Butterscotch’d Courage

I posted this on Facebook this morning but then…I thought it worth a share here. It’s been a good morning so far. A capstone to what has ended up being a good week.

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This is long but entirely worth it. The color of my courage today is gold, like bubbling butterscotch baths, and smelling of cinnamon, cider, and crackling fireplace. And so I share with you once of my favorite passages of literature.

Lye lifted September up suddenly and put her down in the first tub, which was really more like an oak barrel, the kind you store wine in, if you need to store rather a lot of wine, for it was enormous. September’s head ducked immediately under the thick, bright gold water. When she bobbed up, the smell of it wrapped her up like a warm scarf: the scent of fireplaces crackling and warm cinnamon and autumn leaves crunching underfoot. She smelled cider and a rainstorm coming. The gold water clung to her in streaks and clumps, and she laughed. It tasted like butterscotch.

“This is the tub for washing your courage,” Lye said, her voice as even and calm as ever, performing her task, grief packed away for the duration of a bath.

“I didn’t know one’s courage needed washing!” gasped September as Lye poured a pitch of water over her head. Or that one needs to be naked for that sort of washing, she thought to herself.

Lye poured a bucketful of golden water over September’s head. “When you are born,” the golem said softly, “your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, you courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like. By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in a while, you have to scrub it up and get the words going or else you’ll never be brave again. Unfortunately, there are not so many facilities in your word that provide the kind of services we do. So most people go around with grimy machinery, when all it would take is a bit of spit and polish to make them paladins once more, bold knights and true.”

Lye broke off one of her deep blue fingers and dropped it into the tub. Immediately, a creamy froth bubbled up, clinging to September’s skin and tickling.

“Your finger!” she cried.

“Don’t fear, little one. It doesn’t hurt. My mistress said, ‘Give of yourself, and it will return to you as new as new can be.’ And so my fingers do, when the bathers have gone.”

September looked inside herself to see if her courage was shining up. She didn’t feel any different, besides the pleasure of a hot bath and clean skin. A little lighter, maybe, but she could not be sure.

~ The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making by Catherine M. Valente, pages 59-61


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