Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Love (04/27/06)
TITLE: Ever After, Upside Down
By Jan Ackerson
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ADD TO MY FAVORITES
I’ll start with the absurd name my mother gave me. Not Emmaline, nor Gertrude, nor Isabel—but simply <i>Bo</i>. An explosive syllable, made even sillier when uttered in combination with our ridiculous surname. <i>Bo Peep</i>. Didn’t she realize she was dooming me to constant teasing?
<i>Peek-a-Bo</i>, they called me, and <i>Bee Poop</i>. Those names were bad enough, but the worst was <i>Little Bo Beep</i>. I was not little at all (I am large-boned), and the taunting was sufficient to cause me, several times a week, to tussle in the dirt with a schoolmate. Our teacher, spinsterish Miss Guse, was much dismayed at my scrappiness.
One morning, a few short weeks before my torturous schooldays would be forever behind me, one of my classmates had the audacity to bring a <i>lamb</i> to school. Mary had always been a favorite, with her bouncing ringlets and milky skin. She dressed her silly pet in a bonnet, and they pranced into the classroom as if it were an everyday thing—a lamb in school!
The other girls <i>oohed</i> and <i>aahed</i>—but after the animal bleated in my ear for the fiftieth time, I implored Mary to take the horrible creature home. Miss Guce was attending to some younger students, and did not see the vicious way that Mary pulled my hair in response to my suggestion. She heard my retort, however (and saw the imprint of my hand on that milk-white cheek), and pointed me toward the door.
Yes, yes, you say, but where is the love story? Be patient; it’s coming.
My father, exasperated that I had been sent home for the third time in as many weeks, meted out an appropriate punishment. He summoned the sheep-girl and gave her three pence with which to buy some sweets. “Bo will watch the sheep,” he told her. “Give her your crook.”
So I trudged to the field, following that infernal <i>baa</i>-ing. Sheep are detestable creatures, but docile enough. A day among sheep was better than a day in the schoolroom. I sat down beneath an oak and promptly fell asleep.
I was awakened by silence. The sheep had apparently wandered off in search of sweeter clover. In a panic, I ran in no particular direction, and happened to pass Mary and her horrid lamb strolling home from school. “I’ve lost my sheep!” I cried. “I don’t know where to find them!”
Mary smirked unprettily. “Leave them alone. They’ll come home.”
This seemed like sound advice; I slowed to a walk and turned toward home. Mary’s derisive laughter followed me. “And they’ll bring their tails behind them!”
<i>Thank you, Mistress Mary Quite Contrary</i>. I headed for the pasture, and noticed a figure kneeling in the distance. As I drew nearer, I recognized him—a boy who’d left school a few years before. There had been a scandal, I remembered: something about wolves.
The boy was examining a whitish shape in the grass. (I have to say, he was no more a <i>boy</i> than I was <i>little</i>). Suddenly shy, I drew near. He glanced at me, sheepishly. “It was wolves. Honest, it was.”
I gazed at the poor lamb, now destined for Father’s dinner plate. “Ewww.” I shuddered. “I hate sheep.”
“So do I.” The boy’s eyes were an amazing shade of blue. “The stupid animals are forever getting eaten by wolves…and no one will ever believe me!”
Did I mention his coal-black, curly hair?
He stood and offered his hand. “I’m Jack.”
“I’m Bo.” I tossed the crook to the ground. “Let’s get out of here.”
We walked ten miles hand-in-hand to a neighboring village. By the time we arrived, the sky was orange and purple, and we knew everything important there was to know about each other. The parson married us that very evening.
Hold on, you say, <i>that evening</i>? Wasn’t that awfully quick? Well, yes. But it was fifty years ago, and Jack has been my true love, my everything, my Prince Charming. We opened up a little inn in the village, called “Spratt’s Happily Ever After.” Jack and I do all the cooking—he makes the lean, vegetable-y dishes, and I prepare the heartier fare.
If you want a meal of lamb or mutton, look elsewhere. They’re not on the menu.
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