Enjoy “Fable”, in full, and an excerpt of “The Gift Horse”, two of the 17 stories you’ll find in Lyn Coffin’s new collection The First Honeymoon. Like many of the stories in the collection, “Fable” is clever, slyly humorous, inventive in form and fully engrossing. “The Gift Horse” is poignant, heart-wrenchingly so, as we watch a mother urgently struggle to find ways to preserve her daughter’s hope, even as she is about to destroy it. — ITP
There was a hare who raced a tortoise and was so much faster than the tortoise that he got bored and fell asleep.
Moral: Ability can inhibit performance.
While the hare slept, he had several nice dreams. He awoke to find that the tortoise had beaten him to the finish line.
Moral: Dreamers have difficulty getting ahead.
The tortoise was happy, not because he had won the race but because he thought his name would go down in history.
Moral: Most animals value achievement as a means to recognition.
The tortoise was wrong: the story of the race survived, but no knowledge of the racers.
Moral: History is more a matter of deeds than doers.
Because the tortoise had been victorious, many other tortoises challenged hares to races: all these tortoises lost.
Moral: One success can inspire many failures.
When the hare’s son grew up, his father told and retold him the story of the race, saying, “Where I failed, you must succeed.”
Moral: A father who has been a failure is difficult to live with.
When the tortoise’s son grew up, his father told and retold him the story of the race, saying, “Where I succeeded, so must you.”
Moral: A father who has been a success is difficult to live with.
The old tortoise wanted his son to be rich and famous, so he urged him to stop reading so much and go out for track. Mrs. Tortoise also wanted the youngster to be rich and famous, so she urged the opposite.
Moral: Those with the same goals are often opposed when it comes to the question of means.
The old tortoise threatened to stop supporting his wife if she didn’t drop her opposition to the younger’s racing, so she dropped it.
Moral: Practical considerations are often of principal importance. Also: female tortoise persons are not liberated.
The old tortoise and the old hare arranged for their sons to race each other—the old tortoise because he wanted the young tortoise to beat the young hare, and the old hare because he wanted the opposite.
Moral: Reverse of #8 above.
The race was set for Sunday afternoon; that morning, almost everyone went to church.
Moral: A lot of animals go to church.
The minister’s sermon was entitled, “All Animals Are Equal,” but the odds that afternoon were 100 to 1 against the tortoise.
Moral: Odds-makers don’t think in religious terms.
Before the race, one of the tortoise’s supporters slipped pep pills in the tortoise’s water and knock-out drops in the hare’s. Seeing this, one of the hare’s supporters slipped pep pills in the hare’s water and knock-out drops in the tortoise’s. As a result, both animals became ill.
Moral: Fighting fire with fire is hard on the forests.
The race was run, nevertheless, and the hare finished first.
Moral: The race is usually to the odds-on favorite.
Immediately after the race, there was a flash flood. One of the hare’s friends quickly jumped on his back, hoping to be carried quickly to safety.
Moral: A friend in need is easy to find.
The hare and his friend drowned, but the tortoise floated out the storm unharmed.
Moral: Winning isn’t everything.
Moral: Expecting a moral to give meaning to a story is like expecting a post-mortem to revivify the deceased.
by Lyn Coffin
Moral: There is none.
(Fables usually have morals; people usually don’t.)
The Gift Horse
Denise was sure she was right to have said what she did, until Leah left for school. Then misgivings rushed upon her, waves cresting into cavalry horses, a soldier on every one.
The shop girl smiled again. What was she waiting for? Oh, yes. She was supposed to buy something. At least look at something. The counter and showcase were littered with china bric-a-brac. She had come seeking something for Leah—an angel, possibly. Leah needed something to take Santa’s place. But porcelain figurines weren’t right for a seven-year-old, even the most careful.
What could she have been thinking of?
Death. She’d been thinking of death. Her death. Her “impending” death. Only it was more as if death had been thinking of her. She hadn’t had any medication this morning, wanting her thinking clearer. It was, too. But the pain in her gut had gone crazy.
“Leah,” she began, “suppose you were grown-up and had a daughter and you loved the daughter very much the way I love you and let’s suppose your daughter believed something and the something made her happy but wasn’t true. Would you tell your daughter the truth? Or would you let her go on believing in the thing that wasn’t true but made her happy?”
The salesgirl wasn’t smiling now. Denise flailed about in her mind, searching for what her mother had called “some saving grace.” She looked at the girl’s white plastic badge. “HELLO! My Name is Beth!” said the thick, aqua letters. Maybe some time in the 21st century, Leah would be a salesgirl here. No, the imagination was a round-eyed bank teller and truth produced a six-shooter and pulled the trigger. The truth was, she would never live to see her daughter grow up. Somewhere inside her, a tumor was growing like Topsy. A storm was brewing. It was time to batten down the hatches, only there were no more hatches left.
This young woman wanted to please her—no, more than that—she wanted to do right. The beautiful young always did. “I love you, mommy. Are you mad at me?” That was Leah these days, and they went over and over the truth as if it were a role that needed to be memorized. They went over and over what was coming until the future was a stone rolling downhill, away from the tomb. And every morning, there it was to deal with again. Surprise, surprise, surprise.
“Leah, sweetheart! I told you this nasty cancer thing isn’t because of you.”
“Who’s it because of, then?”
Denise waited, afraid to answer too soon, before the dust of emotion had settled, and truth stood revealed. “It’s not because of anyone, sweetie. Not you or me or daddy or anyone.”
“I think it’s God,” Leah said. “I think he did this to you. Why are you looking like that? It’s the truth. That’s what I think!”
“But why? Am I so bad God has to gun me down?” And Leah looked down at her and there were honest to god tears brimming over her lower eyelids.
“No, mommy. Not you. He’s the one that’s bad. When I get big I’m going to tell people not to vote for him….”