“Annalee, I can’t stop the night mares from eating my bed sheets!” Night mares never seem to come when the hero is still awake, the don’t like to wait until morning, instead they come at the worst times of night, in the midst of deep slumbers. My little sister tugged ferociously at the covers and I didn’t even bother checking the clock. She climbed up on the bed like a sleepy kitten and curled up next to me. “I won’t go to sleep, never.” Groaning at the possibility, I pulled myself up and switched on a lamp.
“You have to go to sleep, silly. How would you keep yourself up for more than a day?”
Lillia looked at her hands quietly. “I’m hungry and I miss mommy. When’s she coming home?”
My stomach tightened at the mention of food and my heart dropped with her careless mention of our mother, little Lillia couldn’t seem to remember at night that she would never be coming back again. She seemed to remember this suddenly, because she bit her lip and a little tear streaked down her cheek.
“Now Lillia, don’t start crying.” I sighed and gave up the idea of a good night’s sleep. “You say you’re hungry?”
Lillia nodded and a smile crossed her face. She followed me to the window and touched her nose, making her promise to wait for me while I climbed out onto the stairway. The market was only one floor up, so it didn’t take me very long to reach it.
Jason was running the booth alone, he greeted me with a gentle and tired smile when I told him what happened. “All I’ve got to spare is a jar of cherries, Annalee. I know it’s not much, but if you could spare me a blanket to keep warm up here, it’s all yours.” I smiled and wrapped my blanket around him, kissing his forehead. “Now, here’s one jar of cherries for the little ladies.” He handed me the tiny glass jar full of the little red delicacies. “You ought to tell her the story too, eh?”
“Of course I will, thanks Jason. Stay safe up here, okay?”
“You got it.” He forced a smile as he watched me run back to the stairs.
“Annalee?” Lillia squeaked from my room as I climbed in the window.
“Come on and get your fresh cherries!” I tried my best to seem wide awake and cheery, but all I really wanted to do was go back to sleep. Lillia’s cheers brightened my smile a shade, though. As she popped one in her mouth her eyes went wide.
“I’ve never tasted something so delicious! Where do they come from?”
I had to smile, “Well, there’s a grand story to answer your question, would you like to hear it?” Lillia nodded vigorously. “Then you best get yourself in bed and I’ll come tell you.” Lillia ran like lightning to her pile of blankets on the floor.
“There was once a grand river that flowed through many towns in a vast region. All the people depended on this river as their only source of water. There was a place around the river that people could not reach, no matter how they tried, but it was rumored that cherry trees drooped low over the water and when their cherries ripened, they fell into the water and floated to the towns downriver. One of the towns heard that the northern areas had never tasted cherries and a little girl was very sad to hear this. For weeks she could only think of the poor northern towns who had never tasted cherries, until finally she had an idea. She took a barrel to the river one day and filled it with cherries and a little bit of water, sealed it and let it continue to float down the river. She did this every day for a month until she was too tired to continue. However, every day, someone in one of the towns upriver packaged up the cherries and sent them downriver, inspired by her idea. There were always little barrels floating north in the river, full of cherries that eventually would freeze and stay fresh all the way to the northern village, and that’s how they got their cherries even in the harsh cold. Every time they opened a barrel, the children would cheer with joy, though they never knew where the cherries came from, they were always thankful for the little barrels of hope they received every single day.”
The last of our cherries were gone and Lillia’s eyes were drooping as I finished the story. I kissed her forehead and pulled a blanket over her arms, her sweet smile shone even in the darkness.