Just afore Lent, a crone popped her foul head through my cottage door. “I smell hunger,” she said.
“I’m a recent widow with a young son.”
“I smell birth.”
“I’m with child.”
She offered me a coarse wooden bowl. “It fills itself with porridge,” she said.
Oh, the nonsense people come up with to plague widows. I shouted, “Go! Take it to the whore next door. She and her waif are more desperate than me and my Jack.”
Nowadays, hot porridge pours out the whore’s cottage doors and windows! She and her girl are generous enough, trundling wheelbarrows of the steaming gunk to the old folk’s home and the home for veterans of foreign wars, but we haven’t spoken two words since we were ten and playing hooky from school. They pass our door without a blink—or a thank you for sending the crone their way. Jack and the babe and I could starve for all she cares. Never mind, we’ve Elsa to milk for our own porridge…
Oh, wait. How could I’ve forgotten? I’d already sent Jack to the market to sell Elsa.
And what do you suppose he did there? He only went and traded her in for a handful of magic beans. Magic beans!
For sure, I whipped his hide—but that night, as the moon hung fat, I remembered how the old crone had appeared at my door with her magic bowl.
My old man used to say (bless him), “Whoever gets burnt from the porridge, blows on the yogurt, too.”
Hah! Not this widow.
Quick as quick, I ran outside and planted those beans. Peed on ’em too for good measure.
At midnight, while I nursed the babe, something creaked and groaned outside, like trees in a windstorm—yet no wind blew. By morning, those beans had sprouted and grown, twisting themselves into a single plant thicker than the trunk of the cherry tree and taller than any stack of clouds! Jack shimmied up it in a minute, but I fussed him down. What good is a boy with a broken arm that I can’t pay someone to set. Or, worse, a broken neck?
Now, where’s he gotten off to—his chores undone?
Sure, it’s not fair to hold such a young one to the jobs his father did, but what’s a widow to do? I cradle the babe. She’ll never know her father, and I’m forever tired. No one stitches worry as finely as I do. But you can’t sell worry at any market, not for love nor money.
Meredith Wadley is an American Swiss living and working in a medieval microtown on the Rhine River. Her most recent longform fiction appears in Longleaf Review and Line of Advance. Her international idioms reimagined as flash fiction appear in several venues, including JMWW, Gone Lawn, and Orca Lit. Facebook: Meredith Wadley // Website: Meredith Writes // Twitter: @meredithwadley.
Whoever Gets Burnt from the Porridge, Blows on the Yogurt, Too (Greek: όποιος καεί με το χυλό φυσά και το γιαούρτι)8