I Believe in Isaac

The Rookery

Posted in Uncategorized by isaacmcphee on March 14, 2012

Please note: The following short story is not to be confused with the children’s book of the same name–though the two stories just so happen to have originated both on the same day and in the same dining room.

Now: The Rookery

He grew up in what others called a rookery.  It was a vile place, really; so vile as to be almost enchanting.  So perfect in its contempt of the perfect houses of the bankers and lawyers of the city as to be almost idyllic in its misery.  His home could truly have been loved, but only as a humorist loves his most perfect work of satire; as the novelist loves his most perfectly dystopian vision of the future.

It is not entirely certain that his dwelling could even have been called a house, for it had but three walls and a roof so patchwork that he could see the moon and stars through its cavities as if laying in a field atop one of the hills to the north.  Beyond the invisible fourth wall – the barrier that might have transformed his meager dwelling into something more homely an abode – lay a host of others; those with the misfortune of having been cast aside by society and banished to the rookery until the moment their fortunes would be reversed.  Such reversals were rare, however, and were greeted within the little paupers’ commune as something rather worth pitying than celebrating.

He left the rookery once each day, awakening at the rising of the sun and returning just after dusk.  It had been months since he had seen the rookery in the fullness of daytime, though he took this peculiarity of his schedule as far more of a blessing than a curse, for the rookery was no more worth laying one’s eyes upon than the serpentine headdress of Medusa. Seeing the thing in the light of day might just as easily have turned him to stone.

Though unknown to those with whom he so closely dwelt, the life he lived beyond the walls of the tenement was radically different from that within.  In fact, these two worlds were so different as to be almost unbelievable; so drastically improbable as to be almost impossible to tell, lest one be accused of fabricating the most abhorrent of lies – fairy tales offered up as pure history.

This boy (or perhaps he was a man – he stood right on the cusp between the two worlds; where the line is crossed cannot be stated for certain) awoke each day and ambled out of the shackles of his existence, dressed in torn rags, unkempt and wild hair, with soleless shoes covering only the tops of his feet, offering only the appearance of being clad.  Each day the routine was repeated, he would leave the frail building behind and make his way through the dirty streets, passing by the poor sellers setting up their little booths in the gutters, past the meat shops smelling sweetly of freshly-butchered poultry and cattle, past the row houses and banks and book binders and every other little piece of society. He would cross the bridge and take in the foul odor of the rank water flowing beneath, passing in and out of the crowds that occupied the streets of that metropolis.

Those he passed each morning he passed not passively, nor in solidarity regarding their shared status in life. He did not ignore the people (though they certainly ignored him. He looked at them, met their eyes, and sneered in great contempt, for, you see, they were all beneath him. Too low even to be pitied. He did not so much trudge by them in his haggard dress and soleless shoes as he marched over their broken, frail bodies while scoffing in derision at their poverty; he thumbed his nose at them all as he walked passed, cursing them for disgracing the streets of his beloved town with their presence.  He walked by the fine little cottages just outside of town and cursed at their hedgerows and lilies; their buttercups and their rosebushes.  So small and so frail as to be trampled under the feet of even the most delicate of invading armies.

Only his castle could stand against such foes.

Oh! His castle!

He marched cruelly through the city until at last he arrived at the foot of those great stone walls. He stepped up to its grand and magnificent gate every morning and peered up at its glorious towers and crenellations; the archers perched as sentries atop its great walls. The vast, impassable moat and wooden drawbridge; the pointed arches of stained glass and waving flag bearing the symbol of the city striking intrepidly upward.

He stood and looked and knew the truth that was hidden to the rest of the city. These were his towers. His walls. His archers.  He stood straight and tall and a single, delicate tear of endless pride began to well up at the corner of his eye as he spoke, softly at first, then with increased fervor and intensity:

Prepare yourselves, men!  For though this may seem a time of peace, let it never be forgotten that a time of war is not far off. A time of bloodshed stands just at the door. But we must meet our enemies; we must stand before them with courage. We shall stride together into battle; I shall go before you and lead you all in great daring, and honor shall be restored to our kingdom.  I shall lay aside my crown of honor and pick up my sword of defenestration.  When our enemies arrive, men, we shall be prepared, and we shall fortify ourselves with the honor of knowing that our kingdom is good and righteous.  The war shall end, my friends, my brave warriors, and we shall be received at this very castle as mighty conquerors and defenders of liberty.  A time of peace shall be upon us once more and our kingdom will grow under my gracious rule.  Oh! My throne! My table! How I shall miss you upon those helpless days of war, and how I shall cling to you upon my return with renewed love and affection!  How the rabble may look up to me!  How the poor shall covet my wealth; the proud fear my power!  How the haughty shall fall and the good be lifted up!  There has never been a king such as I, and though my loins be fertile, the kingdom shall  not see such prosperity under my sons.  The kingdom is nearing its pinnacle; let us embrace all that we are and strive to be that which we are not yet.  Good day, men.

He stood still, staring forward at that mighty edifice; that centerpiece of the city. Finally, as day turned to late afternoon, he turned and walked back through town, never looking back to his castle; to his home; to his great army standing at attention just beyond the gates.

He spat at a newspaperman as he passed by. He cursed a cab driver and was chased into an alleyway and beaten.  He took a boiled egg from a grocer’s cart because it was his right as King and took yet another good lashing.  He limped silently, pitying his people for their poverty.

The sun had just set as he climbed the final hill and set his eyes upon the silhouette of his rookery.  He crawled over the bodies of paupers strewn on thin mats across the floor and found his way at once to his own bed.  He slept soundly, as he did every night.

In his dreams there was no rookery.

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One Response

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  1. charatheos said, on March 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    This is still one of my favorites. We should put it in the memoir one day…when “The Rookery: A Novel” becomes the classic it deserves to be.


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