Melissa perches on Miss Cox’s bench, her hands in her lap, but her back straight, not touching the backrest. She won’t talk to or look at me, her eyes fixed on the garden gate. Her copy of The Turnip Princess lies on the wrought-iron table in front of us. I grab it as an escape from the surrounding air of doubt.
I open the book in its middle. My eyes fall upon one of its shorter stories, only a page long, The Toad Bride.
A man with three sons sets the challenge that the one who can spin the finest thread from flax will inherit his house. The elder brothers set about their task in a logical manner, but the younger, foolish brother “…takes the flax and runs with the wind…” until he gets mired in mud. A toad takes his flax, sets him free, and tells him to come back later.
When the foolish brother returns to the toad, he is given fine thread and in addition told to prepare for a marriage, with the injunction that he places a bridal gown and veil on the altar.
The youngest son wins the contest, and everyone assembles for his wedding. The groom is at the altar, the bells are ringing, but there is no bride.
A toad hops into the church, crawls into the bridal gown, and transforms into a beautiful woman. We soon find out that when the toad helped the young man by giving him the fine thread, she broke a witch’s curse. Of course they marry and live happily.
I glance at Melissa, who remains statue-still. If I were to cast us into this story, would I or Melissa be the toad?
Although I am hardly young, I can relate to the foolish part of the main character. Do I run with the wind until mired in mud? Metaphorically, I think I do. I wander alone in the Magic Forest and throw peanuts to a nixie. I do that at my peril.
That would make Melissa the magical toad. They are both feminine, but there the parallel ends. Melissa is not bewitched. Enchanted beings possess a certain amount of magic, and Melissa only now faces the existence of magic in the mode of can-this-be-true?
Rather, I must be the magical toad in this story. Magic and I are old friends. I won’t say I possess magic, but I do walk through magic. I see it all around me. Vaporous at times, but there nonetheless. I am the one bewitched—though willingly, not under a curse.
Can I cast Melissa as a foolish youth? Well, she is young, much younger than I. Foolish? She is sitting here in Miss Cox’s garden with me. “Foolish” is an applicable adjective.
Melissa takes in a breath and stirs. Entering the garden is a stately gentleman dressed in a tailored, black suit, though of a cut I do not recognize. His proud countenance is that of a man of a royal court. Melissa and I both rise.
Well, here we go.