SPRING 2017 SECOND PLACE
The haar drifts across the fields. It knuckles into crannies and makes it easy to forage unnoticed, perfect for slipping into back gardens to plunder the riches of the soil. I fill my sack with knobbly carrots, hard-hearted cabbages, onions so large they’d burst their beds and—if I’m lucky—redcurrants that glisten like ruby pinheads in the swirling grey. Locals believe the mists shroud the souls of lost sailors. When they notice a missing pumpkin or a gap in their phalanx of leeks, they’ll likely put it down to roaming spirits.
I’d learnt my skills at Grandfather’s side; watched his arthritic fingers twist slender green beans from wigwams before filling his dampened pockets. Following a successful pillage, our caravan dripped with the scented vapour of soups and jam.
A tiny fist grasps my hair, and I smile, remembering Midsummer’s Eve. How, after one rosehip wine too many, my tale of finding this wee bairn beneath the blackcurrant bushes stilled the night. Gifts of trefoil, vervain and rue appeared on the wagon’s steps: blessings for the infant sprite.
Truth is, I spread my legs for the handsome captain of a ship moored by the quayside. Voluminous skirts and Grandfather’s failing eyesight allowed me to hide my growing belly. On the day my waters broke, I slipped into the long grass at the river’s edge to give birth like a forest animal. While my baby lay mewling on blood stained petticoats, I wiped away the vernix with leaves from a nearby clump of sorrel.
Sorrel—for what else could I have named her?—squirms in the shawl I’ve tied across my back. She’s hungry, so I reach for a tender pod dangling from tendrils. Her eyes widen as I pop a bright green pea between her rosy lips.
The mist is lifting, snatching my cover, and I should return. Grandfather will want his supper. Besides, this morning there was talk of a tall ship arriving with its cargo of tea. Tonight I’ll scour the inns for its captain; he’ll shoulder his responsibilities or end his days cursed on the high seas.