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Lanatte sat in her four-room flat deep inside the wooden heart of a giant elm tree. She was old now – even for a gnome – and she enjoyed fixing herself a second cup of rosehip tea, pouring the hot liquid into one of her favorite china cups complete with matching saucer. Her tea set had once been a toy for a young human who had left it out in the rain once too often before her parents discarded it and the gnomes had found it. She pushed a tiny silver spoon into the sugar, balancing two sugar cubes in the spoon’s bowl, and stirring in just enough cream to make it a soft beige color. She took the cup and saucer to a table beside a window, sitting down in a comfortable chair that supported her feeble back. She smelled the aroma, closing her eyes briefly before taking a sip. “Exactly as I like it,” she whispered.
Her pet hedgehog came over from its bed of sticks and leaves and put his front claws on her lap.
“What a lovely day it’s going to be,” said the stout, old gnome. “Perhaps I shall go see my friends today.”
The hedgehog tilted his head as though he was confused – because even he knew what her ‘friends’ had done to her all those long years ago. Lanatte threw the hedgehog a piece of a crumpet and the animal happily took it to a warm corner inside the tree stump and began to mull it over.
The elderly gnome fried up two chicken eggs left for the gnomes by a local farmer. She enjoyed the breakfast, feeling the warmth of the sun on her face and arms.
Then she stood up quickly – as quickly as a three-hundred-year-old gnome could – and told her hedgehog: “I am going to visit my friends now, so watch the tree while I’m gone.” She put on a fresh, robin-egg-blue, cotton dress, and a white sweater with grey flowers, and set off walking towards the carriage stop.
She noted that the sky that morning was as blue as the color in Sam’s eyes years ago when he told her he was leaving. She walked into the building where simple coaches were dispatched and told the elf behind the counter where she wanted to go. “Jim will be happy to take you there,” she said to the gnome. “He’ll start hitching up the rabbits right now. Can I offer you some refreshment for your journey? – perhaps a sandwich?”
“Oh yes, that would be lovely,” replied Lanatte, putting six pieces of copper into the elf’s hand – enough to pay for the ride and the sandwich plus a tip.
As Lanatte rode along in the carriage, she could see the buildings of the village seeming to fly past. She rode past Doc Smeld’s office, past rows of elfin flowers where many were still sleeping, past a bank and a grocery store. They went into the countryside, up and down the green hills until they reached her destination. When the coach stopped the, the gnome gave the driver a tip, telling the elfin man that she had enjoyed her ride.
As the rabbits hopped away, pulling the coach at a steady rate, Lanatte noticed how dandelions had begun to grow around the gravestones on the hillside, making the lawn look like rolling fields of succotash.
Walking up an almost forgotten path, she came to the mausoleum of a banker who had once repossessed her one-room tree-trunk, after she lost her job at a jewelry store. There he stood in his fancy pants, standing before his tomb. “I do not mean to brag, Mr. Banker,” she told him in passing, “but my home is four times as big as yours is now.”
The ghost gave a huff and turned away, going back inside his crypt.
Lanatte travelled down an easy slope coming to the grave of a fairy ‘friend’ who had always lectured her on losing weight. This ghost’s face had sunken cheeks and her arms were no more than twigs. The gnome sat on a bench beside this grave and began to eat the sandwich she had brought with her.
“What kind of sandwich is that?” asked Jolie, the fairy.
“It’s tuna on rye bread,” answered the stout gnome.
“It sounds wonderful. Is there mayonnaise on it?”
“Yes – it is creamy and delicious.”
“Let me taste it!” insisted the fairy ghost. “After starving myself throughout my life, I’m always so hungry now.”
“Here it is, Jolie,” Lanatte replied, holding out the sandwich to the rail-thin ghost. “Come and eat all that you want. I have plenty more at home.” But Jolie’s transparent hands couldn’t grasp the food, so after having her fill, the heavy gnome walked on.
Near the exit, Mrs. Lanatte Clare came to a grave where ghost who had been a sorceress during her lifetime sat in a loud red dress embossed with beads that sparkled. “Mrs. Clare, how nice to see you again,” the ghost said.
Mrs. Clare looked upon the transparent face of the female dwarf who had taken her husband from her. She remembered how this dwarf had dumped him six months later to chase someone else’s husband for a while. That other woman had shot her, so now the conjurer sat here on her gravestone.
“I hope you forgive me, Lanatte. I never meant to hurt anyone you know. I was just having fun.”
“You taught me that I had to love myself and depend upon myself alone, Olika. It’s been a lesson that has served me well these many decades.”
“You could have had him back, you know – after I was finished with him. Which one was he again?” asked the ghost, trying to remember.
“Sam. And he did have lovely eyes,” said Mrs. Claire, thinking about him. “But never restart a journey on the same road that failed you before.”
A cart pulled up in front of the exit, filled with a dozen jolly gnomes and pulled by four squirrels. “I’ll be right there, Victoria!” she called to the cart. She turned back to those on the hillside. “You will all need to excuse me. That’s my daughter and she and the grandchildren are picking me up Easter brunch. It seems that I failed at many things during my lifetime, but at least I excelled at not dying.” With this farewell, Lanatte Clare climbed into the wagon filled with her family and rode away, leaving the ghosts on the hillside behind her.
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