By Karen Cline-Tardiff
Once upon a time there lived an old farmer who had never married or had children. He worked all year long in his fields growing fruits and vegetables. He tended the rows of crops and pruned the trees. He had little time for anything else. But once a month he would load his vegetables and fruits into his wagon and go to town to sell them at market.
Every month he and the other farmers would set their wares upon their wagons. They would talk of rain and drought and religion and labor and all manner of things of which men speak. But one day the farmer spoke of marriage and children, a subject which the farmers left for women.
It just so happened that an old crone in dark clothes with a hood covering her ugly face heard the old farmer.
“I will marry you!” said the old crone. The other men all began to laugh at the old crone.
“Surely he is not so lonely as to marry you!” they laughed. But the old farmer never laughed at the old crone. He merely shook his head no and went back to selling his wares.
The next month the old farmer went back the market to sell his fruits and vegetables, as he always did. One of the other farmers came to him with news of a possible bride!
“Her father and mother have been turned from their house and they will give her in marriage to any man who can give her a good home,” he said. So they left the market early and went to see the man and his wife. When the old farmer saw the young woman he was speechless. She was beautiful, with golden locks and rosy cheeks and lips like a fresh apple.
“Why has no one offered to marry this young woman?” the old farmer asked.
“Can you take care of her or not!” asked the parents, ignoring his question. So the old farmer had the young woman sit in his wagon and they went off to his home.
Once they arrived at the old farmer’s house he knew why no one would marry the young woman – she was horrid!
“You call this a home?” she squealed, holding her nose. “This is no place for me!”
“Why are the fruit trees so close to the windows? I can not gaze at the stars!” she complained at night.
“I am sick of fresh fruit for breakfast. I want eggs!” she screamed in the morning.
“There are not enough mirrors in this home!” she pointed out all day long.
The old farmer tilled more land and planted more crops so he could sell more fruits and vegetables. He tried hard to please his new bride, but she was never happy. His friends at the market were sorry to hear of his tale, because they liked the old farmer.
“You should have married me,” said the old crone. She appeared out of nowhere, wearing the same black clothes and the same hood covering her ugly face.
All the farmers laughed. All of them except the old farmer, who was too sad to even laugh.
As time went on, the old farmer wanted a son to love and help him with his many fruits and vegetables. Someone he could take fishing and share the ride to the market. Someone who would love him.
“A child?” shrieked his young bride. “NO! I will not ruin my perfect body with a child.”
The old farmer told his friends at the market, and they all agreed a son would be the thing to bring some happiness to the old farmer. Alas, they could not believe his bride would not have a child.
“I will give you a child,” said the old crone, appearing from behind a wagon.
As the other farmers began to laugh, the old farmer finally asked the old crone “how will you give me a child?” He was desperate.
The old crone picked the brightest, reddest apple from the farmer’s wagon and wrapped it into her old gnarled hands. A smoke appeared to come from the apple as the old crone began to chant over the apple in her hands. A “POOF” and then smoke and then a young boy appeared in front of the entire crowd of farmers. None of the farmers knew what to think. The boy looked like the old farmer when he was young.
“Take this boy and sit him in your wagon. When you get home, have him climb in the apple tree in front of your house. He must sit on the lowest limb. In the morning he will not be there, but an apple in his place. Then you will have a son,” said the witch. Then she raised her cloak around her body and a “POOF” and a cloud and she was gone.
So the old farmer did exactly what the old crone had said. He told the boy to be quiet, which was not necessary because the boy never spoke.
The next morning when his young bride awoke she squealed aloud.
“Oh, no!” thought the farmer. “She has seen the boy!” But it wasn’t a boy she saw.
“That is the reddest, brightest, biggest apple I have ever seen! You must fetch it for me immediately for I must have it!” screamed the young bride. So the farmer went and plucked and apple from the tree, from the same spot he had sat the boy.
The next month when the farmer went to market he could not wait to tell his friends of his joy. His young bride was with child. They all thought of the old crone and her magic and the apple, but they were all too afraid to say anything. And they did not ask the old farmer about it, either. And the old crone was nowhere to be found.
Finally the day came and the young bride and the old farmer had a beautiful boy. He looked just like the old farmer when he was young. Everyone at the market came by to congratulate the old farmer and see the young boy, for the old farmer took his young son everywhere. The young bride refused to have anything to do with the young boy.
“I am fat,” cried the young bride at her house. “I am old and ugly!’ And every time she spoke or screamed or cried these words, she got fatter and older and uglier. The old farmer did not even notice, for he was too happy to see his young son growing bigger and healthier.
One day the old farmer returned home from the market and saw that his not so young bride had smashed every mirror in the house. The mirrors she had begged for, the mirrors he had worked so hard to buy for her, were in pieces everywhere! And in the middle of the floor she sat, for she was so fat she had broken the chair, too.
The next month when the old farmer and his son went to the market he had sad news to tell his friends. “My wife has died,” he said. “Her heart could not beat any longer beneath all of her hate.”
Just then a cackle came from behind a wagon. The old crone walked up to the farmer and said “I will marry you!”
All of the farmers began to laugh again.
“Have you done enough?” they asked. “He needs no more brides!” But the old farmer looked at the old crone with new eyes.
“Witch, how you do keep appearing with answers to my heart’s desires?” he asked.
“Yes, I will take you for my bride,” he said. The other farmers could not believe it! Then there was a “POOF” and smoke and standing before them was no longer an old crone, but a beautiful woman who looked even fairer and lovelier than any princess.
The old farmer and his son could not believe it!
“But where is the old crone?” asked the farmer.
“It is I,” she replied. “Once I was like your old wife, vain and worried with my looks and possessions. Then an old witch placed a spell on me when I taunted her one day. The spell would only be broken when someone could love me for who I was inside. Your love has freed me from the spell.”
Everyone in the market rejoiced that the old farmer had his heart’s desire. He had a beautiful wife, a handsome son, and his life was full of love. And they all lived happily ever after.
Karen is a poet, storyteller, and meme maker from the coast of South Texas. She has been assembling random words composed of 26 letters in a variety of forms for many years. Her words can be found in the anthology “Poetry the Write Way” and the literary journal “Nowhere Poetry and Flash Fiction.” She can be reached by drawing poignant hieroglyphics in the sand along the coast right before high tide. She may or may not respond.