January 19, 2019

FAIRY TALE FLASH - The Old Woman Who Threw Dirt by Rhonda Eikamp

"What have you done, old woman?
What have you given them?"
"Only their heart's desire."
An old woman wished to enter the palace. She wore no finery and had no gold with which to bribe the guards. The guards tittered at her.
"I have cake," said the woman.
The cakes she drew from her vest were honey-soaked and seed-choked. One taste and the guards fought among themselves for more. She tossed cakes aside and they hurried to collect them, shoving at one another, while she hurried into the palace.
A courtier stopped the old woman at the throne room. He wore a pinched face and the fiery cloak of authority. "You've no right to be here," he snapped.
"I have meat," said the woman.
From her vest she drew a giant platter bearing a flank of roasted boar. The meat popped with juices. The scent of happiness, with a red center. Licking his lips, the courtier snatched the platter and huddled in a corner, tearing into the meat with tooth and nail, while the old woman hurried on into the throne room.
The king and queen sat upon their thrones. The king, young and virile, dozed, and his face in repose was that of a god. His queen sat lovely beside him, in glowing drapes of silk and damask. In her arms she held their newborn child. In all the land there was no happiness greater than theirs.
The queen frowned at the old woman. "Do I know you?" Her ears caught the sound of the courtier's gorging, the scrabbling at the main door, and her gaze hardened. "What have you done, old woman? What have you given them?"
"Only their heart's desire. They have so few desires."
"And have you something for me?"
"My daughter, I have dirt."
From her vest the old woman took a handful of dirt and stepping close she threw it in her daughter's eyes.
The palace vanished. Around them lay a dank cave, of spiderwebs and fungal drippings. Salamanders darted over the boulder that had been the queen's throne. The queen cried out. Her dress was sodden leaves, peeling from her. The child in her arms was a stick. She dropped it.
Beside her dozed a great brown bear, with old blood on its claws.
Lights faded in the young woman's eyes. "But, everything…"
"Come, my daughter."
"But how–"
Out they went, through the cave's mouth, past a red fox that slunk away with a mouse in its jaws. "Who did this to me?" the girl gasped.
"Some enchantments are of our own doing."
They went past sparrows that tittered and fought over seeds. The girl's tears dropped on them. Hesitating, she turned to look back, and her mother waited. There lay the young queen's palace in its glory. The stick, the bear.
"My arms will ache now forever." Her voice broke the old woman's heart. "Why couldn't you have left me there, if I was happy?"

"Because one day he will wake up."
Rhonda Eikamp is from Texas and lives in Germany, where she works as a translator. In addition to her story "Unburnished" in EC, her work has appeared in Lackington's, Lightspeed and Unlikely Story. In the Welsh tale of The Woman Who Went To Fairyland, magic ointment reveals the true fairy world, but she began to wonder: what if the fairy world were the illusion?

Cover: Amanda Bergloff

1 comment:

Gisela Valdera said...

Quite enjoyed the little surprise at the end! It was so quite refreshing to see meaning and depth so well-written in a small story.