This story is a bit special! This is the very first piece of fiction I ever wrote revolving around Opaline as a character. The vignette is a quick little piece drawn in my sketchbook that was also illustrated in the margins.
The majority of the concept and visual elements of A•Many•Tale stem from these old sketchbooks where I'd half illustrate/write the stories. I'll include the original text at the end of the story for anyone interested.
☆ symbols will be used to indicate these Original Sketchbook pieces.
Here you are! The very short, yet very first, Opaline story every conceived. . .
This was a place where stories went to both die and flourish, and where beginnings wrapped into ends, and ends never seemed to truly finish, where stories were retold from new lips as though they were records, and where everyone listened yet no one remembered—I sat in a pub.
I lie back, legs crossed upon a thick, sticky wooden chair. Arm on the table, I kept my scarf over my head as a hood. A lukewarm drink stood alone and untouched at the table—more of a cultural courtesy than any desired activity. It was not alcohol, but tea. And the cup swirled with waves of heat like angel’s wings envisioned against the wooden backdrop.
A waitress skipped to me. Young, cherry cheeked. She was a pale skinned human. A rare sight the last few months. My recent blips hadn’t been to many human-inhabited worlds.
“Salt?” the girl said.
I waved my hand and shook my head, hoping the gestures would mean “No” in this strange-yet-familiar-enough place.
The girl reached out and sprinkled a touch of salt into my tea. Odd practice, I’ll admit, but I’d seen far stranger in my travels. Live slugs used to flavor skewers and brain matter used as a spongey sauce-absorber being highlights.
“That’s enough, thank you,” I said. The girl kept going. She met my eyes and poured spitefully. Even after a second extension of gratitude the child did not end her salting of my not-drank-but-now-undrinkable tea.
My ear twitched beneath my hood. Giggles.
At the far side of the bar—lit in the white morning light outside—three stacked heads peeked from an ajar door.
So they did, in fact, recognize I wanted no salt in my tea, but were playing some kind of prank instead. Verywell. Let them have their fun with the strange rodent man in the corner.
After all, it was all pranking well deserved, as it was an assertion of my vulnerability to be drinking tea in a pub mid-morning, with only the last night’s sticky residue on the tables to remind one of any patronage besides myself. The time was nearer to the last drunkard waddling into the street last night than it was time for the first people coming in for supper that incoming evening.
So what else to do as girls—likely sisters—born to the cook and innkeep? They had hours to do chores, or they could play silly games with the rodent man in the corner.
I wasn’t about to ruin their fun. Why go out, anyway? My top only spun a single rotation. I’d blip any second.
To play along, I said, “I’d really prefer not to have any salt added to my tea, thank you.”
The girl smiled warmly, lifted my cup into the air, looked me straight in the eyes, and poured the salt to the point of sublime saturation. Her friends giggled loosely in the cracked doorway, but this girl’s face would not loosen its focus. She was committed to the glare. And I was impressed.
I put on a bewildered expression. An overdramatic raising and falling of my eyebrows followed by several, “Huh—but—what—?” and so on and so forth. I assumed it’d give the girls in the back a good laugh, and the girl in front of me a satisfactory smile she’d be unable to shake.
The girls did, in fact, laugh. Salt-Girl remained committed. She set the cup down, and I took a terrible sip, then I carefully lowered the tea to the table for it’s permanent resting spot.
“Ah, just how I like it,” I said.
Then I blipped.
I hoped my sudden disappearance wouldn’t frighten the girls. They’d likely think the over salted drink made me disappear, or perhaps my confusion consumed my body, or maybe I was simply magical.
Too bad I couldn’t have stayed longer. It had been many worlds since I’d properly enjoyed a pub. I wish I could have seen the place at night, and been witness—or maybe even an accomplice—to the humorous adventures of the children as they tortured drunk vagabonds all night long with salted ale.
But alas, all that was left was an empty chair and an overly salted, though humorously prepared, cup of tea.