This story is dedicated to Maureen Turner, who sent me the prompt: “Oh no, not again!”
The young boy clambered onto the stage, darkness before him. He turned, nervously, to face his audience and was blinded by the bright lights. He ambled his way to the microphone and fiddled with it, adjusting its height and position. He swallowed and then cleared his throat. He peered out into the depth of darkness, punctuated by lights so bright that it seemed as though the whole world had vanished. All except him and the microphone. He licked his dry and cracked lips.
“Um,” he said to no response. The growl of the silence drowned out his thoughts and he hopped from one foot to another.
“This is a poem I…er…” he swallowed again and squinted as the lights caught his retina in a full-on assault. “I suppose I should just start then,” he said as he looked down at his feet.
Said Jenny to the…to the wren.”
He cleared his throat once more, raised his head tall and proud, and began again.
“‘Oh no, not again!’
Said Jenny to the wren!”
His eyes adjusted to the gloom and he could just begin to make out faces. Sneering faces of his audience, laughing faces of those who wished him harm, joyful faces that took great delight in watching him fail.
He gasped. He grimaced. He turned and ran from the stage, amid roaring laughter and rolling guffaws.
THREE WEEKS LATER
The young boy clambered onto the stage once more. This was his fourth attempt and the more he failed, the more nervous he became. He rubbed his hands together as he approached the microphone and he looked out into the blackness. The blackness was a good thing, the lights were helpful. It was when he could see their faces that he faltered. He cleared his throat, grabbed hold of the microphone as though he gained confidence from it, and began slowly, methodically.
“‘Oh no, not again!’
Said Jenny to…to…”
As the faces of his adversaries loomed out from the gloom in front of him, he stumbled and staggered over his words. His chin wobbled and his eyes misted and he turned and ran from the stage once more.
The audience laughed and grumbled too, for they were getting bored of this repeat performance. It was fun, at first, to watch him fail but now, some of them at least, willed him on and wished success and of course, wanted to know what came next!
ONE WEEK LATER
As the boy clambered, once more to the stage, he kept his eyes closed and mumbled his poem to himself. “Oh no, not again,” he whispered to himself. “Oh no, not again…Oh no, not again.”
He has said those words to himself after each failed performance, oh no – he’s failed again. But still, each week, he has clambered up to try again. “Oh no, not again,” he whispered as he grabbed hold of the microphone, eyes closed and lips dry. “Oh no, not again,” he whispered once more and stood, in silence, as he realised those words could have a new meaning. Not a meaning of failure but a meaning of success. “Oh no, not again,” he said to himself in a loud and booming voice. “Oh no, I won’t let this beat me – not again!”
So tall and proud he stood, and he began to recite his poem.
“‘Oh no not again,’
Said Jenny to the wren
‘The old man isn’t happy when
You interfere in his much-loved glen.’
‘I don’t care,’ said the wren
‘I like to visit now and then
To sit here and gather a little zen,
To enjoy my time here at the glen.’
‘But you must not come here ever again’
Said a nervous Jenny to the wren
‘For he gets angry, the old man Ben
When you trespass in his glen!’
Once more she scoffed, this little wren,
Who laughed at Jenny, the comedienne.
‘You could say it over, five and ten,
But still I shall come here now and then.’
‘For in truth,’ cried the little wren,
‘I do not care for the wants of men,
I wish to feed on the silk worm’s gren,
And on the fodder left for that hen!’
Now Jenny growled and grumbled then,
And glared at the cheeky little wren.
‘Oh no you won’t, for old man Ben,
Has laced all the food with that pepper, cayenne!’
Cried the wren, ‘Ha! You lie like men,
You, Jenny, who talks to the wren.
I do not care what you think you ken,
I shall steal this food and then say amen!’
And so she did, the little wren,
She stole the food and said amen,
But soon her mouth began to burn and then
She cried out ‘This food is laced with cayenne!’
Little tears dropped down her when,
She finally realised, this little wren,
That he had succeeded, the old man Ben,
In protecting his ever-so precious little glen!”
Silence. He stood and listened for a moment before slowly opening his eyes. He blinked as he saw the audience, silently gaping at his performance, a silence that lasted a lifetime. Fear shook him to the core once more and he realised that opening his eyes had been his problem all along. He should just keep them shut. He turned, ready to scuttle from the stage with fright but as he opened his eyes once more, the audience erupted into roars of laughter and of joy but this time, this time the laughter was not for his failure but instead, for his poem.
Oh no, he didn’t let them beat him – not again!