Before my mother died she used to tell me endless stories – the sort that you could never understand where she'd got them from, but enjoyed the colours she laid out in your mind with them anyway. Some I'm sure were pulled straight from her head as she went along, and others were obvious favourites of hers from when she was a little girl ('The Willow and The Nightingale' and 'Little Sun, little Moon' were ones she recounted often). Amongst the numerous tales I was regaled with one of them stuck in my mind particularly stubbornly, and this was the tale of Mr Wolf and the Pigeon King. For an odd reason it was always one I liked, but I had little idea of how pertinent to me it would gradually become as I wandered through the years that were to be my life.
'As a young man' she would begin, 'Mr Wolf was renowned for being particularly handsome – he had delicate features often said to be in competition of the serenity of a woman. He lived alone in a little cottage by a tree and a small pond full of frogs and fishes' (she would always say 'fishes' with a little smile and tickle the edges of my stomach like the fins of the fish wafting around through the water) and then her face would turn very serious as she would say 'Now, Mr Pigeon, as he is known at the beginning of our story, was also very blessed like Mr Wolf – he too had been granted a most handsome appearance – but unfortunately, this was where all similarities between the two then ceased.
'Mr Wolf had an endlessly generous soul – providing you asked him politely, he would grant almost any favour. The people from the nearby village had a great fondness for Mr Wolf and would only ask things of him if they had no other choice; and Mr Wolf was always extremely happy to oblige, he had become attached to the village and its people, and considered many of them to be close friends. He was very happy to ensure that the right amount of rain reached the crops, or that people recovered quickly from their ailments, providing they allowed him to live peacefully by his little pond.' I always used to remember the look of affection that would wash over mum's face as she described the life that Mr Wolf led – it was indeed very idyllic. 'Mr Pigeon on the other hand had a soul washed with black; though he managed to hide it very well as, alongside the dark rag he called his heart, he possessed a very eloquent tongue. He could settle the doubt in anyone's mind in a string of syllables, or blow your dreams into dust.
'With a talent such as Mr Wolf's to be able to grant any favour you asked of him, he became, understandably a much talked about subject, and it wasn't long before the word spread to the attentive ear of Mr Pigeon. Upon hearing of this remarkable being, Mr Pigeon took it upon himself to pay Mr Wolf a visit. Travelling for several days he eventually came to the little cottage, with its tree and accompanying pond, whereupon he found Mr Wolf huddled at the edge, intently watching the fish dart about in the water while enjoying his lunch of pork pie, cheese, apple and a dusty bottle of cider.
'Mr Wolf did not speak as Mr Pigeon took a seat beside him. The silence was reciprocated, and many a minute passed with the two simply staring into the water. It was only as day was leaking from the sky and Mr Wolf was attending to the dust on his doorstep did any words resound between the two of them. "Pray tell, friend, why do you hover about my pond?" Mr Wolf asked while concentrating on his sweeping. "I had heard the most fantastic stories about you" Mr Pigeon replied, "I simply wished to satisfy my curiosity, as it seems so improbable that any being could truly grant any request."
'And so Mr Wolf set about proving to Mr Pigeon that he could indeed grant any request. But as the pair spent more time together Mr Pigeon's requests started to become more and more extravagant; though by this point Mr Wolf had become rather attached to his new friend and found it difficult to refuse his ever larger requests. And even though Mr Wolf went to a lot of trouble to carry out Mr Pigeon's wishes, Mr Pigeon never noticed the pain his friend was going through.
'It was Mr Pigeon's final request to Mr Wolf that severed their friendship forever – he asked that Mr Wolf make him King of all the blessed lands. Upon hearing the request Mr Wolf was filled with sorrow, he knew his friend was lost in his limitless possibilities, and couldn't see their friendship through his selfish ideas.
'And it was upon granting Mr Pigeon's final selfish request, making him the Pigeon King, that Mr Wolf decided that he wanted to live out his life as a recluse. It took many a month for the Pigeon King to realise that his friend was gone, and whether he was sad to discover that fact we do not know.
'Though, it is comforting to know Mr Wolf wanders our world still. But thanks to the Pigeon King's mistreatment of Mr Wolf he will refuse to grant you a request unless you can give him something in return that he himself deems worthy. Should you ever wish to ask Mr Wolf something simply write your request on a piece of paper followed by what you would give to him in return, and tie it to the branch of a willow tree.'
My mother never used to add the true ending of the story when I was little.
'Though, so far, he has never answered a single call.'
I think she wanted to end the story on a good note for me.
And so when I was nine years old, that was exactly what I did.
Though I cannot think for the life of me what it was I said I would give him.