthy and crossed the tired grass in whopping, energetic hops. He approached Freddie and said with humility:
Chèr maître, I come from across the pond on the other side of the highway. We have heard so much about you – your poetry, your literary theories. Can I persuade you to come on a lecture tour?”
Freddie pretended to agonize over the decision. He talked about Compromising his Art. He talked about Literary Backwaters, and the Sacrifice. He pursed his lips and spread out his fingers – but really he was delighted. He was tired of living with his doubts. It was time to live on his reputation instead.
“Off to the flesh-pots, eh?” shrilled the shrew. Loftily Freddy turned his back on her.
“This way, sir,” said the pond frog. He scanned the road and jumped briskly on to the tarmac. Freddy followed with a tremulous leap.
The smells of petrol and hot tar were stronger than he had ever known them, and his head swam. The surface of the road was full of little pits and crannies. He sat for a minute panting, exploring the holes with his soft hands.
“Come on sir, hurry!” said the pond frog with an impatient gasp.
“Interesting texture,” said Freddie calmly in his lecturing voice. “The medium is the message, you know…”
He raised his head. There was a noise in the distance – a purr rising to a roar.
“Oh sir, look out, there’s a Word coming!” The pond frog leaped for the white line – but Freddie, transfixed, had hardly time to draw his breath before the Vehicle of his Word took form above him – and rolled him out flat.
“He died for Literature,” the pond frog choked. But the shrew, who had known him, paused gloomily at the edge of the kerb and wrinkled her nose at the receding truck.
“What was his Last Word? Did you see it?” asked the pond frog. “At least I can bear it back with me - as a memorial.”
"S144 BNH," the shew said sadly.