The storyteller stared into the fire, her attention narrowing away from the people around her and absorbing into the warmth and light of the flames. She did not speak or glance to the faces illuminated by the fire. The darkness that surrounded them pressed in between every flicker of light and into the minds of the people and the storyteller.
The darkness would overcome them, she knew, if nothing was spoken. It would take root where it had crept into their thoughts, sending out gentle tendrils that would grow to a choking mass. There would be room for nothing else. The people would become darkness and the people would disappear.
She pursed her lips and leaned forward, still staring into the fire. This thought itself was darkening. She blinked, and the movement awakened intention. She would tell a story. It is what she did, after all, and a good story could break the hold of the darkness and rip its roots from their minds.
But which story? She pinched her shoulders together and relaxed them, closing her eyes. The people shifted in small ways around her, glancing up at the storyteller, then back to the fire. As the light danced on her closed eyelids she summoned up the old stories. Their opening words sounded in her mind, each eliciting its own images and emotions for her consideration.
“In the beginning…” “In those days…” “A long time ago and far, far away…” The storyteller could feel the quick glances of the people touching her face, her hands, her shoulders. She could feel the longing of their looks and knew that any of the stories would be welcome, whether for an assurance that good would prevail, or a certainty that there were greater things than their own sorrows, or for the power to lift their hearts with the brightness and lightness of the tale. But what did the people need in this hour? Something more powerful, she was convinced.
An apprehension began to form in her mind and she straightened her spine, feeling the attention of the people tightening around her. This was the time for the greatest of the people’s stories, the story that was all at once their origin and their future. It was the story that told the people who they were, but could also take them in directions they could not anticipate.
Her mouth turned dry, as though to choke back the opening words. Unlike “Once upon a time” or “It was a dark and stormy night” these words did not spin a tale of some other time that one could listen to from a comfortable distance. No, these words were an oath to the now, an uncompromising light, a dread reckoning. The one who spoke them carried the entire people on her shoulders, and the storyteller felt her throat constrict.
Sounds broke into her thoughts: an old man’s dry cough, the mewl of a hungry infant hushed by his mother. The storyteller stood before she could decide against it and opened her mouth. “We,” she croaked. The people held their breath.
She cleared her throat and declared: “We the People!”
Find a recording of this column, ask questions, share your own recipes or post feedback at: facebook.com/SallyRasmussenWriter
I am often awake at 3 or 4 a.m. these days, sitting quietly at my kitchen table. I look into the flame of a candle and reflect on the trauma of my country and the dark and cold of the present season seems like a part of it all. I spend too much time in either hopelessness or anger lately, but in these early morning hours I try to calm my mind and find some better way forward. It feels like there is little enough that one person can do, but it is the burden of life to find our little bit to do, and then find the courage to do it. When I am finally done with all my large thinking, my mind turns to breakfast. These days I am greatly comforted (and I hope strengthened) by Oatmeal Pancakes. They are rather substantial, even stodgy. I eat them with applesauce I made last fall that has been warmed up.
Stir in: Whisk together in a small bowl and let stand for 10 minutes: 1/3 cup whole wheat flour 1/2 teaspoon baking powder pinch of salt 4 tablespoons quick rolled oats 1 egg 1/2 cup water Heat a skillet to a temperature that will brown a pat of butter, but not burn it. Test the pancakes with your fingertips after you have flipped them--they will be paler than usual pancakes, but are done when they are solid to the touch. This is a recipe for one.
Sally Rasmussen lives in rural Taylor County with her husband, Tom.