Monday, September 11, 2017

The Gift of the Countess

                                                The Gift of The Countess
                                                         by Valerie L. Egar

            Louisa Sophia Beck told Larissa she was a Countess, from a country no one remembered.
            Momma said,  “Sorry Larissa, but a real Countess wouldn’t live down the hall from us.”
            The Countess knew which vacant lots grew the best flowers and she took Larissa to gather them. They arranged them in jelly jars and coffee cans and crowded them around the old woman's apartment. Then, Larissa and the Countess sipped tea and watched sparrows fly in the open window for breadcrumbs the Countess spread on the rug.
            “The royal gardens had peacocks,” said the Countess, “but today, sparrows will do.”

            Larissa told her mother the sparrows were tame enough to eat from her hand.
            Momma chopped onions and never looked up. “Set the table, Larissa. It's silly to have birds flying around inside.”
            On rainy days, Larissa and the Countess dressed in fancy clothes from an old trunk. The Countess showed Larissa how to waltz and curtsy to a princess.
            When Larissa showed Momma, she shook her head. “That will be the day when we see a princess around here.”
           At night, Larissa stayed awake until she heard her mother shut the television off.  She ran to the window and watched the Countess walk past the darkened windows of the thrift shop towards the river. 
            The lights are beautiful reflected in the water,” the Countess said. “If I turn my head just right, I see a castle.”  
            “No, you may not go with her some night,” said Momma. “The only thing you'll see is the paper factory and that stinks!”
            When Momma left for work each morning, she said to Larissa, “Maybe you could meet some nice girls your age at the playground today.” The presents she bought at the end of the week were always playground presents— a ball, kite, skateboard.
            Momma said, “Why don't you go upstairs and visit Carmen? You could play with the new baby.” But as soon as Momma left, Larissa ran to see the Countess. The Countess changed dry crackers into a tea party, the neighborhood market into an exotic bazaar.
            One night, the Countess did not wake from her dream of gardens and moonlit castles. When the sparrows came to the window, it was closed tight.    
            Larissa stayed in her room. She remembered the Countess pouring tea from a pot silvery as the moon. She remembered dressing up in fancy clothes and laughing. 
           Momma made cookies, but Larissa didn't want any. Momma bought a new game, but Larissa didn't want to play. Larissa missed the Countess. She heard the train and wished she was on it going far, far away.      
            Momma poked her head in the door one night. “Would you like to come with me?” she asked. “I thought you might like to take a walk.”  Larissa shrugged. She found her sweatshirt and followed Momma down the stairs.
            They sat on the bench near the river for a long time. When Larissa squinted a certain way, she saw a castle shimmer in the water.
            “Do you see it Momma?” she asked.
            Momma looked and looked and thought maybe, just maybe, she did.

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           Copyright 2016 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
             Published May 1, 2016, Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

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