The Story of the Pear Drum
Two children, sisters – Turkey and Blue-eyes.
They had wandered off one day, out of their mother’s sight, when they met a ragamuffin girl. The girl had a pear drum and she was playing it by the side of a stream. The sisters were intrigued.
‘What’s inside the box?’ they asked. They meant the pear drum itself, the box built over its arm into which the strings disappeared, not the crate discarded to one side.
‘Little people,’ came the reply.
‘Can we see?’
‘Maybe. If you’ve been bad enough.’
The sisters were confused but went home. In the kitchen, they kicked over their mother’s basket of laundry.
‘Ohh, you mischievous little girls, whatever made you do that?’
The sisters ran away giggling, back to the stream, and demanded to see inside the box.
‘Have you been bad enough?’ asked the ragamuffin girl.
Turkey and Blue-eyes told her what they’d done.
‘But that’s not very bad, kicking over the laundry. I meant something proper bad!’ said the ragamuffin girl.
The sisters thought about it this time and stole into the kitchen whilst their mother was outside. The elder rummaged in the cupboards whilst the younger stirred the stew.
‘Salt! That’ll do it!’
They laughed as Turkey shook the salt, showering it into the pan.
‘More! More!’ cried out Blue-eyes, till the stew was quite ruined.
Turkey was smiling, thinking about their mother, her face as she tasted the stew. But the ragamuffin girl was still not impressed.
‘That’s better, I suppose. But you’ll have to do much worse than that if you want to see inside my box!’
This time the sisters went wild, upending every piece of furniture in the house, even the beds. They broke the windows, lifting chairs and smashing them through the glass. It surprised them both, how good it felt, letting rip. They ran all the way to the stream and boasted about what they’d done. The ragamuffin girl just smiled, winding the handle on her pear drum, the music screeching in their ears.
When she stopped, she said:
‘Are you sure that you really want to see inside my drum? Because do you know what will happen if you do? If the little people aren’t satisfied, they’ll hide from you and when you go home, your mother will be gone. In her place will be a new mother, with black glass eyes and a wooden tail!’
Turkey spotted their mother’s favourite hen. Blue-eyes fished out one of the kittens hiding under the table, the little tabby that their mother was so fond of. They both put their hands around the creatures’ necks and squeezed. At first, not very hard, as the animals wriggled in protest. The hen squawked, the kitten’s eyes widened, so the girls squeezed again. Harder and harder still.
By the time their mother came home and found the little bodies lying on a stone outside the house, feathers scattered all around, fur matted with sweat, it was too late. To undo what had been done. To think again.
Their mother sat upon the ground and cried.
The sisters ran, with all the eagerness of children at Christmas, jostling the ragamuffin girl this time.
‘You have to! Now you have to let us look!’ cried out Turkey, pulling at the pear drum.
The ragamuffin girl let go and they opened the box, but there was nothing inside.
Had they not been bad enough? Had it all been a trick?
They walked home without talking. When they got back, the house had been put to rights, the glass in the windows was brand new, the furniture back on its feet. The hen and the kitten were still dead, but the bodies had been removed and the feathers swept away. Inside the house, there was no sign of their mother.
Then they heard it.
A thwack, thwack, coming up the path.
It was the new mother. She was beautiful, with smooth, jet black hair and skin as soft as snow. And eyes as black as glass.
Behind her, slithering out from underneath her full-length silken skirt, was a long wooden tail.