Sunday, May 27, 2018

Slice of Bread

                                              Slice of Bread
                                                            By Valerie L. Egar

A long time ago, long before television and computers were invented, long before automobiles sped on superhighways and airplanes flew across the ocean, a young woman with long red hair and green eyes lived in a beautiful village near the sea.
Her family was rich and the girl grew up with all the finest things. She ate from plates hammered from pure gold and dressed in luxurious silk. Sapphires and emeralds glittered on her fingers. When she was a child, jugglers and famous magicians entertained at her birthday parties. As she grew older, noted musicians played concerts for her and her friends. She escaped summer heat on a sailing ship and warmed herself in winter with endless pots of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream.
Her parents sheltered her from birth and the girl had no idea that others were less fortunate. The girl rode in a carriage and passed children dressed in rags. When she asked why they were dressed that way, her parents said, “Oh, they must be going to a party. What original costumes!”
When she saw people standing in a breadline, her tutor told her it was how people got fresh air and sunshine.
For the girl, every sad reality was masked with illusion and, over the years, she learned to make up stories similar to her parents’ and teacher’s. A crying child wasn’t sad— he was having fun imitating a coyote with his howls. How easy it became to change something that made her feel distressed into something pleasant and amusing!
One day, a crone who could read people’s hearts walked through the village. She was elderly with her long white hair covered and her blue eyes clear as a mountain lake. Her legs ached from the miles she’d walked and she sat at the edge of the road to rest and eat a small portion of bread and cheese she carried in her pocket.
The rich young woman was passing by in her carriage. Though she had never asked the carriage driver to stop, she did on this day.  She’d looked from the carriage window to see a noblewoman having a picnic. Perhaps the old woman would like some company, she thought.
The young woman curtsied to the crone. “Good afternoon my lady.”
The old woman knew the girl, through no fault of her own, could not see her. Though she sat before her in flesh and blood, dressed in worn clothes, fingers gnarled from hard work, she perceived that the girl saw something quite different.

Some people might be flattered to be seen as a noblewoman, when their birth was humble. Some might not mind having the wooden buttons on their dress perceived as golden pearls. The crone was not one of those people. She wanted the girl to touch her hands and understand she’d labored in farm fields and earned the callouses on her hands. She wanted the girl to see the dress she wore and know she’d made it from wool she had woven herself. She wanted the girl to taste the stale bread and the hard cheese and not pretend it was cake.
She offered a slice of bread to the girl.
The girl bit the bread. “What delicious—.” She stopped. The world spun and she thought she might faint. She sat in the grass and held her head. When the girl opened her eyes, the world was entirely different. She saw the old woman and understood her triumphs and her pain. She admired the skill of her embroidery and the cleverness displayed by making buttons from wood. She pressed a few gold coins in the old woman’s hands. “Thank you, Auntie.”
The girl took a slow carriage ride through the village. All her illusions and make believe stories had fallen away. She saw things that made her so sad she wanted to cry, but also things that filled her heart with love. Never had she felt so alive. She felt the remainder of the slice of bread in her pocket. Just enough left for her parents and her teacher, too.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published May 27, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Clever Fox

The Clever Fox
                                                 By Valerie L. Egar

            A long time ago, a clever mother fox lived in a den with her husband and eight children. Though she and her husband hunted every night, keeping eight mouths fed was hard work. By dawn, both were exhausted and the growing children complained they were still hungry.
            All of the animals in the countryside were suspicious of the foxes, which made hunting difficult. The chickens squawked when they saw the foxes and warned the rabbits. The rabbits thumped the ground with their back legs, warning the wild turkeys.  The turkeys flapped their wings and flew into the treetops, screeching a fox alarm to all the other animals in the forest.
Every night the foxes hunted, the animals warned each other. Even though the chickens had nothing in common with the rabbits, and the wild turkeys found the chickens to be silly, all united to protect themselves from the foxes despite their differences.
        The mother fox thought and thought and because she was so clever, she came up with a plan.
 “La, la, la,” she sang to herself as she walked near the chicken pen, picking daisies. “So sad the rabbits have started stealing chicken eggs,” she whispered to the chickens.
          “That’s not true!” yelled a red hen.
          “Oh, but it is,” said the fox. “They probably haven’t started here— yet.  But on the other side of the mountain, they steal them every night.” 
            For the rest of the day, the hens spoke of nothing else. Maybe it was only rogue rabbits, maybe it was all rabbits, but they agreed that rabbits weren’t chickens and could not be trusted.
            The fox wandered near a field where the clover grew and the rabbits liked to play. “La, la, la,” the fox sang to herself. “How terrible the turkeys are going to rip out all this nice clover to weave their nests instead of using sticks and leaves!” she whispered.
            “That can’t be true,” yelled an old rabbit.
            “Oh, but it is,” said the fox. “I overheard them talking about it yesterday. ‘Who cares about the rabbits,’ they said."
             For the rest of the day, the rabbits spoke of nothing else. “Turkeys are like that,” they agreed. “Selfish. Not like rabbits at all. You can never trust a turkey.” They felt angry at the turkeys and were grateful to the fox. “Wasn’t she kind to tell us!” they said.
           “La, la, la,” the fox sang as she walked in the woods. “Be careful friend turkeys,” she said sweetly. “The chickens are jealous of your freedom and are conspiring to cage all of you.”
“Ridiculous!” yelled a hen turkey.
“Is it?” said the fox. “You are free and they are not. You are smart, and they— well, they aren’t. They’re silly. You all think so, don’t you? So, they want to make you more like them.”
What the fox said made sense to the turkeys. Of course the chickens were envious of them.  How kind of the fox to warn them. Chickens were nothing like turkeys and couldn’t be trusted.
That night, as the foxes hunted, the chickens saw them and said nothing. Why should they warn the rabbits, when rabbits steal chicken eggs? The foxes caught several rabbits that night which made the rabbits angry at the chickens for failing to warn them.
“Huh,” the rabbits thought. “The chickens are no better than the turkeys!”
The next night, the rabbits saw the foxes and, because they were angry, they didn’t warn the chickens or turkeys. The foxes dined on turkeys that evening, and the turkeys’ ire spread to the rabbits. “You can’t trust chickens or rabbits!” said the turkeys.
 With the animals divided and angry with each other, the foxes dined on chickens the following night. A rumor started that the rabbits, not the foxes, ate the chickens, which made the chickens more determined to never, ever help rabbits.

The animals’ hatred of each other grew and the foxes hunted undisturbed every night.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published May 20, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Sunday, May 13, 2018

What the Moon Sees

                                    What the Moon Sees
                                          By Valerie L. Egar

            As night falls and the stars come out, the moon spreads her silvery light over the earth. Lights click off house to house as people fall asleep. The moon peeks in windows and finds babies asleep in their cribs and children tucked into bed dreaming. Parents are also fast asleep, most in beds, but the moon sees a few snoozing in front of TV sets and one snoring on a couch with a paperback book across her chest.
            Midnight. Most people and little creatures are sleeping, but not everybody!
            In a garden, a bunny nibbles delicious lettuce leaves. The moon sees him hop from the lettuce to the beans.
            On the interstate, a trucker turns the radio up and steps on the accelerator. He has the road to himself, which is why he likes driving at night. He’ll be in New York by six.  High in the sky, the moon watches his truck drive south.
            The moon shines in a window of a big city hospital where a nurse takes a patient’s temperature. She sees the moon high in the sky, a beautiful silver pearl, and smiles.
            In a small green bedroom, a girl tosses and turns. She’s a gymnast and is nervous about a match she’s attending next week. Though she’s won local competitions, she’s worried she might not measure up in a regional one. The moonlight makes a few of her trophies sparkle and the girl’s worries ease.
In another bedroom in a different town, a boy sits in the dark with a flashlight, reading a comic book. The moon is so bright, he turns his flashlight off to save the battery and read by moonlight. “Thank you moon!” 
No one but the moon notices the mouse nibbling the birdseed on the ground by the bird feeder.
No one but the moon glimpses the dolphins playing tag in the ocean.
A grandmother sits at the kitchen table with piles of old photographs and an album, arranging them carefully, writing names and dates.  When she stands to make another cup of tea, she looks out the window and sees the moon. The moon sees her, too.
A student rubs his eyes and types on his keyboard. He’s talking to a friend in India, even though he’s supposed to be sleeping. The moon sees, but she won’t tell.
The porch is comfortable on a warm spring night and the man sits and listens to the peepers. He watches the moon through the pines and glimpses his neighbor’s cat hunting in the field.  Moonlight silvers his aging hands.
 The woman and her collie walk briskly. Her dog needs a nice long walk and she worked late today. The woman is glad for the moon lighting their path through the park.
A police officer drives his patrol car up one street and down another. The sky is beginning to lighten. The moon is falling lower in the sky, but she still lights the quiet streets.
“You want another cup?” the waitress asks the man sitting at the counter in an all night diner.  She holds a pot of hot coffee. 
“Sure,” he says. 
She pours a cup and steps outside for quick break. The air smells sweet and she watches the moon fade in a pink sky.  The world is waking up. It’s time for the moon to go to sleep.

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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be shared, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published May 13, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Other Side of the Doors

The Other Side of The Doors
    By Valerie L. Egar

A thin boy stood before double oak doors, his head downcast. The doors, carved with scrolls and flowers, towered over him.  A large owl door-knocker made from gold glowed on the left door, a silver dragon knocker bared its teeth on the right. Crystal doorknobs glittered in the sun.
No one could tell the boy what was behind the doors. Long ago, the doors supposedly opened to allow a wise woman and a herd of gentle deer to enter. A brave wounded warrior was granted entry according to legend. But those who entered never came out, so people could only imagine what marvels lay behind the doors, and all they could tell the boy was what they imagined, not what was really there.
Each person’s story was a little different, because each person imagined  what she liked best. Chocolate for breakfast, every day! Every book in the world in a great library with comfortable chairs. Rose gardens that went down to the sea. Endless green fields and avenues lined with stately trees. Everybody told a different story. When the boy asked if there were dogs, people who liked to play chess, and  ripe mangoes all year round, the people he asked paused and then replied, “There must be, of course. Behind the doors, everything is perfect.”
 Every day, hundreds of people stood in front of the doors, knocked and waited.  Some knocked timidly, hardly making any noise. Others pounded on the doors, yelling, “Hello, hello!” A few twisted the crystal doorknobs and pushed gingerly against the doors, but they were always locked tight and did not open.
Every May for several years, the thin boy journeyed from his village to stand before the tall wooden doors and seek entrance to whatever was beyond like everyone else. The first year, he knocked on one door and then the other and waited patiently, but the doors did not open. The following year, he decided there must be a trick to it, so instead of knocking on both doors, he chose the left door and rapped loudly with the owl knocker. Nothing. The next year, he chose the dragon knocker. Nothing. When he arrived the year after, he avoided the door knockers and pounded on the bare wood with his fists. Nothing.
Standing before the doors once more, trying to decide how to knock so the doors would open, the boy stepped aside to think.  He sat under a tree and for several hours watched people. He saw a few utter what they believed to be magic words before knocking. Others approached the doors soberly, thinking their seriousness might affect the outcome.  One or two boys goofed around when they knocked, which brought scowls from the people waiting behind them.
The boy, growing more interested, listened to conversations. He heard people talking about how happy they would be on the other side of the doors. Their worries would disappear, they said. Life would be easy, no troubles at all. It seemed many of them spent more time thinking about the other side of the doors and imagining how much better it would be than paying attention to all they had around them.
For the first time in a long time, the boy laughed. He realized that everyone who knocked on the doors wanted to be some place other than where they were, and he knew if they weren’t happy on this side of the doors, they weren’t going to be happy on the other side of the doors, either.  Maybe that was why the doors didn’t open. You had to be happy with yourself no matter where you were and only then might the doors unlock.

            The boy picked up his satchel and began to walk back home, thankful for the warmth of the sun, the colors of the distant mountains and the scent of meadow grass.
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Copyright 2018 by Valerie L. Egar. May not be copied, reproduced or distributed without permission from the author.
Published May 6, 2018 Journal Tribune Sunday (Biddeford, ME).