Long ago, in the Age of Enchantments, when magic and other wondrous forces were still plentiful and commonplace, there lived a beautiful woman possessed of such powers. Her name, appropriately, was Joy. She was tall and blonde, with gentle features and a graceful manner. Joy was kind and motherly; and how she came to be involved with the meanest man in the entire township was a mystery to all who lived there. Envy, as he was called, was her opposite in every way; he was short and fat, with a big bald head and a harsh face out of which he spat mean and hateful words. As it seemed, wherever Joy went, Envy was soon to follow and eventually the township came to think of them as a couple. Joy had “the touch” but her powers did not extend over the will of others and, try as she might to soften him, Envy held tight to his insufferable ways.
Envy wanted what Joy had and he failed to see how his own efforts could obtain for him all he desired. His jealousy consumed him, and he made it his mission to have her. Whenever another man so much as looked in her direction, Envy made such a raucous that, despite her beauty and kindness, Joy was soon alone. With no other prospects, she eventually relented and agreed to be married to Envy, holding on to the hope that perhaps one day he would change. Unfortunately, he did not.
Day after day, Joy awoke and prepared a glorious breakfast for her husband. But no matter what delicacies she laid before him, he always accused her of placing the tastiest morsels on her own plate. Still, Joy spent her days tending their garden with great care, happy to have the sunshine upon her face, and choosing the ripest fruits and vegetables for their suppers. She labored over the stove for hours, mixing spices and spells and concocting the most delicious of dinners. She whistled and sang while she worked; enjoying the aromas of the kitchen and gleefully anticipating the tastes she would create. Each night, with the feast set before them, Envy would eat heartily. But instead of complimenting her skill, his breath was spent pointing out Joy’s mistakes that made the meal less than what it could have been.
After a while, Joy grew weary of Envy’s ways and consulted her father. Wisdom, as he was known, advised Joy to leave Envy, and warned that she would wither if she chose to remain in his presence much longer. But Joy was known to often ignore Wisdom, and went to her mother for help instead. Compassion, as her mother was known, felt sorry for Envy. She understood how he came to be the way he was and shared this insight with Joy, who then felt compelled to help him. With this new understanding, Joy’s spirit was bolstered and she returned to Envy with renewed vigor and determination in her soul. Thinking long and hard and, once again ignoring Wisdom, she decided to have a child with Envy…to give him a son.
At first, this seemed to work and Envy lavished such attention on Joy that she felt quite special. He boasted of his impending fatherhood in the taverns of town and bragged to all who would listen how he had bedded the woman more beautiful than all their wives put together. And when their son was finally born, Envy named him Worry after his great grandfather. Worry lived up to his name and soon his mother decided it best to give him a brother to protect him and help him carry his burden. Envy was proud to once again father a child, wielding tales of his virility as a shield from the embarrassment of Worry’s weakness. This second son was named Comparison, a name of Envy’s own creation, and determined to avoid Worry, Envy spent all his time with Comparison. Worry would not be denied, though, and he did his best to follow his father and brother wherever they went.
Joy loved her sons and showered them with hugs and kisses and every kindness that motherhood had ever known. She took the boys into the sunshine with her each day, and taught them games to play and showed them how to tend the garden. She shared with them the wonders of nature and sometimes used her magic to delight them with flowers that turned to butterflies and landed on their noses before fluttering away. And yet still they argued.
“Worry’s butterfly was bigger and flew faster than mine! I want a fast one,” complained Comparison.
“If his is faster it might catch mine and eat it,” worried Worry.
“Butterflies aren’t supposed to be fast, sweat heart. And they don’t eat each other either.” Despite the explanation, Comparison glared at Worry and Worry cried. And so went their days until, at last, Joy began to feel small and weak in their presence.
A change had settled in on their homestead and the sunshine that once dominated the sky was obscured by frequent clouds and bouts of rain. Joy tried hard to appreciate her new surroundings and looked amongst the clouds for silver linings while her children bickered in the background. If only…she thought. And on the advisement of her mother, Joy paid extra special attention to her husband in hopes of shifting the mood in the house. Before long, Joy felt the faint flutter of life within her once again and she knew that this time would be different. Proud as ever, Envy bragged to all in town. But when a daughter was born to them, Envy was humiliated and soon laid his wrath upon her. Joy; however, was thrilled to have a girl and named her Gratitude, as an expression of her thankfulness.
Gratitude had a special way of looking at the world that filled Joy’s spirit and brought happiness to all who encountered her. Gratitude tended the garden with all the care of her mother. She thanked the worms that tilled the soil and wondered at the busy bees carrying pollen from flower to flower. She appreciated the afternoon rain showers that saved her the trouble of lugging buckets of water from the nearby stream. And she was grateful to the sunshine for feeding the plants that would feed her family. With Gratitude, balance was restored to the homestead and their days were bright.
With three children now, Joy was busy indeed. And although she did quite a good job of happily caring for both husband and offspring, Envy soon became jealous of the attention she paid the children. His mean nature returned, having never really dissipated in the first place, and he began sniping at the brood with particular vengeance. Worry and Comparison were not immune to his venom, but he saved the bulk of his disdain for Gratitude. No matter what she said, or how she said it, he would be sure to contradict her. And if no argument could be made, he simply ridiculed her. The boys joined in, happy to keep their father’s attention off themselves, and Gratitude’s days became filled with attacks of contempt and condescension.
But the little girl’s spirit was stronger than that of her brother’s, stronger even than that of her father’s, and for a long time she was able to see past their hurts and still find plenty to be thankful for. Meanwhile, Worry and Comparison grew bigger (as little boys do) and Envy spent more and more of his time with them. The trio fed on each other’s energy and it became harder and harder still for Joy to share her magic with her children. She missed the days when she could round them up and take them outside in the first morning light; holding the sun just a little longer on the horizon so they could delight in the way that it sparkled on the pond. Diamonds, they thought, and she would step out onto the water and gather her arms full of the golden glitter for them to play with. But now they slept too far past the sunrise, staying up late into the night, their minds swirling with the same type of thoughts for which they were named. And the less they slept, the meaner and more persistent they became, until their voices drowned out their sister’s and Gratitude no longer thrived. Wasting disease, the doctor called it, when a child fails to grow and begins to wither. Gratitude was wasting away under the dark clouds that were her brothers.
Despite the dire situation, Joy still loved all three of her children and decided to redouble her efforts to regain some of what they once had. Wisdom again advised her to leave Envy, and again she ignored him. Compassion told her that sons needed a father. Wisdom warned her that the boys, now of age, had made their choices and had chosen their father. Compassion pleaded with her to try once more to reclaim them. And although a mother’s love is stronger than all else in heaven or on earth, it is sometimes foolishly weakened by hope and a desire for what can never be. This was the fate that had befallen Joy as she turned a blind eye to all else and in blissful ignorance planned one last attempt to win over her children.
As was the custom in days gone by, when time was gauged by daybreaks and night falls, not tracked by clocks and calendars, families celebrated birthdays on a day of their own choosing each year. One special day to be shared by all. Her children’s birthday approaching, she could tell from the nip in the evening air, Joy thought this to be the perfect occasion to bring her family together and bind them all in merriment and happiness with good food and a few magical pleasures. Gratitude helped her harvest the juiciest apples from the orchard and plucked the hardiest carrots from the ground. Together they pulled up potatoes and picked the last of the beans and carried their bounty to the kitchen where Joy would mingle it with magic and sprinkle it with love and create a feast like none they had ever had before.
“Just look at all this, mother!” Gratitude gazed upon the harvest baskets in amazement.
“Indeed, my dearest daughter, we have much to be thankful for.” Joy smiled as she bent down, touched the tip of her finger to her daughter’s nose, and kissed the top of her head. The two whistled and sang and chopped and stirred as the afternoon flew by, and when darkness came they lit candles and called the rest of the family around the table.
Uneasiness settled in around them as Worry and Envy took their seats. Comparison was the last to arrive, taking note of the portion sizes on each of the plates. He said nothing, but silently noted that his brother had more, and resolved to get the biggest piece of the pie when it came time for dessert. Worry saw the sideways glance his brother laid upon him and his mind ran wild, imagining all the things he could have done wrong to draw such a look. Envy, seeing the glow surrounding his wife and daughter, desired a piece of their happiness but was too distracted with Worry and Comparison to join in their enjoyment of the meal. A day of joyful gratitude was no match for years of envy, worry, and comparison; and by the end of the celebratory dinner both mother and daughter were weak.
Joy had one last gift to bestow upon her children and, as she stood from the table, all eyes were upon her. Reaching out in front of her, she held her palms toward the ceiling, tilted her head back slightly, and closed her eyes. She summoned the powers of nature, calling forth forces of heaven and earth and above the table stars began to twinkle and snowflakes began to fall. Gratitude was delighted by the show and clapped her hands in excitement.
“Oh thank you, Mother! Thank you!”
“Shut up,” said Worry. “You’ll distract her and it’ll all turn to rain.”
Gratitude was silenced and Joy pushed on. Opening her eyes and pointing a finger at each of her children in turn, Joy placed in front of them each their own single, perfect snowflake, large as a platter and shimmering silver in the candlelight. The snowflakes spun slowly in front of each child, and as they turned they played a tune that danced through the air and tickled their ears. Gratitude giggled with glee and Joy’s heart swelled with happiness.
“Worry’s snowflake has more sparkle than mine,” Comparison said, his voice heavy and sad.
“Oh no,” said Worry. “Turn down its sparkle, Mother, or mine will burn itself out and I’ll be left with nothing but a dull, boring piece of ice.”
“Shut up the both of you,” spat Envy. “Joy, I command you to create for me a snowflake grander than anything you’ve made for the children. I am their father, the head of this household, and I should have the best of all that is to be had.”
Gratitude sat silently, a single tear streaked down her face. For all the while her family complained, she searched and searched for something to be thankful for and, having exhausted all effort, she had no strength left to be grateful. Joy watched, heartbroken, as the last of her dear Gratitude faded from existence. The snowflakes began to melt and the stars upon the ceiling ceased their twinkling. Joy sunk to the floor and breathed her last; for joy and heartbreak cannot occupy the same space.
It is the nature of Envy to breed Worry and Comparison. Wisdom tells us they must be abandoned in favor of Gratitude. For it is Gratitude that fuels Joy; giving it strength to continue through trials and tragedies. And try as it might, Joy feels hollow without Gratitude and cannot long last without it.
Gratitude, having been exhausted into nothingness, lay in the great beyond; her spark of life merely an ember, no longer strong enough to burn beyond the veil. Joy joined her there and in their reunion regained her magic. Wisdom, having finally reached his daughter, convinced the two that any attempt to live with Envy, Worry, and Comparison would be nothing more than a foolhardy mission and mother and daughter vowed never to return. They can be found; however, by anyone who looks for them. Their magic abounds in every corner of the earth; they are there in every sunset and at the dawn of every day. They light upon the flowers and follow bumble bees and butterflies. They skip among the stars and rustle gently through the leaves. Listen for them in the babbling brooks and birdsongs. And when you find them, say thank you and they’ll stay with you a while.
© Kelly Rainey and 500wordsandcounting.wordpress.com, 2015. Picture by Daniel F. Gerhartz.
**This story inspired the creation of more art. Take a look. But first…
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