Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Today was Probably the Last $65 I Will Send to Tennessee

A Fairy Tale for the Beaten, the Bored and the Board.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman named Votary. Her mother had died and left her alone with her father and her younger sister.

The father grew in love with another woman who also had two daughters just a bit older than Votary. The father married this new woman and they blended their families together to create a new family in the woman's house that was tucked away in the middle of nowhere.

Votary was no slouch. After her mother had died, she learned many skills to the running and tending of a household. Because of this, she joined in happily with the new household and worked with her new step sisters under the directions of her new stepmother. They all lived together for a while in their very small house.

Things did not stay so smooth. Each day Votary was told to drag water to the house in buckets. Each day, she brought in 65 buckets of water! One day she said to her step-mother, “Mother, right near the river is a huge house. It has rooms for all of us and even some space to grow. Since it is near the river, we would be able to get water to the house faster and even more frequently. Think of the things we could do being so close to the water and in a much a larger house.”

“Silly young child,” replied the mother. We cannot move. There is so much history in this home, why would we want to be anywhere more convenient? Isn’t this enough? Now, hush, silly one, and go fetch some water. We’ll dry up without that water. By the way, have I mentioned to you that we seem to have a leak in the barrel? Please be sure to bring some extra water, too.” And with that, the mother smacked Votary on the behind with the broom.

Votary tried to carry on. One day, while she was cleaning out the fireplace, she discovered a new way to complete the job. It was not only faster, but the results were a much cleaner fireplace. As she shared her idea with her step-mother, the mother replied, “Oh, so naive you are. I’ve had your sisters look at the problem. I had a meeting with them while you were off doing something else. They can’t find a single thing to change. As you know, they have been here since the house was built from the bones of dragons. You couldn’t possibly know more than them, they are so wise, being your elders and ancestors. But, if you like, you may have that little space outside, on the fringe of our land, to try out your new idea. Don’t make too much noise and remember to always be a lady. Run along, so that I and my daughters may talk about the past.” And with that, the mother smacked Votary on the head with a piece of kindling from the fireplace.

Votary was sad and sat outside on a tree stump. One of her step-sisters came to her and placed an arm around her shoulders. “Dear,” she said, “ do not worry about the needs of the fireplace. I do think your idea is wonderful, but my sister has been cleaning out the fireplace for so long that there is no way we could possibly let you make that change. Here, have some sweet chocolate. You’ll feel better I am sure.” With that, the older sister patted Votary on the head and walked away, leaving the chocolate bar on the stump. Votary picked up the chocolate and took a bite. Ouch! And with that, she cut her tongue on a sliver of ground glass inside the chocolate.

The next day, as Votary carried one of her buckets of water to the house, she dropped it! It fell to the ground, spilling the precious water everywhere. Votary carried the bucket to the house and asked her step-mother if she knew how to fix the bucket. “Yes, of course I do. Someone long ago wrote down the instructions and I have them here in the house, in the magic box in my bedroom.” replied the mother.

“Oh, what a happy day! May I read the instructions so that I may repair the bucket?” asked the broken-bucket girl. The step-mother replied, “Of course you can. You must first bring me another 25 buckets of water and you must clean out the sink twice a day. Once you have done that I will let you have access to that page of the magic book. If you’d like to read anything else, you’ll need to bring in more water.” And with that, the older woman poked Votary right in the eyes with her fingers. Votary, however, was able to find the instructions she needed at a neighbor’s house and she did not need to bring any extra water at all. When she told the step-mother of this, the step-mother changed the requirements to only 5 buckets of water and the cleaning of the bird cage. Votary rarely read from the magic box.

The next day, Votary’s step-sisters could be heard clapping and cheering. As Votary stepped outside, she saw that her young twelve-year-old sister was carrying a small bucket of water from the river to the house. The older sisters cheered at the youngest sister, shouting encouragement and suggestions. Each day this repeated, each day the little sister becoming better at carrying her bucket of water. However, one day, the little sister dropped the bucket and yelled out, “Damn!” The older step-sisters were shocked. The youngest sister looked at them and said, “I am sorry, I was distracted. I met a boy down by the river and we spent the afternoon together....” Votary was captured by the words her sister spoke, finding joy in her sister’s new discoveries of life.

“EEEK!” cried the step-sisters. “Stop! Do not talk like that! What happened to the cute little girl?” they asked in unison. And with that they cast a magic spell together which caused the littlest sister to fly up in the air and land in a locked tower far away. The sisters cast such a powerful “evasion spell” that the little sister would not be able to come out of the tower for eighteen more years. When the sisters cast the spell, sparks flew from their fingers. And with that, Votary was struck in the face with fire which left scars upon her visage.

Votary’s father, who was often away, caught up with her the next day. “My dear child! My wife and her daughters tell me of your sour nature. They say you have burns upon your face, bloodshot eyes, a vicious tongue, disheveled hair and dust upon your backside. I must insist that you have more decorum. Don’t you know that these relationships take time? Isn’t your new family full of nice people? Please be polite and clean up your act.” He quickly jumped on his horse. His horse then reared up and galloped away. And with that, he left Votary in a cloud of choking dust.

Votary took the words of her father to heart. She returned to the home and worked as she was told. She developed an idea to cook their dinners faster and easier. She was told that meals could only be made one way and any other method would not create real food. Her step-mother threw the cold meat at Votary, hitting her squarely and painfully in the back.

The very next day there was a grand party in the neighborhood. Her step-laws created fine foods for the party using the very methods Votary had suggested. “Look everyone! Look at our new meats and cheeses! Enjoy the fruits of our labor!” When Votary picked up the meat, the searing juices burned her fingers.

Her mother-in-law saw the pain on Votary’s face. “Oh, dear one. I am sorry that you are so hurt. Perhaps you just need to know how much we love you. Listen as I say it again: I- l-o-v-e -y-o-u. Today, and today only, you just need to bring 50 buckets of water to the house. I hope that eases your pain.”

At last, with her sister locked away, her body burned and battered, her contributions denied, her labor increasing, Votary could take it no more. She packed her bags and set out from the house.

“What is this?” screamed her new family members. With anger they continued, “You must have a secret, you must be out to cash-in on all you have learned with us. How can you leave? You ungrateful wretch. We gave you chocolate and everything.”

Votary walked down the road as one last tomato came hurling at her and splattered across the back of her head. She heard her step-mother yell, “We’re tired of you and your secret agendas!”

Votary walked on from her house tucked away in the middle of nowhere.

The step-family and even her father have provided the moral of the story: Votary is a witless, selfish oaf. She should stay where she is loved by the elders who hit her. Maybe if she just tried harder they wouldn’t have a reason to hurt her. She is a self-centered, angry, blood sucker whose motives are unclear. Maybe once she is 50 she’ll understand that she got hurt because they loved her so much.

...or maybe they are wrong.

The official blog for K. Sean Buvala, storyteller and storytelling coach.


  1. My question is what will "Votary" do next? Are the bridges truly burned with no hope of rebuilding? What could bring about healing?

    I only hope this is Act I of this tragic play.

    There must be a win-win situation for all involved.

    Until we tell again,

    Rachel Hedman

  2. This tragic play has many "Votary"s left lying by the side of the road, blamed for their own abuse, who will never return. It has others that still think they are the problem because they aren't trying hard enough. "Maybe someday Momma won't hurt me if I'm trying really hard." It has a number of other unamed players who never entered the house at all who are doing very well off to the side, not caring by which river or which deep forest the house is in, finding that the little, old house is meaningless to them. This is an old old tragic play. The latest I've heard is, "Well, our house isn't meant to be seen by so many people. We can't be like them."

    As always, I may be wrong. I am working on detachment this month.

    Thanks for the note, Rachel.