Toil and Trouble

“Hahahaaa,” Haroldine cackles in her gravelly voice. With a flourish worthy of her nephew Hal, a box of chocolates appears on her scarred kitchen table. A soft breath of awe comes from the other two women sitting there. The store down the road certainly doesn’t carry delicacies like this.

“Gaaaaawwwdaaaaaaaammm,” Steve breathes.

Penelope’s papery voice sighs in appreciation. This is a treat.

“Dat Hal, he loves his aunties,” Haroldine states with no small satisfaction.

“So, where isss our loquaciouss boy?” Penelope asks, catching her breath, the chocolate melted down and swallowed with gusto.

Haroldine squints and sighs. “Dunno. Out runnin’ round, somewhere, I s’pect.”

The other two groan and slump; Steve thumps her head on the table. “Oooooh-weeee!” she exclaims. “That Amy, was it?”

“Uh-huh,” Haroldine grunts. She pops another chocolate into her mouth with a resigned air.

“She isss not the one,” Penelope states with great conviction.

“Huh! How you know that?” Steve scoffs. “There been three this last year. A year, Penelope! The boy’s bein’ ripped up, sure ‘nough. And you sit there with your mumbo-jumbo bullshit about fate, gonna send her away–”

Penelope snorts. “I did not send thiss Amy away. She ssends hersself away.” She considers, the flyaway gossamer of her hair floating every which way as she tilts her head. “Now that horrible Annette, her I ssent away!” The memory of just how she sent the girl away makes her shake with laughter. “That Annette, sshe would not make pretty younglings, no, not at all.”

Haroldine screws her wide mouth into a scowl. “He slips sometimes,” she says darkly, “and calls himself we and us when he thinks I’m not listenin’. I’m just ‘fraid he’s gonna crack up one of dese days and not come back home.”

“See!” Steve bellows, as she glares accusingly at Penelope. The two women stare at each other like adversaries for a moment, Steve’s dark face creasing into wrinkles, Penelope’s light one smooth and serene as an alabaster figurine.

“I am helping him. You will ssee,” is all the spider-lady says. She takes another chocolate and pops it into her mouth.

“Are NOT!” Steve bellows.

“Ladies,” Haroldine’s voice cuts through the argument with authority. She’s dealt with enough temperamental creatures, including her own nephew, to know what tone of voice to take. This time it’s the cut-the-shit-voice.

Steve looks abashed at losing her temper. Penelope pushes the barely-bitten chocolate out of her mouth with her tongue. It’s coconut cream. She hates those, and it always seems like she’s the one who finds them.

“Gimme that,” Steve grumbles, snatches the chocolate off Penelope’s palm, and pops it into her own mouth, mumbling about wasteful persons.

rows of multicolored truffle candy
Sweet Treats

Penelope tries another chocolate. The next proves to be edible. She tilts her head, thinking. “Sso… Harold and Amy were kissing, and — ”

“They was doin’ more than kissin’, I think,” Haroldine admits, then shrugs. “Maybe not. I do try to mind my own b’iness.”

“An’ then she says thanks, but no thanks,” Steve finishes grimly. “Poor boy. Third one this year.” She shakes her head of short salt-and-pepper fro. “And then he took off, yeah?”

Haroldine nods. “Yep. Snortin’ and buckin’ and squealin’ fit to beat dah band. Haven’t seen ‘im since.” Changing forms is not a bad thing, all three of them know that. Zoomorphs that can change form need to shift once in a while, or there’s hell to pay. Muscle cramps and dehydration are the least of it. Sometimes they just waste away. Hal doesn’t seem to have any problems shifting out — the problem is shifting back to human. Sometimes he’s stuck in something else for days. It causes Haroldine no end of grief.

Penelope daintily picks through the remaining treats, chooses one, and bites into it. Coconut again. She silently turns it over to Steve, who pops it into her mouth without comment. “Ssomeday,” Penelope whispers, “sssomeday, our Frog Prince will meet hiss Princessss. I will make ssure of that, I will.”

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