Years later, when the village was no longer a village, when being left-handed or redheaded or homosexual was no longer a crime, people who knew about Gretchen Schwartz referred to her as the girl with heterochromia. When Gretchen met Johan Scherer, he called her a witch.
Before Gretchen Schwartz had been born, no one in the village of Zweifel thought much about the color of eyes. Blue eyed, green eyed, brown eyed alike all worked and harvested, toiled, and praised. No one was wealthy but no one was poor. The day before Gretchen was born, Gunther Schwartz found gold in the stream behind his house. The day after she was born, Marta, mother of his child, died. Perhaps, if Gretchen’s eyes had both been blue, or both been brown, no one would have worried about the good luck or the grave misfortune. Gold in the hills was not unusual and death after childbirth was not unusual either. In a different age, the eyes of Gretchen Schwartz might have been celebrated or at least treated with mild curiosity instead of revilement but as is the case with a many a spectacular thing, Gretchen’s eyes inspired jealousy and fear.
Because Marta had died, Gunther sent for his mother Fee to help with the baby. Fee was apple-round, warm-scented like cinnamon, a quintessential grandmotherly type long before the birth of her first grandchild. She loved wholly and fiercely and knew the instant she gazed upon Gretchen that the child would need to be protected. Fee and Gunther told the villagers the babe was slight, would need to be closely kept, sheltered to survive. Fee strapped the raven-haired, snow-skinned child to her back and went about the business of the household. Gretchen’s earliest memories were of pies bubbling and baking, birdsong underneath thick boughs, meadows full of feverfew. Fee sang songs and recited stories of lovers and warlocks. Gretchen learned to darn socks, spice a stew, skin a rabbit, and churn butter before she was three.
Gunther and Fee knew the days of solitude would one day end. Villagers, by nature, are curious. A huntsman would report hearing a voice to rival an angel’s singing. A dairy farmer would tell how his prize heifer had come back to the barn bedecked in garlands. A maid would catch her beau spying on a beauty tending the garden behind the Schwartz house.
And so it happened that this maid, the daughter of the Bürgermeister, became compelled to meet Gretchen Schwartz. Inga was betrothed but it was a marriage of arrangement. Her intended, the young man spying upon Gretchen, was the son of the Bürgermeister of the neighboring village. Thus, one day, when Fee had gone to market and Gunther was on the hunt, Inga stole into the garden of the Schwartz house. Fee was much beloved but there was village chatter about how her garden grew so well. Some neighbors with less successful gardens secretly harbored beliefs that magic was afoot. Indeed, Inga had never seen chard so large nor so many different colors of zinnias. She was marveling at the wondrous size of the melons and squash when she heard a melodic voice. She took cover beneath elephantine leaves of spinach. She listened raptly to the beautiful rendition of a childhood song she knew well. She was enchanted. When the song ended, she peered out and was met with a gaze that astonished her. A face, round and pure, like alabaster, with a nose straight and small, two black firmly arched eyebrows, full lips which looked berry-ripe and most astonishing of all, an eye the color of the sky and one of warm molasses. Inga fell back upon a cucumber, which loudly squished beneath her. Surely, she had seen the face of fairy or an angel. Could a human have ever been made so beautiful? A delicate laugh, like the tinkling of bells, and then a snow-white hand with long, lovely, tapered fingers extended to her through the tangle of vines and leaves. Gretchen’s touch sounded song through Inga’s body. Her skin was warm, softer than down. Her grasp was firm but gentle. Gretchen pulled Inga up from the garden patch and the two young women stood scant inches apart. Inga could smell peaches and roses and a scent she would never be able to fully identify. And when words failed to find her, Inga felt hot tears forming as the other girl embraced her and whispered, “Hello. I’m Gretchen.”
Gretchen Schwartz had never met another person besides Fee and Gunther. She had never shaken a hand or introduced herself. She did what she always did when she encountered her grandmother or father. She had only known love.
Inga felt her body tighten like a thread pulled fast before tying the knot, and then she felt a flood of warmth, an attraction to another like she had never known possible. She turned her face slightly, finding the girl’s pink seashell of an ear and whispered her own name.
It is said that Love cannot be concealed. Unfortunately, for Inga, but most especially for Gretchen, this was true. Johan, Inga’s intended, recognized immediately the passion she felt for Gretchen, as he too had such feelings for the mysterious girl. He felt shocked and betrayed watching the two girls embrace, as well as aroused and angry. The boy stood up from behind the boulder past the garden gate and denounced Gretchen.
“Witch! Harlot! You have bewitched my beloved!”
Inga, recognizing the wrathful voice, freed herself from Gretchen and ran past her, out the garden, down the lane, back to her house and the safety her father would afford her. Gretchen, scared and confused but assured of her own goodness, began to approach Johan. She opened her arms to him, to embrace him and he let fly the arrow which pierced her heart.
In that patch of garden, upon one side blue Forget-Me-Nots bloom year-round; the other side is always fallow, mud-brown and hardened.
Sow seeds carefully.
My first written stories were fairy tales so I was very happy to discover that the celebrated Ellipsis Zine in the UK was calling for myths, legends and fairy tales for their 12th anthology WADE. If you enjoyed my maudlin little story, I highly encourage you to seek out Ellipsis Zine and read all of the beautiful work in this newest anthology.