The girl must cross water. She turns from the path and cuts across the pasture to the sough, but the sough is dry. The sough has cracked into furze and peats and between she sees red clay. On the other side, the forest climbs the mountain. The forest climbs so steeply the girl must crawl. She crawls on hands and knees. The fir trees close over her, and when she hears the rivulets, she stands. She leaps upon stone after stone. She attains the far bank. She cannot cross back. The sun has set. The mountain smells of cold water. Below the massif, she sees a windmill. The blades are broken and do not turn in the wind. The miller’s son is sitting in the shadow of a boulder grinding grain. “What’s that board around your neck?” calls the girl, and the miller’s son lays down his pestle. “My cruel father the miller put this board around my neck,” he says, “So I cannot fill my belly with flour.” “Is that growling your belly?” asks the girl. She draws close through cold shadow. “Yes, maiden,” says the miller’s son. “It would quiet with flour.” The board is rough and wide and the head of the miller’s son pokes through it. The girl puts her fingers on the rusty shackle. Now her fingertips are red with rust. “I cannot free you,” she says. “Then feed me,” says the miller’s son. The girl leans to scoop a handful of flour but he catches her elbow and pulls her arm to his lips, sinking his teeth in the flesh, sighing with pleasure and thanksgiving.
FRIENDLY AND FURTHERSOME
Lice crawl on the sister’s pillowslips. The sister sits in the window and combs her hair. The sun heats her face. She holds the flint glass to the beam. Her scalp burns. At last, the lice crackle. The sister pins her dress; she cleans her teeth. She carries her silver comb outside where she finds the bride on the swing in the orchard. The sister unbinds the heavy tresses. Sighing, the bride tips her head and lets the sister tend her. At the bite of cold silver, she rises. “Now, you,” says the bride. The sister sits, the bride behind her. Soon the swing is creaking. The sister’s slippers nearly touch the branches. A golden pear falls into the sister’s lap, so ripe she feels its dampness through her skirts.
CHERRIES ALL BLACK
The chestnut bull is asleep. “Come on!” say the girls. They bestride the broken rails between the palings, waving. The moon has thinned to white wire but hooks nothing in that darkness. The garden’s son clambers after. Ahead, the girls mount the plough. They sit and sing, pulling each other’s hairs from the roots to weave cat’s cradles for the Goodfellow of the meadows. How can they see? The garden’s son walks blindly, arms outstretched. As his shin hits the plow his finger touches the smaller girl’s left eye. Her eye is cool and dry. He does not withdraw his finger. He enjoys the tickle at the tip. The tickle makes him smile. He smiles and smiles. He waits for the girl to sneer, to break the strands and slap, but she is singing, “Between the crakesticks, little spiders—” She stops, gridiron of black hairs between her hands, and one white string unspooling. He holds his finger still as her eyelid beats against it.
Wean the girls at the wane and they will grow fair and drooping. They will grow long fingers and breasts that swell with translucent milk. Otherwise the girls will grow thick and grasping. Their milk will sour and their nipples, however so vigorously kneaded, will pass the slowest curds.
Four men carried a corpse through the rye. What thirsty work! It sagged so. They rested at the old black yew. The Gaukler spoke. “Tie a rope,” said he, “around its feet. Cast the rope into the tree.” The Puppenmacher tied and cast. “The branch won’t hold,” the Henker smiled. “We need a stouter.” “Ach,” the Totengraeber said. “I see. I see. Good Gretel is sitting on a high, strong bough. She will catch the rope and make it fast.” Good Gretel did as she was told. The men kindled sticks beneath the tree. “Good Gretel,” the Gaukler called. “Come down and turn the roast.” Good Gretel came and turned the roast. What thirsty work! The fire rose high. The rope singed black. The corpse fell on the flames. Good Gretel ran through rye and through the woods where she came to a hollow log she knew, and she crawled inside. The four men came and put the corpse upon the moss. “What thirsty work!” the Henker said. “My hands are cakes of ash.” “It’s midnight,” the Puppenmacher cried. “A drink betimes,” the Totengraeber smiled. “I see. I see. That’s what we need.” The Gaukler spoke. “Good Gretel is inside that log,” said he. “Come take a smoking limb, my child.” Good Gretel took a smoking limb. They carried the corpse into the center of town. Good Gretel ran through streets and through an open cellar door. She stood between the wall and cask. The four men came down the cellar stairs. They left the corpse above. The Henker said, “Here’s beer enough for the four of us.” The Gaukler spoke. “He is also parched,” said he. “Him as rests in the long, dark weeds.” “It was thirsty work,” the Puppenmacher smiled. The Totengraeber turned the tap. “Have we each a glass?” he asked. “I see. I see. Good Gretel is behind this cask. Go fetch the glasses, child.” Good Gretel fetched five glasses. She drained her glass in a single gulp. Her thirst made such demands.