Magic Ointment [fiction]

An odd tale penned by my friend Lola Gentry-Dey and me. Based on a story Lola read when she was a child, this is her version with my two cents thrown in.

Once upon a time, an unemployed nurse named Sarah lived in a small village inside New York City, and though she had no family except a drunken nephew in Queens, she kept herself busy. She made it her business to call on her neighbors with hot chicken soup when they became ill, and she took care of many poor and homeless children.

One autumn night, as the wind howled outside her apartment windows, Sarah was in her bed and almost asleep when she heard a knock on her door. It was midnight, and she knew it must be urgent. She slipped into her robe and hurried to the door.

She looked through the peephole, saw no one, but the knocking continued. When she opened the door, a stranger—a small, ugly fellow with a fat, crooked nose and black, shifty eyes—gruffly said, “You must come and look after our baby. My wife is too ill to care for him.”

“Well, why don’t you take care of them?” Sarah asked.

“I would,” the ugly fellow replied, “but it’s poker night.”

Sarah didn’t like the looks or shiftlessness of this man, but she didn’t like to turn down anyone in need. So she dressed and pulled on a heavy coat to shield her from the weather, and she walked outside.

There on the street sat the little man on a large, black motorcycle. The bike’s chrome gleamed bright despite the darkness. Sarah hesitated.

“Up you go,” the little man said, offering his arm, and Sarah shook away her worries and climbed up behind him.

Before she could settle herself, the motorcycle was off, whisking so fast through the village that Sarah had to hang on to the little man for dear life. They rode for what seemed like a long time, and headed into the countryside, so Sarah lost her bearings. But eventually they arrived at a tiny bungalow made of wood.

Sarah dismounted and went inside. She had to pass several children quarreling in front of a noisy television until she found the little man’s wife lying in bed inside a tiny bedroom. Her skin was pale and her eyes dark with sadness, and in her arms rested a beautiful newborn child—a little boy with blonde hair so bright it shone like a halo, and a face as lovely as any Sarah had ever seen.

“You should be in a hospital,” Sarah said softly to both mother and child.

The mother shook her head sadly. “My labor was sudden and the baby came quickly,” she said weakly as she lifted the infant for Sarah to take him into her arms. Then the mother handed a small box to Sarah, and said, “Put this ointment on his eyelids as soon as he opens his eyes.”

Sarah carried the little boy into another room. Before long, he opened his eyes. Despite his beauty, the boy had his father’s black, squinty eyes. Just as the mother had instructed her, Sarah stroked his eyelids with the ointment. The baby smiled and closed his eyes and slept once more.

Sarah peered at the ointment. It was swirls of pink and violet goo and unlike any ointment she had ever seen or smelled before. Being curious, she stroked her own eyelids with the ointment.

In a flash, everything around her changed. The house grew from a tiny, dark, miserable place into a big beautiful mansion furnished with the finest things. When Sarah walked into the bedroom, the mother was no longer sad and exhausted; she was as beautiful as a Fortune 500 wife and dressed in silks and satins and brocades. The baby was not squinty-eyed—he was the handsomest child in the world.

And those quarreling children in front of the TV were not little boys and girls; they were imps with blazing eyes and pointy ears and wrinkled faces. Sarah now understood, for her grandmother had told her of such things; she had walked into a house of pixies, creatures that had likely abducted the woman.

She knew a thing or two about pixies from her grandmother, including this: She could not say a word against them or they would imprison her. So she remained silent, though she stayed for several days, looking after the sweet baby boy.

At week’s end, the woman was well again.

“Do you wish to escape from here?” Sarah asked her.

“No,” the woman replied, “it was my choice to marry into the family,” and she thanked Sarah for caring for her child. “Take her home now,” the woman said to her husband.

The little man was no longer ugly, of course, but he remained squinty-eyed and shiftless in demeanor, like every man Sarah had ever known.

Once again, they rode the black motorcycle through strange woodland until they reached Sarah’s apartment building. Before he left her, the man paid Sarah more money than she had ever been paid in her life.

She was, of course, overjoyed, but curious. “Why does one so wealthy gamble his fortune?” she wanted to ask, but she knew from her grandmother never to ask about the affairs of pixies. Instead, she thanked him and watched him drive away.

The next day she went to the supermarket and while selecting the finest tomatoes, the ripest melons, the sweetest apples, she noticed a squinty-eyed pixie also shopping there. At each place he stopped at, he stole something—eggs, broccoli, beets, anything he could grab.

Sarah did not think his criminal activity was any of her business, so she ignored him until he passed by.

“Good day to you, sir,” she said.

He turned on his heels and glared. “You see me?”

“Of course,” Sarah said, and she smiled knowingly. “And I see you’ve been busy today!”

The pixie’s face clouded with anger. “You see too much,” he snapped. “You stole from our magic ointment, and for that you will pay!” And he struck her with a knobby, wooden staff.

Sarah gasped and put her hands to her face, “I can’t see!” she cried. And sure enough, the squinty-eyed pixie had blinded her.

From that day on, Sarah stayed inside her apartment and used her money to pay a private nurse to sit and care for her. The nurse came every morning and left every night at bedtime. Though Sarah held no ill will to the fellow she had offended, she told her nurse to beware any pixies who may come calling.

The nurse promised, and when a year had passed and the spell had entered its fifth cycle, she—a beautiful woman who had given birth to a beautiful child—stayed the night until Sarah was asleep. Then she gently rubbed a healing ointment on Sarah’s eyelids before she left quietly, never to return.

In the morning when Sarah awoke able to see again, she happily busied herself in her kitchen, and then called on the sick with hot chicken soup, all the while wary of ugly, squinty-eyed men on motorcycles.


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