“Arrietty dear, I have something to tell you.”
Her mother told her in a stern voice as she hung their coats on the rack. Arrietty was pulling off her boots and slipping her feet into her hand-sewn cloth slippers.
“Sit down.” Homily ordered wearily.
This was a rare tone, Arrietty knew. Mama, like her, had lots of strength, most of which is spent on worrying. But Mama was still probably tired after the service, so she complied without a second thought or objection.
“Arrietty,” Homily spoke tenderly. “I think it’s time you and I consider picking you a husband.”
Arrietty’s downcast eyes suddenly snapped towards her mother. “Huh?”
Her mother only smiled - a jaded smile that nonetheless was filled with love and concern. She slowly looked up and gazed pensively at her daughter. Her bony cheeks seemed paler and more hollow of late.
“Your father, God rest his soul, has just passed away. And I am not young anymore. Pod and I would’ve liked to see you marry later, but things as they are, the only use I’ve left is probably to cuddle my grandchild.” Homily poured a green liquid with magnificent fragrance into her two favourite mugs and passed it to Arrietty.
“Mama,” Arrietty pushed back her chair and hit her hands on the table. The teacups wobbled dangerously. “I can’t marry! I’m not ready.”
She was only fourteen! Arrietty thought, no matter how you look at it, that’s way too young to be considered. Is it? She still had so many things to do besides settling down as a housewife like her mother.
“I know, honey. But it’s never too early to be engaged to a man. I wasn’t so different when I was your age. With your father... gone, there’s no way I can provide for you like he could. You’ve got a long future ahead of you, and you need a sturdy pair of hands to take care you.” Homily said to a dreading Arrietty.
Arrietty didn’t think it was a problem.
“I can take care of myself and you, Mama!” The girl proclaimed. If experience was her flaw, then she was confident she could gather enough of it if she kept doing it. She was a bright and creative girl, she would think of ingenious new ways to borrow.
“Nonsense, Arrietty!” Homily interrupted angrily, losing her temper as she slammed down her mug of tea. “You barely learned how to Borrow from your father. For God’s sake, you’ve only started a month ago.”
“Two months, Mama. I may not know a lot, but I can learn. Please don’t enter me into an engagement.” Arrietty pleaded.
Marriage would mean an end to her adventures, to her beloved freedom, to those afternoons chasing crickets by the creek, to those mornings washing her face with a cool drop of dew, to those sunsets where she gathered flowers for her room.
Instead, it would be picks and pots, needle and broom, worrying what’s for lunch. One day she may be content to lead such a life, but that day has not yet come. She had yet to leave this small corner called her home and find out what’s beyond the next fence.
“Arrietty, I’m disappointed to hear this from you,” scolded Homily. "Your fiancee should be able to provide you. He may be a little rough, but he’ll make a fine husband for you. He’s also the first boy your age you’ve met, right? You two should have an irreplaceable bond.”
The picture of Spiller popped into her mind. She immediately knew he was the person Mama was referring to. No other Borrower in their small village could garner such an opinion from her mother. The thought made Arrietty more fretful than ever.
“He’s not the first boy I’ve ever met. It’s Sho,” As the words slipped off her tongue, Arrietty felt a painful stab in her heart. She had neither seen nor heard from Sho in two months. She had not even mentioned his name to anyone during that time. Now suddenly saying it, the sound choked in her throat, inviting painful memories of their time together. “He’s the one who I can’t replace...” She whispered.
An angry flash glinted in her mother’s eyes. Her frown deepened.
“How dare you bring him up, Arrietty. Have you forgotten the reason we had to leave the first place? It was because that boy had seen us! If you hadn’t come to him in the first place maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Arrietty fought back. “Have you forgotten that it was Sho who saved you, Mama? It wasn’t him who forced us to leave. It was the maid.”
Homily crossed her arm. “I recall your father and I making the decision long before any showed up.” Covering her forehead with her palm, she wailed. “If only we hadn’t left that wonderful house, maybe Pod would... maybe he wouldn’t have...”
These words, they alone hurt more than anything Arrietty had heard in their entire conversation.
“What are you saying Mama? That I caused Papa’s death?”
Homily said nothing. Her slender frame seemed as thin as gossamer. She was both trembling and frozen in grief - as if her own words had opened a wound.
But Arrietty took this silence for the affirmative. She clenched her fists; her eyes became shadow-like. When she looked up, a blaze was already kindled in them.
“No, definitely not. I’m not going to be engaged to anyone.”
“Arrietty!” Homily shrieked. But Arrietty was already running to the door, her fists shaking furiously. She turned back once at her mother with a challenging glare.
“Definitely not.” With that, the mild and loving Arrietty shut the door with a slam.
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