There’s something about the ‘morality tales’ (or fables) we were told as kids which resonated with me then, and has stayed with me over the subsequent years. So I’ve crafted a couple of my own.
Here’s one – I don’t have kids of my own to ‘test’ such stories on, so I’d welcome your feedback.
Lucius Lawrence was his name, but people called him Lucius Longpockets because he seemed to have so much trouble reaching for his wallet.
The same people called his poor little wife Nodding Nora, because whatever Lucius said, however outrageous or silly or rude, she would just nod. Smile her sweet little smile and nod.
Lucius did not believe in paying for anything he could get for free.
“Why should I buy a bottle of water from you?” he snapped at the man in the store. “You have a tap – I’ll get my water from that! Cos that’s free!”
“Why should I pay to buy a car, or the terrible expense of running one? Why should I pay to ride a bus or a train, full of people I wouldn’t like anyway?” he said. “I’ll ride my pushbike – cos that’s free!”
Lucius still had the bicycle his parents had given him many years earlier. He did his own maintenance work on it. He patched the tyres for as long as he could before he’d finally have to buy a new tyre because there wasn’t enough left of the old tyre to patch.
He greased the chain and all the joints with the grease from Nora’s kitchen – the grease that was so thick and black and horrible that even he wouldn’t eat food cooked in it. Nora would nod and smile sweetly at him, knowing that this week she would get to buy some new cooking oil.
Lucius only had three sets of clothes. He had his ‘everyday’ clothes, which he would wear every day from Monday to Saturday. He had his stripey pyjamas, that he would wear to bed every night. And he had his Sunday clothes, which he would wear once per week while Nora washed the other clothes.
She would wash his stripey pyjamas first, so that they would be dry in time for Lucius to wear them on Sunday night. Then she would wash his ‘everyday’ clothes so that they could dry during the day and overnight, ready for him to wear them first thing on Monday.
Nora had a few more changes of clothes than Lucius, but she made sure that they looked like each other so he wouldn’t notice and complain about her spending money.
They still lived in the little house that Lucius’ parents had owned. There wasn’t a lot of room, but there was only the two of them. The house was old, though, and some of it was rather worn-out.
Lucius didn’t like having to pay tradesmen to fix things. He was quite clever, and still quite fit so he did most things around the house himself. He fixed the plumbing when it was needed, and planed the doors when the damp weather warped them and they wouldn’t quite shut properly. He wouldn’t buy new windows – he would put putty around the panes if they started to rattle in the wind, and put tape over any cracks in the glass.
He would ride his bicycle to the local rubbish tip, and fill up his carry basket with things other people had thrown away that he could use to fix the house. Once he did four trips in a day to bring back a small stack of roof tiles. They were old and a bit damaged and might not quite fit his roof, but they were in slightly better condition than some of the very old ones that were already on the little house.
“And best of all, they’re free,” he explained to Nora as he set up his ladder to repair the roof.
Nora smiled sweetly at him and nodded.
One very cold winter their fridge broke down. Nora worried that their food would spoil. She called a serviceman and explained what had happened. When she had told him all the details, including how very old the fridge was, the man made sad little “Tsk tsk tsk” noises down the phone.
“I don’t think it can be repaired,” he said sadly. “It’s very hard to find parts for a machine that old, and they’re usually expensive. I’m afraid it would be cheaper for you to buy a new fridge.”
Later, after dinner, Nora told Lucius what the serviceman had said. He wasn’t pleased, but he had an idea.
“Why should I pay to get another one now? That can wait until summer when the sales are on. There’s lots of snow on the ground outside – we can store our food in that to keep it cold, cos that’s free.”
Nora paused for a moment. She didn’t nod, and her smile slipped a bit.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea, Lucius? It might be a little – inconvenient,” she said.
Lucius waved his hand, dismissing her concern.
“There’s a nice deep drift of snow under the old tree. That should make it easy for you to find stuff when you need it. I’ll put everything in those plastic bags we get for free from the supermarket and move it all now. You take yourself off to bed,” he said, feeling quite generous in offering to do the job himself.
Nora wasn’t too keen on having to dig food and drink out of the snow whenever she wanted something, but she nodded and said, “Very well, dear.”
As she went to go to her room Lucius called out from the doorway, “Don’t lie there reading too late, please. You know the electricity bill is expensive enough this time of year.”
Nora nodded. She only read two pages of her favourite book before she turned out the light. She didn’t mind – she knew the story well, having read it several times. One day she hoped they might buy some more books, even if it was from a second-hand shop.
She rolled over and went to sleep listening to the sound of Lucius’ footsteps as he went back and forth into the snow-covered garden.
“Whew! Only two more bags to go!” Lucius said to himself as he pushed snow over a bag of sausages.
He went to lean against the old tree and catch his breath, but he slipped slightly on the snow and his hand hit the trunk of the tree quite hard.
The old tree shook with the impact, and snow fell from the old branches. Some of it fell on Lucius, and a lot fell on the roof of the house.
Several of the tiles that didn’t fit very well came loose, and as they slid free a great big pile of snow also slipped – right off the roof and onto Lucius Longpockets.
“Gosh! That’s freez…” was all he managed to say.
One of the roof tiles bopped him on the head and knocked him out, but there was so much snow all over and around him he didn’t fall over. He just stood there, beside the stash of grocery bags, wet and coated in snow.
More flakes started to fall gently from the sky overnight, covering Lucius like a snowman. He froze to death without even knowing it.
Nora was very sad to lose him of course. She would think of Lucius and sigh over a chocolate biscuit and a cup of tea made with milk from her nice new fridge, as she read one of her new books.
But she’d smile her sweet little smile and nod sadly when friends would say, “At least now, you’re free.”