And with a green and yellow melancholy. She sat like patience on a monument, Smiling at grief.
No Time for Patience
“51 years, nine months, and four days.”
“What? That can’t be right! Let me see…”
Helen handed her the book. “It’s right. Look, see? Here.” She pointed with her long, bony finger. Patience moved her lips as she read the offending passage for herself. There was no mistaking it: the potion would have to age for precisely 51 years, nine months, and four days before it could be put to use. She threw the book at the cat who was slinking around Helen’s baseboards. It yowled piteously and hid behind a tottering stack of books and papers.
“Hey! Be careful!” cried Helen. “That book is ancient!” She jumped from her seat at the warped wooden table and retrieved the book, cradling it in her arms like a wounded child. The cat hissed when she came near. She aimed a kick at it but missed, managing instead to topple the stack of books. The cat took off like a streak up the shadowed stairwell where it remained out of sight for the rest of the afternoon.
“What do we do now?” Patience sulked. “We don’t have 52 years to wait.”
“51 years, nine months, and four days.”
“Close enough,” Patience growled.
The two women sat in silence. The kettle began to whistle. Helen rose from the table once more and shuffled about the cramped space preparing their afternoon tea. She decided on chamomile–Patience might benefit from its calming effects. “I suppose we’ll just have to keep looking,” she said, half hoping she wouldn’t be heard. “We found this potion. Surely there must be another.”
“There is no other.” Patience drew in a short, sharp breath and released it slowly. “You know this as well as I do, Helen.”
She put down the kettle and turned. Patience was sitting with her head against the wall and her eyes closed. She suddenly looked so small and frail. It frightened her. She had always known that Patience was small, but her personality made her huge. One could only think of her as a giantess in spite of the physical evidence to the contrary. “Oh, Patience!” she exclaimed. “Why did you do it? You knew he was no good. He was wicked and traitorous! He stole all of your best magic and left you in this deplorable state of… of… mortality!” She spit the last word out like poison.
Patience sighed. “You’re right, of course,” she said. “I never should have taken him as my pupil. I knew it, even then, but I was helpless around him, hopeless! I did everything wrong, and now I’m going to die as a result of my own stupidity. But, you know something, Helen?”
Helen turned her back so her tears could fall unseen. “What?” she asked.
“The rightness eclipsed every mistake made along the way.”
The cat crouched in the shadows at the top of the stairs. She could still hear the humans nattering on about the potion below. She knew they still had not found it; the thought cheered her.
There were towering piles of… books –that’s what they called them– all over the house. She took a grim satisfaction from knowing that one of those piles now lay scattered across the worn floorboards. It served them both right.
She smoothed and cleaned her fur and let her mind wander. She knew she hadn’t always been a cat. It was hard to remember, but she tried anyway. It seemed important.
Years before there had been a young man with dark hair and twinkling eyes. He’d been kind to her. He brought her flowers and sweet things to eat. What had he called her? She squeezed her eyes into slits and thought.
When he asked she’d told him her name was Prissy. He laughed. “Prissy? A girl as beautiful as you can’t be called ‘Prissy’.” Blushing furiously she’d told him that her mother had called her Prissy right before she died, and Prissy it would always be. She’d felt bold saying so many words to him in a row. “Well,” he pronounced, “you look more like a ‘Priscilla’ to me.”
She was staying at the cottage then, and the old one with the bent fingers was different: younger, with beautiful long, red hair and bright green eyes. Prissy felt terribly awkward around her, but when Father died she’d come asking for work. The young woman had looked down at her… no. That wasn’t right.
The woman had looked up at her. Yes. Definitely up.
She stared intently at Prissy’s face. It made her nervous, and she began to fidget.
“Stand still. Look me in the eye.”
Prissy obeyed. The woman shook her head and said, “Well, come in. Let’s see what you can do. Personally I can’t imagine, but you’re meant to stay.”
Two months later the man had come calling. He brought her gifts and spoke softly to her. On a crisp autumn day he proposed. She accepted.
“I should have asked your guardian first,” he said guiltily. “I know! Invite me for tea this week and introduce me. Then I can ask for your hand properly.”
Prissy practically flew home. She had chores to finish. She didn’t want to upset her mistress: she might not allow her to have the young man to tea! The thought was enough to send her into a panic, but she needn’t have worried.
“Yes, you can have your young man to tea. Frankly, I’m relieved you know any young men. You obviously have no talent for magic. I can’t for the life of me figure out why all the signs said you needed to be here.” She shrugged, then seemed to forget it.
Prissy told the young man to be at the cottage for tea that Thursday. He was so pleased that he kissed her!
On Wednesday she polished the silver tea service and laid the best cloth on the table. The woman had been working on something all day. That evening after dinner she asked Prissy to go lock the hen house.
A full moon hung in the purple velvet of the evening. Prissy stopped for a moment to admire it and spotted someone at the edge of the forest. She squinted: it was him! She started to raise her hand in greeting but stopped short and stared, horrified, as he shrank and fell on all fours. His dark hair spread, covering him from head to foot. Suddenly where the man had been there now was a fox.
It ran across the clearing toward the hen house. Stunned, she heard the commotion break out inside. She walked forward and looked.
The fox had caught a hen between its teeth. The bird was fighting back, trying to peck its attacker, but the fox shook it violently. It fluttered for a moment, magnificent in its struggle, then wilted and lay still. The fox turned and looked at her.
Prissy fled toward the cottage. He caught her by the arm and spun her around. There was blood on his lips.
“You weren’t supposed to see that.”
She tried to get away, but she was as helpless in his grip as the hen had been. He said some words she didn’t understand, and she felt herself changing. She opened her mouth to scream…
Just a Little Patience (teaser)
A wind blew. A door slammed. A candle died.
Patience sat in the dark, too stunned to register anything outside of the fact that she was, suddenly, alone.