“Gemma, tell your story again,” Shana begged, putting her arms around her grandmother and breathing in that special smell of talcum and lemon that seemed to belong only to her.
“Which one?” Gemma asked, chopping the apples in the wooden bowl.
“You know,” Shana said.
“Yes—you know,” Sylvia added. Like her sister, she crowded close and let the talcum-lemon smell almost over-whelm her.
Baby Rebecca in the high chair banged her spoon against the cup. “Seepin Boot. Seepin Boot.”
Shana made a face. Even when she had been little herself she’d never spoken in baby talk. Only full sentences; her mother swore to it.
“Seepin Boot.” Gemma smiled. “All right.”
The sisters nodded and stepped back a pace each, as if the story demanded their grandmother’s face, not just her scent.
“Once upon a time,” Gemma began, the older two girls whispering the opening with her, “which is all times and no times but not the very best of times, there was a castle. And in it lived a king who wanted nothing more in the world than a child.
“ ‘From your lips to God’s ears,’ the queen said each time the king talked of a baby. But the years went by and they had none.”
“None, none, none,” sang out Rebecca, banging her spoon on the cup with each word.
“Shut up!” Shana and Sylvia said in unison.
Gemma took the spoon and cup away and gave Rebecca a slice of apple instead. “Now one day, finally and at last and about time, the queen went to bed and gave birth to a baby girl with a crown of red hair.” Gemma touched her own hair in which strands of white curled around the red like barbed wire. “The child’s face was as beautiful as a wildflower and so the king named her…”
“Briar Rose,” Sylvia and Shana breathed.
“Briar Rose,” repeated Rebecca, only not nearly so clearly, her mouth being quite full of apple.
Copyright ©1992 by Jane Yolen