Nadine by Linda McMullen

Fairy tales rarely come true for well-behaved girls. 

Luckily for me, I never was one.

Though female, I never knew how to keep my peace. And I knew feminine docility wouldn’t help me make my way – especially after my father died, and his will became known.

My eldest brother inherited the mill, and my second brother the donkey, and as for the third –

“It’s not fair that Father left me nothing, and you got a cat!” I cried. “We should hold a contest to see who can make the best use of the creature!”

Our elder brothers taunted him cruelly, and he had no choice but to agree.

My third brother took the cat into town, pleaded for coins near the church. He collected ten.

I went to the square, right before a well-publicized and particularly festive hanging, and started a rumor: This cat can tell fortunes.

A saucy country girl sneered, “It can’t either.”

I pretended to consult Puss, while inspecting her. A frayed ribbon holding an acorn cup about her neck, dusty handprints on her dress, dirty fingernails. I whispered, “Your sweetheart will abandon you for a town girl who keeps her legs together.”

She screamed and paled terrifically before the crowd. 

I brought home fifty coins. 

My elder brothers awarded me the cat.

I charitably gave my third brother a token sum, then Puss and I wended our way toward the fair outside the next town. “Puss” advised a plain maid with calloused hands to confess her love (to the butcher she works for, gauging by her apron; surely, he admires her industriousness). “Puss” told a reeking man with a shiner that he would win more fights sober. “Puss” hinted that a wife “tending” her frail, malicious, noble husband would soon come into money.

When we had finished taking the town, we set off for the capital.

I invested in a costume for the cat – a Robin Hood-type affair – and we set up shop: Puss-in-Boots Tells Your Future.  Business proceeded haltingly: a hopeful debutante, a gullible spinster. One day, a young captain approached, his brass buttons blinding. 

“You’re a fraud,” he declared.

Faint lipstick stains on his collar – two shades. “You’re a rogue,” I returned.

He grinned, offered me a drink.

We chattered. He was no more a soldier than the cat was a mystic. He labored as a cut-rate actor, and his theater sought fresh entertainments for the intermission. “It wouldn’t take much of your time,” he wheedled. “I’ll only ask ten percent of your take.” 

I fobbed him off with pennies by underreporting my tips. The theatre manager observed my performance with the cat, and my second act undercounting the actor’s share. He smiled like a villain and said nothing.

Within weeks, the manager offered me a role in the regular repertory. I would play the greatest of all storytellers, who bewitched a king over a thousand nights…

I returned Puss to my brother. 

I hope the cat brings him luck. 

A princess, perhaps…?

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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