Once upon a time there was a little old woman, who lived in a cottage at the side of a wood. The country she lived in was far away on the other side of the rainbow. All the houses there were crooked. They had crooked chimneys and crooked walls and crooked doors. The doors were there to shut some people in and other people out and to hide secrets.
In her cottage, the little old woman kept a ginger cat and a deaf, black dog for company. She was getting even older than old and very frail. She was so old that she was nearly dead, but not quite. She still had a sparkle in her eye. You could see the sparkle if you looked really closely at her. It twinkled when she saw children or the berries on the blackberry bush.
In her front room, a sunbeam shone through the windowpane and illuminated a large jug on the mantelpiece. It was the only thing in the cottage which was not crooked. On the side of it were an elephant and a camel. The elephant’s nose was holding on to the camel’s tail and the camel held the tip of the elephant’s tail in its mouth.
“Phew, it is hot when the sun shines on my back,” said the elephant.
“Well, move round a bit!” said the camel.
“You know very well that I can’t,” replied the elephant.
“It’s all right for you. I’m always in the shade,” the camel said.
“You wouldn’t like it if you had the sun burning your bottom all morning.”
“I love the sun. I am meant to be in the sun all day,” boasted the camel. “Stop moaning. Anyway, what do you mean you are meant to be in the sun all day? I am supposed to be in the desert, where the sun shines all day and it is very hot, but I’ve never been there. I can only dream of it.”
“I’m supposed to be on the plains of Africa, not standing on this jug all day and night,” lamented the elephant. If you could have one wish, what would it be?”
The beautiful camel smiled to herself on the other side of the jug.
“It would be nice to see your dear face at last, my friend. After all these years of loving you, I’ve never once seen your face.”
“You haven’t missed much. It is a huge, ugly face and I have a long nose like a staircase. If I could only see your face, I too would be a happy elephant.”
The old woman had three sons, who came to visit her as often as they could, which wasn’t very often. When they came she wore her best clothes and washed herself until she was squeaky-clean because she didn’t want them to think that she couldn’t look after herself properly. If they thought that, the decision may have to be made to put her in a home for elderly people. The last time the sons came to see her, the subject had come up in the conversation and the eldest one, Michael, had told her: -
“The time for you to consider going in to a home is when you think you are ready or when you can no longer dust that old jug up there on the mantelpiece by yourself. Whichever comes first? That will be the time.”
The large wooden clock on the shelf ticked loudly – tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.
“And that’s another thing,” complained the camel. “I’m fed up with that clock chiming every fifteen minutes. It hurts my ears. They are delicate, my ears are, and they can’t stand that noise. It goes right through me.”
“Well, what do you want me to do about it? The noise hurts my ears much more than yours.”
“And why would that be?”
“Because my ears are very, very big.”
“Oh, you’re boasting again, aren’t you? Everything you’ve got is bigger than mine, you keep saying. Anyway my friend, you haven’t got humps like me.”
“Humps, what humps? You have the humps a lot of the time and that’s because you can’t get off the shelf.”
“No, I mean real humps. I have real humps for storing water. They sit on my back like two hills.”
“Ha, ha, ha. That’s a real joke. You have a vivid imagination.”
“And so have you – a nose as long as a staircase, whatever next!”
The old lady loved chocolates. She especially liked the sort of chocolates, which contained raspberry cream or liquid toffee. Her false teeth would nip into the crisp outer coating of the chocolate and open it up, allowing the liquid centre to flow out over her tongue, covering all her taste buds with happiness.
It was ten o’clock in the morning and the doorbell was ringing.
‘I’d better go and answer it,’ she thought. ‘It might be the laundryman.’
It wasn’t the laundryman. He was delayed in an apricot traffic jam. On the doorstep stood a couple of well-dressed young men wearing suits and looking very smart. The old lady looked through the spy hole in her front door and saw the young men.
‘Looks like church workers,’ she thought.
Carefully she lifted the chain and opened the door a little. One of the well-dressed young men stepped forward and smiled.
“Good morning. Sorry to trouble you. We’re looking for Betty. Is this her house?”
“No, it isn’t, I’m afraid.” The old lady stepped out of her cottage and slowly walked down the path to the gate leaning on the arm of one of the young men.
“That’s where Betty lives,” she said and pointed down the road. “Just there, three cottages down. Can you see? It’s the one with the green door.”
What she hadn’t realised was that, while she was talking to one of the young men, the other one was inside her cottage, helping himself to her best handbag and all of its contents. When she came back indoors, she realised she had been tricked. Her best handbag had gone and with it a great deal of money, which she had been putting aside to buy some Christmas presents.
‘I’ll make myself a cup of tea,’ she said to the dog in a trembly voice but he didn’t hear her because he was old and deaf. He slept on in his basket, dreaming of when he was younger, chasing rabbits over the hills. ‘Yes, that’s what I’ll do. A nice cup of tea will calm my nerves.’
She tottered into the kitchenette and took down the old tin where she kept the loose tea. As she tried to lift off the lid, her hands began to shake. She put two spoons of tea in her little teapot and flicked the switch on the kettle but she had forgotten to fill it up with water and after a little while it went “bang” and blew up.
The little old woman sat down in her chair and a big teardrop rolled down her papery cheek. She wiped it away with a pretty white handkerchief, which smelled of lilies of the valley. On the table beside her chair was a little photograph frame containing a picture of her husband who had died many years ago. He smiled at her through the glass, which protected his face.
The elephant from his position on the mantelpiece watched all these events.
“That’s not fair, is it?” he said to his friend the camel. “She didn’t deserve that.”
“No, it most certainly is not,” replied the camel.
The wind rustled in the plane tree, which towered over the cottage. The sun came out from behind a cloud and shone through the window, illuminating the dust on the shelf.
‘I’ll get the duster,’ said the little old woman. With the duster in her right hand, she reached up to dust the shelf but her hand was trembling so much that she knocked the jug right over. It rocked and spun and then “crash”. It fell to the floor and broke in two!
Now, at last, the two companions could look each other in the eye.
“You are very handsome,” remarked the camel.
“And you are very pretty,” replied the elephant.
“All these years I have longed to see your face and imagined in my mind what you may look like and you don’t look a bit like I thought you would.”
The elephant regarded the camel’s large eyes with her long eyelashes, designed to keep the sand out of her eyes in a sandstorm. The camel noticed the elephant’s enormous grey ears, which were designed to flap and keep the elephant cool on the plains of Africa.
“What will become of us now, do you think?”
The old woman stooped down and picked up the two pieces of the jug and set them side by side on the shelf so they could look each other in the eye.
‘I’ll explain that the cat did it,’ she decided, ‘otherwise they’ll put me in that old people’s home, saying I can’t cope. I won’t mention the burglary either because that will go against me.’
When her son came to see her at the end of the week, he noticed the broken jug on the shelf.
“Mum, I’ve been thinking,’ he started.
“It’s all right, son. I know what you’re going to say. I’m ready to go. You make the arrangements.”
“No, what I was going to say was…Pam and I have been talking and we’ve decided between us that we can’t live another day without that jug over there. We’ve always admired it and now we want to own it ourselves and, of course, you’ll have to come with it when we move it to our own crooked house on the plains in Africa, because it will need dusting every day to keep it bright.”
The old woman smiled a smile, which reached right across her face and the crooked, broken jug on the shelf shimmered in the sunshine.
This story was written by Oma, writing as Amanda Marigold
By Amanda Marigold
All Rights Reserved
Amanda Marigold reserves the right to be named as the author of this work under the Copyright, Designs & Patent Act 1988.
Copyright November 2010.