Happiness

 

At twilight, two heavenly messengers appeared on my doorstep.

“We’ve come to bring you happiness,” they said.

I thought about it. “I’m already happy,” I answered.

Many years ago, I lived in a hot land, and I lived alone. Every few weeks I cleared the ivy from my yard and planted sunflower seeds. Each time, something ate them: a bird, a squirrel, a dog. But I looked around me at the live oaks trailing their veils of lichens, and I thought, life is possible. So I kept planting seeds, and look you, it grew into this: this my crumbling doorstep upon which you stand, this my green patch of yard, this my red maple bleeding sap. My house with the green shutters, my car in the driveway. I have every creature comfort, yet still I sleep under a lofty tree, with the baby bears safe in their bed. How could I not be happy?

“We would like to offer you conversation,” they said. “We bring you a fairy tale. We can show you the path into the Enchanted Forest.”

Oh, you darlings, I wanted to say. Oh, you dears. Once, I lived in a fairy tale. Every day I climbed the beanstalk, and every day I turned into a giant, shouting and stomping and threatening to eat my children. So I hopped off the beanstalk and walked to the town and took up a trade. I take the papers and read the words and tell people what they say, and people give me small scraps of paper in return for my knowledge, and I use them to buy bracelets and coffee and shoes. And every day I am glad to have the scraps of paper instead of the fairy gold.

The angels were wearing shoes, too, wingtips, and they wore light men’s jackets like my father wore as a young man in the picture of him with his first Mustang. They wore ties and their white shirts covered the nubs of their wings. They spoke of the blinding white gown and a rain of riches, the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, where the chosen dine off gold plates and bathe in holy water and wrap themselves in silks and luxuries that slide pure from the palm of God.

“Oh,” I said, and opened my hands. What I wanted to say was, It is not for you to save me, you sweet-faced children. Under my sweaty shirt I bear the stripes of penance and humiliation, and on my door is the blood of the sacrifice. My God sends locusts and asps to test his chosen. My God sends an angel with a flaming sword. My God would have me bow on scabbed knees beside the other wretches, would have me know that He holds his hand over the heads of my beloveds and what He giveth, He may take away. I have not been given the wide smooth road to riches. I have been brought into the wilderness to feast on herbs and nettles, and every rock in my path shines with holiness.

“We wanted to remind you of the season,” they said kindly. The season of birth, and birth again.

“I know something about birth,” I told them. Five years ago in the time of spring I felt a twinge in my belly and I found a thread. I pulled on the thread, and at the end I had to pull very hard, and out popped a baby girl with a flower blossom face and petal hands. Three years ago, on Easter, I lay down on a table and a magician waved his hands over my navel and out came a fat baby boy, black-haired and shrieking. Never again, when you have seen such wonders, is happiness like a balloon, untethered. Happiness is a stake to the heart, and in comes in bolts that leave you pierced, the air blowing through.

They looked at one another, and then at me. I could see they had not expected this: to come to the cottage with a message of hope and find the crone who is becoming the wise woman, the witch who would entertain angels. They looked behind them for the trail of crumbs. I wanted to take their hands, these walkers on the paths of truth. I wanted to stretch my hands over their heads in a blessing, but would they take it from me, a sweaty woman in workout clothes, damp from the children’s bath? We stood there beaming at one another as I saw then their gift: to bring me to stand for the first time that day on my porch and smell the spring air at dusk. To see the red buds on the maple. To remember that the sky I see over my head reaches into the infinite, and it shelters many many many other heads besides just mine.

“Thank you,” I said as they unfurled their wings. “I’m happy.” They floated away into the evening, smiling, and this time, I think they believed me.

 

 

 

Misty Urban’s short-story collection A LESSON IN MANNERS won the Serena McDonald Kennedy award and was published in 2016 by Snake Nation Press. Her short fiction and creative nonfiction has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in Talking River, Karawane, Fiction Attic, District Lit, and draft : a journal of process. She was the grateful recipient of the 2017 Great River Writer’s Retreat awarded by the Midwest Writing Center, and her prize-winning sonnet will appear in the 2017 Lyrical Iowa. She has medieval scholarship just out or forthcoming on medieval feminism, teaching medieval literature, and the medieval fairy Melusine. She teaches writing at Muscatine Community College in Muscatine, Iowa, USA, and can be found online at http://www.mistyurban.net or http://www.femmeliterate.net, a website devoted to feminism, literature, and women in/and/of books.

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