The Story Finder

Voices in Fairy Tales

by Michelle Tocher

Story finder - Curly

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Cold Lady

One winter evening, I put my seven children to bed and tucked them in warmly. Then I went to join my husband in the next room. The charcoal glowed in the hibachi and all the doors of the house were tightly shut, for it was bitterly cold outside, and the first big flakes of a snowstorm had begun to fall.

I picked up my sewing, the brightly colored garments of my children.

My husband watched me in the light of the andon. “When I look at you tonight, dear, I am reminded of something that happened to me many years ago. It was as strange as if it were a dream, yet I was not asleep.”

“Tell me more,” I said, shivering.

“I had gone on a journey with an old man. I don’t remember what our business was, but we were caught in a snowstorm and took shelter in a hut. In the middle of the night, a lady came in. She seemed to be made of cold mist and turned the cold air in the hut to ice. She went over to my friend and embraced him. He froze to death in her arms.

“Then she came to my side and leaned over me, but she said, ‘It is only a boy … a pretty boy … I cannot kill him.’ Gods! How cold she was…. She made me swear….”

I folded my work and said, “She made you swear that you must never speak of her, nor of that night, not to father, nor mother, nor brother, nor sister, nor to betrothed maid, nor to wedded wife, nor to boy child, nor to girl child, nor to sun, nor moon, nor water, fire, wind, rain, snow. All this you swore to me, my husband. And after all these years you have broken your oath. Unkind, unfaithful, and untrue!”

I rose and and went quickly to see my children. I bent over each one in turn.

The eldest murmured “Cold … Cold …” I drew the quilt over his shoulder.

The youngest cried, “Mother!” and threw out his little arms.

I was already too cold to embrace him, too cold to weep.

I came back to my husband. “Farewell,” I said. “Even now I cannot kill you for the sake of my little children. Guard them well.”

My garments had turned to trailing snow, my hair to frost, my breath to white smoke.

“Farewell!” I cried, but my voice had grown as thin and piercing as the wind. For an instant I lingered in the air, a vaporous cloud. Then I drifted up through the smoke-hole in the ceiling, and into the winter storm.

Faithless men!

Cold Lady, The Cold Lady, Japanese Fairy Tales. Illustration by Warwick Goble.

We have a lot of metaphors for a cold person that relate to parts of their body and their demeanor. What metaphors come to mind? As you consider the frosty, icy, aspects of this person, what sort of person takes shape? Where do you see the person and what is the person doing or saying? Write about what you associate with this character.