Celebrity Interview with Huldra

I meet the legendary seductress in a brookside café.  She swirls in, wearing a green sheath, cut asymmetrically as is the fashion, and furry boots  Her eyes, highlighted with just a touch of moss green shadow, are hypnotic.  We find a table near the open fire, and the flickering glow washes across her face like aurora borealis.  Sitting this close to her, she is even more beautiful than I had imagined.

“Thanks for agreeing to do the interview,” I begin, lamely, gazing at her perfectly formed features.

Huldra:  Always my pleasure to reach out.

Me:  I understand you are the guardian of quite a vast empire.

Huldra:  [A sharp laugh,; more a harrumph.]  Used to be.  My forests are in danger, you know.  Greedy people are cutting them down everywhere.  Soon my gentlemen friends won’t have anywhere to hide.  I may have to retire.  [Another sardonic laugh.]  But yes, I’ve had my conquests.

Me:  How did you get started in this line of work?

Huldra:  You really want to know?  It’s  a bit of a yarn.

Me:  Yes, please.

Huldra:  A prince was hunting in the forest and happened upon our cottage.  Mother was giving us children our weekly baths, but she hadn’t gotten to me and my little brother yet.  She hid us in the closet, then invited the prince in.  I remember peeking at him through the keyhole.  He was so handsome.  I wanted to steal him away for my very own.

Me:  Your first crush?

Huldra:  [A wistful smile]  First of countless.  Sadly, though, he discovered us in the closet.  I think my brother sneezed because of all the pine sap.  The prince, who prided himself on cleanliness – to tell the truth, he probably had OC syndrome – was shocked by our appearance.  “These children are an abomination,” he said.  “They should never appear in public.  They must be banished to the forest.”

Me:  That must have been a terribly traumatic childhood experience.

Huldra:  Actually, I always found Mother tiresome.  She was too deferential, too willing to do others’ bidding.  And sort of passive-aggressive, too.  Definitely not in tune with new feminism.  So I was happy to leave.  Lars and I found a nice walk-up grotto near the waterfall, had it redone in a kind of nativist beaux arts décor.  Lars is very creative.  It is lovely, really.  We have been quite happy there.

Me:  Must be lonely, though?

Huldra:  Not at all.  We have many good friends, a regular salon actually.  There’s Billy Gruff who lived just down the creek under the bridge.  My distant cousin Brunnhilde stops by from time to time – she has such a fabulous voice.  My best friend Ingrid Nymphedatter.  And Karl Bjørn, the arbitrageur, always a hoot.  A writer named Grimm something-or-other that I used to see from time to time.  We party for days.

Me:  But you never settled down?  I mean, thought about marrying and starting a family?

Huldra:  You know, I’ve always cherished my freedom…and my privacy.  Thank goodness for the forest shadows.  And there are so many different kinds of men; I want to try them all, but not be tied to any one.  That would be too trying.  [Does she wink?]  

Me:  Didn’t you ever fall in love?  A while back, you and Peer Gynt were rumored to be an item.

Huldra:  [A different smile, something Mona Lisa-esque]  Oh, Peer.  That’s just tabloid nonsense.  We’re good friends is all.  Anyway, he ran off with that floozie Anitra.

Me:  Can you share some of your beauty secrets?  How do you manage to stay in such great shape year after year.

Huldra:  [She eyes me with a hint of peevishness]  People always think we legends have secret potions or something.  But you know, it’s all diet and exercise.  You’d be amazed at how many wonderful dishes can be concocted from nuts, berries and a good flagon of honey mead.  I should put out a recipe book someday.

Me:  That would be a best seller for sure. [Am I being too starstruck?]

Huldra:  Of course, I do a combination of jogging and meditation, too.

Me:  How is that?

Huldra:  It’s quite simple.  Most people thrash around and don’t think about how much noise they’re making.  When I run barefoot across the forest floor, through crinkly leaves and brittle pine needles, I focus very hard on not making the slightest sound.  No one can hear me coming.  I sneak up on people all the time like that.  It’s great fun really, but requires intense concentration.

Me:  I can imagine.

Huldra:  And then there’s seduction itself.  No one realizes how much energy that takes.  It’s a lot of work…[she turns to look at the babbling water]…and no one really seems to appreciate it anymore.

Me:  Thinking seriously about retiring then?

Huldra:  It crosses my mind every now and then.  But there will always be  gullible, malleable men wandering through.  [She is staring straight at me.]  And then I remind myself that I’m the best.  “Nobody does it better,” right?!.  And I have a personal motto: Perfection is forever.

There is a clatter.  My elbow has slipped, sending my recorder and notebook crashing to the floor.  Outside, the forest beckons.


Owed to a Shanghai Bank

Oh,, oh, oh, the numbers mount

More stately debt than I can count

I'll never have sufficient yen

To fund my longings now or then

I grimace here and you can bet

I'll suffer long with Chinese debt.

The Don's Plaint

Wry history, wry history, wry history,

I cry.

If I don't get wry history,

I surely will die.

                       The English Assignment

         School was winding down.  Knowing that another summer lay just around a turn of the calendar made it hard to concentrate.  English class was worst.  It had been a long year, most of it with an odd woman named Miss Boggs. 

         Miss Boggs would walk to the board, pinch a tiny piece of chalk in her short, red fingers and announce, “All right, children.  Here’s the assignment.”  Yes, she called us children.  Then she would attack the blackboard as if to punish it for giggling or passing notes.  She wrote in block letters that got smaller as she went and always slanted up toward the ceiling.  I always wondered if the little chalk bit was struggling to escape, longing for the freedom that lay beyond the ceiling tiles.  Anyway, the words were finally on the board: “Explain how to cook an egg.”

         Another exciting assignment!  A real challenge.

         Amanda Clark was always first to start.  She took one quick, squinty look from behind her glasses, flipped a pigtail in place, and began writing.  Amanda really cared about cooking eggs.  She cared about cooking eggs and hungry children in Africa and our homeroom’s chances to win the school chocolate sale.  She cared, as much as Miss Boggs, I  suspect, about getting the absentee report to the principal’s office, about dusting the erasers before lunch break, and even about the number of gold stars beside her name on the “Special Learners” poster by the door.  Amanda and Miss Boggs got along swimmingly.

         Now, don’t get me wrong.  I cared about gold stars, too, in my own way.  I mean, if Miss Boggs really wanted to know how to cook an egg, I was more than happy to oblige.  Boiled, fried, scrambled, poached, or anything else, she could count on me.  And my string of five-pointed tinsel was never far behind Amanda’s.  So I set to it. 

                 How to cook an egg:

                 1)  Pack a suitcase.

                 2)  Send the butler to Farmer Jones’ for a dozen Grade A Extra Large.

                 3)  Call Daddy and tell him you need the Lear Jet for the afternoon.

                 4)  Fly over Mt. St. Helens and flip the carton of eggs out the window.

                 5)  Return to New York, check into the Plaza and ask room service to send up a decent breakfast. 

         But I didn’t like the star chase.  My heart was never in it.  I dreamt, wished, ached for an assignment that made some sense.  And I kept earning gold stars only because it made it easier to get through the school day.  I really pitied the other kids, the ones whose names were like empty hallways on the Special Learners poster.  For their trouble, they usually got extra assignments.  When they were finished cooking Miss Boggs’ egg, she had them explain how to fly a kite.

         It wasn’t really Miss Boggs’ fault.  She had about as much vision in her life as one of Farmer Jones’ hens.  Her life revolved around multiplication tables, needlepoint, and spring break.  She had been teaching thirteen and fourteen year-olds for thirty years, and despite all those spring breaks, the May sun had never really reached her.

         Of course, there’s a lot more to Miss Boggs’ story than what I’m telling here.  More to Amanda Clark’s story, too.  More to mine.  But in May of that year our paths crossed in a special sort of way.

         Miss Boggs fell and cracked her hip.  After walking around on the ice all winter with little metal teeth clamped to her shoes, she fell on a dry, sunny spring day.  Just slipped off the curb.  Right outside school.  Only eighteen days before summer break. 

         Those last weeks of the school year, Amanda was unbearable.  She took it upon herself to explain to the substitute teacher exactly how the class was run.  “Miss Boggs did this, and Miss Boggs did that.”  Amanda made a real pain of herself.  She called roll, and tattled and generally made it impossible for the rest of us classroom-weary students to pull any fast ones on the substitute.  Amanda was a real stick-in-the-mud that spring and it took years before I forgave her.  Many years.  Years that put a bunch of stuff in perspective. 

         But in May of 1958, Amanda decided we should send Miss Boggs some flowers.  She took up a collection.  She also decided we should send a nice letter along with the flowers.  I will never understand how she got the rest of us to agree.  Nevertheless, we voted on who should write the letter.  Amanda nominated me.  I won.

         “I don’t know what to say,” I objected. 

         “Write a nice poem or something,” Amanda suggested, blinking innocently behind her glasses.

         My mind went immediately to work: “Roses are red, violets are blue.  Your eggs are done cooking, and so are you.”

         Honestly cruel.  But my manners got the better of me.  I would have to get serious.  So all that afternoon and all that night, I racked my brains for something nice to write to Miss Boggs.

         It was awfully hard.

         Until the next afternoon.  Suddenly it came to me.  Amanda was directing the class skit for closing day.  “Jamey, you sit over here,” she said.  “Laura, don’t forget to turn this way when Jamey starts talking,” she said.  “Peter Travis, hush up and wait your turn,” she said.  Amanda was in her element.  Amanda was being a classic nuisance. 

         Her direction was inspiring.  I slipped as quietly as possible to the back of the room, pulled out a sheet of paper, and began writing.

                 Dear Miss Boggs,

                 It would surprise you how much all of us in 301 miss you.  To be honest, it has surprised us a little, too.  But I guess that’s something we’ll learn much more about as we get older.  There are little things we never noticed before.  Your voice calling roll, for instance.  The room’s kind of empty without it.

         In the background, Amanda was still at it.  “No, no, no, Peter!  You’re supposed to be excited.  You’re supposed to be happy.  So act like it.  Smile!” 

                 Someday, Miss Boggs, we’ll learn to say, to write, many of the things we can’t put into words today.  I’m sure all of us will then think back with special memories on the year we spent with you.  We sure wish you could make it back to 301 before school’s out.  But if not, it may help to know that class is being led exactly the way you would have wanted.

                                    Yours sincerely,

                                    The Pupils in 301

         Amanda, of course, loved the letter.  She had me read it out loud for the whole class.  I read very slowly.  It pleased me there were a few suppressed snickers.  Especially at the part about roll call.

         Amanda gushed.  “How very sweet,” she said, smiling at me in a way I wouldn’t understand for a year or so.

         Anyway, the class was pleased, and the substitute was pleased, and Amanda was pleased, and, believe it or not, Miss Boggs was pleased, too.  She wrote a little note asking the substitute to give a gold star to the student who had written the letter.

         And that’s really all there is to this little story.  One small thing can be added, I guess.  During the last week of school, the substitute, in one of her very rare independent moments, decided to assign an English theme.  It was a very simple one.  Each student was to write a single sentence, an experience or an observation or a rule that he or she thought always held true. 

         As an example, the substitute wrote on the blackboard, in block letters that grew smaller as they went, and slanted upwards toward the ceiling:

                 Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. 

         It was one of my best papers.  It earned me another gold star.

         I wrote: 

                 Never underestimate a kid.



If the wages of gluttony are gout and fatigue, it will always help to find a good chair at the table.  And if the wages of debauchery are guilt and sleeplessness, tis always better to find a soft bed.  And if the wages of pride are chagrin and comeuppances, it's good to have a large commode to store the plaques and citations.  Indeed, furniture can be the answer to many sins.

This fellow I know started out as a piece of crap.  Then he got turned a few times, aired out, and he became fertilizer.  And then his wife extracted a few things, injected some others, and lo and behold, suddenly he's humus.  Who knows?  With some more aging, he could be headed for loam.

© Dag Ryen 2016