Thursday, 25 May 2017

The Cauldron

As I trudged along the empty road, through a grey landscape bare of features, I was pulled out of dull reverie by the smell of smoke in my nostrils. Peering ahead, I saw a crossroads, where choices lay—straight ahead, left, right, or back the way I had come. The thought of having to choose a direction wearied me. How would I know which way to go in such a dreary landscape as this? With no landmarks to guide the way, no beauty to lure me on. 

Then I saw it, an old gypsy wagon by the road, painted with red and green and gold, and a white horse grazing nearby. And mingled with the smoke of a campfire was the scent of something else, something savoury and enticing.
I realised that I was hungry, famished, starved to the bone.

As I approached the fire I saw it—a big black cauldron, curved belly full, almost to the brim, with something delicious. And sitting on a low wooden stool beside the fire, elbows resting on bony knees, wrinkled skin glowing in the flickering light, was an old woman.

‘I knew you’d come,’ she said, her voice husky, as if she’d not used it for a long time. She reached forward and began to stir the contents of the pot with a large wooden spoon, and gestured for me to sit down on a rug strewn on the ground.
‘Look at you! You’re skin and bones, my dear. You’ll never get to where you’re going without your strength.’

I wanted to tell her that I didn’t know where I was going, that the choice posed by the crossroads was one I didn’t know how to face, but in my hunger and anticipation, I remained silent. I stared at the cauldron, and my mouth began to water.

‘But,’ the woman uttered, a ludic glint in her eye, ‘you’ll have to wait. This here stew isn’t done yet, and I think you know it.’

I was puzzled at this, and frustrated. So much for the kindness of strangers. My belly growled in protest.  

‘This cauldron,’ the crone said, ‘all blackened from use and dented about the sides, this cauldron is your life. And the stew bubbling away inside, isn’t ready at all. If you tasted it now, you’d only be disappointed. Far too bland for your taste, it would be—and mine too. And I don’t want you thinking I am a terrible cook. Oh no! You’ll have to wait, because this stew needs to be boiled down, reduced, condensed, until all that is left is a strong, dark brew, so full of flavour it will knock your socks off. It needs to be simmered down to almost nothing, until you find that almost nothing is in fact everything; and it takes time and patience for that. Yes! What you’ll be left with will be so potent, so pungent, so exquisite in flavour, that you’ll never want for anything else.’

She stirred the pot once more, turning the spoon anticlockwise, as fragrant steam curled upwards, and grinned, her face rippling with a topography of time-worn lines.

‘You have come this far, through the empty land, and the vital ingredients are all cooking down as they should. It won’t be long now, and then you will be strong. You will know which way to go. Are you prepared to wait, my dear?’

‘Yes,’ I said.

(Developed from an idea I wrote down over three years ago, when I was just beginning my journey as a writer.)


  1. I love this, and I want to read more.

    1. Thank you! There is no more to this particular story as yet, but perhaps there will be. Once I (re)find my direction, then I will know where to go and what to do next. Though I'm sure the old woman will turn up again at some stage. She always does.


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