Inspiration can strike in the most innocuous of places, and I was worried about writing a fable, when my wonderful Beth came to the rescue, with a (relatively) throw-away comment on something I’d written. But sometimes the seemingly inconsequential can prove to be the tip of an iceberg, as it was in this instance.
Fables tend to have a purpose – a moral lesson, if you will – and involve anthropomorphised animals or objects, used to convey the moral within the context of an illustrative story. Here’s mine:
A robot sat on a shelf in a child’s bedroom, surveying the scene below. His gaze came to rest on a colourful rag-doll clown on the child’s bed, and he sighed, crying oily tears as he watched the child scoop the clown into his arms, pull the string in his belly to make its music-box play, and giggle as it danced. The robot looked on as the child hugged it tight, and then threw it into the air to catch, envious of their easy intimacy and the exuberant joy they took in each other.
Later the clown lay on the floor near the child’s bed, where he had been discarded, and looked up at the shining robot as he was lifted down from his status on the high shelf. The child played, absorbed by the robot’s capabilities; his flashing lights and numerous functions. His cotton-wool heart broke within him, for he knew that he could never be as sophisticated or exciting as the robot, and that the child would never regard him with the same level of fascination or wonder.
The two met one day, and the clown decided to befriend the robot, for he was soft inside, and in spite of his envy, admired the robot’s abilities, and the incredible complexity of his hardwired mind. The robot was surprised and disarmed somehow (for he had not expected this advance of friendship). He appreciated the clown’s charming attention and to his astonishment, soon felt comfortable enough to show the clown to his inner workings.
The clown was awed and thanked the robot for letting him view such wonders – amazed that the incredible toy with his lights and skills and splendour would allow him, a simple clown, to get that close. But as he watched, he felt saddened again, knowing that he could never hope to offer such marvellous features.
He voiced as much to the robot, who gave a tinny laugh and pulled the clown’s tummy-string. As the music spilled out, the clown smiled and danced, caught up in the moment. He grabbed the robot’s hands and tried to make him dance, but the robot remained stiff and immobile.
“You have music and laughter”, the robot told the clown “and the child loves you for showing him how happy he makes you with his attention. I am only an automaton – a shining shell which responds well on the outside. I dazzle, I fascinate, but I cannot sing and love the same way you do.”
The clown gave sad smile and wrapped his soft arms around the robot.
“I am but a cotton-headed toy with a music box and little to offer but hugs and warmth. When I am remembered, I am enjoyed, but I cannot amaze him or capture his imagination the way you do.”
“Let us not be envious”, he said “rather let us help one another”
When the child found his toys the next day, he discovered the robot dressed in bright, soft fabric, with his limbs oiled so that he had freedom of movement. The clown had a single light in his chest, which flashed when the cord was pulled to make music.
The child was delighted with both, and from that day forth, he never separated them, playing with both indiscriminately, involving them in all the games of his imagination as well as in his quiet moments. During the day they were set with pride upon the high shelf, and at night he took them both to bed to snuggle.
The robot looked at the clown, shining his sparkling lights with happiness “When you made me freer and softer, you dried my tears as well”, he said.
The clown looked back, grinning as he played a short tune of joy “And when you gave me a way to light up, you mended my heart.”
In seeking to build one another up, both may be improved.