Thursday, 16 June 2016

The Spanish Cyclops (1999)

The monsters of Ancient Greek myths have always appealed to me. I first encountered the old legends retold in Nathaniel Hawthorne's WONDER BOOK and I have been enthralled by them ever since. When I was older I read the ODYSSEY and encountered the Cyclops as Homer envisaged him. The following tale is another example of 'flash fiction' that appeared in my collection FLASH IN THE PANTHEON, still one of my favourites among my own books.

There was a lens grinder who had fallen on hard times and who decided to revive his fortunes by exceeding the limits of his profession. Accordingly, he saved his remaining materials and set to work on the grandest project he could imagine.
The citizens of Valencia were perturbed at the noises that emanated from his workshop during the days and nights of a whole week.
At last he threw open his doors and rolled out into the town square the largest monocle in the world. It glittered below the green lamps that hung from the taverns and theatres. And soon a crowd gathered.
“What is the purpose of this object?” they wondered.
They walked around it, touching it lightly. It was too big to fit a king or bishop or even the statue of El Cid that loomed on the battlements of the palace. No eye in history might wear it comfortably in a squint. It was clear the lens grinder had lost his sanity.
The soldiers came to lock him up in a madhouse, but he stalled them with an explanation. They rattled their pikes uneasily.
He said, “The entity for whom this monocle was made will seek it out when he learns of its existence, and he will pay me handsomely, because he has waited to see properly again for centuries.”
There was much speculation as to the nature of this customer. People mounted the city walls to look out for him, but they saw nothing when they gazed inland. Once they called out that he was coming, yet it was only an elephant being led to a circus in Barcelona. Excitement and fear surged together.
While they watched, a ship from Cathay sailed into the bay and the citizens turned their attention out to sea. Even from this distance, the cargo of spices could be smelled. But as the vessel entered the harbour, a gigantic whirlpool opened up and sucked it down. The crew and all the pepper were destroyed.
A cry of horror filled the streets and bells were tolled in a hundred churches. Then someone remembered the great circular eyepiece and called out for help in rolling it down to the quayside. Within a minute, a crowd of volunteers was pushing at the rim of the monocle, bouncing it over the cobbles like a burning wheel.
The lens grinder followed helplessly, tearing at his hair as his marvellous creation gathered speed. Soon it slipped out of the grasp of the thousand hands and trundled along a jetty and over the edge.
There was no splash. The monocle landed in the eye of the whirlpool, fitting it perfectly. Men and women rushed onto the jetty and peered over the side, gasping in wonder at what they beheld.
The ocean was no longer blind. As the whirlpool moved across the bay, it revealed the gardens of the deep. Through the sparkling lens it was possible to discern the seabed in astonishing clarity. And now all the wrecks of ages past were focused on the surface, the gold and gems and casks of wine.
A few citizens jumped into boats and chased the roving eye to the horizon and beyond. They made maps as they did so, noting the position of each trove, planning for a future time when the treasures might be hauled up and distributed equally among the population, or perhaps they were just enjoying the spectacle.
There was general rejoicing, but the lens grinder went home in some trepidation and awaited a very big knock on his door.

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