A Thing I Wrote

I love fairy tales—they’re timeless and exciting, and their infinite variations are my favorite stories to read and write (Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, is the reason I’m a writer). Last summer, I participated in a fairy tale retelling contest. It overlapped with a family wedding and our Glacier trip, so I didn’t end up finishing (we had to write five stories between June and August), but I did write one story that performed pretty well. Against my better judgment, I promised Tom that if he wrote some Twilight fanfiction for my blog, I would post the story here. Last week Tom delivered, so I have to post this thing no matter how embarrassing it is.

In case you can’t tell, this is a retelling of one of my favorite fairy tales, “The Fisherman’s Wife,” in which a magical fish grants the insane wishes of a very greedy woman. I decided to give it a Texas-style twist, since we’d recently passed the one-year mark of living in Beaumont. Without further ado, I give you “The Armadillo Trapper’s Wife.”

Armadillo

“C’mon, let me out of here!” the armadillo said. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

Joe couldn’t believe it—what rotten luck. Money was tight, and he’d taken to armadillo trapping to help put food on the table. This was the first one he’d managed to catch, and now it was talking to him! “How’m I supposed to eat a talking armadillo?” he demanded. “It ain’t right.”

“No it ain’t!” said the armadillo. “Besides, I’m not a real armadillo. I’m actually a powerful wizard, but one of my spells went wrong and I got stuck like this. If you let me out of this trap, I’ll grant you a wish—anything you want.”

Shaking his head, Joe opened the trap’s door. “Off with you,” he said, nudging the cage with his foot. “Can’t eat a talking animal, even if you’re not a wizard. It just ain’t right.” Without another word, the armadillo crawled out of the trap.

“If you change your mind,” the armadillo said, “Just come back here and holler for me. My name’s Hoover.” Then he scampered away.

“Rotten luck,” Joe said, shaking his head. His wife wouldn’t like it—Sally’d have no problem eating a talking armadillo. But Joe’s conscience just couldn’t allow it. Trying to figure out what he’d say to her, Joe got into his truck and drove home.

Home wasn’t much to look at—just a tiny house with a bit of garden and a tire swing for the grandkids—but Joe had lived there ever since he’d married Sally, and now he couldn’t imagine life anywhere else. He went inside and found Sally in the kitchen stirring a big pot of her infamous squirrel stew.

“Catch anything?” she asked as Joe sat down at the table.

“Matter of fact, yes.” He told her about the talking armadillo, and how he’d had to let it go.

As he’d predicted, Sally was angry. “He offered you anything you wanted, and you let ‘im go?”

He shrugged. “Didn’t seem right to kill something that can talk. Besides, couldn’t think of anything to ask for. We got everything we need. Except a decent meal.” He grimaced at the stew pot, making Sally scowl.

“Joe, you’re just dumber’n a bag of hammers. I know what I’d ask for. I’d be out of this run-down shack.” She gave the stew a swish and banged her spoon on the side of the pot. “Tomorrow you go back there and tell that armadillo I want a nice house. Ooh, and a pool. Get me a pool.”

It still didn’t seem right to Joe, taking favors from some magical varmint, but he knew better than to argue with his wife when she started banging the cutlery.

***

And so, the next morning Joe went back. “Hoover!” he shouted. “C’mere! I want a word with you!”

The bushes rustled, and the armadillo from the day before emerged. “Well, if it ain’t my friend Joe! What can I do for you?”

“I talked to my wife, and she told me to ask you for a nice house. A swimmin’ pool, too, if you can manage it.”

The armadillo just looked at him for a few seconds. “You sure that’s what you want, Joe? You don’t seem too happy about it.”

He shrugged. “Gotta keep the wife happy.”

The armadillo nodded. “You’re a wise man, Joe. Tell you what: when you get home from work today, you’ll be livin’ in the house of your woman’s dreams.”

***

Sure enough, when he pulled up to where their little house had once been, he couldn’t recognize the place. It took fifteen minutes just to get down the driveway, and at the end of it was a house bigger than any he’d ever seen. He was almost afraid to get out of his truck, but Sally came to greet him.

“Ain’t this place wonderful?” she said as she took him inside and began to show him around.

“It’s real nice,” he admitted. “You sure outdone yourself, Sal.”

Sally was in a great mood for a few days while she set things up to her liking. Then she realized how much more they would be paying in property taxes.

“We’ll never afford it on what you’re making at that job of yours,” she said to Joe. “Go back and ask that armadillo for a better job.”

“But I like my job.” Joe ran the local convenience store. It gave him the chance to talk to folks, and he always had a candy jar out on the counter for the kids who came in. But Sally was right: they couldn’t afford a house like this.

“Then tell that armadillo to make me one of them oil tycoons. That’ll set us up.”

“It don’t seem right,” Joe said, “for my woman to work.”

Sally glared, slapping her wooden spoon into her palm. “Don’t be stupid. I won’t have to do much. I’ll have folks for that. Now you go talk to that armadillo!”

***

“An oil tycoon!” said Hoover. “That woman of yours thinks big.”

“Too big if you ask me,” Joe grumbled. “She don’t know nothin’ about running an oil company. But it’s what she wants. Can you help me out?”

“It’s already done,” said the armadillo. “Enjoy your vast riches.”

***

The armadillo was true to his word. Sally became the CEO of a major oil company, and she and Joe were suddenly very well off. Sally said it was bad for their image to have Joe working at the convenience store, but he couldn’t stand the thought of leaving, so he continued to drive his old truck out every morning (he wouldn’t give the truck up either, despite Sally’s nagging).

For a time, things were going well. Like Joe’d said, Sally had no idea how to run an oil company, but she did have people who handled it for her. Joe still wasn’t sure he was quite comfortable with their new way of life, but it did have its advantages.

For one, Sally hardly cooked anymore. One night, they went out to a nice restaurant Sally liked. “Well, Sal,” said Joe, glancing at her over the top of his menu. “It looks like we got everything we could ask for.”

Sally frowned at her menu. “Hmmm,” she said. “We’ll see about that.”

Gunshots cut off Joe’s answer.

There was a dead man lying not too far from Sally’s chair, covered in bullet holes. Four people at neighboring tables were holding still-smoking handguns. Sally took one look at the scene and fainted dead away.

Someone called the police, and almost everyone in the restaurant was questioned. While Joe tried to revive Sally, he got the whole story. It turned out the man had pulled a gun on Sally, but because this was Texas, the guy had four bullets in him before Joe or Sally even noticed. It was nearly 9:00 by the time the police let anyone go home.

**

When they got back to their mansion, Joe pulled Sally into a hug. “Oh, Sal,” he said, “It’s all right—”

But Sally pushed him away. “I ain’t scared, Joe. I’m angry. It shouldn’t be allowed.”

Joe frowned. “What shouldn’t?”

“Pullin’ guns on folks. It ain’t right. It’s a shame a self-respectin’ woman can’t go to a restaurant in peace.” She pointed her finger at Joe. “Tomorrow you go and tell that armadillo to make guns illegal. Better yet, git rid of ‘em altogether.”

Joe paled. “You can’t do that, Sally!” he said. “This is America. Folks have a right—”

“You don’t listen when I’m talkin’ to you. Do what I say!”

“I can’t Sally. It ain’t right.”

Sally drew herself up, flaring her nostrils the way she always did when she got angry. Joe rarely stood up to her this way. “What kinda man are you? Won’t even defend your wife! If you won’t make that armadillo give me what I want, I’ll go spend some time with Nancy.” (Nancy was their daughter. Joe was sure she wouldn’t take too kindly to Sally moving in with her.)

For the rest of the night, Joe tried to talk her out of it. He tried persuading, demanding, even begging; but Sally wouldn’t budge. And so, the next morning, Joe drove once more to see Hoover.

The armadillo was waiting for him. “Well well!” he said. “What does she want this time?”

Joe told him—he could hardly force the words out, but he managed. When he finished, the armadillo just stared at him.

“I can’t do that,” he said finally. “Shoot, I like you, Joe, but this is…this is out of line.”

Joe just sighed, shaking his head. “I wouldn’t ask you to,” he said. “But she insisted. She’s losin’ it, Hoover. All this money and power…it ain’t good for her, somehow. Can’t you do anything?”

The armadillo thought for a while. “Go home, Joe,” he said. “I’ll do what I can, make sure you get what you deserve.”

Joe watched Hoover for a moment, and then nodded. He started walking back to his truck, then turned and waved. “See you ‘round,” he said, “or maybe not.”

“Let’s go with ‘maybe not,’” said Hoover.

***

Joe drove home, wondering what the armadillo had had in mind when he’d said they’d get what they deserved. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing, and with the way Sally had been acting…well, Joe hoped everything was all right.

He turned onto their road and whistled. The giant mansion Sally had ordered had shrunk back into their own little house. Sally herself was sitting out on the porch, wearing her old apron (splattered with fresh squirrel stew, of course), her hair done up in its usual little bun. Joe got out of the truck, expecting her to lay into him—obviously the armadillo hadn’t complied with her wish.

But instead, Sally smiled at him. “Can’t believe I’ve missed this place,” she said. “That armadillo gave me everything I wanted, but it was never enough. Who’da thought all I needed was to have this house back?”

Joe chuckled, sat down beside her, and put his arm around her shoulders. “Well, you know what they say,” he said. “Don’t look a gift armadillo in the mouth.”

She frowned at him. “Why would I want to look in its mouth?”

“Never mind.”

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