Sunday, 11 July 2010

A New Midas 1 & 2

: 1 :

The Dragoman family were rich, and lived in a grand double-fronted house near the middle of town. Mr Dragoman worked at a company too big for town altogether, so he had to go to the railway station every morning and ride away to the big city. Mrs Dragoman worked for a charity that attended to lost dogs and cats. She went to her office on Mondays, Thursdays and Friday morning. Little Leo, their son, went to school, of course. One day he asked his mother 'why did you call me Leo, mama?' And she replied: 'Leo means Lion, and the lion is the king of the beasts, you know.' It gave Leo a very grand idea of himself to hear this. He began strutting around the school exactly as if he were naturally superior to everybody else. When his best friend Peter made fun of him, at lunchtime, Leo grew cross, and told him: 'my family are much richer than yours! We could buy and sell you!' This was a phrase he'd heard his Dad use. 'You can just shut up!' he told Peter, in a sour voice, like unsugared lemons. 'That's simply a mean thing to say,' said Peter. 'Money is obviously bad for you, to make you behave so badly.' 'You only say that out of envy, because your family doesn't have any!' said Leo. They were both pretty sulky when they went back into classes.

That afternoon Mrs Raine-Jones told them the story of King Midas. Of course you know it, but I'll just run through it for the benefit of any eavesdroppers: Midas was a king thousands of years ago, in ancient Greece. He helped out a god, and in return the god said he could have one wish come true ... any wish he liked. Midas wished that he could turn anything to gold just by touching it. Obviously, he was thinking: 'wouldn't it be great if I could make gold just by touching things? I'll be the richest man in the world!' So the god granted his wish. And at first Midas was really pleased. If he touched his chair it became a solid gold chair, and if he ran his hand through the pebbles in his garden they became solid gold nuggets. But soon enough he realised he had made a terrible mistake: because when he sat down to eat his supper the food turned to gold as he put it in his mouth; and when he lay down in his bed, empty-bellied and miserable, his mattress, sheets and pillow all turned to gold as well. He didn't enjoy putting his head on a metal pillow, or lying on a metal bed, no matter how precious the metal; and neither would you. Finally Midas gave his daughter a cuddle, and turned her to solid gold, killing her on the spot. How terrible!

He was in a fix, wasn't he, Midas? No matter how rich he is, a person cannot eat gold; and without any food or drink Midas wasn't going to live very long. Perhaps you know the end of his story already. If you don't I'll tell you it -- but not yet. I have to tell you Leo's story first.

After school, as they walked home together, Peter and Leo quarrelled again; this time about the story of King Midas. Although I think they actually quarrelled because they'd fallen out at lunchtime, and each of them was still a bit cross with the other. Peter was of the opinion that the moral of the story was that having too much money was bad for you. Leo said: 'if I had the power to turn everything into gold, then I'd use the gold to pay somebody to find a way of solving the problems. I'd have people weave me special cloth out of really fine gold thread for my sheets and pillows.' 'And the food thing?' said Peter. 'Well,' said Leo. 'I'd get somebody to inject nutrition directly into my bloodstream.' 'Don't be stupid! It would turn to gold as it was injected in.' 'No it wouldn't,' said Leo. 'Midas could only turn thing to gold that were outside his body. Otherwise, he'd turn his own heart and liver and so on to gold, and die.' 'That wasn't part of the story that the teacher told,' Peter pointed out. 'But it stands to reason,' said Leo. 'And what about your daughter!' said Peter. 'Oh,' said Leo, kicking an empty plastic bottle somebody had dropped on the pavement so that it bounced off the bus-stop. 'I just wouldn't hug her. Or else I'd dress myself in special gold-thread clothing first. It would be like being one of the X-Men. Inconvenient, but worth it for the power.'

The two boys were now at the corner; Pete's house was in one direction and Leo's in another. Most days they'd go together off to one or other house together to play; but today they were pretty cross with one another, so they separated. 'You completely missed the point of the Midas story,' Peter said, bad-temperedly.

'You did, you mean,' retorted Leo.

'The point of the story,' said Peter, 'was that too much money will be the end of you.'

'That's exactly the wrong way about!' snapped Leo. 'It's having too little money that kills you -- look at the third world, and poor people starving to death.'

So the went in different directions, and in no good mood. But after he'd done his homework, and eaten his supper and watched a bit of TV, Leo forgot a little about the fight with Peter. It would probably be OK the next day, he reckoned. Neither he nor Pete would apologise, because that wasn't they style. But they wouldn't mention the fight either, and by breaktime they'd be playing again like the best friends they were.

: 2 :

By the time he went to bed that night Leo had forgotten all about Midas. But Midas had not forgotten about him.

Funny how these things can be.

Even though he'd been born thousands of years ago, Midas had never really died. Having been touched by a god, you see, he hadn't been able to; for the god's touch had put the spirit of gold into him, and gold is imperishable.

That very night, at exactly midnight (which is when this sort of thing always happens) he appeared to Leo, as somewhere halfway between a dream and a ghost. Leo wasn't scared, although perhaps he should have been. They talked, the two of them for a long time, but in the morning the only part of the lengthy conversation Leo could remember -- and even then, he couldn't remember is precise -- was when Midas's spectre said something like 'you can't eat money,' you know. 'Oh but you can,' Leo had said, smugly. What he had meant was (as far as he could remember): you can take your money to a supermarket or a restaurant and turn it into any food you like! It was like that song his Nan used to sing sometimes, about how money can't buy you love. Leo wanted to say to say to her: it can! Not directly, maybe, but with money you can do nice things for a person, and buy them lovely presents, and then they'll love you! Or, at least, they won't hate you.

The last thing Leo remembered from his dream was Midas leaning over him. 'Then money will be your food, and your touch will flow.' Then he took hold of Leo's ears (weird, eh?). He took Leo's right ear in his right hand and left ear in his left hand, and he pulled ... he drew the ears out like they were made of bubble-gum, not flesh. As he lay with his head on the pillow, Leo's ears stretched, and stretched, until they were a yard long. It didn't hurt him at all, although it felt a little weird.

That was the last he remembered.

When he woke up, in the morning, the first thing he did was check his ears. There they were, on the side of his head, like they always were: no longer or wider than they had ever been. 'What a strange dream,' he said to himself.

But he knew something was wrong as soon as he came down for breakfast. He knew something was wrong.

He couldn't eat his toast and jam.

It wasn't that he didn't want to. It was that he couldn't. When he put it in his mouth it felt like a small panel of brass. His teeth couldn't bite into it. They clanged and jarred when he tried. When he took the thing out again, and held it in his hand, it looked just like regular toasted bread and jam. It felt like it to, when he poked his finger in it.

'Don't play with your food, Leo,' said his Mum.

Leo tried again. But the food was literally inedible. Not that he wouldn’t but that he couldn’t eat it.

He understood straight away what had happened. He wasn’t stupid. This was the Midas dream—a curse had been put upon him. It was obvious: he would have to eat money.

The tricky thing was going to be: persuading his parents that someting so wild and peculiar had happened at all. They were going to think he was making it up.

Then he thought of a way of convincing them.

'Mum,' he said, putting his toast and jam back on his plate. 'You have to let me try something.'

He got down from the breakfast bar and dashed over to the mantlepiece. On the shelf was a long oval bowl, blue and white, in which Mum and Dad kept their keys and loose change. He picked up a copper tuppence piece and a silver fifty pence. As soon as he held the coins in his hand, he felt the rightness of what he was going to do. He just knew.

‘Mum,’ he said, facing her. ‘It’s not that I don’t want to eat my toast. I do want to. I love toast, and I’m hungry. But I can’t. Something weird happened to me last night, and it means I can’t.’

‘What do you mean—what something weird?’ his mother asked, suspiciously.

‘I’ll explain, as best as I can. But first, look at this.’ The tuppence was metal hard in his hand; but as soon as he put it between his teeth he could feel it had become soft, pliable. He bit down, and sliced the coin in half.

It tasted like brown bread, with something slightly salty on it. It tasted good.

Leo displayed the half-bitten coin to his parents. They were, of course, amazed. ‘How did you do that?’ Mum asked. ‘Did you chip your teeth?’ his Dad asked.

Leo sat down. ‘Nothing like that,’ he said, heavily.

[Next section, next Sunday]

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