An H C Andersen tale newly told by Troy Howell
So the imp approved of the grocer.
One evening, the student came down the stairs to buy light bulbs and cheese, and the imp was watching. The student greeted the grocer’s wife, who switched from gabbing to gawking, for she had the gifts of both gab and gawk. As the grocer was wrapping the cheese, the student noticed the wrapper was not a wrapper at all, but a page from a poetry book.
“Here’s more,” said the grocer, producing a battered book. “It’s perfect for wrapping cheese.”
“Sir!” said the student. “You’re a good grocer, but you know less about poetry than that recycle bin!”
The grocer laughted it off. “You can have the book for a price.”
That night when the household slept, the imp crept out. He borrowed the tongue of the grocer’s wife, who snored with her mouth open wide and had no need of it then. The imp placed the tongue on the recycle bin, asking, “Do you know poetry?”
“Know poetry!” cried the tongue. “Huh! It’s the blurb they stick at the end of a page to fill in the
blanks! Blah, blah, blah! That’s what it is! I’ve got more in me than that arrogant kid!”
“Just as I thought,” said the imp.
He put the tongue on the coffee grinder and it chattered nonstop. He put it on the cash register and the dairy case, and each one repeated what the recycle bin had said. The word was unanimous: Poetry filled in the blanks.
Light was shining from under the student’s door. The imp peered through the keyhole and— Glory! The room was luminous! There sat the student, bent over the book, and from its pages grew a wonderful tree, full of sunrays and spirits who sang enchanting songs. The imp could hardly believe his eyes, could hardly believe his ears. Never had he seen such a sight, never had he heard such singing!
and climbed into bed.
The light was out, but the vision glowed in the imp’s mind. He approved of the student now. “I never would have imagined!” he whispered. “This is the place for me! I must move into the loft!”
He crept back down the stairs, wondering how to do it. But then his stomach growled, and his sweet tooth ached, and he knew it couldn’t be. The student had little food, and nothing sweet at all.
He returned just in time to save the tongue from wagging itself limp, for it was back on the
recycle bin, babbling the news backward. And from that time on, all the merchandise had the same opinions as the bin.
But from that time on, the imp got no pleasure from gossip. Whenever the light shone from under the student’s door, he’d peer intothe keyhole, amazed.At times he would cry and would not know why. He would smile, he would sigh. He felt as if a mighty sea rolled before him, basking in sunlight, shifting under clouds. It warmed him and comforted him; it made him feel both strong and small.
Winter came, and still he would peer, though the wind in the stairs shook his bones. When he could stand the cold no longer, back down he would go, shivering but happy.
Christmas came and there were plenty of sweet things to eat, so the imp liked the grocer again.
But on New Year’s Eve he woke in a heat. What commotion there was outside! Shouts and sirens and smoke! Fire! A building was burning! Whose was it? Theirs? He couldn’t tell for sure.
But one thing was sure: Each person would save what each treasured the most. The grocer leaped out of bed and grabbed his accounts. The grocer’s wife took off her earrings and plunged them into her gown. The imp darted upstairs and into the loft, where the student stood calmly at the window, gazing at the fire next door.
Now he knew what he treasured the most.
The firemen came, the flames were put out, and still he gripped the book.
But then his stomach began to churn, and his sweet tooth began to yearn. Sugar! Sugar! He hung his head, got down from his perch, returned the book, and slumped down the stairs.
He favored the grocer after all.
art & text © 2012 by Troy Howell