September 17, 2016

The Memory Ball, By Stuart Suffel


The footsteps were familiar, flabby but firm. The baker's son. I did not move from my desk. I glanced at the calendar. Ninety days exactly.

He rapped on the door, opened it and stood on the threshold. He was a giant of a boy, arms like rolling pins made from barrels. “Papa said it would be all right if I called. It being the time.”

Ninety days. Enough time to mourn anyone, according to local wisdom. I didn't answer. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. I smelled the bread he held in his hand. Fresh. I gestured that he enter. He ambled over, placed the bread on the desk before me. “That's just for starters,” he said.

I grimaced inwardly. If Saorcha had been sitting here his father himself would have come, but only after sending a basket of baked goods every day for a week first. But I was not Saorcha. I nodded a thank you. The bread did smell good, and I was hungry. I hadn't eaten since yesterday and it was noon now. “Aaron, isn't it?”

He nodded, grinning. “Papa said I need a wife.”

I frowned. A wife would cost a lot more than some freshly baked bread. His father was testing me. I looked at Aaron. He was a harmless fool. I wouldn't be too hard on him. I gestured that he sit. He shook his head. “I have to go back. Papa said to make sure that you said you would help.”

Papa was getting on my nerves. Maybe a sow would be the ideal wife for his son? I nodded. “Yes. I'll help.”

Aaron grinned his thanks. He sauntered towards the door. “Sorry about Lady Sorcha,” he said as he left.

I flinched as I heard my late wife's name. Aaron waved as he left. I knew his sentiment was genuine. Maybe not a sow. Maybe the tailor's daughter. A sweet girl. And just as dumb as the baker boy.

Love was both complex and simple, I reflected, as I picked up the bread and moved over to my meagre fire. It was spring, but I still felt the cold. Spring. No doubt there would be many 'love potion' requests, and more marriage 'assistance' requests. Spring. Not too long ago it was winter.

I poked the fire with one hand and hooked a pot onto one of the cooking irons with the other. The pot contained some cold soup. It would go nicely with the fresh bread. I stared into the fire, watching the flames rise higher. Saorcha made the best soup in the village. Had made. Past tense. She had passed.

I broke off some bread and ate it quickly. The past was for fools and fairies. A popular saying here in the village of Urram. I wondered if it was fools who had made up that saying. Or maybe fairies? Well there was still enough fools around I could ask. Not so many fairies left.

Fairies. Sootasense. What was it she had said to me? That she was leaving Urrum? I glanced at the calendar again. Today. She was leaving today! How could I have forgotten! I jumped up off my fireside stool. I had to say goodbye. Maybe...maybe I could even convince her to stay. Losing Saorcha was bad enough. If I lost my oldest friend as well...

She was still there, sitting outside in the sun. Fairy houses were usually pretty small, but the house Sootasense lived in was almost as big as a human house. But then, Sootasense was almost as big as a human. When my dear mother had asked her to be my Godmother, Sootasense had asked why? My mother, so it was said, answered, “because he's got a big head and tiny shoulders. He's going to need the hands of a big fairy to keep it from falling off.” Not a faint-heated soul, my dear departed mother.

Sootasense grinned at me as I approached. “You remembered then?”

I nodded back, too out of breath to talk.

“Running? Your broom not working?”

This was a ongoing joke. Wizards didn't use brooms. Except maybe to sweep things now and then. Although Saorcha had done most of that – even when I asked her not to. I frowned. I just had to stop thinking of her. I had to. “It's in the shoemaker's shop – getting a new handle fixed,” I quipped between breaths. A version of my ongoing response.

Sootasense laughed, as she always did. “Come inside, I've a going-away present for you.”

I always liked entering her house. It was full of some many colorful bits n bobs, from fantastically colored necklaces, scarves, hats and brooches she made by hand, to crazy-shaped glass vases, goblets, and dazzling mirrors of every size, each with three, four, or more sides. I was shocked by what I seen when I entered. It was empty. Shelf after shelf was completely empty. I felt a sadness hit me in my stomach.

“I have sent my belongings ahead,” Sootasense said. But I didn't respond. She touched my arm.

“Please Walter, sit down.” She gestured to a nearby chair.

I sat, still a little shaken. I looked around the house. “So, it's true. You are leaving. For good.”

She nodded. “It is time,” she said. I didn't know what that meant. She gave a smile. “Here, great Wizard, this is for you.” She picked up a small plain box from off a nearby shelf. I was sure the box wasn't there a moment ago, but such was the way of fairies. She handed me the box. “Open it,” she said.

I opened the box. Inside was a crystal ball. I lifted the ball out of the box. “Oh, a crystal ball, thank you,” I said. “That's ...very nice of you.” I already had six or seven crystal balls – two of which I had bought from Sootasense!

The fairy grinned. “Not a crystal ball. It's a memory ball. Close your eyes, rub your hand across it, then open your eyes,” she said quietly.

I did as she requested. When I opened my eyes I nearly dropped the ball. It was Saorcha. She was dancing and laughing across the village green. I remembered. It was four summers ago. At one of the village festivals. The Festival of Light. I stared at the image. It was as real as I could possibly have imagined.

“Now, close you eyes,” Sootasense said softly.

I didn't want to, but I did. The ball faded to black and so did Saorcha. Sootasense spoke again. “The ball holds many memories. As many as you hold.”

I had to choke back my tears. I forced myself to say something light, to ease my emotions. “I thought you fairies believed it was best to forget about the past?”

Sootasense grinned. “You're thinking of fools,” she laughed. Her face then became serious. “Honor those who have passed, Walter. They shall never die as long as your memory lives. But do not hold them prisoner, and do not let them imprison you.”

I walked with her to the front door. We embraced and I say my goodbyes. I watched her mount her small donkey. I watched her until she disappeared into the distance.

The box now sits above my work desk. It has been there for some years now. My new wife Laura, keeps it free from dust. I still open it, on occasion. Though now the occasions have grown less frequent. In some ways, the fools were right. We cannot live in the past.

But it is nice to visit, now and then.

Stuart Suffel is from Ireland. He writes short fiction and the longer version also. His favorite treat is chocolate sambuca ice cream. He tweets @stuartsuffel.

4 comments

  1. I really enjoyed this story. Such wisdom... “Honor those who have passed, Walter. They shall never die as long as your memory lives. But do not hold them prisoner, and do not let them imprison you.”

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  2. This was wise and entertaining. I love the idea of a memory ball rather than a fortune telling crystal ball.

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