A little tale from a while back…
They were called, oldest first: Oily, Fishy, Stinky, Slick, Nipper, Night Owl and Colin, and so far as it went they rubbed along okay, keeping the rivers clear of debris and providing fish to the usual bunch of low-brow royals and unelected elites that pass for governments in Fairy Land.
Oily, being the oldest, had always led the way when it came to visiting the Magical Citadel to deliver the day’s catch. Recently, however, a Chamber of Commerce had been set up to regulate all supplies into and out of the Citadel. Oily was informed by the obese yet twinkle-eyed Burgermeister that the CoC had received a complaint, to whit Oily Sleek was leaving unsightly stains on the upholstery so could another otter bring the catch. Fishy tried, but he couldn’t resist eating his cargo so Stinky took over. Needless to say the Citadel prided itself on its inherent fragrance so his tenure lasted one visit.
It is here we can glimpse the baddy in this story, for all fairy stories need a dastardly villain. The Court Florist, who for convenience we shall name the Wicked Florist in keeping with the genre, but whose real name was Beryl, hated smells that she hadn’t decreed to be pleasant and was behind Stinky’s demotion. Indeed the general Parfum D’Otter gave her conniptions and she was determined to keep them all away. Sleek tried next and while he wasn’t as odiforous as his brothers, he rivalled Beryl with his vanity. When she spotted him checking his coat in each mirror he passed, his days were numbered. Nipper bit Beryl’s assistant and Night Owl overslept leaving Colin as the last hope. It was touch and go. While Beryl raged, saying fish should be banned, the King, your archetypal wimp, dithered. His daughters, the Princesses Beige and Bland were used to having their way. They liked fish – it rarely came in strong colours after all – and they pressed their father to be tough.
While King and daughters debated, Colin sat in a bowl provided for him and listened to the chit-chat about him. Soon he heard something that horrified him. Deep in the Magical Forest the most wondrous plant grew. Lotus Flower was said to double the spectrum so vivid were her colours. She could be heard singing to raise spirits and being so sickeningly perfect, she could only exist in Fairy Land or on the fringes of reality TV. Few people saw her – it was said she only appeared to those who needed her – but her qualities were so well-known that no one questioned them. Yet, if Colin had heard right, the Wicked Florist was planning on digging her up and bringing her to the Citadel to win the King’s favour.
Colin wasn’t about to let this happen. He slid from the bowl, slipped a couple of carp in his day-bag, and headed for the woods. Of course he had adventures on the way and I really should draw everything out making it seem like he wasn’t going to find her. But let’s skip to the chase. She was chatting to a couple of flighty Marigolds by a Babbling Brook, who frankly was driving the three Pretty Petal Peeps mad.
‘Lotus Flower, I have come to rescue you.’
The plant eyed the otter sceptically. ‘You know who I am, Otter boy?’
‘You’re Lotus Flower, the beauteous, the magnificent, the…’
‘Yeah, yeah. Point is I’m the one who does the saving, capiche? Why don’t you run along and do something useful? Like build a dam to stop this bloody brook babbling.’
‘I’m an otter, not a beaver….’
She turned away. ‘Talk to my agent. Morning Glory. Always thinks he’s bigger than he really is. Over by the creepy old mansion. He’ll give you some of my dried petals and stuff.’ She turned to her friends. ‘So, I was minding my own business when…’
‘The Wicked Florist is planning on ripping you up and taking you to the Citadel to impress the King.’
Lotus Flower stretched her stem and sighed. ‘Not again? That woman will be the death of me. Okay, Otterboy, what do you propose?’
‘I will dig up your roots and carry you to my holt where I will plant you and tend you and you will be safe from her evil plans. She’ll never find you there.’
‘Holt, you say? Is that like a fairy princess’ boudoir?’
Colin wasn’t completely without gorm. ‘Near enough.’
‘Well, lead on, spatula-paws. I’m all yours.’
Soon Colin and Lotus Flower approached the holt. Lotus Flower, being unused to the conditions, wrinkled her petals. ‘Kiddo. There’s this, I don’t know how to say it politely, pong. Is that normal?’
‘My brother. Stinky.’
She swallowed. ‘Well-named. How many others live here?’
‘Me and my six brothers. We’re one big happy family.’ Colin clapped his paws and gradually one after the other of the Sleeks emerged to greet their guest.
Oily took Colin on one side. ‘I don’t want to put a dampener on things, but is this wise? Getting on the wrong side of the Wicked Florist?’
Colin smiled. ‘No one knows. If we don’t say she will be safe and so will we. And we will have her wonderful scent.’
They both looked at Stinky. Oily nodded. ‘Fair enough.’ He turned to Lotus Flower. ‘Okay, girlie. So what do you do? Cook? Sew? Keep house?’
Lotus Flower turned to Oily with a look of utter disdain. ‘Ignoring for a moment your outdated patriarchal assumptions about the place of women in society, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bloody plant so can hardly go dancing around the kitchen, can I? Just pop me in the soil and I’ll look after myself for now.’
The Brothers Sleek took a step back. They weren’t used to such a forceful presence and certainly not a female one. While Night Owl, who’d woken what with all the noise, helped Colin plant Lotus Flower, the other brothers went about their daily work. Mostly they ignored their guest even though each of them had to take a turn with the watering and the pruning and trimming and seed collecting. Only Slick paid her much attention, discussing what she thought was his best side and how to ensure the best image when reflected in the stream.
Meanwhile, as is the way in Fairy Land, the woodland folk were missing their favourite daughter and full-time gossip. Word got back to the Citadel that Lotus Flower had been rescued by a dashing young knight clad in black leather. Let’s face it, Marigolds aren’t the spiciest of weeds and wet fur can pass for shiny leather on a dark day with the light behind you. The Wicked Florist sent out word that she would pay handsomely for information concerning the whereabouts of Lotus Flower and the identity of this mysterious knight. And also, in case anyone was in any doubt, those self-same people with information that they didn’t share with her would pay handsomely if she found out.
Back in the holt Fishy was the first to voice a commonly held concern. ‘When is she going to do anything for us?’
‘Beyond the lovely scent?’
‘That’s sort of a given.’
Oily was charged, as the eldest, to ask Colin to ask her what she might be prepared to do, if that was all right, not that they were pressing or making a big thing of it or anything. Colin approached Lotus Flower rather cautiously, but this being Fairy Land she already knew what he wanted to say. ‘What can I do for you guys? What can’t I? But each of your brothers has to believe I can help and ask and then I will.’
‘Um, okay. I’ll let you know.’
Meanwhile one of the Marigolds, who’d finally remembered the rescuer was an otter, was at the Potters, having her compost tinted, when she bumped into a Petunia. She told her, you know, in strictest confidence. The Petunia then met Lotus Flower’s manager, the Morning Glory, at a Cactus de-spinning. He had felt deflated ever since she’d gone without a word so he told a couple of tarty Fuchsias after a night on the fertilizer, who’d gossiped to a bed of Lilies during a seed-shower party and before you knew it the Wicked Florist had sent her Horticultural Hit Squad to bring in the Marigold. It only took minimum torture – ripping out half a dozen petals and breaking a leaf in two – before she explained what she knew. Which wasn’t much, but the Burgermeister was sitting in and said to himself, “That’ll be the Sleeks”. Not that he told the Wicked Florist, natch. I mean, that would be too easy, perlease. Nope, the hunt was on to work out which family of otters were destined to become the latest winter pelt to the cognoscenti.
Stinky was the first to go to Lotus Flower. ‘What is it you seek?’ she asked.
‘Well, look, I know you cover the smell in the holt, and I’m grateful that everyone isn’t moaning as they once did, but as soon as I’m away from here, people draw away from me. I’ll never meet a lady otter if I don’t stop the smells.’
She nodded and shook some seeds into his paw. ‘Take two, twice a day with food. Be careful to make sure you eat. And always read the small print for other possible side effects.’
‘Do you want to stop smelling?’
‘Then let’s skip that bit.’
Soon enough the success of Lotus Flower’s prescription became the talk of the brothers. Next up it was Oily. ‘Look, the thing is, that is to say, looking at things in the round…’
‘Too Sticky for Chicks?’
‘’Bout it, yes.’
She dusted him with pollen. ‘Rub that in, twice a week and don’t shower after.’
‘I don’t shower. I’m an otter.’
‘Maybe you could start?’
‘Noted. Side effects?’
‘Nothing worse than what you have.’
Oily went away, not entirely convinced until three nights later when Squinty from a holt three down on the river bank spotted him in the bar. ‘Oily Sleek, what’s happened to you? You’re, godammit, you’re fluffy. Quite the otter about town. What’s the secret?’
Oily smiled coyly. He’d had a crush on Squinty for years, despite never being sure who she was looking at half the time. ‘I can’t say.’ He said it sotto voce but clearly implied he would, if pressed.
‘Come on. Let’s have a swift cod beer and you can tell me all about it.’
Night Owl followed (crushed seed pods burnt at night meant he slept when he was expected to and awoke fresh to see the dawn for the first time in years), then Fishy (ingested two crushed leaves and his appetite went) and finally Nipper (a dried seedpod covered with pollen and held in the teeth twice daily for thirty minutes and his random and uncontrolled biting stopped instantly).
Colin asked how things were going. ‘Fine, though Slick has been avoiding me ever since I made my offer.’
‘I’ll have a word.’ Colin found his brother by the pool. As usual he was adjusting his fur so its patina was just the right side of glossy. ‘You’ve not been to Lotus Flower.’
‘Why would I? I don’t need help.’
‘Don’t you? All the girls go gaga when they see you yet you cut them dead. Don’t you want a girlfriend?’
By way of a reply, Slick backcombed his tail and dived to the lowest part of the pool.
Colin went back to Lotus Flower. ‘Nope. He’s hopeless.’ He told her of Slick’s reaction. She smiled. ‘Just drag him here and leave me with him for ten minutes.’
Colin explained what Lotus Flower had said. His brothers all thought her magical, which of course she was – I mean, a flower that talks? Give me some credit. They pounced on him and dragged him to her presence and then guarded the exit. Ten minutes later he emerged with a new swagger and… ‘Are they red lips? And blue eyes?’
Before he could answer, Lotus Flower said, ‘It’s the least a girl can do for her gay BFF.’
The brothers looked from one to the other, stunned. Oily spoke first. ‘But we know he’s gay.’
Slick and Lotus Flower spoke as one. ‘You do?’
‘Course. It’s just Slick that never says. We assumed he wanted to try, you know, the other way.’
Lotus Flower shook her main blossom. ‘Typical boys. Why don’t you talk to each other?’
She began to laugh and then they all did, which was all fine and dandy except this is the time when we find out that Oily did spill the beans to Squinty who told her father who was a bit of a wassock so he told someone else and, well, word travels. And as they were all having their fun, the front door of the holt was smashed to bits and in waddled the Burgermeister and some of his elite troops. Of course it is only in Fairy Land that a man the size of an asteroid can walk into an otter holt, but let’s pass that one.
‘Ho, so this is where she’s been hiding, is it?’ the Grand (as in as large as a concert piano) Vizier boomed. ‘I think we will just take her and then you chaps can see me after in my study.’
Everyone had frozen. All except Colin who stepped forward. ‘Um, Your Bigness, a word? It will be worth it.’
The others watched, amazed as Colin ushered the Burgermeister into Lotus Flower’s room and shut the door. Half an hour later the door opened and Colin appeared with the Burgermeister’s arm round his shoulders. They shook hand-paw and then his Vastness left, with his rather disappointed crack team following.
‘What did you do?’
Colin took a moment. ‘Lotus Flower hasn’t been able to pollinate so I went and found another Lotus and bought some of his male pollen and brought it back. I’ve been growing baby Lotus Flowers in the back garden. Next to the sprouts. I suggested that, rather than destroy Lotus Flower, he grows his own. That way he can keep the Princesses happy and the people too.’
‘What about…you know? The Wicked Florist.’
‘Basically she’s history; at least if the Burgermeister controls the means of production. He’s a socialist at heart. We agreed to him having an exclusive licence on pollen less five per cent for our own use and not for resale. In return I’ll provide the male pollen – I’ve already signed up the bloke – and Lotus will provide hers if the Big Boy keeps his word. There are all sorts of medicinal spinoffs as well as cosmetics…’
‘And she’s okay with that? I mean, it’ll be like giving away her babies, won’t it?’
A voice carried from the next room. ‘I’m a bloody plant. Plants aren’t maternal. If giving away a bit of dust helps us all, then it’s fine by me.’
Everyone cheered. As you do at the end of a fairy tale because we’ve moved beyond Brothers Grimm and sad endings don’t cut it with Disney if you want them to buy the script rights.
And Colin? What did he want from Lotus Flower? Well, he’d already got it. A proper otter name. Rather than Colin. I mean, that’s not a name for an otter, is it? And that name? My Hero. After all, this is a happy ending.
You don’t believe me? That’s not a proper otter name?
Oh for goodness sake, all right then. He’s called….
If you like this then you might be interested in the book of short stories in which it lives