There was once in a ring around the rosy, an ordinary clerk
in the Bureau of Matrimonials who lived quite-and-quietly alone,
in the very heart of the old town of Uppen-Downe. He lived in an
old shoe of a house.
For as long as he could remember, and even longer than he could
count goodbye, he kept company with no one to speak of; and no one
to speak of, so to speak, ever spoke back – and mum’s the word, he sighed.
And then upon a day it was at blossom time . . . a young lady of a certain
age, as suitable as she was beautiful, and who herself lived quite-and-quietly
alone in an old shoe of a house . . . was appointed Keeper of the Banns.
As you might imagine, in such positions of tumescent responsibility,
there arose certain indications . . . certain moments of a passing glance . . .
certain possibilities . . . well, frankly, of romance . . .
That evening in the town of Uppen-Downe, the clerk in a moment of
inspiration did send his one-and-only, his only one, a posy full of sleep . . .
Such a nosegay, such a bouquet of persuasions, each blossom full of the
deepest sleep you can imagine . . . long purples for lords and ladies . . . small
stars of forget-me-nots . . . a fume of poppies . . . sweet clover of two for her
right shoe, and a fascination of anemones to beguile . . .
That she might on dreaming deeply of her one-and-only, her only one,
then wake and sweetly fall into his arms . . .
And she did that
And he did to the occasion arise
And they did their banns post, and other positions exquisite
And there came no one to speak of, to gainsay the day
Here in the very heart of the old town of Uppen-Downe, where
the ordinary clerk and his suitable lady live, and prettily too, in an old
shoe of a House of Flowers . . .
An old man who is also a young man presents himself as an older
man and a younger man too at the clinic for minor indiscretions
Opening his briefcase, the colour of old tin, he shakes himself
charitably in all his existential places; younger than springtime, he says,
humming a few bars of that told tune, and he reaches down inside the
story he has prepared for such an occasion as this . . .
When he is no taller than the kitchen chair he climber on to reach
his father’s hat, somewhere over the rainbow, and it is summer the
evening dark settles softly, and you know, an interesting time for
discreet conversation . . .
When it was, he said, no more than a minor skirmish in the
boatshed loo at the public gardens, where love roses bloom – you could
say a first flirtation under cover of a falling dark . . .
You could hear the night owls and their stalking song – and there was
no one there at all, no name in the streets to call your own . . .
It was then he fell in love with locks and keys. And yes, the queer
ministration they get up to in the middle of their intimate
No sooner than . . . he began a long and sometimes roaring affair with
incarceration: locking up and locking in and out was all his avocation.
For a time out of time, he rose to head turnkey at the local house of
And now an old man who is also a young man, it happens finally
that he comes to the beginning of the end, the end of the beginning . . .
And he is no taller than the kitchen chair he climbed on to reach
his father’s hat . . . and he is waiting inside this briefcase history, inside
the story for such an occasion as this, when . . .
Three keys appeared as if by invitation – you could almost say as if
miraculously out of the air . . .
Just then a hand reached down to find them joined together, each
one kissing the gold ring . . .
There is after all one consolation . . . You see: he is now the keeper of
From Cassandra’s Daughter (Auckland UP, 2005)
© Michael Harlow