I visited her every weekend for nearly six years. Her once-dark hair now silvered with age, but you could see she had been knock-out gorgeous in her youth. In my eyes, she was still quite beautiful.
She had no family, so she claimed, and I was the closest thing she had to a friend. When pressed as to why that was, her reply always came back, “I will always only be the mush from the hill.” What an odd statement, I thought.
Our visits generally consisted of her asking questions, her mind hungry for knowledge, about anything and everything. From philosophy to weather patterns to investing money to leadership skills to running a business to cooking a great meal. We talked for hours as I cleaned her apartment and changed her sheets and fed her special treats. Some days we played cards or checkers as we worked through life together.
It was in what I didn’t then know was to be her final weeks of life that she told me a story of a young woman. I don’t know if it was true or if they were the delusions of an elderly woman in her final hours. But I will remember it to the day I myself pass on.
“Sit and let us talk about mush,” she said to me, her filmy eyes a bit sad and her knobby hands shaking slightly as she patted the bed beside her. I had just come in with intentions on feeding her my special cream of pumpkin soup she so loved. I knew it could wait. This seemed important.
Once I was settled, after tucking the mint green crocheted blanket around her waist a bit tighter, she began. “I knew a young woman with raven black hair and skin as smooth as cream. She lived just on the edge of town at the top of the hill there.” She gestured vaguely out the window.
“Everyone told her how beautiful she was from the time she was a little baby girl. Didn’t seem to matter if she was smart or happy or wise or talented. No. She was pretty. That seemed to be enough.
“Her parents coddled and preened her. ‘No need to use your brain when you’re so pretty, girl.’ If ever she showed interest in books or learning or improving herself, she was told that was something normal folk had to worry about. She was pretty. That would get her further in life than any of the regular ones around.
“She began to believe what she was told. She filled her mind with pictures in beauty magazines and church gossip and her hands were often idle. She only knew about keeping a clean house by watching her mother instruct the hired help. She never learned anything useful except how to sit like a pretty lady and laugh in a becoming way and how to coyly attract men.
“Then her eighteenth birthday came and went and she had no suitors; she began to wonder if she was unattainable. Too pretty, perhaps? Maybe she wasn’t laughing the right way. She tried harder. Her parents said she was so pretty that someone famous was bound to snatch her up.
“When she was twenty-one, a handsome stranger came to town and moved in the house at the bottom of the hill. Every day he passed her house out of town on his way to work in Mr. Culper’s fields and farm just on the other side of the young woman’s house.
“Oh she immediately fell in love, to be sure. He was polite and handsome and always tipped his hat. He often stopped to chat for a few minutes on her porch, both to and from his post. Eight months passed and he never asked her out but was always polite.
“Finally the woman asked him, ‘Henry, have I done something to offend you that you have not once asked me to a social or for a walk?’ Henry smiled sadly and simply replied, ‘Agatha, you are a pretty girl to be sure, but honestly, your mind is mush. You speak only of shallow and frivolous things. You don’t treat your hired help properly and I do believe I am the only person you’ve ever shown real kindness to that wasn’t built on haughtiness. I don’t believe that I would like to spend my days with a woman with a brain full of mush.’”
“That young woman did not take those words to heart until she was a lonely old woman. She thought he was arrogant and blind. And she refused to talk to him from that day forward.
“She finally did get married, to a man twenty-five years her senior who told her every day how pretty she was. He never knew her favorite color or food. He never remembered her middle name or birthday. They weren’t important. Just that she looked nice on his arm at social functions, for he was a politician of sorts and appearances were very important to him.
“When her husband was an old man himself, he told her, as he lay on his deathbed, that even though she wasn’t very smart and he had never loved her, he still thanked her for being so pretty and always looking nice.
“This struck the woman to the core. And she remembered the words of Henry all those years before. She really WAS just mush. No wonder she had no friends. There was nothing inside her to be friends with.”
Holding my hand in hers, Agatha looked at me closely, as if inspecting my soul. “At least YOU’RE not mush, my dear.” I never understood if that statement was a compliment or a word of advice.
tara caribou | ©️2020
In December 2018, I spent the month writing twice a day poems and flash fiction pieces using the blog name/title/tagline of bloggers I followed as prompts. It was a lot of fun and I periodically consider doing it again. I ended each one with a special “gift” in which I said something meant just for that particular blogger.
*please remember, this work has nothing to do with or about or towards the blogger mentioned, simply that I used their blog name/title/tagline as a writing prompt.
Thanks JC. Here’s #mygifttoyou
You are always so nice to me and always know just what to say. I really like your sense of humor and I’ve got to say, writing a Star Trek/Wars poem dedicated to me really touched my heart. ‘Cuz come on, who else would think to do that?? You’re awesome. ~tara