Tales of Telluria: Birthright and DeathRight

Gruncle Caldo Tells Another Bedtime Story

Beauty & the Beast

Kids. Kids. Your gruncle’s had a tough day. I can’t take one more minute of screaming. It’s bad enough I have to hear it at work.
A game? That’s a great idea. Lemme see what’s on. Grab me a beer from the—
—okay, okay. I’ll play a game.
I got a great game. The best. It’s called “Dragon”. I’m the dragon, see. And this—this box of toys, over here, is my treasure.
So the dragon lies down on this sofa here, like this, see? And it’s sleeping. And you gotta sneak past the dragon without waking it and steal all its treasure, one piece at a time.
I’m going to sleep now. So just sneak past, on your toes. Real quiet. Yeah, that’s—
Oh, kid. You are pushing your luck.
Did I ever tell you about your little brother? The one you don’t have no more?
No. No, I don’t think I should tell you a story. Or anything else. You’re dangerous enough already.
I’m gonna tell you a story now, aren’t I?
Clever little bastards. Heh.
Okay, whaddya wanna hear? The bearskin? How the bear lost his tail?
What? I like stories with bears.
I don’t know that one. No, I dunno that one either.
Now you’re making stuff up. The stinky cheese man is not a story.
Beauty and the beast? Oh, boy, do I know that one.
Once upon a time, see, there was this swashbuckler who fell in love with a beautiful dame. If you could’ve just seen her walk into a room. The way she swayed her hips should’ve been a crime.
I don’t mean some winking low-class burley-que come-hither. I mean she’d glide. Every piece of her added something to it. Her feet rolled around her ankles, her ankles rolled around her gams, her gams rolled around her hips, and her hips just rolled around and around and did slinky figure 8’s behind her. Waves on top of waves, none of ‘em ever stopping or slowing down. Just sliding, curving back, and coming around again. Made everybody else look like puppets jerking on strings.
Sure that’s the story. Don’t tell me I don’t know the story. Every man knows this story, sooner or later.
But you shoulda seen her smile, kids. Like she had stars inside her.
Do not ever tell anybody I said that.
No. No, you’re not getting another story. You can’t prove a thing.
You ever walk outside on a cold night under a full moon? Everybody scuttles by in a trance, hunched over cold, staring at their own breath, footsteps bouncing off the brownstone. Maybe a drunk’s eyeing you from a doorway and you’re wondering if you should roll him before he rolls you. Maybe you step into something nasty leaking from a dumpster, again. Maybe some dam’s leaning out the window, shouting for the world to hear at some mumble-faced guy down on the street. And then you look up, and hanging in the gap between two slum buildings is the moon, shining like a hole cut through the night all the way to heaven. A world away but maybe you could reach out and touch it.
Now imagine it was right there on the street with you. But you still couldn’t touch it. You could only look. Maybe lean in a little, catch a whiff of its perfume.
It’d drive you crazy, right?
Better the moon should stay in the sky, kids. And better that swashbuckler had gone home and had a cold shower. But he was a fool. When she turned his way and smiled, he smiled right back and stepped up to her, like he thought he could get inside her to where all those stars were. And then he looked into her eyes, and he felt the shape of her through the heat and pressure of the air, and he was lost, kids. Lost.
No. No, he is not a big stupid-face.
Did you at least get what I said about the moon?
Look. Say it’s the night before Nightmare Night, and there’s not a candy in the house. Not even one of those lousy waxy candy corns. You know there’s bags and bags of it all around you, stashed away secret, but you can’t have any.
Oh, so the moon and the stars and all is dumb, but candy you understand.
Pearls before swine, I tell ya.
Now I don’t want you thinking the way a swashbuckler feels about a dame is the same as a girl or a boy feels about a bag of candy. It’s more like…
Eh, close enough.
But he really wants that candy. It’s the only candy in the world for him all of a sudden. If he can just get that candy, nothing else will matter. Only it ain’t candy, it’s a metaphor.
What it means is, she ain’t really candy, okay?
No, I don’t got no candy.
So he took her out to parties and such. Fancy ones where old nobles with monocles told stories and old dames in dresses with too many frills laughed at them like they were funny. Wild bacchanals where everybody danced to crazy music and people slept under empty wine kegs. If she said she liked the sound of the water, he’d take her on a riverboat cruise. If she said the moon was beautiful, he’d get a magic lasso and haul it down outta the sky for her.
Turns out there’s a law against that. Who knew?
Now the amazing thing, kids, is that it turned out this dame, she loved candy too. I mean, of course she did. Everybody likes candy. But it seemed like a miracle. And she wanted his candy.
No. I told you, it’s a metaphor.
What it means is, she liked him. Oh, it’d be easy to sneer and say she liked the parties and the pearls. But I think she really liked him. They lit up the night together. And one day he finally did get inside and see all those stars.
Also a metaphor. Ask your mother.
So the two of them, they got hitched, and she moved into his place. They laughed a lot, smiled at each other a lot, and did other things a lot. It was great. Pretty soon some kids came along, fuzzy and cute. Happy ending, right?
But the more they were together, the more the things she liked about him before, she didn’t like no more. Before, she liked that he laughed too loud. That he could pick her up and swing her around in the air when they danced. That other people moved aside when he walked down the street. That he said what he thought, and didn’t take guff from no one or care what nobody thought.
But now it was, “Keep your voice down! Don’t be such a hood! Don’t burp! Wipe off your hooves! Pick your clothes off the floor!”
I ask you, kids: Can a pony be the kind of swashbuckler who cuts his own path through life if he can’t fart in his own home? If he’s worried about whether his dirty socks are in the dark pile or the light pile?
No. No he can’t.
Yeah, I said fart. That’s not the important point here, kids.
That’s pretty good, but to really make it rip you gotta use your pits, like this.
Yeah, see, your gruncle knows what he’s talking about. Now work on that all day tomorrow for me, and I’ll come by later and see what you got, okay?
Anyway. That dame, she couldn’t be happy. She’d stand there watching him, like she wanted to say something, and he’d say “So what is it?”, and she’d say, “Nothing.” So he’d go back to whatever he was doing, and then she’d suddenly burst out with, “We never go out anymore.”
Like he was gonna keep buying her things and taking her places forever. What did she think he married her for, am I right? She knew how the game went.
And like they had time for parties or riverboats anymore. She was busy with those kids, and he was working late every night, trying to put food on the table. He’d come home after a hard day, just wanting to sit down, have a square meal, and rest his feet. And she’d kinda hover over him, and if he wasn’t quick with a word about how tender the goat was or how tasty the spanakopita was, she’d say, “You don’t appreciate how hard I work for you!” Which was ironic, what with him being just home from busting his balls all day for her.
Ask your mother.
Then she’d want to talk. Like he hasn’t heard enough talk all day. She’d say, “I’ve been alone with the kids all day, and you come in and don’t speak a word and sit down with your nose glued to the front of the games papers like some dumb animal.” Like she’s been waiting all day, but now she can’t wait just till the end of the quarter. Like how a cat knows to sit on the paper just when you’re reading something good.
So sometimes he’d stay a little later at the bar to watch the cock fights, catch up with his pals, like guys do. Nothing wrong with that. A fellow needs a break sometime. Then he’d head home with a smile on his face. Not four sheets to the wind or anything. Just a little warm glow from the bar. And she’d be waiting for him, and I don’t mean waiting the way that makes a man happy.
“We need to talk,” she’d say. “About our relationship.” “We don’t got a relationship,” he’d say, “we’re married.” And then she’d start crying, and blowing her nose into her fancy monogrammed silk handkerchiefs he bought for her. Damned expensive things for a little shred of cloth that you fill with snot and stuff into your pocket, if you ask me.
“You never tell me I’m beautiful anymore!” she’d sob. While she’s standing there in something frumpy, glaring out from under a hair that looked like a rat’s nest. I mean she’d started to let herself go, kids. And he’d try to do his duty anyway, get a little sugar from her, but the store was closed.
Or she’d say, “You never buy me pearls anymore!” “What’s the matter with the pearls I got you before?” he’d say. “Did they go bad? Did they invent some new pearl-stringing technology?” And she wouldn’t answer.
Then she’d pull out the big guns: “You just don’t understand!”
And, kids, he didn’t. He didn’t have a clue why everything had gone wrong. She’d said she wanted to settle down, and he’d settled down for her. Now he had a good job, a couple of decent kids, a comfortable armchair, and somebody to snuggle at night without having to go out and tear up the town first, but it wasn’t enough for her. He just didn’t get it.
He didn’t get it until the day he came home after one or two or three rounds at the bar, and the house was empty and there was nothing on the table except an empty wine bottle and a vase with a couple of flowers and a plate of half eaten mutton. He didn’t think much of it, just took off his shirt and sat down in front of the wager rolls chewing on the mutton, spitting the gristle out onto the floor, until he heard angry stomping and she came down the stairs wearing a red dress and a snarl, and he remembered the kids were at her mother’s because it was their anniversary.
She musta done herself up earlier, but her makeup was running down her face and smeared all around her eyes and in her hair, like she’d been crying and rubbing her eyes. She stomped over to him, leaned over right into his face and brayed like a damn donkey. She called him stupid and crude and other things I can’t tell you until you’re older, and some of them were true. She said she was gonna leave and take the kids with her. Her lips twitched and twisted all out-of-shape, like rubber bands, spraying him each time she spoke, and her breath stank. She was plastered good, kids.
Meanwhile he’s standing there, looking around at the house. It already seems empty, like it was before she came. She’s screaming at the top of her lungs but he can’t hear her no more. It’s like when you’ve planned a job for weeks, you think you know how everything’s gonna go, and you bust in the door and the wall’s painted green instead of white. Everything slows down while you stare at that green paint, trying to figure out where you are and how you got there.
Then she leans into him, grabs his hair, blows her nose into his chest, mumbles something and passes out.
And that moment, kids, was when he realized what had happened:
The beautiful dame he’d married had turned into a horrible beast.
And that’s the story of beauty and the beast.
How does the story end? Hah.
It never ends, kids. It never ends.



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