Maral Sassouni – Ádám Dávid: The Gardeners of Sounds

El Proyecto Internacional de Cuentos Allende Los Mares

Translated by Luca Szabó

If for some reason – let’s say, in the first sentence of a tale – raccoons are mentioned, I’m sure that most people will only think about
1. raccoons being obsessed with cleanliness,
2. raccoons being some kind of thieves, based on their ill-boding appearance.
I can assure you that most animals think exactly the same.
Why? It’s this simple:
1. in many languages, such as in Japanese, German, Italian or Hungarian, the animal with the striped tail which is called Procyon lotor has a name that refers to washing, even though I’m fairly sure some of them never wash, as they have the smell of an extraordinarily smelly badger,
2. the black spots around their eyes look like criminals’ masks, and who in their right mind would wear something like that unless they are thieves?
It’s really unfriendly to judge someone based on their looks or their name, but raccoons don’t take it personally, maybe because they are just like their image. At least this was the state of affairs in the infamous Trum family.

Illustration made by Maral Sassouni, artist from France

Illustration made by Maral Sassouni, artist from France

Their daughters started washing their faces shortly after being born, then came all the washing and washing up.

Their sons tried to steal light as soon as they were born. If it was for them, you could feel your way in complete darkness until you bumped into a masked, rude member of the Trum family who would offer you a mere sunbeam in exchange for one hundred and twenty-six paws of pealed acorns or eight and a half heaps of earthworms.
So the Trum men had committed their crimes in total agreement for centuries, and then Trum women cleaned up after them. But – as it sometimes happens in big families – something went terribly wrong on a sunny day towards the end of summer. The Trum family’s youngest son, Pete, the black sheep of the family was born. Not that he was either black or a sheep. At first sight, you would have thought that he was a raccoon with a striped tail and a criminals’ mask just like his twin brothers and sisters. But he didn’t want to steal sunbeams like a good boy would have done, and he didn’t start washing himself like a good girl. Instead, he pricked his ears, because he could hear the sound of an accordion from the woods, and he was enchanted by the music. The others didn’t even notice this in the clamour. Then he made his way to his exhausted mother’s breast, but instead of sucking it, he blew it so hard that even a bagpipe would have gone flat. Patricia was lucky enough, so she didn’t go flat, only got as round as a balloon, but she started screaming and didn’t finish until she was her old self again. Luckily, nobody saw the strange sight, because the babies are blind in the first three weeks of their lives, and the other family members were busy stealing sunbeams or doing the washing up. But her loud scream made everybody look her way, and it was hard to convince them that that had only been the sound of her happiness.

From then on, she tried to keep the secret of Pete’s strange habit: the cub didn’t steal things, but blew them. He didn’t want to wash himself, and he started to become as smelly as a dozen badgers together. The animals of the forest started to be afraid of Pete’s lungs, and they were disgusted by his foul breath. Then one ugly, rainy autumn day Patricia went up to his eccentric son, and sent him away – her voice almost broke. Pete had some strange habits, that’s true, but he was an obedient little boy, so with a huge sigh (ugh, how it stank!) he started his journey to the nearest city.
He hid in wet alleys, next to full trash bins, until one nice, frosty winter day, Ted Crook, the local smith who had a cold found him. He had just sent his apprentice on his way, just like Patricia had done with Pete, because this guy was so scruffy that he couldn’t handle the bellows. When the smith turned into the alley with a sad look on his face, a strong sneeze knocked the wind out of him, even though he was a robust man.
“I’m sorry,” Pete sniffed politely. “I’m afraid I have a bit of a cold.”
Ted’s eyes kindled, and as he didn’t know Pete smelled like a badger (he had a cold, you see), he took him in as an apprentice. He didn’t have any problems with the bellows after that, because one sigh from the boy made a glow like no other. Ted appreciated the sad raccoon. Pete kept sighing all day, because he missed his home and the cosy fights in his family. But he learned diligently, and it soon became obvious that raccoons are not only good at washing, but they are quite decent smiths, too.
This went on for a few months. Then one beautiful spring day, Pete was standing in the middle of the workshop, and a smile spread over his face. The band of the fire brigade happened to walk past the workshop, and it was the first time he had ever heard wind music. How wonderful it was! Quick, happy melodies were drifting in the air like the smell of buds opening in March. Pete pricked his ear excitedly, and looked at the firemen through the window. After an especially beautiful trumpet solo, he cried out in surprise:
“Wow!”
Well, to keep it short, after that one big blow from Pete, not only the glow but the whole workshop caught fire. Ted Crook fled the scene, jumping out of the window. The firemen threw away their precious instruments, ran to the well, and started putting out the fire. Whether you believe it or not, the Trums’ Pete took a hammer, then he sneaked up to the musical instruments lying on the ground, and put some of them on his shoulders. This shows that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, even if it’s a raccoon – Pete was able to steal things. His mother would have been proud of him.
Still, you should know that stealing is bad. Even if stolen goods help you start something beautiful, for example a garden of sounds. Haven’t you heard about that? Well, nor had I, until one beautiful spring day, when there were tons of flowers about, I stumbled upon Pete Trump’s special garden. I made friends with him, and he told me the story of his adventurous life.
After the workshop had burnt down, he couldn’t stay in the city, but he didn’t dare go back to his family, so he started wandering in the thick, dark woods, and when he found a meadow, he was so tired that he fainted.
He looked at the stolen instruments in awe, and then very carefully, he put a trumpet to his mouth and blew it. How out of tune it was! The blossoming trees were so scared by the disturbing noise that all their petals fell off. Pete stood in the petal rain ashamed of himself. He clenched his fists, and shouted:
“Just you wait!”
He didn’t waste his time. In the middle of the meadow, there was a huge rock. He pulled the instruments there, one by one, and hammered at them until nobody could have recognized them. The result resembled a spinning machine. Pete Trum sighed; he was satisfied with himself. The trees flinched, because they were scared. Then he went up to his creation, and blew it. I bet you’ve never seen anything like that! Believe it or not, the machine gave a low murmur, and flowers poured forth from the other end of it. But these petals didn’t have a scent; they made music. Or, to be precise, they made noises so loud that the silence of the forest was completely disrupted. Pete Trum remembered the sound of the accordion that he heard when he was born.
“If only my petals could make such beautiful music!” he thought dispiritedly.
In that moment, a pretty raccoon lady appeared in the meadow with a giant tuning fork in one hand. Without one word, she went up to the rock, twanged the tuning fork, and started digging around those dissonant petals, and soon all of them were planted. Pete Trum’s mouth dropped open. After a few minutes, the hubbub went quiet, and the sounds of the flowers grew more and more musical. The short ones sang in low pitched voices, the taller ones in high pitched ones, and gradually, the whole thing started to resemble that long-ago, faraway melody. And then harmonious silence followed.
“Wh-wh-who are y-you?” Pete Trum stuttered.
“I’m Har’s daughter Monica,” the girl answered happily. “But you can call me Moni. And who are you?”
“I-I’m T-Trum’s son P-Pete,” he stammered.
Since then, Har’s Moni and Trum’s Pete have worked together in the garden of sounds. Whenever you’ve had enough of the hubbub of the city, just find their meadow, and you’ll see two things.
1. It’s perfectly possible to love a smelly raccoon, and
2. even if he’s not the thief he should be, he can steal a girl’s heart.

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