Tale #100: Old Hope

My grandmother used to tell me a fairy story when she put me to bed. In it, a group of sisters lived all alone together on an island in the sea. There were seven of them, I think, and they each had their own little hut and their own little garden and their own little boat down by the sea.

And the youngest sister, who was much younger than her siblings, and who I always imagined as being the same age as me – as I was then, not as I am now – she went to stay with her oldest sister, who had been on the island the longest, and who had the longest hair, and who had the tallest flowers in her garden (but not necessarily the brightest).

And as this sister was tucking her into bed that night, the young girl looked up at her sister and said to her, “Why, dear sister, do you have your boat on the beach, yet never use it to sail out to sea in search of something better?”

And the old sister said, “Hope,” and the little sister said, “That’s not an answer.”

“Well, if you don’t like my answer,” her sister said, “Go and ask our next sister tomorrow, and see if you like what she says any better.”

And then she tucked the young girl into bed, kissed her on the head, and said, “Goodnight”.

So the next day, the youngest sister went to stay at the next sister’s house, and that evening, as she was being put to bed, the girl asked the same question, and her sister gave the same answer, just that one word, “Hope”.

And then she tucked the young girl into bed, kissed her on the head, and said, “Goodnight”.

The young girl didn’t like that, and she didn’t it like when all her other sisters said the same.

Finally she spoke to her youngest sister (the second youngest of the seven). While all her other sisters seemed like they were older than the stars and older than the sky and older even than the sea itself, this sister seemed almost as young as herself.

And she said, “Hope” just like all the others.

“But that’s not an answer.”

“Well, if you don’t like my answer,” her sister said. “You’ll have to ask yourself why you don’t use your boat and sail yourself off to sea in search of something better.”

And that was the end of the story.

Sometimes I would ask my grandmother, “so why didn’t they use the boat,” and of course she would say, “Hope,” with a smile, and tuck me into bed and say goodnight.

Once I said, “What is hope?” and my grandmother said, “I don’t know.” And once I said, “Do you think the boat was hope?” meaning, I think, that you can’t use hope, that you have to leave it where it is. That hope is potential, and once you use it it’s gone. Although of course I didn’t have the words to say that then. I don’t really have the words to say it now.

And my grandmother said, “What if it wasn’t the boat, but the island. The island and the sea and the sky and the whole wide world.”

And I said, “I think in the story it was the sisters who were hope,” and my grandmother said, “Or one of them at least,” and she tucked my into bed and kissed me on the forehead and wished me goodnight.

Some nights I dreamt the youngest sister spent the rest of the summer building a new hut, planting a new garden, building a new boat and taking it down to the seaside and waiting, waiting, waiting for a new sister of her own.

But other nights I dreamt of her climbing into her boat and sailing away across the sea. And where she went, what she saw, what she did, now that I will not say.

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