by Diane Fahey
‘We think it's great about your gift,’ they said, ‘but, for the
good of the State, we're going to lock you up … You see,
you're a potentially destabilising influence.'
‘What!’ shouted Midas, ‘but I'm the King!’
They were reassuring:
‘It will be informal — a kind of palace arrest. And we'll
visit — often.'
When the Great Drawback had dawned on him — he was
losing weight fast — they said,
‘It's unfortunate you can't eat. We've got a team of
experts working on it. Meanwhile, we need to build up our
— sorry, your — fiscal reserves. As quickly as possible.
That'll keep you busy, take your mind off things!'
They brought everything they could get their hands on —
boots, soup ladles, chandeliers, candle-snuffers, snuff, used
teabags, camellias and garden gnomes — so he could get
his hands on them. When he was too weak for this, their
hands put his hands on them. They called it The Conver-
sion Process, or The Laying On of Hands.
‘Sounds religious,’ gasped Midas, now unable to move.
When they had put in place their anti-inflationary strategy
for the next fifty years (budgeting enough for twenty small
wars, or six large ones), they became a little whimsical.
The Chief Accountant arrived with something live under his arm.
‘Close your eyes and guess!’
‘It's a goose,’ said Midas, ‘that will never lay another egg
— gold or otherwise.'
Then the Treasurer himself tottered in with a huge stag's
‘Sentimental value,’ he said. ‘My Grandfather strangled it
in the Great Forest — when he was ten.'
Now his Second-In-Command was staggering through the
doorway with a rocking horse.
‘For when my little chap's twenty,’ (he looked teary) ‘a
small investment for him.'
The Senior Scribe, something of a recluse, brought his
worry beads — which annoyed him ever after because of
their coarse clink.
Finally, the Keeper of the Purse said he'd thought of
bringing in his agèd uncle:
‘He's almost gone, it would be a mercy, he could be his
The matter was referred to an ethics committee which
reported back after the old man had died.
‘Couldn't we still do it?’
The committee was reconvened.
‘More than food, I need warmth,’ whispered Midas.
They brought a heater.
‘I mean, someone to talk to.’
They rang the Personnel Department, which couldn't
help, so the girl who answered the phone came over.
Helene. She had short blond hair with a lovely sheen to it.
‘Let's start a fire in this hearth,’ she said.
‘Drink some of this mead,’ she said, ‘here, suck through
this hollow reed.'
‘You need to relax,’ she said, ‘I'll tell you a story.’
It was about dragons. Guarding treasure. Heaps and heaps
of it — all gold. Intricately wrought artefacts — such as tiny
honeycombs and bee-brooches and labyrinths; and coins
and doubloons; and bags of gold dust and bars of bullion;
and daggers and swords and chalices and sacred book
covers; and ancient Earth Mothers and Snake Goddesses
and statues of Hermes and Hollywood Oscars; and wedding
rings and nose-rings and earrings…
The dragons had red-gold flames coming out of their
nostrils, and from orifices all over their bodies.
Their caves were littered with gold-plated excrement,
their tails coiled uroborically around fetid nests of gold. In
some were baby dragons who could not yet breathe fire,
their eyes still fresh and hopeful.
The dragons were dying of boredom. Waiting to be
pierced through and through, longing for some moralistic
assassin, got up like an armadillo, to come and end it.
‘That's just how it feels,’ wheezed Midas.
‘I really believe,’ said Helene, ‘that life must hold more
than this for you. Who started this anyway — do you have a
‘It was Dionysus. The wine merchant. He gave me this
Dionysus agreed to call round that evening for a drink or
three. Even in his cups he gave nothing away, though
before he left, he let slip that he thought a trip to the river
might be a good thing.
When they carried Midas down and lowered him in, he
sank to the bottom. Then he rallied with the thought, I do
not want to die in a cold yard of river. So he struggled to the
surface, began to paddle a bit.
The stone that he touched while climbing out remained a
‘Oh, I'm cured, a free man!’
He was joyous and relieved and grateful. But what could
he give Helene?
She asked for the stone.
‘As a keepsake,’ she said, giving him a hand up the springy
On Monday morning, in the Great Office Where Things
Are Decided, they were all hung over after the party, and,
to be frank, more than a little disappointed. Then the new
junior economist's eyes suddenly blazed. He stood and
raised his arms up high.
‘ "Golden Sands" — don't you see?’ he yelled in his
No one moved.
‘A tourist promotion! They'll come from far and wide.
We'll beat it up! Those sands are very yellow. And, who
knows, maybe there is gold in the river-bed?'
Well, it all happened; he got his promotion. In spite of the
crowds, the high-rise holiday apartments, the tat, Midas
sometimes walks down to put his hand in the river, feel the
flow of cosmic intentions … He knows it is just an ordinary
river. That there's no gold at the bottom. Which suits him
Once there was a fireworks display. His heart raced and
thudded as he watched suns and moons and stars
exploding in the sky, inside his head. The river became a
wizard's cloak with all manner of brightness igniting on
blue silk. Then the vision was extinguished, and darkness
grew over everything again like moss, cool and soft. His eyes
blinked and widened in the freshness of the evening. He
Last updated August 18, 2022