24 July 2016


Have I told you yet about Nice Old Mary?

We used to do household chores for her in exchange for hearing her stories, my sister and I. Dusting, dishes, that sort of thing. Nothing too laborious.

Nice Old Mary was nice and old and spoke with an accent which I can still imitate but have never successfully identified. Her stories were of her youth, full of creatures and places long vanished, for she was impossibly ancient, I should think.

If she knew of the distant past, then it only stood to reason to me that Nice Old Mary should know of the distant future as well.

I said, “Nice Old Mary, tell me of my future husband. How handsome will he be? How strong? How rich?”

Earning such a story meant clearing out her garage, a task encompassing three days’ work.

When these three days were completed, my sister and I were then made to search out and capture a particular variety of black spiky worm. A caterpillar, in fact.

The next order of business was to find ourselves a leaf of medium size. Not a tiny leaf, no, that would not do, but neither was it to be an elephant ear sized leaf, for that would be superfluous to the old woman’s purposes.

Nice Old Mary’s instructions were quite firm. I wish to be clear on this. I was to print my question upon the leaf, which was medium-sized, and feed it to the caterpillar, which was black and spiky. This I did without complaint.

I still had no answer regarding my future husband.

The caterpillar cocooned.

All seemed lost.

A creature emerged at last from the cocoon, weeks later. A moth. Pale yellow. Upon its wings were hieroglyphs in Nice Old Mary’s native tongue.

My sister and I squealed. “What does it say, Nice Old Mary?” we said.

Nice Old Mary turned the moth around. To read the glyphs right-side up, you know.

“It says your life will be a happy one,” she said. “It says you will be smart and strong and successful, with or without a man.”  

The moth flew away.

“What the hell is this?” I said. I was indignant. “What about my husband?”

Nice Old Mary shrugged. “Don’t blame me, kid,” she said. “It was your damn caterpillar.”

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