“In Spring, We Thanked the Wee Folk” by Beth Cato

my fondest memory of childhood
is of springtime, when vivid green
fuzzed the fields and
golden poppies lined muddy lanes

mama put us all to work
scouring the farmhouse top to bottom
papa replaced porch and stair boards
warped by the wet winter
while my big brother hung up rugs outside
and beat out the dust with a stick
my little brothers and sisters
they dusted and polished and scrubbed

me, she gave a special job
because, as she put it
I had a knack for hearing voices
from the silence
just like her mama had

I kept a collection of acorn caps
for this special day
and mama gave me a bottle of whisky
clear as moonlight
plus a glare that told me
she’d skin my hide if I broke the glass

careful as could be, I filled every cap
and with mincing steps
carried them around the house
to the little doorways
built into the walls

as I set down each one I said,
“with thanks for helping us
stay warm and safe all winter,”
meaning every word because I saw
how some of our neighbors scoffed
at the old ways, and what happened then:
the fires, the roving wolves,
that peddler who took far more
than he sold

I wasn’t supposed to look
inside those little doorways
but I was a child
so of course I did

at least once a year
I caught glimpse of an eager face
staring back from the shadows
their sharp-toothed grin a reminder
that gratitude and a nip of whisky
were probably among
the most important things
a person can share

Nebula Award-nominated Beth Cato is the author of A Thousand Recipes for Revenge from 47North (summer 2023) plus two fantasy series from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California, native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.