by Jack Curtin
The red, orange and yellow leaves traveling the river contrasted sharply against the black water. Distant thunder and a bitter wind promised an early winter storm. Margaret O'Shaunessy shivered and walked faster, ignoring the muffled diatribe coming from the burlap sack in her arms. She made her way back to her cottage and threw more peat on the fire to warm herself before untying the sack and allowing the creature inside to crawl free amidst an outburst of inventive blasphemies.
Margaret studied him as he ranted on. A leprechaun, she thought, who would have believed such a thing? He didn't look the part, despite the oversized hat, tunic and knee socks or the corncob pipe clenched between his teeth. He was surprisingly youthful in appearance and, truth be told, even handsome in his wee way. But a leprechaun he surely was, just as the old crone had promised. For perhaps the first time in her life, Margaret was thankful for Deirdre Moynihan's penchant for meddling into her affairs.
Margaret was witty and young and lovely, excellent traits each one, but she was also a notably unhappy woman. The whole village believed they knew why and Deirdre, not one to mince her words, had finally said it straight out the other evening in the pub. "What ye need is a man to love ye, simple as that. Unseemly creatures though they may be, a man in yer bed is a fine tonic for the blues."
Margaret didn't challenge the proposition on its face, but instead rejected it on practical grounds. "Should ye be correct, then I'm surely doomed, aren't I? There's not a man in the entire village I'd allow to patch the holes in me roof much less crawl into me bed. There's not one 'a the lot 'a them that stirs me heart."
Deidre had a ready answer. "They say that the lord works in mysterious ways, do they not? If the normal way of things has failed ye, perhaps it's time ye sought the help of those familiar with the ways of mystery." She nodded her head toward a corner table where a group of strangers sat sipping their pints. They were Tinkers, part of the band of gypsies which had set up camp at the far end of the village.
There is more to the Tinkers than most know, including the fact that magic is one of their wares. In their camp, Margaret paid the necessary and was brought before a woman of great age, who cackled and said "ye need to capture a leprechaun, that's yer answer." The pot of gold each leprechaun supposedly protected, she explained, was but a metaphor. "Each one is magic and can grant a single wish, whatever it is," she said, and told Margaret where to go and catch her leprechaun.
And so she had, and when Barnaby, for that was his name, finally settled down, Margaret told him how he could regain his freedom. "Ye want me to find you a man?" Barnaby thought about that briefly, then looked her over appraisingly, coolly allowing his eyes to study each curve of her body until her face flushed. "Well, surely I can do that, and I won't need magic at all, will I?" He raised his arms and gestured toward himself with his thumbs. "I'm a man, lass, all the man you'll need."
Margaret started to laugh, then stopped. "Yer not unattractive to the eye, I admit," she said slowly, "and ye surely must have interesting stories to tell to while away the cold nights. Still, here's the thing. Could ye use yer magic to make yerself bigger?"
"Bigger? Bigger? Castin' aspersions on me manhood without ever havin' laid eyes on it, is that what I'm hearin'? I'll have ye know I'm perfectly proportioned for me size and well up to the task..."
"Not that, ye wee daft idiot. All 'a ye. The whole package, head to toe, top to bottom. Can ye do it all?"
"Turn meself into one of your oversized and ungainly lot?" Barnaby shook his head, then paused to look at her again and remember all the cold decades of a lonely century spent in the forests. "I don't know that's ever been done," he said quietly, "but I suppose I might manage it. I'll be losing me powers in any case, them's the rules, so what's the damage?"
They looked at one another in silence for a bit. "Magic needs to be done in private," Barnaby said finally, and went into the bedroom. Margaret sat for a long while staring into the fire until she heard the door open behind her. She jumped to her feet and turned around.
"I've done it," Barnaby said, flinging his arms wide in jubilation, "I've done it!" He stood in the doorway, a strapping lad now, naked as the day he was born, the tattered remains of his inadequate clothing crumpled at his feet. Margaret blushed but did not turn away. Indeed, she stared at him quite boldly. "Well," she said softly, "now yer a man of proper size." She paused and grinned. "Every part 'a ye."
It is a fact that when a young lass allows a handsome man into her bed chamber, especially one who is stark naked, things will take a certain course. It would be unseemly of us to recount the activities of the long night which followed; suffice it to say that Barnaby learned quickly that he would never regret his choice and Margaret blessed Deidre and her meddling many times over.
In the morning, in the tousled bed, Margaret said, "we'll have to have a story of some sort lest me reputation be ruint." "Leave it to me," said Barnaby, "stories are me specialty."
So it came to pass that a young man of some six feet in height and appealing visage arrived in the village the following day looking for work, and if his garb seemed strikingly like that which had disappeared from Mrs. Logan's wash line earlier in the morn, no one said a word. Nor, when Margaret hired him to patch her roof and one thing led to another, was anyone terribly surprised. After a brief but proper courting, they were wed in the spring.
Margaret and Barnaby lived happily ever after, of course, because that is how stories such as this must always end. And if they both were inclined more often than not to treat Deidre Moynihan to a wee dram or two at the pub whenever the occasion permitted, that is surely no one's business but their own.
Copyright © 2005 Jack Curtin
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