October 5, 2012

No Harm in Tears, By Lissa Sloan

Editor's note: Still catching up with winning entries to EC's contests. This story, by Lissa Sloan, is sad, touching, and beautiful--and features a lot of plants, so naturally, I love it. Read on for an enchanting take on "Rapunzel."

You were always a restless child. When you were a baby you were never content to lie curled in my arms. You writhed and struggled until I carried you to the window and held you upright so you could look out over my shoulder. I would hold you there, for hours at a time, my back to the window. I tried not to think of the garden you looked out on. I tried not to picture the neat rows of vegetables, the trellised beans and peas, the apples and pears, trained against the wall. That place had brought me nothing but trouble.

Trouble I had begged and pleaded for. I could not resist my neighbor's rampion. It seemed like such a little thing at the time. The first time your father went over the wall to get me some, it even seemed a bit of a joke. He came back laughing, flushed with his success. And I ate every last bit of it, too. Leaves, roots, even the flowers.

Fruit and Flowers, by Edmund Blair Leighton
But one bunch was not enough. I had to have more the next week, and soon it was every day. And it was wonderful. Raw with vinegar and pepper, cooked with butter and garlic, chopped into a thick vegetable stew. Sometimes I could hardly be bothered to brush the dirt off. I never even noticed the slump to his shoulders when he handed it over, his weak attempt at a smile.

It was months before he told me. I was sitting by the fire, licking my fingers. He sat on the floor and put his arms around my knees and his head in my lap. "She caught me," he whispered.

I sat up straight. "No more rampion?"

"You can have as much as you like," he said dully. I relaxed back into the chair, sighing contentedly. "But I 
have to tell you," he put his hand on my rounded belly, confessing to you too. "I have to tell you now."

"What?" I said, not all that concerned anymore. Nothing could be worse than no more rampion.

He told me. And now I knew the price for all the rampion I could eat, I sickened at the very thought of it. I haven't touched so much as a leaf since that day. But it was too late of course. Our neighbor would come for you one day, and we must give you up.

"We mustn't get attached," your father told me, swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand after putting you in your cradle. "It will only make things worse." I knew he was right. But it made no difference. I tried to hold you while I could, but you always wanted to be free. When I fed you, you would arch your back and turn away. Sometimes I wondered if it was because of the tears. I cried so much in those days I feared the salt tears would seep into my milk and make you bitter.

But all those tears did you no harm. You were not bitter. You were only restless. Even after she took you. I watched you, you see, taking your first steps in that garden, climbing trees and looking out over the wall. It gave me a little satisfaction. You would not be content with her either.

"Come away from the window," your father would say. "She isn't ours any more." He couldn't stand to watch you. I couldn't stand not to.

I tried to meet you once, when I thought she was out. I scaled the wall and hid in the branches of the pear tree below, hoping you would come outside. You did, but you were barely through the door before I heard her voice. "Rampion!" she snapped, and her hand grabbed your arm and pulled you back inside. I climbed back over the wall and sat with my back against it, my heart thudding in my ears.

I don't know how she knew I was there, but somehow, she did. She took you away that very night, after sunset. After that she was gone for several hours every day. I tried to follow her, to find out where you were, but she always eluded me. One moment she was there on the path before me, and the next she was gone, almost like magic.

But I knew she was seeing you. Some days she would come home happy, some days annoyed, just as when you were still living there. How I envied her, even her frustration or anger, because it was from you. As I had once watched you in the garden, I now watched her when she came home, and wondered how her time with you had been. Had you pouted when she tried to comb the tangles out of your hair? Had you thrown your arms around her in delight when she gave you the dress she had spent weeks making? I was hungry for any scrap of you I could get.

Then one day she came home, and she sat down in her garden and cried. She cried as if her heart would break. What could make her cry like that, I wondered. Watching her, I felt a knot in my stomach, a catch in my throat. I had cried like that too--once, on the day she took you. The day you were lost to me. Were you lost to her now too?

You might think I hated her, and maybe I did, for a while, back when I could see her touch your hair, feel your smooth cheek on her wrinkled one. But on that day, all I felt was pity. I found myself thinking she could use some chamomile. I thought she might have trouble sleeping that night, and chamomile tea is good for that--I know. I also know that in her garden, with all its fruit trees and well tended herbs and roots, she grows no chamomile.

But I do. I have taken to growing a few things in a little patch outside my window. Nothing like her garden, of course. No carrots or leeks, no turnips or cabbages. No rampion. Just a few things I like to have on hand. Mint for a sour stomach, lavender to freshen the bedclothes, chives to put in soup.

And the chamomile. I had plenty to spare, so that night, I crept over the wall and left some on her threshold. I knew she needed it, because I could hear her pacing behind the door. In the morning it was gone.

I think I must have been right, about her losing you somehow. She does not make her daily trip anymore. I have stopped trying to follow her. What would be the point? But I do leave her more chamomile from time to time. She gives me a nod these days, if we ever see each other, out in our gardens or at the market. Once, I even dared to go to her front door, carrying a pot of tea. I thought she might not let me in. But she did. We sat in silence a while, sipping our tea.

"Do you ever hear from her?" I asked at last. She shook her head. "Do you think she's alright?" She shrugged. Then she stood and turned her back to me. It was time for me to go. I gathered up my tea things and went to the door. She held it open for me, her eyes bright with tears she refused to let fall. "There's no harm in tears, you know." I said.

She turned her head away. "There's no good in them either." I left then, the door standing open between us.

Perhaps she is right, perhaps there is no good in tears. But these days I wonder. I have heard fantastic tales in the village lately. Tales of the king's son, blinded by thorns and separated from his love, wandering for years as a beggar. Tales of how he returned to the palace, his love and their children by his side, his eyesight healed by her tears alone. It is only a story, so it makes no difference to me I suppose. 
So, from either side of the garden wall we still wonder, my neighbor and I, what has become of our Rampion. Are you free, as you always wished to be? I hope so. I imagine you are, as I work in my little garden. And if I cry into the occasional midnight cup of chamomile tea, it does me no harm.


Lissa has contributed a story, poems and guest posts to Enchanted Conversation. She loves to plant her garden, but hates to weed it.

15 comments

  1. A generous, nurturing story.

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  2. This is incredible how one woman had to give away her only child when she never wanted to but she had to anyway. Even though she gave her little girl away, in her heart she always felt the sense of closeness, and was always watching over her. Despite the million tears she shed, she was still compassionate enough to forgive the woman who took her little girl away from her. This story shows the true characteristics of compassion, and nurturing in times of heartbreaks.

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  3. I think I'd not have put two and two together and realized it was a take on Rapunzel if you hadn't said so. :} It was a sad and lovely story though.

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  4. really love this story. I love how Rapunzel is a side character, and the main focus is on the witch and mother, and how they bond. It almost reminds me of “The Lovely Bones”, examining relationships that spring up in the sudden absence of a loved one.

    I love the little jealousies of the mother as she watches her child grow up with someone else-- hoping that Rapunzel would be just as rambunctious with someone else. It feels very human.

    I especially like the way she can begin to empathize and relate to the witch, when she too loses Rapunzel. “So, from either side of the garden wall we still wonder, my neighbor and I, what has become of our Rampion,” is really the heart of the story.

    It’s so sad, though. Rapunzel should be independent and free, with a husband and children of her own will, but you’d hope that one day she could form an adult relationship with her mother who so obviously loves her.

    Thank you for sharing this!

    Danielle L

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  5. Molly G.
    This story is a sad, but thoughtful version of Rapunzel. The punishment for stealing from their neighbor's garden puts a different twist then typically expected for the reason of Rapunzel's predicament. I loved that the story was told from the mother's perspective. I could truly feel what the mother must have felt. The detail of the things she thought of like brushing her hair made it seem like the longing for a lost child. The language used in this story was extremely breathtaking, and made the story full of life. The details allowed the reader to feel as though the story was taking place right in front of them. I do wonder if the neighbor's vegetables were enchanted in order to make the mother crave the food. The women would then have a reason to demand the unborn child from the mother and father. My only critique would be why the father wouldn't come immediately to the wife and say, "We must try to convince the women to forgive us for stealing her food; otherwise our child will be taken away once she's born." That little change might not have made for such a great story unlike this version.

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  6. Jake Crawford

    I thought this was an interesting take on the story of Rapunzel. It is always interesting to read stories that show different points of view from the main story. It was really sad that the parents had to give up their child but they brought this on themselves by being thieves and gluttons. The most powerful part to this tale was at the end where the mother was able to forgive the woman for taking her child and show kindness and compassion showing she had maybe learned her lesson. If I were in the parents place I would have never allowed my child to be taken away. It seems in so many of these stories the parents act so helpless and let their children fall to terrible fate. Also as a gardener I enjoyed all the descriptions of the marvelous plants in this story and it made me anxious to get back out into the yard this coming spring.

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  7. What an interesting tale! Even though the central theme of this story is the sorrow and tears shed by multiple people, I still felt uplifted by this story. Does anyone else feel the same?

    So many of our beloved fairy tales are stories of parents: neglectful at best, and abusive and cruel at the worst. In this story, the daughter had three people who loved her! Not only did they all care about her and want only the best for her, but they are also united together in their love for her. Yes, there is loss and sorrow. Yes, there are alot of tears shed. But, we get the sense that all ended up well for the girl in the end. She recieved her "happily ever after".

    I think alot of parents would be able to relate to the mother AND the witch in this story. The witch seems to have wanted a child, perhaps to fill the void left behind by a child of her own that she lost at some earlier time?

    I am not a parent, but I would like to believe that even if it caused me alot of pain, the happiness of my child would be the important thing. Afterall, doesn't every child eventually grow up and leave?

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  8. I have to admit I have never read "Repunzel," so I was a little confused as to the start of the story, but I'm glad I read all of it. I think it might have been a good thing that the child was taken away from her mother, because all she could think about was that plant. The fact that she sent her husband to steal the rampion day after day. The fact that she sent what sounds like the provider for her and her child to go steal a plant that she could have tried to grow her self is a little ridiculous. Then when her husband mentions that he was caught the first thing to come to her mind was that she was not going to get anymore rampion was just horrible, and it was fitting that she lost her child. I don't know if that makes me a bad person or not, but all I can say is it was a great story.
    TJ

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  9. This story was very touching to me. I loved the fact that even though she had to give her daughter up, she still desired her. She still looked after her even though she could not be near her. She cried for her. In the story her husband said, “Come away from the window, she is not yours anymore”. I definitely disagreed with that statement because; just beacuse you give a child up does not mean she is not yours anymore. She will always be yours; you will always feel some type of connection because you carried him or her for nine months. I loved the fact that she was hungry for any scarp of her. I also loved how the story showed a variety of different life lessons. It showed how we should forgive. It showed how we should always love in spite of what is going on. Last but not least it should how we should never give up. There is no harm in tears. In my opinion crying is very therapeutic.

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  10. I enjoyed how this story took place. I enjoyed how it was written in the aspect of the mother and how it talked about how she felt after losing her daughter to her neighbor, and over some vegetables. I thought that was very interesting. The fact that the neighbor too had lost the girl was quite interesting as well, never learned what had happened to the little girl but I guess that’s still kind of what has my attention with this story. For a few moments you believe the girl had died but then you’re not so sure when the mother and the neighbor sit down and have a cup of tea. I also liked how the neighbor responded that crying does her no good. Another take is did they actually sell Rampion for these items from the garden or were they forced to give her up. Either way it’s kind of odd that they would give up their child.

    Brandon Dell

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  11. I love this story. The alternative telling of her birth mother just seems so touching to me. And the English lover in me just loves the correlations in the story. The father’s dangerous and restless ways to get the vegetables, and how that very act is reflected upon the soul of the young girl. I just adore this story, and it makes me so happy to read it. I love the true words and feelings expressed in it. There are tears, and anger, and eventually, even forgiveness and melancholy. The only problem I have with the whole story, even though I know there would be a story without it, is why in the world the two parents would ever give up their daughter. If it had been me, I would have run. So even though I love the love they still seem to have for her, as the mother watches her grow and the father can’t stand to because she’s not with them, I still don’t understand how they feel the need to feel that way when they willingly gave her up. I mean, why give her up only to pine for her? If they loved her so much, they should have just kept her.

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  12. I am not a mother myself, but I also couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have your child get taken away from you. A mother’s love for her baby can’t be compared to anything bigger in this world, and that pain of getting them taken away is probably a lot worse than actually giving birth. I love how this story is based off of Rupunzel, yet unlike the movie, this story focuses more on the mother and the witch who stole Rampion. There is obviously a message behind this story, but everyone has their own interpretations and conclusions. As for me, I felt that the message behind this story was that at some point everyone pays for their very own evil and the horrible things one causes. As the mother of Rampion suffers such pain as she watches her daughter grown, the witch eventually gets a taste of her own medicine, and losses Rampion as well. Nevertheless, a characteristic of forgiveness and companions between both mothers is presented, and as much as it hurt the mother to loss her daughter, she feels for the witch; as she too had lost Rampion. Great story and breath taking message behind it.

    Diana H.

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  13. This is a lovely story! I have yet to read any versions, besides Disney, of Rapunzel until now and I really enjoyed it. It’s very sad that the mother has to give up her baby and watch helplessly from the sidelines as her daughter grows. Having to give up your child is a high price to pay for stealing veggies. The fact that the daughter frees herself finally makes me happy because she had always wanted to be free. I wish the mother could’ve met her daughter after she had grown, at least once before the girl escaped to freedom. I also find it very interesting that the mother and the woman who took her daughter have a peaceful moment together drinking tea, it was very kind of the mother to try and comfort her neighbor. I would really like to know more about where the lady had taken the child, how the girl escaped, and what happened to her after she was free. I wonder if the lady ever told her about her real mother. I would love to read an extended version of this wonderful story!

    Haley Baker

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  14. I love this take on Rapunzel! I find it refreshing to read a story that is told from a completely different perspective than most fairy tales. In my opinion this story is better than the original because it has deeper emotion and it is from the mother’s perspective. The original story doesn’t expand on how the parents have reacted to losing their only child but I think the reaction created here is realistic and believable. "’Come away from the window,’ your father would say. ‘She isn't ours anymore.’ He couldn't stand to watch you. I couldn't stand not to.” Two different responses to the loss of their child creates a realistic feel to the story because in reality two different people would normally have different reactions to a traumatic event. Also the seemingly cold reaction from the father still allows the reader to feel pity for him because he had wiped tears from his eyes earlier in the story. Although the mother has the main role in the telling of the story you are still able to feel the father’s sadness as well. Overall this was a sad tale but at the end you can almost see the light in the darkness when the mother hears stories about the king’s son. Maybe she will put the pieces together one day and figure out that the story is about her daughter. This was a great read!
    Paige F.

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  15. Such a touching and sad story! I am a mother and cannot even begin to imagine how hard of an experience having to give up a child would be. It was a unique thing to cast the neighbor in such a light to make her seem very human. In the Disney movie, of course, she’s always an evil witch of sorts but here she is simply a woman. Her price for stealing rampion from her garden was over the top but most consequences in fairy tales seem to be as well. It was comforting to know, at least in this story, that the woman really cared about Rapunzel. Perhaps Rapunzel was not maltreated even if she was hidden away in the forest. The lady showed regret, possibly for hiding Rapunzel away, and sadness for her disappearance. Rapunzel’s real mother, however, showed more compassion than I would have been capable in the same situation. It seems to be the trend with protagonists in these tales. They always possess an almost limitless capability of being kind and forgiving. – Melinda P.

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