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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Tale #98: The Woman Of Small Miracles

There was an old woman who could, quite by accident, cast miracles. Fruit would grow on her trees when all else withered. Money would be found just when it seemed that she would thrown be into debtors’ prison. Storms would blow in but stop before her door.

A family of bandits, having heard tales of her wondrous (yet modest) feats, imprisoned this old villager in her own house, and forced her to provide for them. The mother of the bandits starved her till food appeared in abundant quantities from her cellar. The father of the bandits stole from her until, nearing destitution, a smattering of gold coins emerged from the thick black ash that lined her hearth.

Finally the bandits’ son beat her, not with any plan of miraculous reward, but simply out of spite.

That afternoon, the old woman’s sister, long considered dead, rode through the town on an ash grey mare. Each house she passed she set aflame, until finally she came to her sister’s house. This she circled round three times, calling out her sister’s name as she did. Then she stopped, took aim, and fired three shots from her gun.

From the three windows, three bandits fell dead, the mother, the father, the son. From the front door stepped the old woman, while from the mare stepped down the sister. What they said to each other as they embraced none of us could hear, but moments later, the tears still wet on their cheeks, they rode out into the woods.

Neither the woman, her sister, nor even the mare, were ever seen again. The bandits bodies burnt with the town, and their ashes blew away on the morning wind. Our family made its way to the next town, and avoided thereafter miracles of all descriptions, whether large or small or somewhere in between.

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Notes:

1. Written on August 2nd, 2019

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Tale #83: Above the clouds, beneath the sun

Don’t go
Don’t go
his father said.

Don’t fly
Don’t fly

Keep your feet on the ground
and your heart at home

But Icarus went

Icarus flew
up towards the sun
and the shadow
that he saw there
the shadow he’d dreamt of
the shadow he’d missed
ever since he was young

And as he rose
above the clouds
as his eyes wept
from the brightness of the sun
and his arms faltered
from the weight of his wings
and questions
and doubts
clouded his mind
a voice said
down to him

“Our father had wings, but was afraid to fly”
“Our father had eyes but was afraid of what he might see”
“Our father had a wife, and was afraid she’d be free.”
“Our father had children, but was afraid we’d leave.”

And Icarus looked up at the shadow above him
and saw
the sister
of whom he’d always dreamt

And Icarus looked down
at their house below them
and at the sky around them
and the world
that stretched out
bigger and bigger
as he rose
higher and higher

He held out his hand
to his sister above him
and she took it
and held it
and never let go
and together they flew
they flew

They flew

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Notes:

1. Written on August 10th, 2019

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The Sisters Of Pluto (places in space #4)

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Notes:

1. Written on June 2nd, 2019
2. This wasn’t originally #4 but it is now
3. I hope that’s okay
4. Also you can see echoes of future comics not yet seen
5. Please don’t hate me and my terrible standards of comics creation

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Tale #36: The Old Woman’s Tale

I tell you this tale not because I expect you to believe it but because it is true.

I was born in this house and, God-willing, I shall die in this house. And when I die I hope you shall bury me here under the kitchen table so the devil won’t get me.

I am an old woman now but of course I was not always so. When I was young girl I was beautiful, no matter what you might think to look at me now. Nor no matter how often I was told back then I wasn’t, either. For the proof of your beauty lies in your belly, the old mothers round here used to say, and no sooner had I left the woods and gone to town for the first time my belly began to swell and before I knew it I was as pregnant as could be.

When it came time to give birth I hauled myself into the kitchen and laid myself down on the table there, because my bed was full of my sisters and I did not want to wake them.

And as I was lying there the devil walked in through the front door. He placed his hands on my belly and a chill went through me and when my baby was born it was as cold and dead as a plucked pigeon. And the devil was nowhere to be seen, because he had already taken what he wanted.

I buried that child under the front door step to keep the devil from coming back in and then I went back to bed with my sisters and slept all through the day.

Now in good time I went to town again, and soon enough for sure my belly was bearing the fruits of my beauty once more. And when it came time to give birth I hauled myself into the kitchen and laid myself down on the table again, for my bed was still full of my sisters and I did not wish to wake them.

And as I was lying there the devil came to the front door, but he couldn’t come in. I thought then he was gone but soon enough I heard him up on the roof, and down the chimney he came and he walked over to me with not a touch of soot on him, and he pressed his bony hands against my belly and a chill went through me. When those twins were finally born they were as cold and dead as plucked hens, and the devil was nowhere to be seen, because he had already taken what he wanted.

I buried those children under the fireplace to keep the devil from coming back in, and then I went back to bed with my sisters and slept all through the week.

Now, by and by, I got pregnant a third time. And once again when the day came I sneaked out of my bed so as not to wake my sisters and climbed up onto the kitchen table and laid myself down upon it.

I saw the devil at the front door, but he couldn’t come in. And then I heard the devil on the roof, but he could not come down the chimney. And then I saw the devil at the kitchen window, and he smiled at me. Smiled that smile of his I always saw in the city, the smile that made you know that he was going to get what he wanted come what may, and there was nothing you nor your hope could do about.

He was just about to climb through the window when I felt my children stir inside of me, and all of a sudden out from between my legs burst three hawks, their feathers as white as snow and their wings as loud as the wind, and not a single speck of blood upon them. And they flew round and round the room for what seemed like a lifetime and I looked at them in wonder and I looked at them with love.

And just as the devil was about to get in through the window the first one flew at the devil and scratched at his face and pecked out his eyes. The devil stumbled back, and he swept his arms around in a blind rage, and one of his hands touched the hawk and the hawk fell down dead upon the windowsill. And the devil in his pain and his frustration shrank back from the window and howled away into the woods and into the night, and I never saw him again in all my life.

The other two birds still flew around the kitchen table, and one swooped down and pulled the hair from my head and flew out the front door with it hanging from its claws like rat’s tails. And the other settled down beside me and plucked the teeth from my mouth, one by one, before flying up the chimney with them all held in its beak like a row of tiny white berries.

And I never saw them again, either, not in all my life.

I buried the dead bird beneath the window and I went back to bed with my sisters and they hugged me tight and I slept all through the year.

My sisters grew up and I grew old and in all the times my sisters gave birth (and there were many times, because my sisters were much more beautiful than I, as their bellies proudly showed) not once did we see the devil at the door, and not once did we hear the devil on the roof, and not once did the devil climb in through the window.

And not once did my sisters give birth to birds, nor ever did they have to.

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Notes:

1. Written August 2016

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