Monday, January 29, 2018

Rafaella The Beekeeper

                                                 Rafaella The Bee Keeper
                                              By Valerie L. Egar

            Rafaella’s tiny house was at the end of a dirt road. A hand-painted sign that said “Honey 4 Sale” with a crooked arrow pointed the way to her cottage.
            Rafaella had everything she needed to be happy— a good supply of firewood to keep her warm in winter. A soft bed with a colorful quilt. Clean water and a kettle to make tea, flour to make biscuits. Books to read, a journal to write in. A red tabby cat that purred her to sleep every night. Best of all, she had five hives of honey bees that made enough honey for her to sweeten her tea and to sell when people found their way to her door.
            Rafaella’s hives sat at the edge of an ancient apple orchard that blossomed every spring and the bees happily gathered nectar there. Wild roses growing in Rafaella’s garden added spice to the bee’s honey. Most of all, the songs Rafaella sang to the bees as she tended the hives added magic so that people eating the honey received whatever they needed most. Rafaella never knew what that might be, but she learned from experience that people seldom received what they thought they needed.
            A businessman who was impatient to get his projects moving gulped the honey as though it was a glass of water, thinking he needed employees who worked harder and faster. Instead, he was gifted with laughter and a sense of fun. His projects still got done and he was happier.
            A pilgrim who asked for a clear path received a map with squiggles all over it.  “I asked for a clear path,” she complained.
            “Your path is exploration and adventure,” said Rafaella. “It goes everywhere.”
            A man carrying a sack of heavy rocks took a spoonful of Rafaella’s  magic honey, wishing for a wagon to ease his burden. Instead, the rocks disappeared.
            “You needed your burden removed,” said Rafaella, “not a wagon to carry it around with you.”
            The man had never thought about it that way and being without the sack of rocks felt a little strange at first. After a while, he agreed he was happier rid of them.

           Curious people from all over started to show up at Rafaella’s door, hearing tales about magic honey that would give them what they needed. Not everyone was happy when they left. Even though Rafaella wrote on the labels, “What you need might not be what you want,” most people thought that didn’t apply to them and were angry when the unimaginable happened.
             A circus lion tamer turned into a lion and learned what it felt like to be in a cage and jump through rings of fire to make people clap.
           A bully turned into gum on the bottom of a shoe.
            A famous actor learned humility becoming just another face in the crowd.
            Business for Rafaella’s honey soon fell off. Though she continued to sweeten her tea with it, and generously spread it on warm biscuits, only the bravest were inclined to taste honey that would magically provide what they needed most. Would you try it?
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published January 28, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).


Monday, January 22, 2018

Separated at Birth

            Separated at Birth
                                             By Valerie L. Egar

            A long time ago, twin girls were separated at birth. Maybe bandits kidnapped them from a caravan and one bandit fled north and the other east. Maybe a careless auntie left them unattended in the bazaar to gossip with the fishmonger. What really happened, no one knows. What’s true is that one twin, Anya, was separated from her mirror image, Anika.
            Anya grew up in the mountains with a sheep farmer and his wife. When she was old enough, her job was tending the sheep. She liked wandering the meadow watching the flock more than living in the house. The farmer’s wife was stingy with food. She argued with her husband for hours every night.
            Being alone with the sheep was far more peaceful. During the day, Anya dozed in the sun, confident the sheep were safe. She picked raspberries, eating as many as she wanted. She looked at the silver river, far away in the valley, and wondered where it led.
            At night, Anya stayed awake to keep the sheep safe from wolves. Wrapped in a thin blanket, she played her flute as she watched over the flock. Anya’s song was beautiful but sad, the notes like seeds on the wind, looking for a place to grow. Anya felt an emptiness deep inside, as though part of her was missing. Her song drifted through the air, looking for the missing piece.
Far away in a busy city, Anika woke every morning with a song in her head. She heard the music in her dreams and it lingered all day.
Unlike Anya, Anika grew up in a wealthy family as a treasured daughter. She loved to paint and had lessons from the finest artists in the kingdom. Though she had a very good life and people who loved her, Anika still felt a sadness deep inside, like something was missing.
One morning, with the dream music playing in her head, Anika painted a beautiful landscape. It was a view of a silver river, winding through a lush valley. A red boat floated on the river.
That night, as Anya played her flute and watched the distant river lit by the full moon, she decided to run away. Surely there was a better life somewhere. She herded the sheep into a pasture by the barn so they would be safe and made her way down the mountain.
“Where are you headed?” a kind man in a red boat asked.
“Away,” said Anya.
The man agreed that Anya playing her flute would be payment enough for a ride. She played and watched small villages pass by.
The next morning, Anika painted a picture of a bustling town. The buildings were white and glowed in sunlight. Immense palm trees shaded the street.
 “Beautiful,” her mother said. “But where do you get your ideas? Nothing nearby looks like this.”
“I dreamed it.”
When Anya saw white buildings in the distance, she was drawn to the town the way a moth is drawn to light. “That is where I would like to get off,” she said to the boatman.
Anya walked through town, and then the road split. The right fork led through a dark forest, the left through fields of grain. She wasn’t sure which way to go and rested beside a tree.
At that moment, Anika finished painting a forest. Trees overhung the road and the forest looked frightening, but she was careful not to paint any tigers or wolves under the trees.
Anya chose the forest road. She played her flute as loudly as she could to keep from being scared.
When the forest thinned, Anya saw a bustling city.
“What a beautiful painting of our house, Anika,” said her mother. “Our red front door almost glows.”
Anya knocked on a red door to ask for a drink of water. The young woman who opened the door looked exactly like her. She had the same smile and the same eyes, a sister she didn’t know she had. 
“I have been looking for you without knowing,”Anya said.
 “And I for you, sister,” said Anika. They celebrated finding each other for the rest of their days.
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Copyright January 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied of reproduced without permission from with author.
Published January 21, 2018, Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Kayla's Cool New Sneakers


                          Kayla’s Cool New Sneakers
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

            Kayla wasn’t sure who decided blue FLYR sneakers were cool and other brands and colors weren’t. They didn’t make anybody run faster or jump higher— Kate still ran the fastest and Jerry still lagged behind everybody. Nobody got magically smarter when they laced their FLYRs on. Still, Kayla wanted a pair of blue FLYRs more than anything.
            With a pair of blue FLYRs on her feet, Peyton wouldn’t wrinkle her nose and say, “I’d just die if I had to wear sneakers with stripes!”
            Mia wouldn’t toss her head and ask, “Where’d you find those?” At the very least, the teasing would stop if she had a pair of FLYRs and maybe, just maybe, Peyton, Mia and the other girls would think she was cool, too.
            “My sneakers are too tight,” Kayla told her mother.
            “Already?” Mom sighed. She felt where Kayla’s toes were. “Your toes still have room.”
            “But they hurt!” Kayla said. “I need new ones.  Blue FLYRs.”
            Mom shook her head. “Too expensive, Kayla. They don’t fit with our budget. It’s not time for new sneakers, but when it is, FLYRs are out.”
            Kayla asked for blue FLYRs for Christmas. No luck.
            She asked again for her birthday. She received lots of nice presents, but not blue FLYRs.
            Kayla decided to save money to buy her own. She stashed her allowance and did a few odd jobs for neighbors. Her grandmother gave her $10 for helping clean and organize the pantry. At the end of the month, Kayla had $25. It was going to take a long time to save enough for a pair of FLYRs, too long. Kayla felt discouraged.
            On Saturday morning, Kayla was in the thrift store with her mother and little sister. Right there on the rack in front of her, blue FLYRs! She grabbed them and tried them on. “Mom, look!”
            “Honey, they’re about five sizes too big.”
            “I’ll stuff the fronts with newspaper so they fit.”
            “That wouldn’t be good for your feet.”
            “I’m growing really fast. They’ll probably fit next week.”
            “I don’t think so.”
            The next day, Kayla asked her mother to take her to the mall. She looked and looked and finally found a pair of white high-tops that fit on sale. She bought them with the money she’d saved.
            “What are you doing with those?” Mom asked.
            “You’ll see,” said Kayla.
             When she got home, Kayla got out her paints and started to draw on her new sneakers. She painted a dragon on one sneaker 

and an anime-style picture of herself petting an elephant on the other.  Then she borrowed her mother’s glue gun and glued a few blue sequins on the dragon to suggest scales and a few red sequins on the elephant just for fun.
She put the sneakers on and looked down at her feet. The dragon glittered fiercely on her right foot, exactly as a dragon should. Her self-portrait with the elephant made her smile, because she loved elephants so much. Her new sneakers made her very happy.
When she went to school the next day, Peyton stared at Kayla’s new sneakers. “They don’t match,” she said.
“They aren’t supposed to,” said Kayla. “They’re art.”
“I think they’re cool,” said Mia. “I wish I had a pair like that.”
“There’s only one pair like this in the whole world,” said Kayla. “But I’ll help you make a pair for yourself if you’d like,” she said. “What’s your favorite animal?”
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published January 14, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Matilde and the Wise Bear

                                                 Matilde and the Wise Bear
                                                By Valerie L. Egar

In the fullness of the moon, when her parents were finally asleep, Matilde snuck downstairs. She laced up her warm boots and wrapped a woolen scarf around her head. She slipped her purple coat over her long pants and heavy sweater and buttoned it tight. The night outside was freezing and she had a long way to walk to find the wise bear.
Matilde pet her red cat who was sleeping on a soft pillow by the fire. “I love you, Kasimir,” she said. “I’ll be back by morning.” She shivered and thought about going back upstairs to bed, but that wouldn’t do. The first full moon of the first month was the only day the wise bear spoke, awakening briefly from his deep winter slumber to answer questions for those brave enough to find him and ask. Matilde opened the front door and stepped into the cold night.
With her walking stick in hand, she followed a path through the forest and felt the path get steeper as it began to wind up the mountain. She was grateful for the full moon’s silver light guiding her.
Higher and higher Matilde climbed. Her toes felt cold in her boots even with her woolen socks. The cold nipped at her nose and made her eyes tear. Finally she saw the opening of a cave. Moonlight shone into the cave and Matilde approached the entry cautiously. “Hello?” she whispered.
“Rrrrrrr!”  A mighty growl echoed off the cave’s walls and Matilde jumped back.
She took a deep breath and approached the cave again. “It’s the first full moon of the year,” she said. “You’re the wise bear and I have a question.”
“Go away!” growled the bear. “I have no time for little girls with silly questions.”

Matilde held her ground. She knew she was getting somewhere, because the bear was talking, just like the legend said. She stamped her foot. “How do you know it’s a silly question when you haven’t even heard it yet?”
“Girls always ask silly questions,” grumbled the bear. “’Does Billy like me more than John?’ ‘Would I look prettier if I were blonde?’ ‘Will I marry a rich man?’ I have no time for that nonsense. Go to a fortune teller!”
Now, Matilde was angry. “If you’re so wise like everyone says, why are you so STUPID about girls? I suppose boys only ask important questions like which football team is going to win. You’re a fraud!” Matilde turned to go. 
The bear sat up and wiped the sleep from his eyes. “OK. You’ve made your point. I’m grumpy when I first wake up. “
“That’s no excuse.”
 “OK. I’m sorry. Silly questions annoy me and you’re right, boys ask them, too.”
“My question isn’t silly.”
The bear yawned. “Well, I hope you didn’t wake me up to ask one of those hard questions no one can answer like, ‘What is truth?’ or “What is beauty?’ I’m no philosopher. I hate questions like that, too.”
“You’re awfully picky aren’t you?”
“Not really. If people haven’t figured out what those things mean in thousands of years, how am I supposed to know?”
Matilde sighed. The bear was nothing like she imagined and she wasn’t sure meeting him was worth the cold hike up the mountain.
“So what’s your question?”
Matilde looked into the bear’s eyes. “I want to be a writer. I want to write stories that make people smile and books that people like so much they share them with friends. Do you think I can be a writer?”
“Do you have a pencil, or a pen?” the bear asked.
“Do you have paper, any kind of paper?”
“And you say you have ideas?
“Yes, lots of them.”
 The bear shrugged. “Then you can be a writer. What are you waiting for?” The bear yawned and slumped over, falling back to sleep.
Matilde tucked the pillow she’d made and filled with sweet grass under his head to say thank you.
All the way home she repeated over and over, “All I need to do is begin.” The year was new and she was ready.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied or reproduced without permission from the author.
Published January 7, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME)