Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All: Fairest of Them All

Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All: Fairest of Them All by Jane Yolen Read Free Book Online

Book: Snow in Summer: Fairest of Them All: Fairest of Them All by Jane Yolen Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jane Yolen
tongue. The two I remember best were Acta est fabula and Corruptio optimi pessima. I could almost make them out, but not really.
    It was a very big mirror, almost as tall as me. I pressed my fingers to the letters when Stepmama’s back was turned, as if I might puzzle out the meanings of the words that way. But once she caught me doing that and forbade me ever touch the mirror again.
    “Will it bring bloat and scabies?” I asked.
    She laughed. Her laugh was suddenly an unlikely fall of sound, like the tinkling of bells. “Why, child,” she said, “are you tetched? You have the strangest notions.” As if she’d forgotten the warning she’d given me before.
    After that, Stepmama moved in all her perfumes and face paints, as well as a carved chair that had—so she told me—death and the maiden carved on one side. Then laughing, she added, “And taxes on the other.”
    “What are taxes?” I asked.
    Her fingers around my wrist drew me in and she whispered harshly, “A payment owed.”
    “I don’t owe any payment,” I told her. “I haven’t any money. Papa doesn’t allow it.”
    “There are many kinds of payment, Snow,” she said,
    “and many ways to pay what is owed.” She was smiling with that red slash of lips as she spoke. It was a big but not inviting smile.
    I thought about the poor old women who sometimes bartered with Papa for his vegetables and seed corn, giving him in exchange a family portrait or an old gold watch belonging to some dead relative. About once a year he took such barter over to Clarksburg to sell, sharing what he got with the families who’d paid him in that way, giving them the greater part and taking out only what the vegetables and seed corn cost.
    “When times are hard,” Cousin Nancy had once told me when I asked where he was going and why, “it’s not the time to drive a hard bargain. Not with your neighbors.”
    Remembering those barters, I nodded at Stepmama.
    She took that as an understanding between us. But there was nothing between us. Not then. Not now. Though there has been a payment.
    At first I wanted to be loved by Stepmama. Cousin Nancy had been forced out of my life, Stepmama insisting that she couldn’t visit the way she had before.
    “It isn’t fit any longer that Cousin Nancy cooks your breakfast and brushes your hair, oversees your homework and puts you to bed,” Stepmama explained. “That’s my job as your new mama.” She smiled, and though the smile wasn’t particularly warm, I felt the warmth.
    “And it isn’t fitting that she’s in and out of this house all times of the day and night like she did before, now that Lem is married.” She said it in a way that made it sound like what Cousin Nancy had done for us had been, somehow, wrong.
    And yet . . . and yet, I was sure she was being fair. Cousin Nancy hadn’t been my actual mama. And there was a new woman in Papa’s house now, a legitimate one, married forever after. Truly, the only one who suffered from this new rule was Cousin Nancy herself, for Papa and I were happily under Stepmama’s spell.
    So, at first I had what I really wanted. What a child wants is nothing more than unconditional love. I was too young to understand that Stepmama was not someone who gave that kind of love. Or any kind, as it turned out. What she did was to barter or trade for the outward signs of love—a hug, a stroke along the arm, a kind word. Each of these things came with its own price.
    But those first days seemed like heaven. She cozened me and coddled me and fed me on lies. And I believed them all.
    Stepmama talked about being impressed with the mountains, the music, the people. She mentioned places by name. Songs as well. And she heaped high praise on Cousin Nancy once she was well and truly out of my life.
    “A good woman,” Stepmama said. “A caretaker.”
    “And Papa?” I asked, looking up into her face, seeing what I wanted to see, missing the rest. “You love Papa?”
    Her eyes gave nothing

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