"Forbid us something and that thing we desire."―Geoffrey Chaucer
In the year 1380 a brilliant young student at Oxford University named Nicholas was boarding at the house of John the carpenter, an older man with a wife of eighteen, Alison.
Nick had finished his course work and was teaching himself astrology, which at that moment was very popular, and people came to him for advice. He was a handsome kid, with an innocent look about him, but he was a smooth talker, especially when it came to love and pleasure. He sang and played the guitar, everybody liked him, and though he was flat broke, he got by.
Alison was a flirt, and old John knew it, and kept his eye on her. Very good-looking girl. When she walked down the street everybody stopped what they were doing and watched. She was always happy, and when she sang, everybody closed their eyes and listened.
One day, when John was away, Nick and Alison were, you know, talking, when he suddenly grabbed her pussy. He said, “I’ve got to have this!” She jerked away but he held her by the hips and ground his pelvis against hers. “Let’s do it! I can’t stand it!”
“Get your hands off me or I’ll scream rape!” And what did Nick do? He wept. He begged. He pleaded, until she said, “Oh, all right. But not now! He’ll kill me if he catches me! Tie it in a knot until the moment comes.” He smiled and stroked her little thing, kissed her and sang her a song.
At church a young sacristan, Absalom, was also in love with her. He too was handsome, long curly blond hair that stood out like a fan, gray eyes, elegant clothes—when he took off the surplice he was a real dandy. Played the fiddle in bars, popular with the Oxford kids, and a ladies’ man. He always chose the ale houses with the best-looking bar maids.
Even so, he was very prudish, very strait-laced. He was a church boy. Prissy. He didn’t like loose language, and farting—which to this day the English are apt to use as punctuation—offended him.
He would do anything to win Alison, and she found his sincerity a little annoying. He went so far as to creep to her window, which was on the ground floor, in the middle of the night and serenade her, which woke old John up. “Do you hear that?” “Of course I hear it.” “Is that Absalom?”
He sent her messages, sent her sweets, got his friends to tell her things about him—very boring. He sent her money! She made a public joke out of it and everybody laughed at him.
It was Nick she loved, and Nick had a plan. He stocked his room with food and drink, and locked himself in there for a few days, until John thought he must be dead. Finally he broke the door down, and found Nick in a trance. “I’ve had a vision,” he said. “The stars have told me that the world will be destroyed by a second flood. On Monday. We must prepare.”
John’s humble common sense rebelled at this, but Nick seemed so persuaded, and he was the district astrologer, an authority on such things. And John, who was the kind of fool who would marry an eighteen-year-old, bought it. Put it down to the darkness of the medieval mind. None of us would ever believe that the world was about to end!
On Nick’s instructions John lay food and an axe in each of three tubs, one for Nick, one for Alison, one for himself, and hung them from the rafters where no one would see them. God wanted only these three to survive. When the waters rose they would chop themselves free and float till the flood went down.
“But no talking when we’re up there!” said Nick, “God wants us to pray—silently.” John nodded. And on Monday evening they climbed into their tubs, John closed his eyes to pray, and when he was snoring the lovers stole down, got into bed and enjoyed each other all night. An hour before dawn the bells rang, and the monks began to chant.
Meanwhile Absalom, still so in love, having heard that no one had seen John around, so he must be away, got up, chewed some licorice for his breath, placed a mint leaf under his tongue to sweeten his kiss, prowled over to Alison’s house and knocked on her window.
“Alison, my honeycomb, my fair bird, my cinnamon stick, wake up and speak to me! I can’t bear being without you!”
“Absalom, you idiot, I’m trying to sleep! Get away from that window or I’ll throw something at you! I do. Not. Love you.”
“Alas and wellaway that ever I saw you! For Jesus’ sake can I have just a kiss?”
“Wilt thou go thy way if I kiss thee?”
“Aye, if I must.”
“All right. Here I come.” She shushed Nick with a wink and opened the window while Absalom congratulated himself, thinking, “If I get that kiss, I’ll get it all.”
“Come on, come on,” she said, “I don’t want the neighbors to see this,” though it was pitch dark, and she hung out her, how shall I say, behind, spreading her cheeks with her hands to offer him her sphincter, the which he kissed deeply and with relish—until he sensed something amiss. She didn’t have a beard. “Fie!” he said. “Alas! What have I done?”
He was not as pleased as another man might have been—remember, he was prim and delicate in these matters—and when she slammed the window shut and he heard Nick laughing, he fell out of love faster than he could ever have thought possible, wiping at his mouth with sand, with straw, with sawdust, with his sleeves, and weeping. That was it for him with all women—but especially her.
Across the street the blacksmith was already at work. Absalom went over. “Hey, Absalom, what are you doin’ up this early, tom-cattin’?” Absalom smiled coldly. “Could you lend me that red-hot poker in your forge?” “Sure. What for?” “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
He took the poker back across the street and knocked on Alison’s window. “Who’s that, a thief?” “No, my darling, it’s your Absalom, with my mother’s gold ring, which I will give thee for another such kiss.”
Now, Nick had got up to take a piss, and hearing this as he came back in, he opened the window and hung his ass out. “Say something, sweetheart,” said Absalom, “so I know where you are,” and for answer Nick let go a fart as loud as thunder, and so strong, so thick, so dense, so heavy with—that it almost blinded Absalom. But he had the poker ready, and rammed it in.
It was an eternal moment before Nick knew what had happened. As he jerked away from the poker it tore the skin off the entire area, and he danced the dance of pain, rubbing at it with both hands. “Water!” he screamed at Alison, “Water!” Which woke John up and he chopped the rope and fell to the floor in the tub and was knocked out.
At the sound of the crash the lovers raced into the street calling for help, and everybody, I mean everybody, ran in and looked at John. His arm was broken, and when he came to he tried to explain what happened, but Nick and Alison said these were the ravings of a crazy old man who was waiting for Noah’s flood. They all looked up at the other two tubs and laughed, and after that John was the town fool.
That’s how the carpenter’s wife was swived, how Absalom kissed her nether eye, and how Nick got his ass burned. And thus endeth our tale.
Boccaccio’s "The Husband"
Boccaccio's "The Horse Trade"
Boccaccio's "The Stupid Friar"
Chaucer’s "The Miller's Tale"