by Vera Searles
The woman trudged wearily through the woods, her children tagging along behind her. From time to time she looked back to count them, and sometimes there were fourteen, sometimes twenty-two, sometimes eighteen. She could never keep track of how many children she had, but if she could just find a place to put them all, perhaps she could count them properly.
When she came to the edge of the woods, there stood a shoe house. From the outside it looked like a woman's giant shoe, three stories tall, and just as wide. But when she looked closer, the laceholes were actually windows, and a door was encased within the side of the heel.
It wasn't locked. Her children tumbled happily into the house, up the stairs, and into all the rooms. “We're home, Mother, we're home!” they chorused, all sixteen or ten or twenty-four of them.
So what if it looked like a shoe? The kids liked it.
The woman, whose name was Mother, followed her children inside. She was astonished at how homey and spacious it was. There was no end to the rooms. They flip-flopped into each other, some round, some square, some upside down. There were blue rooms, green rooms, plaid rooms, and pull-down rooms. All were furnished in the highest quality from various periods of history. Mother had a good education and could easily tell Ming Dynasty from Early American.
The windows were large, small, triangular and peephole. Each looked out at a different scene: a lake, a garden, the canals of Venice, Mount Everest, an airport runway.
‘This must be a magic house’, whispered Mother to herself as she came to the topmost room. There, on a bed of bubbling polka dots, slept a fairy, her silk wings folded on her pillow. Mother tried to back out quietly without disturbing the sleeper, but the fairy opened her eyes and said, “Don't go. I must rise now.” She sat on the edge of the bed and fastened her wings into her shoulder-slots. Then she picked up her wand and slapped it against her palm. “Who are you? Do you have any ID?”
“ID? What's that?” asked Mother.
“Identification. You know, driver's license, social security number, stuff like that.”
Mother shook her head. “I'm afraid not.”
The fairy sighed. “What's your name?”
“Mother Goose? Mother Hubbard? The Queen Mum?”
“No. Just Mother.”
“Do you have any children?”
Mother nodded. “I have so many I don't know what to do.”
“Aha!” said the fairy. “Then you're here to fulfill the legend.”
“There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn't know what to do.”
Mother frowned. “But I'm not old.”
The fairy got up and looked at her closely. “No, you're not. We may have to change that part of the limerick. The rest of it goes, ‘She gave them some broth without any bread, whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed’.”
Mother was angry and shook her head emphatically. “That's not me. I'd never hit my kids. And I'd never give them broth without bread. That's gross.”
“What do you feed them?”
“I take them to Chucky Cheese, like all good mothers do.”
“I see,” said the fairy, pacing about, twirling her wand and tossing it into the air like a cheerleader. “Well, I suppose I could rent the shoe house to you for a price — until the legendary old woman comes to claim it.”
Mother looked about, saw that her children were happy here. Two were fishing in the lake, a few walked around in the garden, the bravest ones were climbing Mount Everest, and several were going on a plane trip on the runway. Only a few were left, chasing each other about the plaid rooms.
“This house was meant for us,” Mother said. “I'll take it. How much is the rent?”
The fairy quoted her a price.
“Who do you think I am, Donald Trump?” Mother fumed. “No way. Give me that wand.”
She seized the wand from the fairy and cast a spell on her. “Jump,” she ordered.
The fairy jumped through the peephole into the Canals of Venice, where she was doomed to spend the rest of her life in a leaky gondola.
Mother stared at the wand. “This is a handy little item,” she said, waving it about. She wished to be young and beautiful, and she was. She wished the children were well behaved, and they were. Finally she wished she knew how many children she had, and there were fifteen.
“That's a perfect fit for this house,” Mother said. Now we can live happily ever after.
Copyright © 2005 by Bewildering Stories on behalf of the author