Once upon a time, a house stood against the edge of the woods. Birds often flew around the house, and wild creatures would pick their way throughout the lawn without a care.
The house belonged to a couple, and a lovely couple they were. There was the father who was hard-working, and the mother who was strong and fearless, and one day they had a little girl. The little girl was beautiful and sensitive and kind, and grew up to be even more sensitive and kind as the years passed. Some days she was so sensitive that it seemed her heart would break.
But not everything was perfect in the little house, and this particular day the house stands empty and silent except for the sound of quiet crying. It’s not sobbing, for that would be a too rough and insensitive a sound for the girl. It was merely a periodic sniffle followed by some heavy breathing. The girl wipes her eyes on her sleeve and stares into a cup of over-steeped tea. She often spent her afternoons this way, and her neighbors and parents were very distraught over the change.
A knock startles her, and she looks towards the front door, contemplating answering it, wondering if was yet another kindly neighbor coming with something to help make her well. For all her neighbors were kindly, and often came to bring her things to make her happy and kind and sensitive once more.
Before the girl can make a decision, the doorknob turns and the door swings open. An old lady stands in the doorway, peering around the corner, an old-fashioned cloak around her shoulders and a shawl over her head. “Oh, there you are, dear. Is anyone else home?”
The girl shakes her head. Her parents were off to see a man who could try to make her well. “Who are you?”
“Me? Oh, just an old woman. Some would say I’m a witch. Some say I’m an angel. Depends on who’s doing the talking.” She closes the door gently behind her, her hands old and wrinkled. “But if you’re undecided, I guess you can call me Su.”
The girl nods and looks back into her tea. Su sits down at the table.
“Over-steeped your tea? Don’t worry, if you keep crying it will balance itself out eventually. Trust me,” she says, a smile crinkling her old, worn face. “I would know.”
The girl looks up with wet eyes. “What do you want? My parents aren’t here.”
“Oh, dear, I know that. That’s why I’ve come. You see, I live nearby and I can hear your crying every time they leave. I figured I’d stop by and see you. Now,” she reaches out for the girl’s hand. “What are you crying about?”
“It’s nothing,” the girl says, wiping at her eyes. She doesn’t want to cry in front of yet another kindly neighbor coming to help her feel better.
“Now, that’s what they all say, don’t they? Your friends, telling you that you have ‘nothing to cry about’?” The girl nods, for it seemed to her that perhaps someone had said such a thing, though she could not truly remember. “Well, that’s not very nice. I wouldn’t call those people friends, if I were you. Friends should be supportive, don’t you think? I don’t think you should be around them. They aren’t going to help you feel better. Don’t you think?”
The girl looks the old woman in her dark eye, believing more and more that one of her dear friends had been so unkind. “I suppose not…”
“That’s a love. Why don’t you and I become friends, dear? Believe me, I know all about it. I’ll never tell you not to cry.”
The girl considers the offer. “All right.”
“There, don’t you feel better?’ Su pats her hand gently. “Well, I have to go, but I’ll come back to visit when you’re alone again, okay?” She gets up from the table. “Bye, dear.”
The girl sits in her bedroom, looking out the window towards the creek. The creek’s all dried up, and she watches animals come and go, searching for water. She wonders if the rains will come, but it was often sunny in the little town in the woods.
“Hello, dear.” Su is standing in her doorway, her shawl wrapped around her.
“I was just thinking about you,” the girl whispers.
“Oh, I know,” the old woman comes and sits on the edge of the bed, patting the quilt next to her. “Are those friends of yours still giving you trouble?”
“They aren’t my friends,” the girl says seriously as she sits down. She remembers now, remembers the things that they said, and her kind heart fills with sadness.
Su smiles. “I agree. I’m sure that’s difficult, dear, but you’ll be much better off with a friend that understands you. And I do understand you.”
The girl nods. “I know.”
“Where are those parents of yours?” Su asks gently.
“They’re busy,” the girl responds. They were out again, to find a potion that could make her well. “But I don’t mind. I like it when the house is quiet.”
“Isn’t the silence peaceful?” The old woman gives the girl a careful look. “Don’t you just wish there was somewhere you could go where it was always peaceful?” The girl nods. “Of course you do.
“Do you remember how I said that people call me a witch? Now, I’m no witch, but I do make good offers. Well, perhaps I can be a nice witch, if you think about it. What would you say if I told you I could teach you how to always feel this peaceful? What would you say if I could promise that you’d never feel sad again?”
The girl turns to her, hopeful. “Can you teach me?”
“Of course, darling. But there’s something you have to do as well. It’s nothing much, just your part. And it has to be a secret. Can you promise me that?”
The girl nods. “Just tell me what to do.”
“Okay,” Su says, leaning in close. “I’ll tell you. And if you’ll do it, and you do it in three days, I promise that you’ll never suffer again.”
Su meets her briefly when her parents go out for the groceries the next day, getting bread from the baker and meat from the butcher. “Hello, darling, how goes it?”
The girl sits up at her desk. “Don’t worry, I’ll be done soon.”
Su smiles. “That’s a good girl. But you have plenty of time, so do it well. We want it to be your best work, right darling? Plenty of time.”
The girl frowns for a second. “Are you positive that this will work?”
Su’s face clouds over. “Why? Have you broken your promise? Have you told someone?”
“No, no, of course not. I would never!”
“Of course you haven’t,” the old woman replies, her face smoothing out. “You would never. You promised. And of course it will work. Think of all of this, all the sadness…think of it like a curse. All you have to do is do your part, and the curse will be lifted. Isn’t that what you want?”
“Of course,” the girl responds. “More than anything. I want it to go away.”
Su strokes her hair. “And it shall. I promise.”
The next day, the old woman comes in the dead of night. “Dear, you have one more day. Are you ready? Do you have all the parts that you need to break the spell?”
“Yes, I do,” the girl whispers in response. “I have it all in the box underneath my bed.”
“Good girl. And it’s still a secret?”
Su smiles in the darkness. “See you tomorrow, dearest.”
The girl and the old woman named Su sit on the edge of the bed.
The girl looks at the contents of the box and the sheet of paper. “Are you sure it will work?”
“Don’t you trust me?” Su whispers. “I’m the one who loved you. I’m the one who has looked after you. Not like your friends. Not like your parents, they don’t even care about you either, do they?”
The girl thinks about her parents, and seems to recall them being less kind, less honest and truthful and hardworking, her neighbors less kindly. “No, they don’t care. I trust you…. I only trust you.”
“Good. Now, are you ready?”
“Promise that it’ll stop?”
The old woman who is perhaps a witch smiles and draws her tattered shawl closer. “I promise. Now, the potion.”
“Okay.” The girl opens her mouth and swallows
The ambulance roars up the little driveway, scattering the little creatures, and the kindly neighbors looked over the fences with kindly concern as the stretcher hauls the girl out, her parents weeping in the doorway of the nice house on the edge of the woods.
Meanwhile, the old witch laughs from her house in the woods and waits for the sound of crying.