The wife let her children play outside without any supervision. There was the time I pulled the little boy out of the pond when he’d slipped in. I jumped in and pulled him, gasping and clawing, to the shore. He clung to me, crying and I felt guilty taking him back to his mother. She screamed at him for his carelessness and I could tell he was terrified. He must have been about two. I wished I could have just taken him home with me.
Another day, the little boy’s older sister was playing in the road in front of their house, a rider was approaching and I was sure he didn’t see her. The little girl was so preoccupied with her game of stacking sticks and pebbles that she didn’t pay attention. I left my garden where I was working, ran into the road and whisked her out of the way of the horseman.
They didn’t deserve those children.
I would have taken better care of them if they were mine.
They weren’t mine though. I didn’t have children, or even a husband. I had to spend all my nurturing energy on my garden—and I also needed to keep an eagle eye out for the neighbor children. Someone had to.
The father of the children next door was a bedraggled sort. He’d come in from the fields in the evenings with sagging shoulders. His wife gave all the attention she didn’t give to her children to him, in the form of yelling and harping. He must have either taken it stoically or completely tuned her out. I never heard his voice raised to her. I also never saw him do anything about their falling down house or broken walkway.
I wasn’t sure, but I thought they hit their children too. Sometimes I would see bruises on their upper arms and the children seemed to look at their parents fearfully.
They really were awful.
One day I noticed to my dismay that the woman was expecting another child. It made me livid. I told myself that it was because she didn’t take care of her children but I knew it was more than that. I was livid because I was jealous. I would have given anything to have a little child of my own. Watching my abusive and undeserving neighbors being blessed with what I could not have was almost more than I could bear.
I started to lose sleep over my bitterness. I would lie in my bed and consider how unfair my life was. One night I heard something outside my window. It was a warm night and my shutters were left open so I could enjoy the cool breeze. I listened for a while and then I was sure, there was definitely an intruder. Probably a deer, it sounded too big for a rabbit. I lit a lamp and put on my wrap and walked out to scare it away. I wasn’t sleeping; I might as well protect my garden.
I was shocked to see my neighbor in my garden! He seemed equally shocked to see me. We stared at each other wide-eyed in the dim light of my lantern.
“I…I…” he stammered. He looked down at his hands, which were clutching handfuls of my prize rapunzel. He hastily dropped it to the ground but I had clearly seen.
“You’re stealing from me!?” I demanded, shrieked really. I already felt venom for these neighbors that had what I could not have, that neglected their children, and now they were stealing from me?
He looked completely terrified and that made me even angrier. I didn’t want to be out of control. I didn’t want to be looked at like I was a crazy person. I was the victim here. He was the one in the wrong.
“Please,” he said, holding up his empty hands, “My wife…she was craving some of your beautiful greens. She wouldn’t let me rest until I had taken some for her. Please. I’m sorry.”
At that point, I really lost it. He was stealing my rapunzel, violating my privacy and disturbing my night to placate his pregnant wife!? Without thinking I picked up a nearby hoe. I swung it at him and he dodged it.
“Stop!” he cried. “What do you want from me?”
“I want the baby!” I cried. I didn’t even mean to blurt that out and I think we both were a little surprised. “I want the baby,” I said again, this time quietly.
“You can have it,” he said, “We have too many mouths to feed already.” His shoulders sagged. “If you give me the rapunzel, if you give me all the rapunzel my wife wants, I’ll give you the baby.”
“Agreed,” I said, “But what of your wife? Will she accept the plan?”
“I will take care of that,” he said.
Come back tomorrow to see the man’s plan to convince his wife to part with that baby.