Nothing but Dust and Acorns
by Lizzy Roxburgh
Aldo was inspecting his inventory of acorns for the seventy eighth time since sunrise. He brushed each one intently with his bushy red tail lest a speck of dust had dared to land on it, before stacking them back up into their perfect pyramids. His little chest tightened at the thought of one nut being millimetres out of place. A fastidious curator, Aldo was always ready to fiercely defend the importance of the immaculate organization of his winter supplies.
In need of air, Aldo scurried to the opening of his oak-top drey and perched on his Surveillance Branch. After a rapid intake of little sniffs, he looked to the left, looked to the right, looked to the left again, rubbed his face with both his paws, flicked his tail then stood stock still, scrutinizing the canopy around him. Aldo could see nothing out of the ordinary.
The inactivity could perhaps have allowed Aldo to let his guard down, but instead it made him all the more suspicious. He turned his sharp ear to the philharmonic chorus of the forest. It was in full flow, each creature loudly and proudly announcing their existence to the world. The percussion section of the crickets maintained the underlying if jittery rhythm. Cicadas provided a perpetually suspenseful violin crescendo. The diversity of the frog world added a deep dark bass line, whilst distant dogs howled out haunting solos.
The audio landscape unsettled Aldo, as it disguised any tell-tale sounds of the horrific and sudden arrival of a surprise guest. Shuddering and shifting his weight on the branch, he remembered the time Oliver, the pied wagtail, had showed up uninvited. Hopping through the house, his tail feathers had bobbed wildly like a rodeo bronco, swinging dangerously close to Aldo’s carefully stacked nut stash, leaving the poor squirrel’s nervous system in shreds.
Squeezing carefully back into the drey, Aldo wondered if he should try to shave his tail again. The Collection was growing at a rapid rate, space was becoming sparse and the risk of knocking down precious cargo with a careless movement was increasing on a daily basis. Aldo had tried shaving it before so that it would take up less space, but the idea that he could be mistaken for a common rat had made him so twitchy that his own movements began to present more danger than the tail ever had.
Aldo was growing steadily nearer the conclusion that the only solution was to find a safer, more spacious home. The idea of moving drey gave him a quivery tummy, but the very real danger of damage done by intruders or an involuntary spasm was clearly the greater of two evils and Aldo knew what he had to do.
That night, under the safety of the cover of darkness, Aldo set out to find a new drey. Something light and airy with excellent storage space and a modern, minimalist feel was the ideal he had in mind, but the only available properties on the market seemed to be stuffy little holes in heavily populated areas. They would not do.
Tiring from his fruitless search, Aldo stopped to rest at the top of a tall pine. The moon was waxing and almost full and she bathed the canopy in silver light, casting sparkles into Aldo’s little black eyes. He gazed up at her, lovingly. The moon looked so clean, so free of clutter, so peacefully deserted, so romantically out of reach. That’s when it hit him—the moon would be a perfect place to store his nuts! No neighbours, no nuisance, the very definition of open plan, and with craters creating the most natural of storage solutions, he could compartmentalize his provisions into categories of quality! High on the excitement of his perfect plan, Aldo ran home to finalize details and think about how to pack his acorns.
This was an occasion Aldo deemed special enough to warrant getting the crayons out. He had found the brightly coloured box of wax sticks once upon a time on the forest floor and they had become his most sacred treasure. Aware that once they were gone, they were gone, their use had been strictly rationed to once a year, but this did not stop Aldo from furiously sketching out prototypes until a plan of action was perfectly in place.
The first job on the agenda would be to stitch the wings. Aldo had once seen a documentary about squirrels from a foreign land who were actually born with the ability to fly. Anatomically, they did not appear to be dissimilar from himself, the only differences being a slightly more streamlined tail and an excess of skin beneath the arms which spread out like a sturdy sail upon a leap into the air. Such wings could easily be fashioned from plastic carrier bags which sadly these days were no stranger to the forest floor. With some subtle alterations to the handles, they could also be crafted into carry cases which would hang from his feet for the duration of the journey, transporting the nuts safely to the moon.
Aldo worked tirelessly into the dawn, carefully fastening his polythene wings to his body with bees wax and pine needles. Taking them for a test drive through the tree tops was at first terrifying but the surges of adrenalin left Aldo exhilarated by the liberty of flight. The excitement spurred Aldo on and helped him significantly when it came to the discombobulating act of dismantling his pyramids for packing. Each acorn was brushed carefully in the usual style before being stowed with care in his brand new carry case. It was a lengthy process as each nut required careful examination for cracks or signs of deterioration and it took Aldo the best part of the day.
When all the nuts were packaged securely, Aldo added the precious packet of crayons to the bag. Next he scrubbed the old drey from top to bottom and back to the top again; soon it would be time to leave this place for a new life of impeccable order, pristine organisation and glorious solitude. All that was left to do now was to wait for the sun to grow sleepy and to slope out of sight, making way for his lunar sister to take over the sky’s watch. Then, it would be time to fly.
The hues of the forest shifted in their usual way from golden greens and earthy browns to silvery blues and blacks. Aldo’s little paws were sweaty and he felt as though he had a walnut firmly lodged in his throat but he kept the utopia of his goal at the forefront of his mind as he psyched himself up for the long haul flight. Balancing on the top of his familiar old oak, Aldo whispered a shaky goodbye, spread his shimmering white wings and leapt towards his glowing destination.
As Aldo soured through the night sky, constellations whizzed past him like fireworks and the moon grew hypnotically larger like a spreading pool of spilt honey. He gripped tightly to his bag of belongings with his toes and tried to keep his tail as close to his body as he could to reduce air resistance. Other than a slightly-too-close-for-comfort encounter with a satellite, the journey was relatively smooth and in just under four hours Aldo had arrived on the moon. It was one giant leap for a squirrel of nervous disposition.
After taking some time to rest his limbs and regain his breath, Aldo began to take in his new surroundings. The first thing that struck him was the silence. It was stony and solid and cold. Aldo tried whistling a tune in attempt to decorate the soundless void with a little life, but it sounded ridiculous and he felt embarrassed even though no one else was there, so he tried to turn it into a cough. Already his heart pined for the familiar orchestral security blanket of home.
Looking around, he was disappointed to realise that the moon doesn’t shine when you’re on it. He had anticipated basking endlessly in silvery light but instead he was met by a bleak stretch of bland grey rock beneath a dark and solemn sky. The only colour he could see was the blue green shimmer of the distant earth, hanging like a lonely Christmas bauble against a backdrop of emptiness.
To distract himself from the monochrome and featureless qualities of his new home, Aldo set about unpacking and trying to settle in. He scampered around, trying to get accustomed to the lighter gravity, and found a series of craters in which to organise his belongings. At first he found it soothing to partake in his favourite activities of checking, cleaning, ordering and stacking with the added luxury of unlimited space and the guarantee of freedom from intruders, but soon he discovered that the moon presented obstacles of its own. It was surprisingly dusty and before he had come close to finishing stacking his collection, he found he had to go back and re-clean the first piles. The reduced gravity didn’t prove to be conducive to efficient stacking. Some of the lighter nuts refused point blank to touch the ground at all, but instead hovered and wobbled above it, unpredictable like butterflies.
It wasn’t long before Aldo’s apprehension re-emerged from beneath the mask of new adventures. Trepidation crept to the surface like a huge reptile rising from a murky swamp and without his old anchors of the familiar sounds and smells of home, it was harder to tame the beast. He furiously repeated the pattern of dusting and stacking, dusting and stacking, but it failed to give him any sense of security.
The air on the moon was thin making it harder for Aldo to catch his breath, which was stuck in his throat, which was thick in his chest, which was splitting his head, which was slipping away and before he knew it, Aldo was in the grip of a full blown panic attack. Tears were streaming down his furry face and creating the first ever puddle on the moon. Aldo shivered and shook as the lunar landscape around him dissolved into the white noise of anxiety. The tiny part of his brain which was still capable of rational thought made a silent wish: that someone, anyone, would be there to help him.
Because nobody had ever been to the moon before, nobody knew, least not Aldo, that the moon is the only place in the universe where wishes always come true. A pair of pointy ears popped up from inside a nearby crater. Aldo was so absorbed in his own misery that he didn’t instantly notice the small grey and white kitten tentatively creeping towards him. It wasn’t until the kitten spoke that Aldo snapped out of his bubble of despair.
“Jesus,” the kitten said dryly, “Looks like we have a lot of work to do.”
CAT!!! Aldo instinctively jumped as high as he could as if to scarper up a tree and away from his predator, but of course there was no such tree and so grabbing onto very thin air, Aldo tumbled around his tail, slipped back down to the moon’s surface and landed flat on his face. Arms and legs spread wide like a miniature tiger skin rug, Aldo froze, his little heart beating so hard and fast that it could be heard from Saturn’s seventh ring.
Keeping a wide berth, the cat stalked around Aldo in a semicircle. If kittens had eyebrows, one of them would most certainly have been raised.
“Shall we begin?” the kitten asked.
“Begin?” Aldo managed to say.
“Yes,” said the kitten, “are you ready to get started?”
“Started,” Aldo echoed.
“Jesus,” said the kitten, lighting a cigarette, “This could be hard work. Tell me you brought your crayons?”
Aldo was so confused by the situation that he had stopped crying. Before finding out why this kitten was talking about crayons, there was something that urgently needed clearing up.
“Are you going to eat me?”
“Of course I’m fucking not,” said the kitten, taking another lengthy drag of his cigarette, “you probably taste like shit.”
“Are you a vegetarian cat?” Aldo asked hopefully.
“No. If I was, I would be dead. When I came here I brought a lifetimes supply of tinned cat-food with me. Cat-food and Marlboros. Enough about me, fetch your crayons.”
“What for?” asked Aldo, nervously jumping up onto his haunches.
“To. Draw. With.” the kitten replied, stubbing his cigarette out with each word.
“Not possible!” Aldo shouted, “I’ve used them once already this year! And now we’re on the moon! What happens when the crayons run out?!”
Letting out the heavy sigh of someone who has FAQs stuck between their back teeth, the kitten recited in a monotone drawl,
“Art materials may come and go, but the benefits of art therapy will last you a life time.”
“You’re an art therapist?”
The kitten looked sarcastically from side to side.
“Do you see anyone else around here who looks like they might be the art therapist?”
Confused by this answer, Aldo simply replied “No.”
“Ok then, question time’s over, let’s get started. We’ll begin at the beginning. I’d like you to draw your earliest memory.”
The journey, the lack of sleep, the hyperventilation and the confusion had drained Aldo of any ability to resist, so he got out his box of crayons and asked, “On what?”
“On the surface of the moon, on the sky, on yourself, on me if you like, it’s entirely up to you. This is about freedom of expression my friend. Unleash your imagination, release your fears and realize your dreams. Heal yourself through unlimited flow of creativity.”
Aldo drew a triangle.
“This is your earliest memory?” asked the kitten. His voice didn’t possess the typical sympathetic tone of a therapist, but Aldo had never met a therapist before so he was none the wiser.
“I’ve never drawn anything but charts and plans before,” said Aldo, conscious of the fact that his triangular depiction of his childhood had been a disappointment.
“Okie dokie,” said the kitten, “let’s just forget about subject matter for now. Move the crayons any which way you feel inspired to. I don’t think there’s a wrong way to do it.”
In a vague attempt to sound more genuine, the kitten tried to adopt a more soothing and hypnotic voice, lilting and lulling the squirrel into a state of relaxation.
“Just take deep healing breaths and with each exhalation, allow your inner truths to flow through the crayon and discover themselves in an honest unveiling of your soul…”
The kitten looked up to see if the squirrel was still listening, and much to the therapist’s surprise, Aldo had begun to draw.
Stilted lines of single colours at first, but as the persuasive tones of the kitten sedated the squirrel, glowing curves, bold streaks and frenzied flourishes came to life, transforming the moon’s grey floor into an explosion of Aldo’s emotions.
The kitten looked on with an expression which could have been interpreted as disgust.
“Jolly good,” he said, as he pulled out another Marlboro.
Aldo was so absorbed that he was oblivious to the passage of time. Two hours had slipped away from him in a haze of freedom when his final crayon drew its last stroke and the waxy remnants crumbled to nothing in his paw. The kitten was asleep. Unsure of what he should do next, Aldo nudged the sleeping cat awake
The kitten yawned, indulged in a full body stretch, cleared his throat and then looked at Aldo.
“How do you feel?’ The kitten couldn’t have sounded less interested, but Aldo was too caught up in his post-creative orgasmic reverie to notice. He assumed the position of the couch by lying on his back on the inner curve of a nearby crater, to which the kitten discreetly rolled his eyes.
“I feel like a child,” Aldo gushed.
“What a cliché,” the cat muttered.
“I feel as though for the first time in my life I can see my anxieties for what they really are: Merely illusions that hinder my dreams!”
“Well that was fucking easy,” the kitten mumbled under his breath and wondered to himself whether this meant he should increase his rates or reduce them.
“But now I…I feel…I feel…I feel like I’ve used up all my crayons and I’ll never get them back which means I’ll never feel like this again and I’m still a failure and I…”
“WAIT,” interrupted the cat, with a tone of authority, “breathe.”
Aldo’s little chest was rising and falling at a rate of knots and he looked as though someone had sewn his eyelids to his eyebrows. The kitten let out a heavy sigh, lit another cigarette and tried again to use his best hypnotic voice.
“Slowly bring your attention to the breath making each exhalation longer and more controlled than the last. With every inhalation, visualize a golden …”
The kitten trailed off when he realised his client was actually subdued.
“Jesus Christ,” the therapist muttered “This kid is the marketing companies’ dream. Almost disturbing how quickly this shit works on him.”
He took another long hard suck on his cigarette before asking Aldo to stand up.
“You said you feel like you’ve got nothing left. Have a look around you and tell me what you see.”
“Nothing but dust and acorns.”
“Well that’s not nothing now is it?” said the kitten as he quickly shot a look over his shoulder to make sure his cat-food and Marlboros were safely out of view. He couldn’t risk those being brought into the equation.
“Dance in the dust,” he told Aldo.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“There’s nothing cryptic or mystical about the instruction to dance in the dust. I simply mean what I said. Do a dance. In the dust.”
Cautiously as first, Aldo shuffled his feet in the moon dust, sending little puffs of grey-white powder up from his toes. He grew bolder as he got used to the idea and soon he was swishing and swooping his tail, prancing and pirouetting like a ballerina on speed, rolling and leaping, shaking and shimmying like no one was watching. They weren’t. The therapist had slinked off to get another pack of Marlboros from his stash. He’d smoked half of them by the time Aldo had finished his second whirlwind of self-expression.
“Look down and tell me what you see,” the kitten said, yawning. Aldo gasped with delight as he saw the patterns and swirls that his dance had created on the ground.
“Have another look around and think about what you would like to do next. Feel free.”
Aldo’s nose twitched and his whiskers quivered. He took in a long deep breath and slowly began to dissemble his pyramids, strategically placing each nut in the swooping patterns of the dust.
“Here we go, here we go,” the kitten said quietly, watching through narrowed eyes. Before too long, all of the acorns were beautifully placed in free forms and flowers, spirals and waves. Some were still hovering above the surface and Aldo was dancing around them.
“Ok,” said the cat, “How do you feel?”
“I feel as though I’ve found freedom in creativity! That I can use whatever I’ve got to make something beautiful, even if it doesn’t seem like much! I feel as though I’ve found the real me!” Aldo beamed.
“What a dick,” thought the kitten. “Ok, good, great, that’s excellent,” he said, “Is there anything you would like to do now?”
Aldo looked up at the greenish blue ball in the sky above.
“I just wish that I could go back to my old drey, knowing everything that I know now,” he sighed, and with that, of course, he disappeared.
“Huh!” said the kitten. He hadn’t seen that bit coming. He sniffed with distain and coughed up a tar soaked hair ball.
“Oh God,” he said to himself, “Don’t tell me this is a story about discovering that what you were looking for was right there all along. If this is supposed to be some postmodern re-write of The Alchemist, I might as well stay up here forever and smoke myself to death.”
Fortunately for the kitten, it wasn’t.
“He’s probably down there looking smugly up at the moon to remind him of everything he learnt on his adventures. Lame.”
The kitten curled up in a pile of cigarette butts and fell asleep.
Lizzy Roxburgh currently works as a freelance voice over artist in France. She loves travelling, acting, painting, singing and writing and still has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up.