by Sarina Dorie
Hunger raked the inside of my belly with freshly sharpened claws. I left the straw
pallet beside my mother, shivering despite the warmth of the fire in the hearth. The
apple Father had brought us last winter twinkled on the shelf.
"Will you have a taste?" my father had asked, holding out the glittering apple. It
was like him, too perfect and too beautiful to be of this world.
One look from my mother had told me I was not to do so. She had warned, "Take
not one bite, Katy, for if you do, you will waste away from pining."
My father's moss-tinted cheeks had flushed green, his emerald eyes narrowing. He
hadn't returned after that.
It remained on that shelf a year, as fresh and new as the day he'd brought it.
I tiptoed toward the apple. My belly gurgled with hunger. I lifted the apple,
brushing my lips against the skin. A perfume of fall enveloped me. The flavor of
sweet fruit blossomed in my memory. My mouth watered.
"What are you about?" called my mother from her scraps of blanket.
I set the apple on the shelf behind me, my guilty demeanor surely bespeaking my
Mother squinted in the darkness. "Come to bed, child."
I sighed, hating when she called me child. I was nigh seventeen.
Her bony hand squeezed mine as I slipped into bed beside her. The whining
complaints of her empty belly and the cramping protests of my own made it hard
to sleep. Even so, I rose at daybreak to feed the fire. Between the sunlight and the
flames, the interior of our cottage glittered with a million gems Father had brought
as gifts; the walls laced with intricate patterns of emeralds and sapphires, and the
table inlaid with diamonds -- fairy jewels that turned to dust mere moments after
leaving our possession.
I let Mother save her strength and sleep while I foraged outside. But I was dizzy
with hunger and so fatigued I only managed to dig far enough under the snow to
gather a handful of wilted greens and some kind of root I wasn't even certain was
Mother was still as I set the vegetables in a pot to boil. I barely had enough
strength to crush a few nuts.
"I made broth for us." I touched her hand, her fingers chilled despite the warmth of
the little cottage.
She stirred not.
"Mama." Desperation leaked into my tone as I shook her slender shoulder.
Her body was stiff and cold and she wouldn't wake. For the first time in my life, I