To start at the beginning ...
As Hansel talked more about the market, Gretel rewrapped the bulbs and set them beside her mug of tea. She pulled her shawl around her shoulders and settled back into the chair, enjoying her brother’s stories of the other forest dwellers he had met that morning. Rarely did Gretel venture out beyond their gardens and so she depended upon Hansel’s monthly market days and his neighborly interactions to know what was happening in their forest.
“Ol’ Man Miller is ill again. I saw his son at the market. They are anxious about the winter and how well he will weather the cold. The Fransen twins were there with their goats. They also drug that old cow to the market. She must be fifty years old,” he chuckled. “I imagine any milk she would give would be sour from the start. I did by some goat cheese. I thought we could put it way for something special this fall.”
Gretel nodded and smiled, sipping her tea and asking him about other folks he met with. “Did you see John?” Hansel nodded.
“He was there with some of his wood work, too. A few chairs and some hand-turned bowls. He had a little table set up right next to Father..., uh, I mean the, uh, the old man with the bulbs.” Hansel swallowed hard and turned his eyes to the fire.
Gretel felt her stomach turn to stone. “Did you just say...? Did you..?” She looked at the burlap bundle as if it contained vipers instead of bulbs. She rose shakily to her feet, leaning against the arm of her chair for support, anger and tears burning in her eyes. “You bought these from him? How could you?”
“Gretel,” Hansel stammered, letting his hands fall weakly to his lap, “He wanted you to have them. He chose them for you. He hoped ...”
“Did you buy them or did he give them to you? Did you know who he was? Did he recognize you?” She felt her voice growing more shrill and desperate. She had the bulbs gripped in her hand now and she shook them furiously with each question. “Why would you do this? He abandoned us!” Gretel stood trembling, crying.
Hansel avoided her piercing gaze, staring at his hands instead. “I thought you would like them,” he murmured. “And I thought it would be a small way for you to understand that he loves you. That he’s sorry.”
“That he’s sorry? That he loves me?” Her laugh came out cold and hard. “How do you know that? A couple of bulbs and everything is supposed to just be mended between us? The last nine years simply wiped away; all suffering forgotten? It would take a lot more than a couple of bulbs to piece back together this family.” She dropped the burlap sack into his lap. “Surely you haven’t failed to remember how he cast us off?”
Hansel closed his eyes and swallowed. It seemed an eternity passed before he looked up, fixing his eyes on her face. “I am sorry, Gretel. Perhaps I should have told you earlier. Much earlier. I , I have met with Father at every market meeting.” He blinked back his own tears, “We’ve been waiting for the opportunity for him to reach out to you. We had hoped ...”
“No.” She interrupted briskly. “No.” She gathered the two mugs, now cold, and went to the kitchen, hoping to lose herself in a task. When Hansel walked out the front door a few minutes later, Gretel leaned against the sink, her head in her hands.