The First One arrives like a summer breeze–wafting into the kitchen as if she were already married to the young man; laying the table without being asked and taking grandmother’s arm when the old girl needed a hand.
‘What’s wrong with her?’ Father wondered during a quiet moment, fat fingers stroking his beard as if it were a happy cat nestling under his chin.
The young man shrugs. ‘Why should there be anything wrong?’ He says in his usual happy voice, knowing it won’t wash for a second.
‘She’s attractive sure’, says the beard-stroker, ‘but will she be a mother to your children? Does she have real beauty? Can she solve the unsolvable?’
The young man doesn’t know. They watch as First One brings grandmother back from the bathroom, reaches over to dab at her chin with a lace handkerchief, pats her shoulder and doesn’t flinch when a droplet of spittle lands on her hand.
The father nods. He’ll give her that one, but any fool can act goody-three-shoes for a day.
Later, when First One is out on the porch with the boy, Father sits in his chair, smoking his pipe and nodding his head.
Mother looks up from her knitting. ‘Will she do?’ She doesn’t drop a stitch waiting for an answer.
‘I’ll give her a task. See what tomorrow brings.’
Mother rolls her eyes.
First One appears with the sun, imparting fresh beagles, tulips from hamster jam, a slice of rainbow on rye.
The young man grins and applauds her efforts. ‘I told you’, he says quietly.
Father shrugs. ‘Any fool can run down to the wishing well in the garden. I’ll present another task. See what tomorrow brings.’
First One slides in like a dream, laden with beans (magic), boots (seven league) and a troll (domestic).
The young man’s grin is wide and he trumpets her efforts. ‘I told you’, he says to Father, somewhat less quietly than before.
Father shrugs and lights his pipe. ‘Any fool can steal an ogre’s boots, swap a cow for a bag of large plant seeds and outwit the ramblings of an ignorant troll. I’ll give her one last task. See what tomorrow brings.’
First One emerges out of the dark. Bright, early and bearing gifts (sow’s-ear purse, rope made of ashes, pocketful of stars). When she smiles, the sun rises in the east.
Father shrugs and lights his pipe. Who wants a girl full of tricks?
His wife rolls her eyes.
The young man scores a line through the girl’s name, picks up his bag from the chair and kisses his mother on the way out. It was always going to be like this.
Colin Garrow’s short stories are forthcoming or have appeared in: A3 Writing Maps, Postcard Shorts, 1,000 Words, Inkapture and Scribble Magazine. He currently lives in a humble cottage in North East Scotland where he writes unpublished novels.
Photograph courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net