Willow by Linda McMullen

Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash

My name was Jill, once upon a time, but I altered it after my brother’s infamous tangle. He told a slanted tale to disguise the fact that he was nothing but a common thief – and a murderer to boot. 

The neighbors, who disliked his lordship’s rent-collector, hailed Jack as a hero. 

I knew better. 

Jack the Giant-Killer, indeed. 

Our names were too entwined for me to delight in mine. Willow had a healing cadence.

So.

I refused to eat the food Mother bought with Jack’s ill-gotten gains. I left to make my way in the world. I worked as a housekeeper, as a serving-girl, and as a laundress; nothing took. Becoming a lady’s maid was impossible; I had not my brother’s deft hands. Still, I searched. 

I had a chance encounter with a bakery owner, Mrs. Grundy, as she fluttered about, a red hen in a white apron. She needed someone to mind the shop as she mounted her legal defense. She had built her business painstakingly, but several neighbors were claiming her success as their own… and were suing for a piece of the pie. 

I took the position. 

Each night Mrs. Grundy returned, retold the proceedings. On my day off, I set off to watch. 

Fantastic.

At the court, I breathed every case, shadowed prosecutors and defenders, absorbed argumentative arts. I loved the drama, the consequence – the righteousness

And, after Mrs. Grundy won, I thought to use my new knowledge. I presented myself to Mrs. Langer, the ex-steward’s widow; she wore crepe, and a frown.

It took weeks to convince her of my sincerity.

“Jack is your brother!” she cried.

“And?” I answered.

I prevailed upon her to seek justice.  At the next assizes, I represented the plaintiff in Langer v. Horner.

Jack stared

I ignored him.

The solicitors and the crowd jeered. I ignored them, too.

It was harder to turn my eyes from Mother.

Jack’s representative complained: “She’s not a lawyer.”

The judge replied, “Mrs. Langer’s representation is her own business.”

I presented my case: Mrs. Langer had invited Jack in for lunch one icy noon. Mr. Langer, the lord’s venomous steward, was spotted: Mrs. Langer tucked Jack into a cupboard. While Mr. Langer dozed, Jack fled – making off with his purse, his goose, and his harp. When Mr. Langer pursued him, Jack picked up a handy machete and scaled a sycamore…sawing halfway through the largest bough. Mr. Langer climbed up after him, the bough broke, and down came he. 

Branch and all. 

Jack took the stand. He spun a tale of an overzealous steward imperiling the peasantry. “I redistributed the money,” he said, “and Mr. Langer’s death was a tragic accident.”

“You mean you redistributed the coins into your pocket, the goose into your stomach, and the harp into your beloved’s bedchamber,” I replied. “And you killed a man.”

The judge found Jack guilty of theft and murder. “Jack,” he said, donning the black cap, “your story doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.”

About The Author

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over fifty literary magazines, including, most recently, Drunk Monkeys, Storgy, and Newfound.

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