A Transient Visitors very tiny Tale by David O’Boyle
While they were just brooms, mops, and soak buckets, they were my tools of trade. Thus, I never felt good about leaving them outside my office. Jacked up against those cold stone walls deprived them of a dignity they deserved. Yet rather than appearing as honest servants of the crown, they looked like detained criminals awaiting formal arrest. Considering how many dishonest servants of the crown skulked in and out of these castle hallways undetected, you had to appreciate the irony of their unfair exposure.
But when duty didn’t call, I needed my separation. And even with a good post-work clean, my trusty tools always retained that metallic smell of blood, a smell that you could somehow taste. While imperfect, a closed door and a scented candle was the best method to fend it off. So, until another shift began, there they stayed.
Two male bureaucrats walked by as I gathered my materials in hand. I knew them because they oversaw the cuttings. Seeing them meant their work was done and my shift was set to begin. The bigger bureaucrat waved at me with his stub of a hand. The littler one, struggling to keep pace given a shorter stride and a worse limp, could only muster enough effort to nod.
Like always, I acknowledged them with a nudge of my broom.
This wasn’t all administrative lip service. No matter one’s position in the kingdom, most males had faced the scream of the saw, had felt blade hit their own bones. Our collective mutilation formed a sort of brotherhood.
Why did all this happen?
When King Combume came to power, his first order of business was annulling all marriages. To carry this out, he ordered all males to have their ring fingers chopped off and the rings on those fingers confiscated by the crown. In a culture where males were the ones who wore fancy wedding rings and fancy engagement rings, this amounted to massive financial loss.
As for the females, all were subsequently married to the king by operation of law. To legitimize the edict, King Combume hand-picked a certain number of ‘female marital representatives’ to partake in the high honor of ‘symbolic consummation.’ Such high honors, including a new selection process, occurred daily.
So did the cuttings, which is why I had a job.
Given the fact that ring fingers aren’t fungible, you may be wondering how I kept the job. In other words, what were the long-term job prospects for those in my line of work. Allow me to clarify. For those unable to control their physical desires, call them repeat offenders, the cuttings continued long after losing a ring finger.
Considering that jewelry was a fundamental aspect of our culture, so much so that it was rare to see an appendage unadorned by some sort of stone, there were quite a lot of rings on non-ring fingers swallowed by the saw. If, by chance, you didn’t wear the rings you normally wore to your own cutting, and it was found out, you risked even worse punishment.
Given those policies and practices, you can understand how rather than being a low-demand job, “cutter cleaning” was almost as recession proof as ‘symbolic consummation’.
After the bureaucrats passed, I would hobble across the wall-walk towards my destination. With the aid of the battlements keeping me upright, I’d eventually reach the cutting room, a large, vaulted chamber with tiny arcade windows dotted along its perimeter. One look at the state of the saw told the story of the morning. It lacked luster, which meant it had been busy. When it had been busy, I’d be busy too.
I removed the big stuff first. When that was done, I brushed the broom across the bloody floor, piling fingers in separate piles than appendages less likely to house expensive jewelry. While I swept them into piles, I made mental notes of the way the rings sounded when they scraped against ruts in the fieldstone beneath my feet. Over time, my ears had gotten so good at identifying stones that I knew the ring, ring cut, and ring resale value without putting eyes on it.
Did I give myself away?
We all find ways to pass the downtime at work. Right after being hired as a castle janitor, I started to pass that time by learning everything about the jewelry business. I figured that King Combume, who spent all his time maiming males, policing prurient interests, and ‘symbolically consummating’ his infinite marriages to females, would neglect his ‘precious metals’ management program.
I was right.
I was even more right in how much they’d underestimate me. A broom handler with a bad wheel? He couldn’t be responsible for all these dents in the public fisc. How wrong they were.
To be fair, they were wrong about a lot of folks. It wasn’t just me who hit gold defrauding the king. In fact, the running joke in the kingdom was that the poorest person in town was the king himself.
“Let him take my finger,” merchants on the black market would say with smiles and deformed hand gesticulations. “I have his wallet.”
In time, I grew rich. And when you grow rich, you can only go so long before you want to spend that money underneath the mattress. Me, I spent it on a spaceship. Bought it from a traveling salesman who set up shop on the outskirts of the realm.
“Plug in coordinates for Thatwlaaf,” I instructed the traveling salesman as he lowered me into the cockpit from his booth in the hanger. After a good haul, Thatwlaaf is every thief’s first stop to celebrate.
I never got there.
The traveling spaceship salesman sold me a shitbox. The result: a few hundred-million light years into the trip it puttered out in some bathroom stall of the universe, in a place the locals called earth, and the more local locals called the Upper West Side of New York City.
Hard place to emergency land, that New York City. While trying to fly through a slit in a cracked window, I lost the bulk of my ship to a brick wall. My chair and me, that’s really all that made it through. But for the pillows on the bed that cushioned impact, I, Jitpoj, wouldn’t be here to tell this Transient Visitors very tiny tale.