“Seeing Things: A Continuation of the Chaucer’s “The Merchant’s Tale”
The Merchant sat at the table tabulating his income from the last month. He had good news to tell his patrons. The Merchant had bought a boat filled with wine from an Italian vineyard at a tremendous discount, and he was elated at the prospect of entering his retirement on a positive note. The Merchant was at the apex of his career, and the flow of money would be unlikely to stop. He rubbed his hands together in delight, knowing that he could make money for the rest of his life as a consultant, while having time to see the world and write about his experiences. The Merchant possessed literary aspirations, but such ideas were frowned upon in the world of trade and market speculation. Writing served an economic end, and anyone who thought otherwise was assuredly ludicrous.
Be that as it may, the Merchant could not stop thinking about the pilgrimage to Canterbury he had taken over fifteen years ago. With great fondness he recalled the pleasantries and the fellowship of his fellow travelers as they told stories on the way to the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket. Although if he were honest with himself, the Merchant would admit that he had not taken the pilgrimage for spiritual reasons. He did not wish to atone for anything. If you wanted to get ahead in business, you had to cut corners, fix weights, and all manner of things that could put a little more gold in your coffers. The Merchant had went to see what the world had to offer. On the trip, he met new people from all different classes. Each of them told a tale on the way to Canterbury. Looking back, telling tales was the best part of the trip. Telling stories and listening to them reminded the Merchant of what it means to feel human. The memory gave him a good feeling, a fluttering warmth in his stomach. That evening he felt better than he had the day his nagging wife died two years ago, when he felt a warm sensation of relief pervade his entire body.
Seated at his desk, the Merchant felt a compulsion to write. He grabbed some ink and parchment and pondered. He wanted to expand the tale that he told on the way to Canterbury, the story of January and his treacherous wife May. Though it had taken fifteen years, he was now able to complete what he believed to be his magnum opus, and this is what he wrote:
January’s memory kept spinning around in his head like the wheel of a cart as it rolls swiftly across the countryside. He believed himself to be a mad man. He didn’t know how his new sight was deceiving him. January wanted to kill his young wife, but deep inside he really couldn’t know anything. He had been blind for so long that he felt his sight could not be anything other than false. He was probably just seeing things.
“May, we shall feast tonight. God has restored my sight, and I wish to give thanks.”
“But surely, it is not God who has given you your sight.” said May “For surely God would not cause you to see falsely. Your sight must be some aberration, the gift of Pluto, or some other fiend of Hell.”
January clutched his goblet of wine as tight as his frail, decrepit fingers would allow. He began to drink heavily after his sight was restored.
“Fickle vision is better than blindness. We shall invite the entire village to the festivities.”
“But, is that the best idea, my lord? You don’t know if–”
“As I say so shall it be done.”
It was then that May knew she would not change January’s mind. She assembled the servants around her, and she ordered them to prepare the best feast that Pavia had ever seen. She supervised them as they went about baking bread, cleaning the castle, and setting the table. The work took an entire day. Sixteen women and children spent the morning and afternoon laboring on the feast. It was certain to be the most scrumptious meal that anyone had ever tasted, and like Jesus, she would feed the multitudes. Even the peasants were invited to the castle, and foreign dignitaries from all of the nations of Europe. January wanted the entire world to know of the miracle he had experienced.
However, despite the fanfare, May felt bitter. No one had ever thrown a party for her. Her parents never noticed her as a child or a young woman, and her husband treated her with little more than disdain. She believed that she was merely a blade on which January whetted his sexual appetite. The worker Damian was the only one to whom she could confide her feelings. January was a glistening shield. He was sturdy and protective, but May’s words could never pierce him. Damian was a wide-brimmed cup. She could pour her deepest feelings into him, and he would never tire of hearing what she had to say.
“While the old man is busy at his party, we can sneak away together.” Damian said.”It will be the perfect chance to spend time with one another.”
May consented. As the guests poured in to pay their respects to January, she stood by her side. She served wine to the Duke of Brittany, and she conversed with the pope while leading him to a seat of honor at the table. She thanked all of the foreign representatives for their exotic and exquisite gifts. She smiled as princes handed her brightly colored birds, rings, and brooches. But when the roar of the party began to sink to a lull, she left the table.
May found Damian in the other room, waiting for her. When she opened the door to his chambers, he wrapped his arms around her waist. He kissed her hard, gnawing on her lips, as if to savor the moment and to compensate for all of the time in which he would be deprived of her touch. They thought they would spend the remainder of the evening like this until the door opened.
“This isn’t the privy!”
The lovers were interrupted by the pope, who was looking quite nauseated. Damian went up to him and bowed.
“Your Holiness, I just wish to–”
The pope began to make a strange noise. He held his stomach as if he were feeling the pang of contractions, and then he leaned forward and wretched on Damian’s head. Hot, chunky vomit dripped down Damian’s forehead. Damian felt like swearing, but he contained himself. The pope fell to the ground immobilized. He was in the throes of a drunken stupor.
A throng of guests came to see what was causing the commotion. May, stupefied, stood against the wall, The embarrassment overwhelmed her, and at that moment, she wished to die. January jostled to the front of the crowd.
“What the hell is going on here?” He asked, looking around in bewilderment. He saw the pope next to the spilled cup of wine, and Damian covered in the pope’s supper. He saw May looking at the floor in terror, and the crowd of guests roaring with laughter. The incredulousness of the situation was too much for January to fathom. He closed his eyes and began to make his way down the corridor and back to the dining hall.
“Damn eyes always playing tricks on me. I must be seeing things.” He murmured.
After writing those last lines, the Merchant felt a pang of satisfaction. He had finished the story that had been buried in the crevices of his mind for all of those years. His work was done, and posterity would decide whether his story would endure as a beacon of literature for ages to come, or whether it would become scrap paper on which some bored monk would make fantastical sketches of giant rabbits. The Merchant could not know these things, but he knew that he wanted to spend the few years he had left writing more stories. He sat down on the floor knowing that the best was yet to come.