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Breath & Shadow

Spring 2018 - Vol. 15, Issue 2

"King Tut" (A Fable)

written by

Susan M. Silver

Exactly how long King Tut the Tortoise had been around was a mystery, even to him; he seemed as old as the earth.  And no one dared to ask him, because he liked to be left alone to enjoy his own company, and because the mere mention of birthdays could make him turn snappish.


What was certain about King Tut was that every year he grew more beautiful.  The patterns on the green-brown squares of the huge curving shell across his back became increasingly intricate, until they looked like part of an ancient Egyptian pyramid, inscribed with ancient writing.


Yet proud as he was of his appearance--with the possible exception of his bowlegs—he took even more pride in his reputation as the wisest one in the woods.  As he made his majestic way across the patches of sunlight under the pine trees, he was approached by a collection of living creatures who sought out his counsel, from the salamander to the sea gull.


Then the rains came and left him no time for words.  Water suddenly invaded his private underground tunnel, where he was just sitting down to a bowl of mock turtle soup, and unceremoniously swept him up and out in a torrent of mud.


When he opened his eyes, he was right-side up, but the world was inside out.  Everything was changed. That is not to say he was lost; King Tut the Tortoise was highly independent, of course, and could make a home for himself in his own shell just about anywhere.  But he was slightly off-center. He looked to his left and looked to his right, then followed his long neck down a cobblestone path that led to a grass-covered clearing, inside of which was a small lake ringed with trees.  Pulling himself partly into his shell, he hid in the shade of a green gazebo near the water’s edge, observing the parade.


A heron flying overhead with some friends spotted him and called out, “Care to hang glide? The world is fascinating seen from above.”


“Thank you, no,” responded King Tut, astounded at such sudden familiarity.  “I think, therefore I am,” he pronounced, trying to sound deep.


“Like to try scuba diving?” inquired a frog about to lead a group expedition into the lake. “Seen from below, the world is intriguing.”


“Thank you, no,” repeated the tortoise.  “I am whatever I think I am,” he declared, adding hastily, “or I will be.”


An alligator slithering through the water with the rest of her party asked him, “How about a tango?  The world can be enchanting when shared with someone else.”


“Thank you, no,” came King Tut’s reply.  “What will be, will be—as it were, of course,” he remarked.


The truth was that he felt himself too ridiculously clumsy to dance, and although he didn’t mind wading in the water occasionally, he despised getting wet all over.  And everyone knows that tortoises have a fear of flying.


Nevertheless, as the pink twilight yielded to nightfall around the lakeside, a curious longing crept under King Tut’s shell:  to be part of something.


He was just drowsily advising himself to sleep on that thought when he was jolted by a loud and jubilant sound unlike any he had ever heard before.  In the green gazebo above him, a ragtag five-piece animal band was playing the same song, something about the “joint really jumpin’,” over and over, with every musician jumping up and down repeatedly until it seemed the little wooden structure would splinter.


King Tut sat up and put on his tortoiseshell glasses.  Three jittery monkeys were jamming on the clarinet, the trumpet, and the trombone; a sequined peacock was pounding out a mad boogie-woogie on the piano; and a big-mouthed macaw was rocking her red-plumed head as she smashed the cymbals.


King Tut the Tortoise was excited down to the tips of his scaly toes.  This was an experience thrilling beyond all others, including listening to himself talk (well, maybe not quite that thrilling).


When the band took a break, the cymbalist-macaw, the mouthpiece of the organization, stepped forward and introduced herself and the members of the Magnificent Menagerie, all recent escapees from a local wildlife preserve.  


“The rhythm section’s pretty weak,” she cooed, combing her startling red hair.  “Could you help us out by sitting in on string bass?”


“I’d love to be part of your group, but I’m not a musician.  I’m not even musical,” said the tortoise in a rare showing of genuine humility.


“No matter,” asserted the pianist-peacock, who was busy hunting between the keys for lost sequins.  “Music belongs equally to everyone, to the listeners as well as the creators.”


“The moment you start to clap, you bond with a song, becoming a part of it,” the trombonist-monkey said, sliding his arm back and forth, back and forth.


“So,” mused King Tut, “music is as music does?”


“Without a song, as they say, the day would never end,” jabbered the macaw, still fussing with her hair, “and without an audience…That’s what we need, an audience!  King Tut, why don’t you sit in as a member of the audience?”


For once accepting someone else’s advice, King Tut the Tortoise returned the following night, and night after night, to the foot of the green gazebo as the Magnificent Menagerie’s sole audience member, until his clapping on the off-beat became a developed art.


He never tired of the same song about the “joint really jumpin’,’” and he never ceased to marvel at his discovery—rather late in life, even for a tortoise—of the beauty of music.  Through it, he realized that if the reflection of your own beauty fills up your whole mirror, you may miss seeing the beauty around you; and if you are too full of your own fountain of knowledge, you may miss learning some wondrous things.

Susan M. Silver is a versatile writer, adept at many genres: short stories, magazine and newspaper features, romance fiction, memoir, and children’s stories, among others.  The illustrated King Tut and its predecessor, Tuxedo, both highly praised as contemporary children’s classics, are available on The third fable in Susan’s Magnificent Menagerie collection will be published in spring, 2018.  


A longtime resident of New York’s Greenwich Village, Susan M. Silver holds a master’s degree in journalism and a B.A. in French literature (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa), both from New York University.

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