Mira hugged her book of fairy tales to her chest, willing herself to fall between the pages into a land where fairies were real and goose girls could become princesses. Where fifth graders could be out doing heroic and magical things instead of being forced to endure fractions, decimals, and figuring out where Timbuktu lived on a map.
“Deep in the forest,” she whispered to herself, “lived two sisters. One as fair as the morning, the other dark as night. They lived with their mother in a forest glen, these two sisters: Rose Red and Snow White.”
Her backpack bumped comfortably against her as her stride and the story weaving itself through her mind and across her tongue all fell into rhythm. Her favorite time of the day, besides that silver hour when the world held its breath in between day and night, was the walk home from school.
It was then when she could be any princess she chose to, fall into any fairy tale she fancied, with no one to look over her shoulder or eye her disapprovingly from the front of the classroom. There were no chores for her to do—not yet—and her homework could wait.
In the 2,530 steps it took to get from Lincoln Elementary to her front door, Mira could be anyone—do anything—she wanted.
And, more than anything, she wanted—
“Trust your fortune. Buy a pretty doll.”
The voice creaked through the beautiful ball gown Mira had been imagining, melting it away into a pair of jeans and a pink shirt with with a purple butterfly embroidered on it. Her slippers became sneakers, and her pack once more became a backpack full of notes and lessons and improbable mathematical equations.
Mira blinked up at the old woman who had materialized off to her side. The old woman stood, hunched over nearly in half, next to a table full of tarnished trinkets and soot-stained ornaments. She held out a doll with pink curls and a handkerchief dress in a hand as gnarled and ancient as tree roots.
Mira smiled politely and nodded before continuing on. Her mother had taught her that being polite to strangers was a Necessity, even—especially—if they needed help. Mind your manners, but be wary and prepared to run.
“You don’t have to agree with them, dear,” her mother had said as she resuscitated a marigold in the flower bed. “You have only to be agreeable. And smart,” she had half murmured to herself. “Though they be as cunning as a red-tailed fox, they must abide by the laws of hospitality.”
Mira had often tried to puzzle out what her mother had been talking about. How could she be polite to strangers while avoiding them? And what did foxes have to do with anything? But whenever she opened her mouth to ask, her mother would send her up to clean her room.
What would her mother have said about this old woman?
The ratty black cloak she had wrapped around her shoulders didn’t look particularly trustworthy. Her hair was greasy and hung in limp white scraggles about her face, and there was something rather unsettling about her eyes. They were an intense purple, the color Mira had always believed amethysts must be at their hearts. A color more purple than purple.
But more disconcerting than the color was the clear and direct way she was looking at Mira. As though she could see into her very soul—all the lies she’d ever wanted to tell, all the kindnesses she’d ever given.
Eyes like the old woman’s demanded answers.
She definitely wasn’t Pink Lemonade Brigade material, although she would have been in the running if she hadn’t looked like she was celebrating Halloween two months early.
“I, uh,” Mira stopped and half turned, fumbling with the easiest question, “don’t have any money with me. I’m sorry.”
The old woman laughed. Her teeth, even and white, flashed in the late afternoon sunlight. “What need have I of money? You can’t eat it, and it won’t keep you warm. You can’t drink it, and no matter how sick you are, it cannot make you well.”
Mira frowned. Her ears told her the old woman’s voice sounded like ancient oak during a wind storm, or barring that, a rusted hinge. But her mind heard bluebells and wildflowers and a fresh spring bubbling with water and secrets.
“But didn’t you just say—?”
The old woman sniffed, drawing her cloak closer to herself. “I simply offered my wares and my opinions. We haven’t yet settled on the type of payment.”
“I have to ask my mom first.” Mira tightened her hold on her book as though it offered any protection against crazy old ladies. Today was truly a Pink Lemonade Day.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2014 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.
There is something about stories–especially fairy tales–that speaks to the human heart. They act as both a shield and a mirror, and Mira is shortly going to have need of both.
Come back next Wednesday to see exactly how expensive* this particular doll is going to be and if Mira’s Pink Lemonade Day gets any better.
*Now would be a good time to remember that looks can be deceiving and those who aren’t exactly human will likely have a different idea as to what, exactly, constitutes as just payment.