Liesl sat up and stretched her back. She got up from her knees and looked over the section of the courtyard she’d been working on.
She’d stuck to the routine she’d acquired in Frau Holle’s house. After breakfast, she did housework. She worked steadily every day and the house was finally beginning to look like itself again.
Scrub the floors
mend the curtains
starting to feel like home
The kitchen was clean, the larder full. She’d gotten some hens to provide her with fresh eggs.
In the afternoons, she steadily worked her way through the overgrown garden and courtyard. She’d planted vegetables and herbs. Pulling the weeds from in between the cobblestones in the courtyard was exhausting work and she did a little bit every day.
And the most important thing of all. She’d pulled the portraits of her parents from the attic, dusted them and given them a place of honour in the parlour. She sat by the fire during the evenings, imagining them both watching over her as she read her father’s treasured books. She’d never stop missing them but these moments brought her closer to them.
Liesl wiped the dirt from her hands and looked into the light of the setting sun. Almost time to start dinner.
Down the road, a small figure came into view. Liesl shaded her eyes with one hand, trying to make out who it was.
Girl in a dress
dripping with tar
from head to toe
The girl seemed to be dragging her feet as she came closer.
Liesl walked down the road to meet her. She looked like she could use some help. Something in the way she walked seemed familiar… Who was it?
“Else? Is that you? My goodness, look at the state you’re in. What happened?”
Else tried to wipe some of the black muck from her face but it looked like it was stuck. “I thought I was going to drown in the well but I ended up in a meadow. There was an oven full of talking bread. My stomach rumbled something awful, so I took one out and ate it as I started walking down the road.”
“Wait. You didn’t pull them out?” Liesl gestured for Else to follow her into the courtyard.
“Well, of course not. What use did I have for ten loaves of bread? I only needed the one.” Else shrugged. “Anyway. I came to a tree and it was whining and groaning about the weight of the apples hanging from its branches. I tell you, it was annoying alright. I plucked two and ate them as I continued my journey. Good thing there was a ladder.”
“What about the other apples, Else?” Liesl walked up to the well and lowered the bucket down.
“They’ve fallen by now, I guess. Why should I care?” Sitting down, she stretched her legs out in front of her. “Do you want to hear the rest or not?”
“Well, sure. Go ahead.”
“So I came to the house of an ugly old lady. You should have seen the teeth on that one. She offered me a job as a maid in exchange for room and boarding.”
“Oh, so you met Frau Holle. Is she well?”
“Is she well? Hah. She should be. The way she put her feet up and let me do all the hard work. It’s nothing short of scandalous. She treated me like a slave. That’s what she did.”
Liesl shook her head. “No, Else, Frau Holle isn’t like that. She wouldn’t do something like that.” She pulled the bucket from the well and carried it over to Else. “Let me get you a washcloth.”
“Well, she certainly did. And when I quit, she made it rain tar all over me. I didn’t even get any payment for all my work.” Else accepted the rag and dipped it in the water. She rubbed at the tar but it wouldn’t come off. “What is this?”
Scrub at the dirt
as much as you wish
it stays in its place
Photo by Sabine van Straaten on Unsplash
Else scrubbed harder. She worked at the tar until the arm underneath looked red and painful. “It’s not coming off!” Her voice became shrill, echoing across the courtyard.
“Well, Else, I guess Frau Holle gave you what she thought you’d earned.” Liesl gently pulled the cloth from her sister’s fingers. In Liesl’s hands, the cloth wiped away the tar with ease, revealing raw, pink skin and tattered clothes. “There. Let’s get you cleaned up and changed into a new dress. You can come inside and have something to eat before you go.”
Else stopped, grabbing Liesl’s arm. “What do you mean, before I go?”
“Well, Mama is waiting for you in town, remember?”
Else’s grip on Liesl became painful as she pinched harder and harder. “So I can’t stay here? But Mama tried to drown me.”
Gently, Liesl removed Else’s hand. “If I remember correctly, you didn’t mind the thought of me drowning all that much.”
“Else! What are you doing here?” Mama’s voice rang across the courtyard, making a shiver run down Liesl’s spine.
Else stood and placed herself between Liesl and her mother. “What are you doing here, Mama? I thought you were going to wait for me in town?”
“You!” Pointing at Liesl, she stomped across the cobblestones and grabbed Else’s sleeve to pull her away from Liesl. “What on earth have you done to my daughter? Look at her. She’s filthy.” She spat on a pudgy finger and rubbed Else’s cheek. “What have you done to my daughter and where’s my gold?”
Else pulled her arm from her mother’s grip. “Stop it, Mama. She didn’t do anything to me. She was trying to help me. Why did you even come here I when I was to meet you at the inn?”
“I came to get more gold.” Mama planted her hands on her hips. “I ran out. It took you forever to get back. You didn’t even bring any gold, did you? Can't you get anything right for a change, Else?”
Liesl cleared her throat. “Excuse me? You spent all I gave you already? That should have lasted the two of you for a few months at least.”
Mama advanced on Liesl, her face turning an ugly shade of red. “How dare you speak to me like that?” Her right hand extended to the side, ready to hit her stepdaughter.
Else stepped in front of Liesl once more. “That's enough, Mama. She tried to help us, even when she didn't have to.”
She turned back to Liesl and looked into her sister's eyes. Her face pale, Else placed her hand on top of Liesl’s and squeezed lightly. “I’m so sorry, Liesl. I know you don’t believe me.
“Come on, Mama. It's time we stopped acting like this place, Liesl included, belongs to us.” She pulled at her mother's shoulder, turning her towards the street.
Liesl looked at the house. Hers. Yes. But nothing but the paintings in the parlour and the clucking of hens in the backyard to keep her company. “Wait.”
when chores are done
I’ll be all alone
Following them into the street, Liesl called out to them. The only family she had left. How could she turn them out with no food, shelter or money? “You can stay here if you wish.”
She wrung her hands. “I won't be your maid. Not anymore. But many hands can lighten a load and that's what we'll do.”
Mama huffed. “Hah. What a grand and generous offer you make, Liesl.” She spat out the name as if it left a foul taste in her mouth. “Thank you. We'll take our chances in town. Let's go, Else. Once we’ve gotten you cleaned up, we’ll find you a husband. Maybe even a rich one.” With a practiced swish of her skirts, Mama stepped through the gate and onto the road.
Else, however, stood between her mother and half-sister. “Do you mean it, Liesl?”
“Yes.” She smiled at Else.
Else walked back to Liesl’s side.
Mama let out a frustrated shriek. “Fine. I’ll get my own damn gold. I have to do everything myself if it’s to be done right.”
Holding Else’s hand, Liesl watched as Mama hoisted up her skirts and climbed over the edge of the well.
This is where the journey ends. Until I write a new one for you.
Now that I'm at the end and no longer have to worry about spoiling the ending, I wrote my last companion post about the symbolism and archetypes that the story contains.
So this is where we say goodbye to Liesl. But something tells me that "happily ever after" is definitely waiting for her and Else.
My stories have all found a home on my Fiction Steemshelf. Feel free to pay them a visit.
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