Foundling

William Keckler
3 min readFeb 15, 2023

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Darene heard a mewling in the cold night and figured it was a cat at her door begging for scraps. But when she opened the door a crack, it was a swaddled babe in a basket left there for her.

She took it in. For these were hard times and it was one’s duty. The babe was a girl and within a few days Darene named her Tressa. She felt fortunate in being able to nurse the babe, who had a hearty appetite. And she felt fortunate to have a cradle at the ready. The motherless young woman had within less than the changing of the moon lost her only child to a fever that was suddenly everywhere.

Tressa grew at an incredible pace. She was twice her size in a day and by the next day the child walked. Then she began talking on the next day, voluminously and with early wit. Darene knew at that point the child was bewitched by the fairies…or a fairy herself, a changeling.

The country woman knew not to let the other villagers discover the child. Her young husband, Senan, kept their secret well. For the bond had already been made in both their hearts. Surely the loss of their own made them lose some of their natural fear of the uncanny child. After sixteen days, she was a young girl on the verge of womanhood. She sang such beautiful songs she could not have learned from mortal voices. Indeed, she had not left the house and what could she hear from a window at night?

When the twenty-fifth day came, the child was almost as old as her new mother. Darene began to cry in private, out of the young woman’s sight, because she saw the writing on the wall. It would not end well unless the spell could be broken.

“Can the spell be broken, child?” she asked her in all candor in a moment of weakness.

“What spell, Mother? I am as I am,” was all she replied.

So the days raced on and before long at all, the child was older than the mother, then grey-haired and wrinkled. Once again, Darene nursed the child, but this time as an old woman who took spooning from a bowl.

“Thank you, Mother. I love you dearly,” the old woman rasped as the spoon fed her the gruel she had loved as a babe.

“My sweet babe, you are approaching ninety. I can read it in your dear wrinkles. What will happen to you? What can your father and I do?”

“There is only one thing can be done. Place me before the door of one who is kind and patient like yourself. Then leave me. Never return to visit me and never touch me again, else I shall die as sure as the sun sets each day.”

Darene knew she must not go against the law of the fairies, so late that very night she carried her “child” to the doorstoop of a woman in the neighboring village. It was one she knew to be patient and kind and childless, since she guessed that part was important too, the keeping of the secret. Siblings can never hold their tongues. But a loving mother and father can.

The old woman put a finger to her lips as her mother placed her on the cold flagstones before the dark small home. She had her wrapped in a blanket, the original one in which she had arrived. There was a basket under her, but she crowded it now with her size, though she was frail and shrunken with age. She smiled up at Darene, a beautiful smile of gratitude, a child’s smile of thanks, though she was bony and vulnerable as a nestling.

Darene turned and ran, and wept as she ran. She did not look back, not even when she heard the wailing of an infant behind her. Nor when she heard the creak of the door opening, by which time she was well-hidden in the shadows of trees that lined the street.

And then she heard the cooing of the young woman, and her loving alarm, and she knew her part was done.

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William Keckler

Writer, visual artist. Books include Sanskrit of the Body, which won in the U.S. National Poetry Series (Penguin). https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/532348.