By F.J. Wilson
There once was a young man so thin and so skinny the people in his village called him “String”. Now String hated being ridiculed and he hated being too thin and ‘scrawny’ as his brothers called him. His body or lack there-of had ruined his life and kept him miserable.
The young men liked him as he was no threat to their courtships with the ladies. The young ladies loved him for his good nature and caring ways. He was the best young man they knew and the kindest; always caring and supportive of his friends but he would never entertain the idea of a romance as he felt they were appalled by his long legged, boney armed and sunken chested body. Many had tried to cook for him and bake him sweet cakes and goodies in the hopes of helping him out of his self hatred, but… much to their chagrin he didn’t like food, he didn’t like to eat and he had no intentions of filling himself full of the ‘nasty’ tasting dishes they offered. His mother, if asked could have told them she had tried for years. Her larder was full of delicious treats just waiting for him to try, but he was only fond of a stringy beef jerky made by a local man in the butcher’s shop in the village. He ate the jerky and nothing else. He ate a piece for breakfast, a small piece before tea, a piece at lunch with a mug of clear well water and another piece at supper. His teeth had miraculously escaped being harmed by the horribly tough dried meat and he actually had a rather nice smile. His breath however was a different story all-together and most people avoided speaking face to face with the evil smelling words flowing from his foul mouth. Usually a person would hold a shirt sleeve over their nose during the conversation under the pretense of wiping a nose or sweaty brow. Over the years String began to see people as strangely removed and stand-offish when he came near, hiding behind shirt sleeves and handkerchiefs, and some even crossing to the opposite side of the street when they saw him approaching; he assumed it was due to his being so thin and ‘scrawny’.
Life goes on in a village of living, working, laughing people and in time there came to this happy hamlet a beautiful young lady named Esther. She was so full of life she captured the collective heart of the community. All, but one young man fell in love with her and wanted to stay near just to hear her tinkling laughter and sweet remarks. But the skinny one, the miserable, jerky-eating, would-be suitor didn’t love her, he adored her, he worshiped her as his very own goddess and for the first time in his life he knew he had to find a way to change himself and be worthy of courting her. He asked his brothers what to do and he asked his mother, but they only reiterated what they’d said for years, “Eat something.” Finally he went to the village doctor and asked for help in overcoming his malady.
After a thorough exam and a million questions the doctor gave his diagnoses.
“You must go to the blacksmith and ask for his magic. I can do nothing for you. You need magic.”
“The blacksmith? Magic? But he is a large sweaty lout with dirty clothes and matted hair. His very appearance defies any sign of magic.”
“You must look again, String. This man is the perfect specimen of manhood with his wavy black hair, blue eyes and well developed muscles up and down his body. Come with me. It’s starting to rain.” String followed the doctor out of the apothecary and across the square. They walked up the steps to the town gazebo/band-stand and sat in the shadow of a large oak tree. The thunder boomed and the rain fell in buckets and soon the blacksmith came out of his barn without the big leather apron and worshiped the rain. He threw his arms in the air and enjoyed the cool shower. Soon his clothes were wet and plastered to his muscular chest, down his strong arms and his mighty legs. He walked around the square enjoying his shower, running his fingers through his thick hair and washing his face in the cool rain. He was indeed, the perfect man and very handsome without the dirt and sweat the rain washed away. String would give anything to look like the ‘smithy’. This handsome man could easily have magic in his soul. String felt guilty for judging the smithy’s dirty appearance; a dirty appearance gotten from hard work and dedication to his craft. He wanted to look like smithy and he wanted to have a job as important as smithy. He would do whatever it took.
“What do I have to do?” He asked the doctor.
“Go to him. His magic will help you if you do what he says. Many have asked for help but few have followed his wise advice. String, you must do what he says and never question.” String promised the doctor two fat hens for his advice and walked back across the square to the blacksmith’s barn. String had never felt such passion, his life was about to change for the better and he was ready, able… and more importantly, willing.
“I’m told you know magic.” He asked the big smithy standing over the very hot horse shoe pounding it into shape with his hammer.
“Yep.” The smithy said. He dipped the red hot horse shoe into a bucket of water, waited for the awful hissing and spitting to stop and turned to String and looked him up and down, smiled a little smirk and put his tools on the big wooden table.
“You want to win the heart of that new girl in town, what’s her name, Esther. I’ve been watching you follow her around the square like a skinny love sick puppy. I’ve seen her look lovingly at you also. If you want to change in order to win her, you may be closer than you think.” He stood back and watched String’s face waiting for an answer. String was at a loss. He didn’t think he was close to winning Esther’s heart. The smithy was wrong about that; Esther was above loving anyone as skinny as he. String was sure of it, but he also knew he wanted her more than he’d wanted anyone in his whole life and if he didn’t win her, he’d be miserable forever; he knew it, way down inside, he knew it.
“I just need your magic to make me strong and handsome.” He was twisting his coat tail into a strange knot and was surprised when the smithy slapped his hand and caused him to let go of his coat tail.
“You’re not going to win her heart with a wrinkled coat, son.” He sat on a large saddle draped over a box and addressed the love sick String.
“I can and will… help you, not because I think you are worthy of this young lady’s affections, but because I feel sorry for you. I too was once a bag of bones, all knees and big feet. I know how it feels to want to be like everyone else.”
“But you aren’t like everyone else, you are better… bigger, stronger and you know magic.” String hoped he wasn’t too gushy with his compliments; men like the smithy didn’t like groveling. “I will do anything you say. I am ready to conquer a dragon if need be. I want to be handsome.”
The big smithy laughed and rubbed his chin. He stood and took String’s shoulders and turned him around, feeling his boney arms under his sagging coat and putting his big hands around the boney thighs of the young man.
“Open your shirt and show me if there is a chest under there, boy?” String opened his shirt.
“Well, by George, you have a carpet of hair across the bones you call a chest. Good, very good. There is a man here we just have to bring him out into the open.” The smithy thumped String’s chest and laughed good naturedly.
“We will start today, this very moment. What have you eaten today?”
Here it comes, thought String. More ridicule. String told the big man about his beef jerky breakfast.
“Fine, fine. That is a good start. Now, you will go home, eat a dozen eggs, a ham steak and a boiled potato and come back to me.”
“Oh, but you don’t understand, I don’t eat. I hate food and I will be sick.”
“Fine, then go away and don’t waste my time. I’m busy, please leave and don’t bother me again with your silliness.” The smithy turned back to his work.
“No, I’ll do as you say. My ma will be gladder than glad. I’ll return after I’ve eaten the mess, I mean meal.”
“Bring your ma back for proof. I will not have my time wasted.” He turned back to his work and String half walked half ran out of his barn.
The rest of the spring and summer, the smithy worked his magic with String. The young man was told to swim across the lake and back twice a day, he was to climb the mountain with a heavy pack, up and over and back once a week, he was given a small anvil and was told to lift it over his head ten times a day and the magic went on and on. Each new magic spell, String would balk and the smithy would threaten to stop his magic, but in the end, String knew he had come this far and breaking the magic spell at this point would be a bad thing. As the summer progressed, String’s mother’s larder was running low on food, and many of the town girls were happy to bake for the young man growing out of his clothes. They began to bring good food daily for an opportunity to just gaze and swoon over the new muscles and spreading chest, of this old friend who’d been so much fun, but he didn’t notice them and they went away with hurt feelings and felt ignored. By fall, he was almost as big as the smithy and was apprenticing in his blacksmith shop. His life had changed for the better due to the smithy’s magic and he was almost ready to approach the love of his life.
He was now courted openly by the young women of the town including the beautiful Esther, but he turned all offers of walks and dinners away as he was not yet handsome enough. He was having the tailor make him a new suit of clothes and then he would make his move on his love. But as each week passed, he wanted to gain a few more pounds, add a few more muscles while he still had the magic. He was a young man on the verge of happiness. Soon, he would be a perfect man and good enough to approach Esther and win her heart. Not yet, but soon, very soon.
Albert rode into town on an old brown mule and tied him to the hitching pole of the post office. He was short and fat and his bald head shown like glass when he took off his hat. Esther saw him from across the street and ran to him, hugging him around his jovial belly, burying his head in her bosom, and crying with joy. It wasn’t long before the whole town knew about the strange suitor who’d come from far away to ask Esther for her hand in marriage. The couple was honored and celebrated all over the area. Women wept at the happiness of the young couple, while men scowled with disappointment at the loss of the beautiful Esther.
Albert and Esther were married and moved away by the time String returned from a long trek over the mountain carrying his large heavy pack on his broad muscular shoulders.
“Your magic was supposed to win me my love.” He wailed at the blacksmith in total misery.
“No, my magic helped you build a perfect body. That is what you wanted and that is what my magic gave you.” The smithy turned back to his work.