Mom Wants You Home

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“You’re in trouble.” Lars was out of breath. “You’re gonna get grounded.”

“I’ve got to hold back the water.” Hans reached for his phone. “Here, alert the dike patrol.”

Lars took the phone and did as he was told. That was the difference between them. His brother almost never did what he was told. He was always off on an adventure. The younger one stayed home to placate their mother.

“The dike patrol, they’re coming.” Lars saw the strain in Han’s face and, surprised, saw fear in his eyes. “Can I help?”

“Tell mom where we are.”

The boy said, “I’ll hold the water. You call.”

Fish Story

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“You threw it back? Then wish us supper.”

To please his sister, the fisherman did exactly that. Voila! A table laden with delicacies appeared.

She sated herself. “Foolish man, we could have had a different life for that wish. Ask for a fine house and all that would sustain us in it.”

“Would that make you happy?”

“You”ll have one wish left if it doesn’t”

Without the posh accent, education, and manners to go with the lifestyle, she was miserable.

Her brother asked the fish for happiness. He was six again. She was five. Valued equally by society, they thrived.

Calaveras Frog Prince and the Three Wishes

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Daisy stood at the starting line and kissed her frog for luck. A long-legged young man arose from the dusty line-up and cleared his throat.

“Are you a princess?” Cedric worried he was lost.

“Daddy calls me Princess.”

The jumping contest official told them they’d need to move.

Daisy took Cedric’s hand. “Daddy’ll know what to do.” She pulled him into the chaos of the county fair.

Cedric slipped through her fingers and disappeared into a fortuneteller’s booth. She handed Cedric a tarnished lamp. When he rubbed the dust away, a genie appeared and Cedric found himself in another story.

Pussy Crooner

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Pussy was a musical cat. Sometimes the tabby played a lute and others a bagpipe. She yowled at pubs throughout the British Isles that bear the name Cat and Fiddle. Accompanists flocked to back her up. 

Nine long lives she lived and nine again but cats grow old, as do we all. She retired to a barn in Cheshire, then to an old wishing well with one last request: a concert. Johnny Green gathered a band for Pussy’s last show. His father beat him. Said, “A better mouser never was nor will be.”

Pussy had nought but praise. T’was time.

The Shoemaker’s Challenge

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The shop bell tinkled behind the cat as he left the shoemaker pondering what had just happened. The shoemaker’s wife announced supper and when there was no response, she smoothed her hands along her husband’s shoulder. “You seen a ghost, pet?”

He came out of his thoughts. “A talking cat. He left these boots in payment for ones that fit. Think I’ve gone ‘round the bend, Eliza?”

“I did see him. From the window upstairs. Odd, that cat, like a man on two legs.”

“He were real. Measured ‘im meself.”

“Will you make the boots?”

“Said I would, didn’t I?”

Golden Bird Lays Pretty Eggs

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Lottie perched at table, beheld a patterned pysansky preserved in waxed glory. ”Exquisite egg.”

Nina sipped tea. “Family heirloom.”

“European,” Lottie asked.

“A tale from Ukraine goes with it. A girl found hundreds of golden birds stiff with cold, helped a few, and found homes for the rest. ”

“How kind.” Would that there were more kindness.

“In spring, the villagers who’d fostered them released the birds who Easter next flew to each house. This egg and hundreds of others appeared on doorsteps throughout the village, a thanks from the grateful birds.”

“A beautiful story, more so even than the eggs.”

Foolish Woman Not So Dumb

Baba Yaga, foolish old woman, rattler of chicken bones magicked from soup. Her elder son nurses historic delusions. In the younger one, hope persists. Hers is tough love at best. Battles rage. Forgotten, the soup gets cold.

Baba Yaga makes a cake with pears, no mushrooms. She absorbs the stove into herself, casting a spell on the forest. Her heart, a net to catch the half-cracked madness. The cake, an irresistible odor summoning the children to the table in Baba Yaga’s stilt perched house. As they eat, she turns the house upside down, shaking up what had seemed inevitable.

The Truth at Slant

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A bomb exploded. The bean stalk shook. A clear violation of fairy tale neutrality. Reaching a hand through the palace window and grabbing a Russian MIG, the giant nearly ate the pilot, but there was no salt.

The poor man shivered.

The giantess finished an aleph in her sampler. “Young idiot, you could have hit the Golden Goose.”

“That’s a fairy tale,” said the pilot.

“Poor deluded man. Hermie, call that nice rabbi in Moscow. We need a golem.”

A light broke in the pilot’s face. “Because first we came for the Ukrainians?”

Zelda smiled, though it was more complicated.

Freedom Fighters

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Here’s a story my grandpa told about a friend he had from Birmingham. He’d gather us kids around and we’d listen, the big ones shushing the little ones and holding them on our laps. Must’a been near a hundred when he died, but what he told us lives on.

I knew it was over when Jesse told me his people could fly. We were down at the creek and when he said it I had a feeling that the Old South was destined to collapse like a circus tent after the last performance. Not that I’d ever say that to my daddy. He was sympathetic to old Dixie. Figured things had to change some after the North won the war. But he couldn’t see it changing that much.

“Come on,” Jesse said. “I’ll show you.”

Instead of digging crawdads for supper, we spent the afternoon leaping from boulders, arms spread, rolling into the water. We confessed to Jesse’s mama in the kitchen at the big house. Thanks to her being from a long line of Gullah storytellers, she forgave us. That tale of magic, passed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next, saved our hides.

Me and Jesse, we stayed in touch even when I went up to Boston for school. When I come back six years later to practice law at my daddy’s firm, Jesse was the first one I hired. He was whip smart; did my research. I wished he’d had a law degree. He fled north when vigilantes carried out their coup against some of our duly elected aldermen, 1898 I believe, in Wilmington. I gave him a password so he could get through the cordon the Klan set up the night before all the bloodshed. In the dark, he could pass. The way that damned mob went through destroying the businesses in the colored section of town was enough to make you think the whole thing was over, the whole Emancipation. But it wasn’t. Like so many of the survivors, the wish for justice went into hiding but it never died.

Jesse was lucky. He settled in DC, where he got another law job with a friend of mine from school. I tried to get him to come back to Wilmington, but he found his calling in the capitol. I sat in the front row at his law school graduation. Turned out he was good at organizing and that city was ripe for protest. Much of the segregation in Washington was enforced by custom, not law. They had more marches there than a centipede has legs. I visited him, but he never come down to North Carolina. Not until 1965 when he stopped on his way to Alabama for what he said might be his last protest, but maybe his best.

Me and Jessie were ninety years old, riding in that caravan our kids started to Montgomery to hear Dr. King speak. It was six carloads all told. Seniors at the wheel, a passel of squirming grandchildren in the back while them could walk marched across the Pettus Bridge. Jesse and I looked at each other when Dr. King said the words, “…the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Afterwards, Jesse said, “That moral arc Dr. King talked about must be a rainbow. You need faith to believe there’s an end to it.”

“And do you? Have faith?” I thought I knew the answer to that, but I didn’t expect him to say what he did.

“If anybody’s going to find justice at the end of a rainbow, it’s the people who fly?” He picked up his two year old great-granddaughter. “You remember that story, don’t you?”

I nodded.

Then he passed that child, arms spread, to her mother and said. “This one’s in training.”

So that’s the story. That little girl was my play cousin Sarah. You’ve met her. A tiny woman. Strong as an eagle, wise like an owl. She’s flying with a slew of others across the land. They’re darkening the sky for justice, a righteous swarm of freedom fighters. They carry the message that we are a nation of laws, not custom; that faith is not enough. In the spots where the sun shines through the clouds of flapping wings, both ends of the rainbow are within reach of anyone with the will and the courage to fly.