So I have been sitting on this one for quite a while, the reason being is that I feel it is publishable in my humble opinion, and if I post it here it is no longer, since most journals and magazines and whathave you make it extremely clear that they only want original unpublished works, and my having posted this on my website counts in a way as publishing. But I reasoned that since I'm not subbing it anywhere anyway, who cares if I render it unpublishable?
I wrote this a while ago, and I quite like it. I have sent it to a few people, family and friends, and other untrustworthy folk, and have gotten a mixed response, which I am certainly used to by now.
I identify quite a bit with Mr Millar, in that I am not a serious man either, and I tend to sing while I work and make up stories if my mind is left idle too long. Oh, and I named him after my high school principal for no particular reason other than it amused me at the time to do so.
Anyway, this is Millar's Song
a story by Ralph Pullins
A few weeks prior to his eighteenth birthday, a young man named Mick Millar was caught in the bed of a local merchant, a bed that also included the merchant's young wife. The affair was made all the more public as young Mr. Millar was chased through the town square while being repeatedly assaulted with a broom by the merchant, who had merely come home because he had forgotten his lunch, and had found his wife in a bed that contained one too many occupants in his opinion. Some kind townsfolk relieved the merchant of his broom and led him away, and young Millar was allowed to dress himself properly before he was brought before the bishop, a severe man without humor, who served as an authority in place of an actual judge, which the village did not have.
It was clear, the bishop said once the particulars of the issue were made apparent to him, that young Mr Millar was a man in need of a bit of contemplation and meditation; his actions of the day clearly have demonstrated a lack of respect for propriety, of the village's business leaders, of the very institution of marriage. Young Millar, who indeed lacked respect for all of those things, stayed silent, in the hopes that he looked repentant, and the bishop would let him off with a warning. Mr Millar, the bishop continued, had a reputation of being a bit of a dreamer, a storyteller, a man of words and ideas. Millar beamed, while continuing to try to appear penitent; this was going better than he had thought. Not a serious man at all, the bishop concluded, and Millar's heart dropped. He wasn't lazy, far from it in fact. He had worked in his father's mill since he was old enough to, but his habit of singing and making up songs while he worked had indeed earned him a reputation of being flighty, perhaps. He certainly knew in his heart that he was not a serious man, not like these stone faced witnesses, and the ill humored men of the village. The bishop himself quite obviously regarded seriousness as the pinnacle of human achievement. If the bishop didn't think he was serious,Young Millar could be in more than a spot of trouble. He didn't like the sound of the contemplation and meditation, either.
There was a hermitage, far off the coast, on an island, the bishop said, that needed a young strong back for its upkeep, that needed a pair of clever hands. There, the bishop said, a young man might find the quiet and contemplation that was required in order to find his way back to respectability. Oh no, thought young Mr. Millar, oh no indeed.
Thus, a few weeks prior to his eighteenth birthday, Mr. Mick Millar was sentenced to a year of meditation and maintenance of the ancient hermitage on the island far off the coast, an island that nobody had bothered to name, because aside from the ancient and crumbling hermitage, it was quite inconsequential. He was placed on a supply ship, along with several animals and bags of grain and various implements to accomplish the tasks at hand, which was to maintain and restore the old hermitage, and also to feed both himself and the monk that was the only inhabitant of the place. He was dropped somewhat unceremoniously with the supplies and animals on a rotting dock on the south side of the island and the ship left without so much as a wave good bye.
A quick walk up the only path led to the hermitage, which was a shambles, and the monk, who was supposed to greet him, was dead. Young Millar, newly exiled to an island, found himself for the first time completely alone. He was filled with despair, knowing that the ship was not going to come back for at least a year, and the monk that was supposed to help him adapt to life on the island had passed on. But Millar was not a man to wallow in misery, and he certainly didn't want to live in this crumbling old hermitage with a dead monk, so there was only one thing to do. He set to work. In a shed he found a spade, and a few minutes exploring led him to find an appropriate place to lay the monk, who, according to a few scattered writings, was named Friar Weston, into his final resting place. As he dug, Millar began to sing, a song of his own devising, one of sadness and loneliness and grief, not only for the monk, whom he had never met, but for his freedom and his comfort, at his fallen place in the world, and at the work itself, the grave that he was digging, and at the supplies, most of which remained still on the dock that would need addressing. He sang a song about his plight and as he worked it changed, and evolved, as his sweat poured out and as his muscles stretched and grew weary, the song changed and grew. He laid the monk to rest in the grave he had dug himself and he sang a song of lament over the monk's grave, a song of journey and farewell. When that was done, he set about the rest of the work of the day and he sang the entire first day of his time there, about his worries and his fears, and at the end, when he lay down and the sun had long set, he had sung his first day away entirely.
Millar set to work immediately the following day, first repairing the coop, housing the chickens that had come with him on the ship. When it became apparent that the goat shed was a complete loss, and that there was no lumber with which to build a new one, Millar began to sing a new song, a jaunty and silly tune about having to live with a goat until he could find the time to go to the other end of the island and fell a tree or two and hew wood for a new goat shed. For the first time he didn't feel like he was being watched, except by the chickens and the goat, neither of which seemed inclined to judge him too harshly, and so he was free to rhyme or not, he was free to be as silly or as serious as he felt. He was, he realized, completely and utterly free of judgement.
He decided that he would spend his year of contemplation singing songs, a new one every day, and would revisit the other days if he felt so inclined, incorporate them into this day's song, refine the themes and keep the good and discard the bad. And so he spent the year working at repairing and maintaining the hermitage, and the old monk's grave. He worked at keeping himself and the animals fed, including a number of cranky cats that lived in the hermitage, that he tolerated because they kept the number of mice down to an acceptable level, and because they would watch him curiously as he worked indoors on days when it was too rainy or cold to work outside. Cats, of course, are great lovers of music, much more appreciative than goats or chickens, and he sang them songs of mighty tuna washed up helpless on the beach, songs of endless bowls of cream and of slow and fat mice.
For months Millar sang, each day incorporating the best of the previous days songs into the song of the day, and while he was lonely, he knew that the day would arrive that a ship would come and take him away from this place and he could return to his life.
He was lucky, in a sense, to be exiled on an island, for a terrible plague arrived in the village that winter, an uncontrollable fever that burned fast, and the bishop was stricken down, and most of the merchants, and the Millar's themselves, his mother's last thoughts being of him, wishing that she could have seen him again before she passed, and soon the bodies of the victims of the plague filled the church, and filled the merchant's sheds, and eventually the entire town was razed, Millar's entire life burned away into ash, along with any record of his exile, any person that knew where he was, buried in a plague pit, or whisked away to die in quarantine.
But Millar knew none of this, and he kept singing and refining his song, keeping the best of the day and incorporating it and his song grew longer and more intricate and beautiful, and one year to the day he stood on the dock, no longer shaky and rotting, but in good repair; he had done the work himself that autumn singing about the coldness of the water and the heaviness of rocks and timbers the entire time. He stood there, facing the direction from which the ship would arrive, singing about his relief and the end of his exile, and then, as the sun rose high in the sky, he sang of his impatience and about the unreliability of ship captains and the sea, and as the sun set that day, he sang of perhaps his failure of keeping track of days, and as he walked back to the hermitage his song wavered, his anticipation and expectation having gotten the better of him that day.
The next day he stood on the dock again, and the next, but the ship kept not arriving, and each day his song fell into darker and sadder waters, and he began to realize that the ship may not be coming back, that perhaps the bishop had said a year but was a friend of the cuckolded merchant and simply wanted him gone. He had no knowledge of the plague and had no idea that his exile was lost to the shifting winds and the tides of the sea; he only knew that he was abandoned here, left to rot and die like the old monk now buried under the trees.
The next day he didn't get out of bed. The following day he did, but only to feed the animals. The following day, he fed the animals and then himself. The following day he repaired a hole in the roof. The day after that, he went down to the dock, and he began to sing his song, all the best parts of the year, all the struggles and the work, the loneliness and the dreams, he raised his voice and his song was a release and a lament, an entire year of expectations and hopes and failures and unexpected joy. He sang all day to the sea where the song was washed away and when the sun set he finished singing and went back to the hermitage. He fed the animals and began planning for his second year.
He started a new song then, a song of abandonment and acceptance, and every day he added to the song some days whimsy, some days despair and deep black loneliness, and every day he kept the best parts and incorporated them in to the song of the day, he kept what was good and let the rest go, and he learned how to do it better, how to recognize the best parts, how to change the melody to incorporate the new lines, and he sang to the animals and to himself and to the sea and to the trees and the grass and birds, for an entire year he worked and sang and on the day one year after the ship was supposed to arrive to take him home again he was down at the dock, and again the ship did not arrive and it stung, the hope he had allowed himself still burned fiercely, even despite himself, and the following day he went down to the dock and sang his song, another year's worth, he sang it to the sea and it was washed away.
The next day was the beginning of year three and the song came easier, and he did it again, kept the good, discarded what was left and it was like this that the years passed, and his song grew and he changed along with the song, new themes emerged, his first grey hair, new aches in his back, and his hands, and the years passed like water, like sand through his fingers, and every year he went down to the dock, he scanned the sea for a ship, and he sang his song, though now it took longer, having grown with each passing year. The hermitage was no longer a crumbling old nothing, but a well maintained and cozy homestead; he had worked hard to make it so, to keep it so.
Thus the life of Mick Millar was spent, every day taking the best of his song and keeping it and discarding what was left, every day adding, refining, changing, and it grew into this magnificent beautiful thing, filled with longing and regret and moments of surprise and magic, disappointment and fear, triumph and joy. His back stooped and his step shuffled and and he grew old, his once rich and strong voice tamed down, the sharpness worn soft, and oh, he grew weary and tired.
And one day he knew that the trip to the dock would be his last and, leaning heavily on his stick, he walked to the dock, and he scanned the horizon for the ship that was to take him home, the ship that had never come for him, and he sang his song, his entire life's work, an entire life distilled into a song rich and deep and pure, and Mick Millar sat down beneath an old tree to rest his weary bones and he sang his life away into the sea, this huge and beautiful thing, this pure distillation of a man, forgotten and abandoned, who, instead of despairing, instead of lying down to die, decided to sing instead. And his last breath in this world was the last of his song, and Mick Millar, never a serious man, was finally taken home.
Years passed and time ravaged as it is wont to do. The roof of the hermitage fell in one winter, the mortar crumbled and the walls fell; the sea took back the dock; the animals scattered and went feral and finally, after many many years a ship did arrive. A young sailor was sent to scout the island, but after only a few hours returned to the ship, reported that there was nothing there, just a few rocks. The ship left again and quiet once returned to the island, far off of the coast, that was once filled with song.
I often wonder what it is I am doing here, why I keep writing these things, why do I send my friends snippets of songs that will never be sung, rhymes and ideas that will never become anything, will never gain me anything at all. Why create anything? In the end, I believe Mick Millar's life was one well spent, not a waste. I have to believe that, or maybe I would stop singing my own songs...
Let me know if you like it, or hate it or just though it was a waste of time. Comment here, reach me @RDPullins on Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't stop singing your own songs. Peace.