Bliss

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
July/August 2003

By Nora Rothman, Illustrated by Claire Neviaser

“Grace!!! Wake up!” I awoke that morning to the sound of my mother’s prickly voice in my ear. I grunted and put the pillow over my head.

“Grace!”

“All right!” I cried, “I’m up!!!” My mother tutted and looked me in the eye.

“I wish you wouldn’t sleep so late, there’s chores to be done.” She sat down on my creaky old bed and took hold of my shoulders. “Listen to me,” she said. I sat up and wriggled free of her grasp.

“I’m listening,” I said with a sigh. I knew what was coming. My list of chores. She did this to me every morning. It was the year 185o, and I was sixteen years old, with light skin and sandy blond hair, that was often falling into my hazel eyes.

“Your list of chores for the day is . . .”

I interrupted her. “Mother,” I said wearily, “don’t you think there is more to life than sewing or cooking or washing? Something adventurous and thrilling? Something . . . wild?” My sister Katrina laughed at this statement and started getting dressed. My mother looked at me very solemnly.

Bliss talking in the bedroom

“Mother, don’t you think there is more to life than sewing or cooking or washing?”

“Grace, darling, will you ever understand? Women are made for one purpose: to clean, get married and have babies.” I decided that this was not the right time to point out to her that those were three purposes. “Now, here are your chores.”

*          *          *

I spent the rest of the morning sweeping the floor of our little hut. It had only two bedrooms; one was for my father, mother and Jack to share. Jack was only ten weeks old, with black hair, like my father, and gray eyes, like Katrina. Katrina, my eighteen-year-old sister, was very fond of her glossy black hair that reached halfway between her waist and her knees. She was a very gorgeous woman, and had many marriage proposals, but hadn’t accepted one yet. She and I were complete opposites, not only in appearance (I looked exactly like my mother, and she looked quite the same as my father), but also in spirit. I was adventurous and I never wanted to marry while she enjoyed the housework and believed the same theory as my mother; we’re only here to get married and have babies. In fact, the only thing that kept me from running from that house was my father.

My father was bright, witty, and like me, he was adventurous. I just cherished him. He was always trying to reason with my mother, trying to get her to let me come pick flowers in the fields while he worked, or take walks alone, and all of the things that ladies weren’t expected to do. But aside from my father, I had only one thing to keep me sane: my poetry. Whenever I had the chance, I would run off to the old tree with the hollow trunk and take my poetry book out of a hole in the tree, where I also kept a notebook, ink and pen given to me by my father. He was the only one who knew my passion for poetry, because I dared not tell the others. They would just laugh at me, the way they always do when I talk of unusual things. Then I would sit under the shade of the tree and write. Many times I would climb up in the outstretching arms of the tree, and sit and write of the sun, or clouds or night. Sometimes it rhymed, and sometimes it was just the way I feel. And others, I wouldn’t write it at all, just think about it, and eventually, I’d fall asleep.

“Gracie, Mother says you have to come help make lunch.” Katrina’s voice pierced my thoughts. I desperately searched for an excuse.

“I’m still sweeping,” I lied, forcing a smile, “The floors have to be extra . . .” But Katrina wouldn’t have any of it.

“Nice try, but it isn’t fooling me.” I hung my head and sighed.

“What must I do?” I asked.

Katrina thrust a straw basket into my arms and said, “Just go pick enough apples to make a pie.” I looked up, surprised. Katrina noticed my shock and, exasperated, exclaimed, “For dinner!!!”

A smirk grew across my face. “For dessert!” I said. And then I was out the door in a flash, running toward the apple tree, with the straw basket in hand. It was a beautiful sunny day outside, and I wanted to just stretch out on the grass and gaze at the clouds. But first I had to pick the apples. I climbed up in the tree and grabbed the reddest apples I could find. In the end I had about ten apples. I knew that that would be probably over enough, so I picked the smallest apple out of the bunch and ate it. It was delicious! I didn’t want to go home to do more chores on that gorgeous day. I just wanted to sit out in the sun. I’m sure they won’t miss me, I reasoned to myself, I think I will write my poetry. So, with that thought in mind, I sauntered over to the big old tree and took out my notebook, pen and ink. I gripped my pen and notebook with my mouth, and held the ink tightly in my left hand. Then I began to climb. Today, I thought, there must be a very clear sky, so the view must be best from the highest branch. And so I climbed to the highest branch of the tree, and sat facing the hills, leaning my back against the tree trunk. It was actually quite comfortable. And so, I began to write.

Bliss writing under the tree

Then I would sit under the shade of the tree and write

I was absorbed in my poetry when I heard a voice calling up to me.

“Hello up there!!!” called the voice. I swiveled around to see whom the voice belonged to. It was a tall man, with brown hair and eyes to match. I smiled down at him.

“Hello!” I yelled back. He motioned something with his hands. “What?” I called. I could tell he was exasperated.

“Come down!!!” he practically screamed. I nodded and hopped onto a lower branch. From there I jumped. I landed with a thud on my feet, and quickly took the notebook and pen from my mouth and put them into the tree with the ink.

“Are you crazy?” asked the man. “You could have killed yourself jumping like that!”

I just smiled and said, “Nice to meet you, too.” The man laughed.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I haven’t introduced myself. I am Paul.” I was surprised to see that he had not stated his last name, but I copied his style.

“I’m Grace. How do you do?” I held out my hand and we shook. His grip was not tight, but firm. He looked to be about in his forties.

“Now tell me, Grace, what were you doing all the way up in that tree?” he inquired.

I thought about this for a minute. Should I tell him? I decided I would.

“I was writing a poem,” I replied. He looked shocked, so I continued. “You see, Paul, my mother has a theory that women were put on this world only to get married and have children, but I think that there is more to life than that, so I began to write poems, and I found that it just absorbs me! I just adore it!!!” I looked at him, hoping he wasn’t going to just walk away in disgust. But the look of shock on Paul’s face turned into a smile. He had a lovely smile.

“Well, you certainly are an original!” he chuckled fondly. “Let’s see it, then!” I just stood there gaping at him. Did he really want to see my poetry, or was he just pulling my leg?

“Go on, get it!” Paul ordered. I walked toward the hole in the tree and pulled out my notebook. The ink had dried inside the darkness of the hollow tree. He looked at me expectantly. He even wanted me to read it! So, I looked back through the pages to find my best poem, and then I read it.

“The forest branches loom high above me as I walk along the path. Ferns are growing alongside me, and the dappled light shines itself upon the path ahead. Beauty is everywhere. The world is silent, except for the rustling of the wind. It calls to me, leading me on. The light shining through the arms of the tree darkens, as the sun goes down. I cannot see a thing, but the wind leads me on. Suddenly, the forest ends and I look up at the black blanket high above me. Dots of light are sprinkled all over, some brighter then the others. The blanket of black engulfs me. And then I see a round bubble of light, a sphere of hope and a dot of fear, the moon.”

All was silent for a moment, and then Paul spoke.

“That was gorgeous!!!” he exclaimed. I shook my head.

“It was nothing,” I answered, modestly, “really. . .” But Paul had grabbed me by the hand.

“Get your notebook and let’s go!” He yanked my arm and pulled me all the way to where his carriage was parked. “Get in,” he ordered. I got in, and he stepped up after me.

“Where are we going?” I cried.

He looked at me grinning like a maniac. “To the Printing Press!!!” he yelled. And that is exactly where he took me. We talked to the editor, and I read him all of my poems. I was asked to step outside. I obeyed, and about a half hour later, Paul came out wearing a look that clearly said, “We did it!” I couldn’t believe it. I was going to turn my notebook into a real book.

*          *          *

And I did. I did something more with my life than get married and have children. I proved my mother wrong, and inspired many women. And from that one day on, I lived the rest of my life in bliss.

Bliss Nora Rothman

Nora Rothman, 11
Los Angeles, California

Bliss Claire Neviaser

Claire Neviaser, 12
Madison, Wisconsin

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