Editor’s note: The details of everyday modern life as an herb seller, coupled with the twist on one of the most famous classic fairy tales, made this story a fun, entertaining choice for Today's Throwback Thursday tale. Enjoy!
It was Wednesday, one of my usual days at the Greenmarket. The sun shone bright as organic lemons on the lunchtime crowds. Customers carrying canvas shopping bags filled with produce and flowers walked from stall to stall, chatting and tasting toothpicked samples of cheese and fruit slices, families pushed their children in strollers and bought them small-batch ice cream in unusual flavors, and dogs strained at their leashes, excited by the scents.
“How much for the lavender soap?” said a customer, a bearded man who wore a plaid shirt. A skinny guy in a red baseball cap stood behind him, eyes shifting back and forth, restless.
“Five dollars for the large size, and two for nine,” I said.
“What vegetable is that?” he said, pointing at a bell-shaped green bundle of leaves.
“Rampion—it’s like spinach,” I said. Kale was especially popular these days, but I still grew rampion, a kind of onion, because it was a tradition in my family, though few people knew how to cook it.
“Never heard of it. Maybe I’ll try it next time,” my bearded customer smiled. Then he said,” I’ll just take two soaps.”
As I took his money and bagged the soap, the skinny guy jumped forward, stuffed a bunch of kale in his shirt and ran off.
* * *
It’s hard for us witches to make a living in the country these days from our magic gardens. Even with the popularity of vegetarianism in this century, it’s a subsistence living and my best customers were moving out of small towns like mine.
I was getting too old to do it all by myself and my bad back made it difficult to grow and pull up the plants in my garden.
I didn’t want to sell through a website because I still enjoyed customer interaction, so I decided to go to the city and sell my plants and herbs in the Greenmarket there.
I had my own booth under a tent and filled the stalls with jams, scented pillows and soaps, herbal salves, poultices, and potted plants as well as vegetables like rampion, lettuce and kale.
My neighbor helped me by driving my produce and herbcrafts in his truck to the city three times a week, setting up my tent and selling. Then he decided it was too much work to do everything, so I needed to find an assistant to help me with selling.
* * *
But I knew how to deal with thieves on my own.
“Freeze!” I muttered under my breath and waved a celery stalk like a wand at him.
The man stalled in mid-run, his hat flying off his head as he skidded to the ground. I took the kale from his hands and held it up, shaking it in his face and glaring at him.
He looked terrified and stammered, “Please! It’s not for me…My wife is pregnant and vegan and has strange cravings…”
I had an idea.
“You can have this back and take all the kale you want for your wife for free if you give me her child,” I said and handed him back the kale.
“Anything you want,” he said, hastily agreeing, and ran away with trembling legs, skittering into the crowds, clutching the kale as my spell dissipated.
When the time came I took the train to their house in the suburbs at night, walked through the wall, appeared in their bedroom and took the sleeping infant from the crib as they slept.
“Don’t worry—I’ll take good care of her,” I told them, leaving a text message.
The baby’s hair was a beautiful strawberry blonde and was surprisingly long for her age. I wrapped her in a blanket and put her in a baby carrier for the ride back to my house.
When we got home, she and my black cat took to each other right away and it purred at her cradle.
As she grew I taught the girl to sort lettuces, nuts and berries for the organic lunch salads, mix the dressings and portion them into plastic takeout containers. She also combined the dried chamomile, mugwort and lavender for our dream pillows and sewed the fragrant mixture into silk cases. After she got old enough to drive, she helped me transport plants from my garden and the salves I made from my ancestors’ herbal recipes, inventory stock and sell to the customers.
I in turn learned to love my bright assistant like a daughter. I never told her what inspired me to name her Kaley.
Lorraine Schein is a New York writer. Her work has appeared in VICE Terraform, Strange Horizons, NewMyths, and Little Blue Marble, and in the anthology Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana del Rey & Sylvia Plath. The Futurist’s Mistress, her poetry book, is available from Mayapple Press: WWW.MAYAPPLEPRESS.COM.
And check out our
currently going on
Publication in an upcoming digital issue
Publication on this website
Publication in our printed yearbook