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"The Well of the World's End" by John D. Batten.

“The Well of the World’s End” by John D. Batten.

While Sagacia read the postcard from Flossie Squashblossom that had just rattled through the letter chute, Simplia opened the door and leaned out. “Flossie! Flah-ah-seee!” she called.

Sagacia read it again, more slowly this time:

Dear Languishing — You know what they say: A promise is a promise. But is it? Really?

“Flah-ah-ah-see-ee!” Simplia called from the stoop. “Come back! We just want to talk to you!”

Simplia waited for an answer for a long time, scanning the nearby shrubs and the hedge along the lane, listening for any clue. At last she sighed and stepped back into the kitchen.

“I wish that woman weren’t so shy,” she exclaimed. “I wish she wouldn’t just drop things in the mail slot and disappear!”

“She’s never going to let us see her,” Sagacia said, patting her friend on the back. “And there may be more to it than shyness.”

“Could be,” Simplia agreed.

“Maybe she’s been turned into a hag and doesn’t want us to see her,” Sagacia suggested.

“Or a cricket,” Simplia speculated.

“Or a shape shifter.”

“Or a lizard.”

“Or a henwife.”

“Or a birdie.”

“Or a . . ., a . . .” Sagacia groped for another possibility. “What. Ever.!” she said, holding her fingers and thumbs up in  “W” for emphasis and finality. “But looking at her new question–let’s get back to that!–Just looking at her new question: if a promise is a promise, then what IS a promise?”

“Is that a circular question?” Simplia asked.

“Maybe,” Sagacia considered. “It’s like an emphasis on the very fact of its being, like ‘A rose is a rose is a rose.’”

Simplia tried it out: “A promise IS a promise IS a promise.”

“Right!” Sagacia said encouragingly. “The very fact of a promise being present in a tale means it is a factor in the tale.”

“A promise IS a promise IS a promise,” Simplia continued.

“It has weight. It has volume,” Sagacia elaborated.

“A promise IS a promise IS a promise.”

“It takes up space in the story!”

“It IS, it IS, it IS,” Simplia was getting dizzy.

“It calls for attention to itself.”

“A promise IS a promise IS . . .”

“It holds attention on itself.”


(That was Simplia falling to the floor.)

“A promise IS, a promise IS . . .,” she kept murmuring.

Sagacia was dizzy with her thoughts as well. “Once a promise is introduced into the story, it becomes the story. The story enfolds it. The story unfolds around it. Like the promise in The Well at the World’s End.”

“A promise IS a promise IS a promise,” Simplia said, pushing herself to her knees like a life form pushing itself up from primal mud.

“The princess promised the frog she would do whatever he asked, and she did, until he asked her, last of all, to cut off his head.”

“A promise IS a promise IS a promise,” Simplia said, using the chair seat to push from, lifting herself up, like Gertrude Stein lifting herself up from the linear conventions of 19th century literature.

“He had to remind her that she had promised, she promised! So, then when she kept that promise . . .”

“A promise IS a promise IS a promise,” Simplia continued, pushing against the tabletop, pushing herself erect.

“. . . there came a new promise: a prince! A prince appeared, with the ‘promise’ of true love.”

Sagacia snapped out of her monologue abruptly. “Did you just fall down?” she asked.

“I think so,” Simplia replied.

“I think so, too,” said Sagacia.

They each reflected on the possibility for a few moments. Had that happened, or hadn’t it? Did it? Was it? IS it?

It DID it WAS it IS.

Sagacia shrugged. “Well, anyway, if you feel okay, we should really get these responses mailed out to Languishing in Luxembourg!”

“I do,” Simplia said. “And I think I have a box they’ll fit in, too. I’ll go get it.”

“So many stories!” Sagacia sighed, seating herself. “So many promises! So many possibilities!”

She noticed a second postcard on the table, one she hadn’t seen before. She picked it up. It was from Csenge Zalka. Sagacia turned it over and read:

See, this is why I love traditional stories, so many ways to look at them. I am not even arguing with any of the other opinions . . . , I am just listing my own.

“True,” Sagacia smiled. “So true.”