Sunday, February 9, 2014

Story Time: The Tale of Rona Greenteeth


The Story of Rona Greenteeth
By Mataoka the Shaman
“You’re too fat. You will never give my son children. You can’t cook, your house is filthy, and your hair is a fright.”
“Herbert never should have married you.”

Rona felt these words though they went unspoken. Her mother-in-law dramatically held a scented handkerchief by her nose every time she visited, clutching it with a shaky, gnarled hand while Rona’s husband partially, blissfully remained oblivious. Momma Greenteeth never spoke a disparaging word, only groused and grumbled passively, asking things such as “Was her oven in working order?” because the chicken was underdone, or did she “…know of a good servant?” sneezing like a cat from mismanaged dust motes. Sometimes Rona noticed her cupboards rearranged, or her spices put in alphabetical order after Momma Greenteeth left. Over time, her visits became less frequent, so Rona relaxed somewhat. But in the beginning of her newly wedded joy, Mother Greenteeth destroyed the eager young bride with such sharp disdainful looks, and biting commentary Rona checked her arms for bleeding and cuts after a visit.

Rona knew what she was getting into when she fell in love with Herbert, only in the way one can know because the ending is revealed, not actually having the daily experience. The knowing nods of youth are the highest form of self-deception.

Herbert was the eldest son of three: Momma Greenteeth fought for blessings for all her sons, but the fatigue of fighting for the outlier Herbert took its toll. He was just too different. Herbert was thrown from the nest, tossed to the streets, and sent to make his way and his fortunes, do or die, on his own.

Her younger sons both took brides, too, but each was more like Momma in variation: the middle son loved a woman of tradition, of prim and restricted inclinations, odd and unsocial. The youngest son, the favorite, married Jenny Hensworth, who represented the idealized woman Momma Greenteeth believed herself to truly be. Rona was nothing like the image Momma Greenteeth projected, but Jenny slithered in and made a home with the Greenteeth clan by marrying the youngest son, the baby named Kallax. He lived in the Greenteeth estate long after marriageable age, never asked to leave home, gain employment, or seek his fortunes. The baby of the family is often the reclamation child, the child all mothers see as redemptive. His artistic temperament bloomed without worry of a rent payment or grocery bill. His bride, Jenny, an older woman by ten years, managed to give him a son, and they all lived under the Greenteeth roof.

But all was not well.

Two queens in a castle do not always rule the throne with grace. One must always be the maid, while the other the matriarch. Jenny cared for the aging Greenteeths, Momma and Papa, cooked the dinners, while taking care of her infant son strapped to her back, but enjoyed the warmth and luxury of the home and accouterments, too. Rona saw this from afar, heard the stories of discontent in the Greenteeth home, and thanked her stars they lived just far enough away, over the hill, so that she would not continually be compared to the perfect one, the beautiful one: Jenny.

Though Rona knew, as one can only know something superficially, that all was not well, the news they shared with the world was of a perfect scenario: Jenny and Momma Greenteeth began to supplement their income with homemade jams, baked goods, and all manner of delicious feasts, sweet and savory. When Rona first married Herbert she could barely burn a coal, her culinary skills so lacking. She didn’t feel jealous that the two women had found a means to showcase their talents, but their arrangement only served to give Rona the realization that she was not invited to help, or provide any of her own talents. Dejected, she realized her gifts came in one size: make Herbert happy.

And Herbert was happy. For him, she learned to cook a few of his favorite foods: she sought the advice of the market women and the inn chefs, those who had a knack for braised spring lamb, or grated-cheese dumplings. She tended to stay away from pastries, and focused on meats, foul, or pork dishes. There was an abundance of game in the forests, though…the days did seem to stay darker longer, and the skies fogged green haze. The chickens stopped laying eggs, and the cows’ milk dried.

On a cold, frozen morning, Herbert fell gravely ill. His pasty, ashen face slick with cold sweat, and his sunken eyes seemed droopy and red. He grew sicker each day, though Rona worked her fingers to the bone to care for him. The Greenteeths provided perfunctory acknowledgment that their struggle was real, but it was Rona’s parents who provided true help when help was needed. Her house never did get clean, her loving projects incomplete, and their struggles caused puzzle-shifts in solidarity: one thing would get done, and another would fall apart. That would be fixed, and a crack would appear somewhere else. The money would flow in, and an unexpected bill would eat it up. News from the North gave her chills: plague, war, and death: apocalyptic premonitions dominated her mental landscape in the wee hours of the morning. Herbert slept when her insomnia roamed: down to the mental checklists of doings, up to the North where the green smoke blew, around and over the hill where the family lived; close in distance, but worlds away. But then Herbert’s snore became the death rattle, and he left her, too.

At Herbert’s funeral, Momma Greenteeth shunned the banquet Rona laid out, and muttered within earshot that it was probably her cooking that killed him.

Mustering all the quiet dignity she could, Rona rose up, kissed the corpse on the forehead, and left the funeral. All were cursed in her wake.

With nothing for her in the forest farmlands, Rona packed up her belongings in an old gypsy cart Herbert had built for bringing eggs and cheeses to the market. She was never sure why she took a horrifying trophy, though, and kept it in a box: a lock of his hair, and his ring—still on his ring finger. Before his wake she paid the mortician no small amount of gold for this service, and to cover his missing finger hand with the other as he was laid out.


This is all Rona remembers. She remembers Herbert, and how she loved him. She remembers dusty wings of a looming angel-warrior, beckoning her from the dirt, from the worms, to rise, rise, and rise again in a new dead life. Herbert never received the same offer. It was too late for him.

As for the Greenteeth clan, tales of Jenny and a child she lost, and an eternal search for another. But that is a story for another time.

Rona found refuge in the forests of the faire. She had a special stock she nurtured and simmered, and it had a faint taste…hard to put one's finger on it...

10 comments:

  1. Oh, poor Rona. I'm going to make a point of visiting her more and while I will buy her food to be polite I'm not sure I'm going to eat it anymore ... just in case.

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    1. I would advise against it. She does love the company, but her cooking -- well, it very well may have killed poor Herbert. We'll just never know.

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  2. <3 Absolutely adored the ending. Mine is coming soon.

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    1. Thanks Erinys! Can't wait to read yours!

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  3. Replies
    1. Gracias, Dah! Much appreciated

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  4. Anonymous11.2.14

    Oh my, wonderful Matty. Poor Rona... - Navi

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    1. Well at least she can make a living…an undead living?

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  5. Of course there was a lesser known Greenteeth brother living away from the rest of the clan near the Mississippi border. Charlie Daniels met him during his Uneasy Ride (http://youtu.be/952h-AJ3Bcg) "I just reached out and kicked ole Greenteeth right in the knee"

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    1. Come to think of it, I think my granddaddy knew him…I'll be damned…

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