John Between

When all the glasses were set down and silence fell hard against the low roar of the rising wind, someone stood. He was a bland fellow whose features no one could agree upon, him being neither tall nor short, neither fat nor thin and neither handsome nor ugly. In different lights he looked to be any age from twenty to forty and his hair was that undistinguished color known as mouse. The patrons of the Frog all knew him as John Between. He was distinguished now through the pinkness that was rising into his cheeks.

“I have a tale,” he said, glaring around him as if he dared anyone to disagree. Maggie-May-I nodded at him and the Franklin rested his elbows on the bar-counter. Scupper stared, hollow-eyed, and his whole body shuddered as the wind blew up for a moment, rattling at a shutter.

“Begin then,” Maggie-May-I said sharply, and so he began, the pink changing to scarlet until his cheeks were flaming as red as brick.

“There once was, in this place I tell of, a poor young wife who saw her husband away on a ship. He carried her love away with him over the ocean, but she carried a secret in her heart. Her name was Rebecca, and this secret she carried was not sure enough to speak of, although she thought she knew it well. It was to wait then, until his return, and bring joy to them both.”

“Her husband never lived to return. His ship was lost in a storm and when the young wife-nomore heard this she did weep until her eyes were red and her throat was sore from it. But her heart didn’t get broke, and this was because of the child that grew under it and warmed it where it might have split clean through from being left so alone.”

“So she did alright for herself in her little house. She got herself a little dog which would bark when it sighted a stranger, and to put coal in the fireplace and food on her plate she did washing and mending pretty stuff for the rich man’s wife who lived in the Big House. And she thought that maybe her troubles were ended, and when she sewed she always kept a stitch upon her finger for good luck.”

“Only when her baby came, she thought that all her heartache must have gotten into it somehow, for it was a puny mite and wouldn’t suckle. She tried hard, tried till her tears fell and wet its hair, but it turned its head away and wailed and kicked weakly with its skinny legs and arms. Her husband’s mother, who was a good woman, told her she must take the baby to see the old woman on the cliffside. So she bundled up the baby in a warm blanket and went.”

“The old woman was huddled in her cottage by the fire, but she was looking at the door and said the young wife-nomore’s name to her, like she knew she would come. The baby was laid in the old woman’s lap and the old woman looked at it for a long while. Then she shook her head and said she was sorry.”

“But the young wife-nomore begged and begged and her tears fell again and they were very bitter. She said to the old woman how it wasn’t right, how the storm had taken her young husband and left her so alone. She said how the baby was a part of him and a part of her and was both of them together. She asked how she could go on, if everything was to be taken. She pleaded until she softened the old woman’s heart.”

“The old woman said she must go to the stones and make a bargain.”

“And the stones were a gateway between our world and theirs.”

“The young wife-nomore took to the paths again that wound up over the cliffside, where nothing but the wild heather and crab-grass would grow. The stones stood like high towers before her, the three of them, and the dry dirt that marked the way between. So she laid the baby down on that ground and took the stitch from around her finger and tied it to the baby’s. Three times she went around the stones and on the third time she laid down her offering, which was the baby’s cord. Three times more round, she saw her offering was gone. So she made her bargain, and got to keep her son.”

“And her husband’s mother, that good woman, held my hand as we watched her climb up to the stones. She’d been given seven years, and now it was time to keep her promise. I was her son, and I was seven, when I watched my mother go into the place between and never return.”

The End

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