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Death, Misery, and the Pursuit of Pears
A Modern Retelling of the Traditional Puerto Rican folktale Aunt Misery
gatha Misery loved pears. Loved, loved, loved pears. For breakfast, she ate pear oatmeal with pears on top. She ate pear soup and pear sandwiches for lunch. She ate pear salad and mashed pears with steak drenched in pear sauce for supper. She ate pears for her midnight snack. And her 2 a.m. snack. And her 7a.m. snack. Agatha Misery loved pears.
Since Agatha loved pears so much, she knew a lot about them. She knew exactly when to pick them, and what time of day to fertilize the pear trees. She knew how to avoid brown spots and how to keep bugs away. Because she knew all this, she simply could not trust the local supermarket to provide pears for a pear-lover of her caliber. So she grew them. Agatha had the biggest, healthiest pear tree in the entire world.
Agatha’s pear tree was just about perfect. In fact, it was so perfect that the neighborhood schoolboys came over everyday at 3 ‘o’clock sharp, and climbed up the tree and took all the pears their little hearts desired. Agatha did not approve.
“You little thieving brats!” she called across her yard, every afternoon at three. “You leave my pear tree ALONE!” But by the time she hobbled across her yard on her 70-year-old legs, the boys were gone. “Drat,” Agatha said, just like she always did, every day at three.
Sometimes the boys would yell at her. “Na-na-na-na-na,” they taunted, “You can’t get us, Old Woman Misery.” Whenever they did this, Agatha reached for the phone and dialed the first few numbers of the police station phone. But she always stopped halfway through. What was the use? They boys would be gone by the time the police got here, and then it would be her word, the crazy old lady’s word against theirs. No one would believe her. So Agatha sat and sighed, just like she did everyday, at 3:12, p.m.
One day, Agatha was driving her old Toyota home from the fabric store where she worked. Everything was happening just like it always did: she waited at three red lights, honked twice at the man in the red pick-up truck for his bad merging, and stopped at the crosswalk for the family of ducks, all while eating a pear. Except something was different today. Today, there was something in front of her, in the middle of the highway. She pushed her half-moon glasses up her wrinkled nose and stared. It was a thumb. A big pink thumb, right in front of her, with a person attached to it. The person was a man, tall, wearing jeans and a black coat that was too big for him. Grudgingly and grumpily, Agatha pulled over.
“Get in,” Agatha called in her raspy, old-lady voice.
“Thank you,” replied the tall man. His voice was curiously smooth and deep, in a forbidding way. Chills went down Agatha’s back.
“Where do you want to go?” Agatha asked, keeping her eyes on the road.
“What accommodations would you recommend?” the man asked smoothly in that curious voice. Agatha thought about that for a long time. This was a tiny town. There was one hotel on Main Street, but she had heard from three different people that the infestation of bed bugs was nasty.
“You can stay at my house,” Agatha offered, even more reluctant than she was when she pulled over in the first place. The man didn’t hesitate
“How kind of you. I believe I shall.” Those were their last words for that car ride.
When they got to Agatha’s house, she showed the man the guestroom, and told him dinner was at 6, and that she hoped he liked pears. He never came out that night, not for dinner, not for dessert, and not even for Extreme Makeover: Pear Edition. So Agatha went to bed, and locked her bedroom door, and hoped he would be gone in the morning.
He wasn’t. He stayed for breakfast, and then, after he had finished, and Agatha had washed the dishes, he looked her in the eye and said “You have been very kind to me. I will grant you one wish.” Agatha thought about that for a while. Her Mama Misery had whole-heartedly believed in magic and wishes and things like that, but Agatha still only half believed that this man could grant her a wish. But she decided it was worth a try. Now she only had to think of what to wish for. She didn’t need money, or fame, and she liked living alone. The only thing that truly mattered to her was…pears. Pears! That was it! Agatha spoke her wish quickly: “I wish that every time someone climbed up that pear tree in the front yard, they would be stuck there until I let them go.” The man nodded, and touched the tree on his way out. Agatha smiled. She couldn’t wait for three ‘o’ clock tomorrow
And three ‘o’ clock came. Agatha almost squealed with anticipation. Almost. The boys came running, climbing up the tree, swarming over it like bees in a hive. But then they stopped, they were completely still. Each boy was stuck to a part of the tree and couldn’t move. The boys started screaming “I can’t get down!” “I’m stuck!” until Agatha Misery’s voice boomed out over the lawn.
“THIS IS WHAT YOU GET FOR STEALING MY PEARS!” The boys were silent. “NOW, DO YOU PROMISE TO NEVER COME HERE AND TAKE MY PEARS AGAIN?!” They nodded. Agatha giggled loudly at the sight of the boys in the tree, and finally let them go. One by one, they ran off, shooting terrified glances at her house. She was free! No more thieving boys! Ahhhhhh.
So Agatha lived for many years, happily in her house with her beloved pear tree, which was still untouched by schoolboy hands. However, one day (It was Agatha’s 96th birthday) a tall, dark man showed up at her door. This man was scarier than the man she had seen so many years earlier. He was just as tall, but everything about him was darker, less human. His fingers seemed to be made out of mist, floating in the air. His clothing shifted, his body was just a mass of black. And he was absolutely, bone-chillingly silent. In all her years of living alone, she had never heard, or rather, not heard, such silence. The man stepped in. He spoke.”I. Am. Death.” his voice was not composed of vibrations like everyone else’s. It was inside her head. It was smooth as silk and sharp as steel. The voice cut through her consciousness. It was familiar, yet strange. She believed his statement.
“I have come to take you with me. You have lived many years on this earth, and it is time for you to go.” He continued.
“Where?” she whispered.
“On.” was his simple reply.
Agatha Misery was brave. But she wasn’t ready to die. It took all of her courage to utter this sentence.
“I have one request.”
“And what would that be?” Death was amused
“I would like to taste a pear one last time before I die. And I would like you to get it for me. My pear tree is across the yard.”
Death was still amused. He liked this old lady. Most people he visited blubbered, or begged. This was a nice change. He walked across the yard to the pear tree. He grabbed a low branch and swung himself up onto it. He walked, slowly, across the branch, gently plucked a single pear, and then walked back.
Wait. He couldn’t walk back. He couldn’t move. The old lady had tricked him! Death had never been tricked before. No one could cheat Death. Death was furious.
Agatha heard the most terrible sound imaginable: The Scream of Death. It ripped through her brain, and shredded her willpower into a thousand tiny pieces. Her knees buckled, and she fainted from the sheer pain of that scream.
When Agatha came to, Death was still there, in her pear tree. He was still angry. She ran inside before he could scream again.
Agatha stayed inside her house for one year. She had everything delivered, even her pears. Death got angrier and angrier.
Finally, after one year, people all over the world started to notice something strange: nobody was dying. The population of the earth skyrocketed. Undertakers went out of business first, and then coffin builders and funeral homes. Finally, doctors and surgeons could no longer find work. Hospitals were quiet, except for the maternity wards. People were happy. They had all their families together. People got to see their great-great-great-great-great grandchildren. But the problems were greater. Pretty soon there were so many people that they had to all live in tiny apartments just so there was enough room. Farmers couldn’t grow enough crops. Of course, nobody died of starvation, but they were awfully hungry. And things were getting worse.
Agatha’s house was still the same as it ever was. She was still getting necessities delivered, and Death was still trapped in her pear tree. One day, Death called out to her in his smooth voice.
Agatha ran to the door and peeked out. Death called again. “Agatha!”
Against her better judgment, Agatha walked out to Death. His voice was hypnotizing. “Agatha, see what you have done. The balance of the universe has gone awry. There is not enough room, or food for everyone. I am a natural part of the world, and I am needed. Free me, or ruin everything!”
Agatha thought for a moment. She still did not want to die.
“Death, I will make a deal with you.” Death started to interrupt, but Agatha kept talking. “I will let you go on one condition. You never, ever come for me.”
Death agreed. And that is why there are two things that will always be in this world: Death and Misery.