Thursday, 21 July 2005

The Whole Truth, by Ben Sheth

The Whole Truth

Dear Reader, there can be nothing higher to which we may aspire than the truth. Few of us reach it, but even the attempt is noble. It justifies our actions; adds moral lustre to our mundane pursuits. Hearken, then, to a fable, and tell me wherein the truth lies.

It was a sunny day. The light bounded ecstatically through the faded, peeling window frames of the Church Hall. Sunday, 11am, and the fresh young minds of the small rural town were assembling for moral edification while their parents contemplated their mortal souls, to the accompaniment of a tambourine, next door.

Inside, Miss Trixie Turnover was preparing her teaching aids. A wobbly line drawing, extending outwards in random directions from a central blob, emanated transcendent moral truth. In the front row were the keenest pupils, consciences alert and thirsty for the dewy precepts about to drop from Miss Turnover’s lips.

‘Little’ Jack French, Priscilla Doe, and Johnny Bull were seated in the front row. Jack’s slicked-down fringe, Priscilla’s blond bouffant and Johnny’s military parting were instantly recognisable across the town. Usually the first to arrive, they were known to be the local gilded youth, destined for success; above all, avid for truth.

Even they were having difficulty, however, with Miss Turnover’s drawing. There was uncharacteristic chatter from them as they disputed its meaning.
“It’s grandma’s hairnet, look! With her bun in the middle,” construed Little Jack, this being the closest to irreverent humour which these model children permitted themselves.

“It must be a diagram of the spinal column of a kangeroo,” ventured Johnny, whose interest in the natural world rather exceeded, for the moment, his understanding. His suggestion was the more cautious for the knowledge that Miss Trixie disapproved of too scientific an approach to the natural world, seeing it instead as a source of twee illustrations of God’s bounty and beneficence. Priscilla was aware of this, and suggested accordingly,
“I think it’s God controlling the universe.” She was used to the sort of metaphors favoured by Miss Trixie, and their general intent. “Look! His reach extends everywhere!” she lisped.

“Now children,” trilled Trixie, “our theme today is –“ at this Trixie assumed a tremulous tone –“deception! Who can tell us what this little image has to do with it?” Trixie flourished her hand in the direction of her drawing, and the hall went very quiet. The children’s eyes temporarily assumed the wobbly spiral pattern of the drawing as the puzzled at it.

“I think it’s Gr…” piped Little Jack, till he was suppressed by Priscilla’s hand, tactfully stuffed in his mouth. (You will applaud, dear Reader, her spontaneity.) A few of Little Jack’s friends, who’d already heard the witticism, giggled.

“It’s the wicked spider!” Trixie declaimed, the moral force of this declamation emphasised by much noisy sucking in of breath. “I’m sure your parents have all told you the saying, ‘What a tangled web we weave, when at first we do deceive’? Well, we learn this from the depravity of this sly, creepy beast, which traps unthinking creatures with its camouflaged web. In everything you do, children…”

“Miss! Miss!” Johnny called out. “My Dad says that spiders play an important role in reducing pests in Nature. They’re really very clean and prevent the spread of disease by flies.”

“Johnny Bull! What nonsense you are talking! It’s a fallen creature, like the serpent, damned for its underhand ways! And it teaches us all a lesson, not to do the same!”

Well, Dear Reader, I’m sure you’ve heard enough of this sort of thing. It continued for some time in the same vein, until the children’s jaws could drop no further.

Little Jack, in particular, sat in open-mouthed awe at the persuasive force of this disquisition. He knew exactly how to apply this teaching, which confirmed the urgency of some straight talking where his family was concerned. Grandma French was coming for Sunday lunch, and he was really going to impress her with his respect for the truth.

Johnny was bemused. His father, the local biology teacher, had frequently impressed upon him the amorality of animals, the fact that they followed instincts, rather than moral rules. But if this spider was so wicked… well, Johnny would have some things to say to his sister’s cat, which had been terrorising Polly, his parrot, when he got home.

Priscilla was now feeling very frustrated. She had long wanted a little baby brother or sister, and despite some very persistent nagging, her parents had failed to produce one, though they had never adequately explained where it was they had to go to get one. Surely Miss Trixie, therefore, with her determined devotion to the truth, would be able to tell her.

“Well my dear,” Miss Trixie spluttered, “what a question! Have your parents not explained?” Assured they hadn’t, Miss Trixie controlled her blushing and continued: “There’s a stork, a very kind stork, who lives in the woods at the far side of town. If you ask him very nicely, he will bring you a baby. But go and see your parents about it first.” Her awkward duty discharged, Trixie flounced off.

Dear Reader, I think you will agree that our search for truth has not begun well. How many obstacles, human and inhuman, moral and immoral, get in its way! How many diversions and distractions there are in the long, winding path to its summit! As our dear children find out when they go home, zealous for the truth.

Little Jack was seized by the elbow immediately upon arrival and frogmarched to the bathroom where his fringe was slicked down again, and his face scrubbed till it shone, prior to being sent to see Grandma.
“Grandma, we’ve been learning about truth today at Sunday School, and how important it is to tell the truth always. It’s lovely to see you Grandma, but I have some suggestions for a strict weight loss programme for you. And I think you should try Listerine. It works in 98% of cases, apparently, and even reduces the bact…”

Dear Reader, I think I need only add at this point that it took Mrs French several days of levering with a screwdriver to extract Grandma’s false teeth from the wall in which her outrage had implanted them.

Priscilla, meanwhile, made her way to the woods in search of the stork. After some creeping about, she spotted some movement in a hedge, and approached with her most winning smile.
“I want to know where babies come from,” she declared, stopping suddenly when she realised it was not the stork she was addressing, but Kevin from the bus shelter, as he was universally known in the town, a feckless drop-out regarded as a largely innocuous nuisance. “Oh, I thought you were the stork who brings babies,” Priscilla explained, failing to hide the disappointment in her voice. “You see, Miss Trixie told me that the stork could get a baby for me.”
“Oh no, my dear,” Kevin leered. “It’s not a stork. It’s more like a rat.” At this he beckoned her towards the shelter of his hedge. “Let me show you…”

Dear Reader, fear not for Priscilla’s virtue! The force of her character saw her through and the encounter ended when she yelled:
“Ugh! Ugh! That’s not a rat! It’s a shrew!” She thumped it viciously with her Sunday School Bible, and ran home, determined to confront her parents more determinedly than ever about the scarcity of both babies and storks.

Her journey home was interrupted by more shouting and animal yelping which aroused her curiosity. She got close enough to see Johnny, holding his sister’s cat up by the tail, and beating it with a toy spade.
“Wicked, wicked cat!” He was yelling. “Don’t you ever dare threaten Polly again!” But Priscilla had bigger fish to fry. She still hadn’t found the stork.

Well, dear Reader, have you found the truth in all of this? Is it a beaten cat? A pulped rodent? An outraged grandmother? Or a wily spider?

Personally I think it’s the stork.

No comments: