Anna Tambour presents 


The virtuous medlar circle
thoroughly bletted
The Toes of the Sun
Rhys Hughes

The second of three stories
The Don Entrerrosca Trilogy
(Story 1: The Lute and the Lamp)


They say that Don Entrerrosca was once a minstrel.
But something happened which made him reject the idea of performing for other people. The details of this incident are not mysterious, despite his best efforts to make them so, but at any rate he decided to become only a spectator. First the blisters on his fingers healed, because he no longer used them to play the lute. Then his chest sagged, because he no longer needed to take such deep breaths to sing at high balconies or across ravines. He had turned into just a man in any audience, quiet and meek and supposedly safe. He never regretted his exciting old life but now he preferred not to cause trouble. No more serenades from him!

He spent his free time demonstrating to himself that his involvement with the entertainment business was purely passive. He visited theatres and art galleries and music halls and always bought a ticket which he kept as evidence, pasting it into a little book later, so that nobody might raise the suspicion that he, a former romantic, had actually created the work in question or even contributed the smallest part to it. His appreciation of what he saw or heard was obscured at the beginning by his need to prove he was not the centre of attention. He did this with the most forceful expression of unobtrusiveness he could devise and the effort of this emotional paradox occupied all his concentration. But slowly he relaxed enough to genuinely absorb the creativity which he sought out.

Best of all for him were dances. He loved confronting a talent he could never possess, for despite his lithe body he was surprisingly stiff. His bones creaked like stairs when he moved too fast or even when he never moved at all, so that he once believed his skeleton was haunted. But other things creak too on their own and they do not always suggest ghosts, so perhaps his bones were more like shoes, small ships or the necks of lutes strung too tight. But this last comparison is against what he now believed. He had vowed never again to touch a lute nor even a lyre, which might be confused with it. And figurative small ships can smuggle lutes from one distant song to another and shoes are perfectly able to do the walking on their decks. So I was correct the first time. His bones were like stairs.

Anyway, the sort of dancing that appealed most strongly to him was simple and natural. He thought ballet was too artificial and complex. Waltzes were more agreeable because they reminded him of swirls of leaves blowing in circles in autumnal gales. The tango and samba were very human and passionate, but they spoke of brothels and carnivals, which in turn suggest sinners and communities, both of which are often highly organised, even when they go wrong, and have little to do with naivety and artlessness. The dances of animals held a greater interest but even these had too much purpose. He started to wonder if his ideal show was one in which the performers were ignorant of every aspect of what they did. He planned to discover a troupe of dancers who had never been alive. Inanimate artists.

To ponder this matter further, for he could not imagine where to look, he climbed a hill for its peace and solitude. The afternoon was coming to an end and the sun was sinking in the west. By the time he reached the summit and found a large stone on which to sit, the clouds were rosy and strung out on precise rays like notes on a lute. No, that is not a permissible figure of speech! Let me try again to describe the scene, but without any fuss. The sunset had started. The great fiery orb touched the horizon and for a few moments it seemed it was balancing on its toes on a tightrope, but that is absurd, for round objects may not have toes, or feet or any such appendages, otherwise they are no longer round. And how can something not be itself but remain the same? Impossible! Not that the sun was a perfect circle now, for it squashed as it sank still deeper.

That was just an illusion, of course, caused by atmospheric distortion or some such optical effect. But Don Entrerrosca was charmed by the whole affair all the same. He judged it the best sunset he had ever witnessed. It was almost the special dance he hoped to see. Very simple and certainly natural. The three elements of the sky involved in the performance acted in grand harmony. The star of the show, the sun itself, would have been uninspiring on its own. The chorus of clouds and stage of the atmosphere, very dark blue now, played essential parts. Don Entrerrosca felt compelled to express his delight and reverence. He clapped and shouted: "Bravo!" He applauded so much and so loudly and for such a long time that a peculiar thing occurred. The sun did an encore.

It came back up!

He blinked his eyes and rubbed his chin. Yes, it really had unset itself! The sky grew lighter and the clouds stopped drifting away and returned to their former positions. Then the top rim of the sun showed itself and the rest of its bulk eased itself into view until once more it was balanced on the horizon. It seemed as if somebody or something under the world had tickled its inadmissible toes! But as we have already agreed, that is nonsense. So there must have been an alternative explanation for this sudden reversal of its normal routine! Why come back up when you are down unless you feel appreciated? It was clear the sun was responding to the enthusiasm of its audience of one on the top of that hill. Its encore was identical to its first setting. Then night came and a chill wind ushered Don Entrerrosca home.

His astonishment did not leave him at all and he slept badly. The art of people no longer seemed of much consequence. He waited unbearably for morning between fragments of impatient dream. When he awoke properly and went out to greet the day, he felt an odd embarrassment, like a man who returns to the same play in the same theatre. The citizens of the town were grumbling about their clocks and watches, which were running a few minutes fast. The encore had disrupted the whole cycle of time, but nobody else seemed aware of the real reason. He avoided them as much as possible and drank coffee irritably in restaurants, waiting for the evening and the next sunset. The day dragged on and he fretted and perspired, not with heat but anticipation, until finally the afternoon was almost done and he climbed the same hill again in the same way.

But before he was halfway up the slope, a grey mist came from nowhere and washed over the town and then lapped around him too. It was chill and very damp and made the rocks slippery and he could not rise above it, even though he climbed faster. When he reached the summit he was panting hard and desired nothing more than a rest, but the large stone which had made such a comfortable seat only the night before was now occupied by the mist. It was slimy and wet. He could not frighten these disadvantages away, so he stood with his hands on his knees, pulling the clammy air into his lungs and wondering if anyone had ever composed a great piece of music about mist and fog. He hoped not. When he had recovered, he straightened his back and looked for the sun.

It was there but hardly its usual self! Instead of a ripe ruddy ball flanked by clouds with clearly defined shapes, it had become a small pale disc the same colour as the mist which tried to hide it. There were no rays or anything of that kind. In fact it was difficult to tell when it touched the horizon. Instead of obvious movement, a grand but graceful sinking, partly involving a squashing which was slightly comical but not ludicrous, there was just a gradual decay of steely light, as if a prison door was shutting without a sound on an innocent man who would be forced to dine on grey bread and grey broth for the duration of his unjust sentence, which in fact was for as long as it took for him to become grey himself. And this grim and colourless image is apt for reasons which are concerned with Don Entrerrosca's descent.

But before that, he decided to make his displeasure known where he was, still standing and not quite sure if the sunset was over yet or even whether it had begun, so thick had the mist become. Not only did he refuse to applaud, he went to the opposite extreme. First he hissed and then when he realised that the sun probably would not hear this, he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted as loudly as he could: "Boo! Very poor! Absolute rubbish!" And he continued to boo and jeer until all the breath he had caught back was lost again, but the way home was down so he had less need of it than before. He stumbled on the rocks and the mud between them, insidiously soaked and thoroughly miserable, and the imprint of his heel was more like the lock of a dungeon than the rear part of a shoe.

he reached the town safely and went home and slept more easily this time, because disappointment is less of an irritant in bed than excitement, at least for him. He slept long and woke up but saw it was still night. So he slept some more, convinced that morning must be close. He slept so much that he nearly made up for all those long nights of his youth when he serenaded many late moons and the midnight thought the songs were for it, with consequences which were either minimal or still unknown. But despite all this sleep he could not arrive at the morning. So he rose anyway and had what he imagined was an early breakfast and then went out to greet the dawn on the street. But he was jostled by many people, all of whom fumbled along in the murk on their way to the shops or to cafés for lunch, for the real time was almost noon.

Noon but still dark! How could this be? The people he stopped to ask did not know. They just carried on living and working as normal, for daily bread must still be earned even when there is no apparent day to butter it by. And they sat on park benches and struggled to read newspapers and found it impossible. And there was so much rustling and turning of pages as they tried to look for at least one paragraph which was legible that the mist was all blown away as if by thousands of slaves waving huge fans. The sky grew clear again. And there was a dark circle where the sun should be! A black hole directly above them with silver fire all around its rim, very pale flames indeed, much too feeble to use for anything. It was a total eclipse! The sun was behind the moon. But this was not natural at all, for such an event had not been predicted by any astronomer. And even more unexpectedly, the sun remained behind the moon all the time, following it across the heavens as if deliberately hiding behind it. The eclipse was permanent! But why had this happened? Don Entrerrosca lamented the fact he had jeered at the sunset and some pedestrians overheard him.

"What's this? You insulted the sun?"

"Yes, it must be my fault," admitted Don Entrerrosca, "and so it's my responsibility to put things right again if I can."

"You better had," they said, "or else!"

Word soon spread that a man had climbed a hill to boo the sunset and before long all the citizens of the town were clamouring for his head. But they decided to give him a chance to redeem himself. If he was unable to coax the sun out of its eclipse, he would have to find a substitute for daylight, and if he was unable to do that they would set upon him without mercy, if they could find him in the dark. The days passed and Don Entrerrosca remained at home, desperately trying to think of ways of undoing the damage he had caused. He kept his windows shut, because people often stopped to hurl curses against him from outside. He was running out of time. They never failed to mention that. But news of what he had done must have spread far beyond the limits of the town, for one day, if it is right to continue speaking of days when they are identical to nights, there was a knock on his front door and it was so soft and unthreatening that he did not hesitate to answer it.

A man stood there who had come a long way to visit him. He introduced himself as Sergio Gustavo and said he was a writer. Don Entrerrosca invited him in and sat him down in a chair and listened to what he had to say, which was this:

"I know what you have done and it is the same thing as a man called Rusiñol did many years ago. But the sun did not take offence when he did it. This time the sun has retired to its dressing room, which is the dark side of the moon, and refuses to come out. Nor will it emerge until it is ready. There is absolutely nothing you can do about that. In the normal course of events it only visits its dressing room occasionally, for it is a busy performer always putting on a sunset somewhere or other, if not in China then in Africa, and if not there then in Brazil or Norway or New Zealand. But now it has slammed the door tight! And talking about performers, if you had remained one instead of becoming a spectator, this calamity might not have happened!"

"Very true," mused Don Entrerrosca, "but what shall I do now?"

sergio Gustavo tapped his nose and leaned forward and replied, "There is only one true substitute for daylight and that is the smile of the most beautiful woman in the world."

Don Entrerrosca sighed. "I remember her!"

"Tell me what you know."

"Her name is Eber Marcela Soler and she lives in Córdoba. When I was a minstrel I serenaded her, but it went wrong and I vowed never to make the attempt again. Besides, she is very choosy with her affections and probably wouldn't give me a second glance. To make her smile is surely beyond my power. I doubt I might even get close to her."

Sergio Gustavo smiled. "The last part is easy enough. I can arrange it. My surname, you see, is also Soler. I am her cousin. Come with me back to Córdoba. I believe it is your only chance to restore daylight to this planet."

Don Entrerrosca realised he had nothing to lose, so he followed Sergio Gustavo and they left the town and headed south and many people of the town went as well to make sure he was not attempting to escape justice. And when they arrived in Córdoba they found its streets were not quite as dark as the streets of all other cities and towns, for the locals carried special lanterns before them. There were no wicks or oil in these lanterns. They held little smiles drawn on pieces of paper, the smile of Eber Soler reproduced as accurately as possible by a multitude of artists, some more talented than others. The worst artists had painted smiles which gave off no light at all, but the best had managed to capture a glow with a fraction of the power of the real thing, and these smiles cast a radiance which was just bright enough for washing dishes or recognising friends, but certainly not strong enough for reading books or paying taxes. At last the two men paused outside their destination.

It was the house where Eber Soler lived and Don Entrerrosca remembered it, for he had once stood in this very spot and played the futile lute for her. Now he felt very unconfident and miserable. There were many other men there too, all standing in line, and most of them looked foreign or weary from travel. They were waiting to play their serenades and each took his turn on his instrument under the designated balcony. Perhaps she was there, leaning over to listen, but it was impossible to be sure, for the top of the building merged with the shadows and even the reddest loveknots in the darkest hair could not stand out from the general murk, and so the songs may have been played and sung to an empty space. Don Entrerrosca wanted to retreat but Sergio Gustavo held him tight and hissed into his ear:

"None of these minstrels are any good. Not once has Señorita Soler given even the faintest smile in response to a melody performed for her. And thousands of troubadours have tried. There was Luís Rodrigues on his little guitar and Otho Vathek on an accordion and Tin Dylan on a harp and another fellow from Wales with a broken banjo, to say nothing of the famous poet Humberto von Gibbon. I can't remember the names of the others because there have been so many. One had long red hair and a burnished trumpet. But they all failed and these new lovers will also fail. Only you stand a chance of success because you are the best. That is why I came to fetch you."

"But I have given up the lute!"

"I know that. You had a bad experience during a serenade when your own instrument abducted you. But I must ask you to be brave and risk another misadventure for the sake of daylight. If you refuse I will return you to your own citizens. The best carpenters in Córdoba are ready to make any kind of new lute for you. They simply require your instructions."

"She may not smile anyway," protested Don Entrerrosca.

Sergio Gustavo shrugged. "There is only one way to be certain. Without daylight, crops will fail and pickpockets rule every community."

"I have another idea. What if she is told that I am about to serenade her, but I keep her waiting indefinitely? She will pout with disappointment and because we are in the southern hemisphere (for this is Córdoba in Argentina, not the one in Spain) her drooping mouth will be seen as a smile from above? That way the sun will be cheated and I will redeem myself without plucking a single note."

But Sergio Gustavo objected to this suggestion and he prodded Don Entrerrosca in the ribs with something harder and sharper than a finger and shaped exactly like a knife and the people who had followed the minstrel from his own town clapped and applauded this action, which promised a sunset of his heart, so that the troubadour found himself nodding vigorously and saying:

"Very well. I shall design the appropriate lute."

And he described exactly what he wanted, but Sergio Gustavo frowned and sheathed his blade only reluctantly and maybe even his shoes clicked in a tango rhythm to express his displeasure. But at last he decided to trust Don Entrerrosca and led him to the front door of the building in which Eber Soler dwelled. The other musicians played their serenades and wandered away with downcast eyes until they were all gone, but a curious rhythm continued inside the house, a hammering noise. The unsuccessful minstrels groped their way to the Parque las Heras and lay there on the dying grass, or sat along the banks of the Río Primero and dangled their legs. And they talked in hushed tones as people often do at night. But then their voices were suddenly raised and they blinked their eyes rapidly, for it was day again!

This was not sunlight and the radiance did not come from the sky. It poured from the house of Eber Soler, and when they listened hard they detected a faint melody and knew that Don Entrerrosca had achieved what they could not. But how? Well, it was not with talent, for the cunning troubadour knew she was too difficult to please that way. All her adult life she had been serenaded and now it was just a normal part of existence rather than something to smile about. So he had tried a different approach. He occupied the room directly below hers and converted it into a giant lute. Wires were strung between the walls and he lurked in this web like a spider of love, playing notes in rapid profusion until the whole room vibrated. They were fine melodies, for sure, but not quite charming enough to win a smile from Señorita Soler. No, that was not how he had dispelled night from the world!

What he had done was to tickle her toes. As the room throbbed to his music, so her floor pulsed in sympathy and made her laugh. Her attempts to hold back this laugh resulted in a smile, the biggest smile of the most beautiful woman in the world, and this shone out across the land. There were certain problems still to be solved, for the days and nights were no longer regular but depended on the length of each particular song and whether the shutters on her window were open or closed, and half the globe remained always in darkness, but Don Entrerrosca earned his reprieve anyway and there was much rejoicing. The people of Córdoba cast away their lanterns and these shattered and released their contents which were caught by the wind and scattered far and near, so that gutters and trees and the belly of the sea glimmered with little smiles at all times.


The Don Entrerrosca Trilogy
concludes with
The Promised Labyrinth
never before published

The Toes of the Sun
previously appeared in the
Locus Recommended Reading List anthology, ALBUM ZUTIQUE #1,
edited by Jeff Vandermeer,
published by the Ministry of Whimsy Press, 2003.



Rhys Hughes is, by his own admission, a heterochromic logodaedalus much
concerned with ontological fripperies, the deep
pondering of which has turned his static nimbus into a corybantic fulgor. He may get better.

He is also the author of 350 short stories and many
books, including
A NEW UNIVERSAL HISTORY OF INFAMY. For the past ten years he has been working on a long novel. It is nearly finished!

He enjoys travelling — when he can afford it — and in an ideal world would spend all his time visiting other countries. He also loves music, cooking and reasonably light physical exercise. His literary hero is Italo Calvino. His puppet hero is Bagpuss.
Rhys Hughes can be contacted at
rhysaurus (at)

The virtuous medlar circle

is part of
Anna Tambour and Others

"The Toes of the Sun" copyright © 2003-2005 by Rhys Hughes, first appeared in ALBUM ZUTIQUE #1, Ministry of Whimsy Press, 2003.
This short story appears here with thanks to Rhys Hughes, whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This story is part of a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2005