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The Juggler and the Bet
By Troy Morash
Once, a long, long time ago before crocodiles were popular, there lived a poor man in the middle of a small barren field that had been left to him by his parents before they died of starvation. The field refused to grow anything and every morning he always thought that that day would be his last. He had nothing, no clothes, no job, and no meat on his bones and no roof over his head. Everyone in the nearby town had long ago forgotten who he was. He was utterly alone and very bored. The only thing that kept him alive was the odd apple that fell onto his field from a tree in a field next to his. To pass the time he threw his food about until he got hungry. His favorite pastime was to throw three apples up in the air at once. It seemed to him that this was a good way to fritter away the time while waiting to die.
But with practice comes certain kinds of miracles and soon the poor man learned to throw thirteen apples, rocks and thoughts into the air and juggle them all at once. At first he thought nothing of it, except that it was fun. But when a couple of old sour ladies with droopy eyes, dusty hair and cracking skin stopped to watch, who had never stopped before, the juggler began to think, 'Maybe I can find a wife doing this.' He had never been married before and thought it would not be such a bad thing to die in someone's arms.
The next day he went into town and began juggling on a small, dirty little street. The only things that strolled by were three drunks, a diseased dog and a runaway orphan. But every one of them stopped to watch the poor man. By the end of the day he felt proud of himself. He went back to his field and thought for sure that this was the way for him to become famous and find a wife. He was sure that by the end of the week he would have his name in the newspaper. He hardly slept at all.
The next day he went to a bigger street where there were a couple shops. Everyone stopped; one passerby was even respectable. A little girl actually spoke to him, 'It looks so beautiful, like a moving flower. Wait till I tell my mommy.' He juggled until dark and as he was going home, he heard someone clap and a dog bark just for him. He felt so good about himself that again he couldn't sleep all night.
The next day he decided to go to the main street and juggle everything he had, three apples, four apple cores, thirteen rocks, two pears, a banana, a hairball and a mothball all at once. Every one stopped, even the mayor! Everyone was spellbound. They all agreed that the apples and such looked so beautiful like a moving flower. Every single person gave him money and by the end of the day he had enough money to buy everything that normal people have. He bought a hut and put it in his field. He bought clothes and a cow. That night as he was going to bed he thought about how he would start his autobiography, his grand tour and campaign for king. He was so excited and although he lay in a fine bed, he again found it difficult to fall asleep.
The next day he was in the same spot as yesterday. He was pleased to find that every beautiful girl in town was already waiting for him. Some screamed upon seeing him, one even almost fainted. By the end of the day every single one of them was madly in love with him. They were frantically clapping their feet and hands together as was the tradition. Several followed him home. That night as he was going to bed he wondered how many he could marry at the same time and what he would do with them all. Needless to say he hardly slept a wink all night.
The next day he worked hard again. This time he managed to juggle twenty-nine apples, wipe the sweat off his brow, wink at girls and negotiate contracts for all his future offspring all at the same time. During lunch the mayor came and announced that juggling was a respectable profession and that if people wished, there would be courses available next fall and they could all enroll. That evening he counted all the money he had made and he had so much that the next day he had to hire an accountant and six bodyguards. He was rich and straight away, as assertive as a mighty soldier, as confident as a mighty general and as brave as a whale, he marched up to the most beautiful girl in town, the one with the biggest mouth, the biggest eyes and the biggest arms and took her as his wife.
Shortly afterwards the town council decided to build a new main road that would go by the juggler's little house in the countryside. It was agreed by all aldermen that this would be the main way to the market. Although it was out of the way, nobody minded. They could whisper as they passed, 'That is where the famous juggler lives.' The aldermen ordered statues to be built, songs to be written and gossip to be spread to insure the juggler's fame. It was all done that same morning.
Everyday the juggler went back to town to make more money and look at other beautiful girls in the eyes. All this work and play made him tired and by the time he reached home he had no desire to spend time with his beautiful wife. He threw her an apple and told her to be content. She, naturally, was not impressed. 'I don't like the way you are treating me anymore. I remember when we first fell in love, it was all so perfect, all so dreamy; incredible to believe that was only last week,' she said sorrowfully. 'You actually think you are great now? Ha, what a joke! Do you think you can treat people as if they are nothing, mere objects? I slave for you. I wash for you. I cook for you, but you don't see me asking to be made famous and adored for it and you don't see me demanding the love and respect of the entire world. You're only a juggler, people don't really care about you!'
This, understandably, made the juggler crazy with anger and his face ripened into a juicy strawberry, 'Is that all you know how to do, over-exaggerate and under-exaggerate? I am great! I can make people laugh and sing and pray and wonder and think and learn and dream and love and feel good about themselves and the world and me. I am very important. You are just jealous because I am better than you. Besides what do you know; you're only a woman who can only cook and clean. What do you know about the world and people and juggling? Just because you are beautiful doesn't mean you are smart, does it?'
The juggler's wife unfortunately took offense, 'Well, you're only a man. You will never be anything more than a smelly, burping, ignorant, little man!'
'My dear is that how you think? How little you know the extent of my greatness! How much in the dark you must be, how alone in your ignorance you must be. It must cause you to shiver and wail and tear at your hair every moment of every day. Don't you hear what people say? I can be anything, I can do anything, I can think anything and I certainly can smell like anything I want. You haven't seen the half of my talents! I can choose to be anything in the universe. I can make history and I can just as easily unmake it. I can create and destroy. I can rearrange and reassemble everything in the universe. Don't make me have to show you. You will regret ever opening that silly mouth of yours. Use it as it has been designed to be used.'
'Ha! I don't believe a word you say. You can't even decide what to eat. You can't do anything.'
Regrettably the juggler became one hundred percent mad. 'You are so wrong and foolish and it is starting to bore me. I have just gotten started! You wouldn't understand but I am such that if I wished I could do things God does and nobody would ever be able to tell the difference.' By this time the juggler was bored with his ill-bred wife and made to leave her.
His wife stopped for a moment, thought, held her breath and whispered, 'You mean you think you could juggle the Moon and Mars as well as a couple of stars?'
'My goodness you are primitive! Your tiny little brain must be spent on just keeping you alive! Sure I can, why not? If that is what I wished.' The juggler had stopped in front of a mirror and was staring at himself and remolding his face into that of a prince's.
'I bet you can't,' the juggler's wife snapped, 'If you win, you can kill me. However if I win, you must be my servant, my slave, my toy, and my thing for whatever for the rest of your natural biological life. Agreed?'
'Only if I decide how you will die.'
'If I lose, nothing would be too painful. You can do with me as you wish.'
'Agreed. It will be my pleasure. Prepare to die, you foolish, stupid and idiotic woman!' With that, the bet was made.
All night the juggler thought about his challenge. He wondered what the headlines would be. This was going to make him so famous that he would have to turn his house into a museum. By midnight though he began thinking about the bet from the rather boring technical point of view and the more he thought about it the more he realized how difficult it would be. 'I will have to prepare and start body building something fierce.'
Finally by early morning he realized that it was unfortunately rather quite impossible, 'Why that wicked woman tricked me!' he thought. By sunrise he was sweating and in a panic. How could he allow himself to be his wife's servant and slave? It was beyond reason, it was beyond reality and it was beyond being legal, so he hoped. The entire town will have him stoned. 'I'll lose the respect of every man in town. I will lose all my land! I will lose my job. I will lose everything. No one will like me anymore.' He continued to think, 'I suppose I could still kill her. But can I? She certainly is clever for such a beautiful thing.'
Every night the juggler could neither sleep nor eat. He sweated, he lost weight and became scared to look at anyone and stayed outside town, buried under a rock in his barren little field. He couldn't even look beautiful girls in the eyes anymore, for they were all giggling at him. His wife had told the whole town about the bet. It was in all the newspapers. He was so embarrassed that he couldn't even go out to see the sun for even it was giggling. Everyone passed by his hut on their way to the market, shouting, 'So let's see you juggle some stars and planets and why not throw in Heaven and Hell too!!' They all went home rolling down the hills in laughter. The juggler could be heard through the door or under some rock moaning. As they walked by they called him a fool and demanded that he return all the money and land they had given him. The juggler just lay in bed and cried all day.
It took him a month or so before he could work up his courageous and then one day he threw open the door and shouted at the crowd of pickets, 'I have to wait until all the planets are lined up, now leave me alone!'
This worked for three or four days but soon enough, everyone was again camped out in front of his house demanding that he return all the money and land that they had given him. Again he started moaning and groaning behind his closed door.
Finally he had no choice, he had to either do as he had foolishly said he would do or accept defeat. He thought he would at least try. It was announced and the whole town followed him to the middle of the largest field. His wife went too, but she stayed far behind the crowd and out of sight. The juggler stretched and stood on his head for five minutes. He did ten push-ups and eleven sit-ups. Then he lay down on the ground for three hours, secretly praying to God to help him. He knew that miracles were possible, but were they legal? He hoped so. Then he stretched some more. He was hoping that the people would just go away but with all the suspense, they were spellbound and silent and stuck in the mud so to speak. Some actually believed it was possible. There had been debates on the issue and many books had been written on the subject and plays were played. Out of the corner of his eye the juggler could see that no one was about to leave and there was nothing left to be done. He lifted his hands high up into the air. But it wasn't enough and he ripped off his shirt and stretched his scrawny arms out even farther as if begging for the sky to fall on him. Again he yanked his arms up to the sky and again and again and again, so that they were maybe about one inch longer than they had been when he had gotten up that morning.
There he stood, his scrawny arms quivering from the pain of the pulled tendons. For a couple of moments everyone was quiet and everything was still as they all watched the juggler. But after five long hours someone began to giggle and then everyone broke out in a roar of laughter that shook even the heavens. They laughed at the juggler until dinnertime. The juggler refused to give up and continued stretching his hands up high in the air until around midnight. The big pale moon looked down at him sarcastically and the juggler felt sorry for himself and wanted so much to cry. But he didn't know how as he had never been to high school. Soon everyone went home to talk, leaving the juggler all alone in the field with his wife.
'Do you admit you lost?' she asked in a stern voice, with her hands on her hips.
'Yes,' was all the juggler could say, his head bowed low in shame. He wanted to tuck it away under his armpit but damned human physiology wouldn't allow it.
'So now you must do as I say for the rest of your natural life?'
'Yes,' the juggler gurgled. However, deep inside he felt some little part of him that was relieved she still wanted to be his wife. It was clear no one else cared to be seen with him. The life he had dreamed of having was clearly never going to be.
'You can put your hands down now,' his wife ordered. For the juggler it didn't feel so much like an order. Her voice was soft and understanding. It felt like his mother teaching him how to play.
They went home and everyday afterwards, the juggler helped his wife cook the meals and clean the dishes. After three weeks she had stopped asking him to do things but he continued to help her anyway. For the first time they were happy and for the first time he truly began to understand what it meant to love someone, so to speak. She had always loved him. And when they needed money the juggler went to town and juggled. Although people giggled at him and called him nasty names as they walked by, he didn't mind much because for a man he was still a pretty good juggler. And now crocodiles are on the menu.
Troy Morash comes from Canada but has lived and traveled all over the world. He currently lives in Odessa, Ukraine where he teaches English and translates fairy tales. He has had his work published in magazines including FABLES, MONKEY BICYCLE, THE ROSE AND THORN and KEN*AGAIN with stories slated to appear in PRINSESS TARTA and THE SUMMERSET REVIEW. His home site is www.geocities.com/troys_tales and he can be reached at email@example.com