Happy Spring Equinox!
This wonderful Italian story is absolutely great for this time of the year – particularly as there’s a brand new Pope and Archbishop of Canterbury being inaugurated at this very auspicious time of renewal and rebirth. Spring Equinox is the time of perfect balance and union of opposites.
This story is taken directly and unaltered from Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, Virago, 2012. Parsley-girl has some key features in common with Rapunzel, which is another fitting story for the equinox.
Once upon a time, when it was winter, a woman said: “I’ve a real craving for some parsley. There’s lots of parsley in the Holy Sisters’ garden. I’ll go and get some.”
The first time, she took one sprig of parsley and she didn’t spy a soul. The second time, she took two sprigs and nobody spotted her. But the third time, just as she was picking herself a whole bunch, a hand fell on her shoulder and there was a great big nun.
“What are you doing?” asked the nun.
“Picking some parsley. I’ve a real craving for parsley, because I’m going to have a baby.”
“Take all the parsley you want, but when you’ve had your baby you must call him Parsley-boy if he’s a boy and Parsley-girl if she’s a girl, and when the baby grows up you must give it to us. That is the price of your parsley.”
Although she laughed it off at the time, when the woman’s little girl was born she called her Parsley-girl. Sometimes Parsley-girl went to play beside the convent wall. One day, one of the nuns called out to her: “Parsley-girl! Ask your mother when she’s going to give it to us.”
“All right,” said Parsley-girl.
She went home and said to her mother: “The nun was asking me, when are you going to give it to them?”
Her mother laughed and said: “Tell them to come and take it for themselves.”
When Parsley-girl went back to play beside the convent wall, the nun said: “Parsley-girl, did you ask your mother?”
“Yes,” said Parsley-girl. “And she said you must take it for yourself.”
So the nun stretched out her long arm and picked Parsley-girl up by the scruff.
And the nun told Parsley-girl about the parsley and the promise.
Parsley-girl burst out crying. “Naughty Mummy! She never said a thing!” When they went inside the convent, the nun said: “Put a big pot of water on the fire, Parsley-girl, and when it comes to the boil, in you go! You’ll make us a nice little supper.”
Parsley-girl burst out crying all over again. Up popped a little old man out of a casserole.
“Why are you crying, Parsley-girl?”
“I’m crying because the nuns are going to eat me for supper.”
“They’re not nuns, they’re mean old witches. Put the pot of water on the fire and stop crying.”
“Why should I stop crying? The nuns are going to eat me.”
“Oh, no, they’re not. Take this magic wand. When they come to see if the pot is boiling, give them a little tap with it and they’ll all jump in like frogs into a pond.”
Although she thought: “The little old man only said that to stop me crying,” she felt a bit better. When the pot boiled, she called out: “Sisters! Sisters! The pot is boiling!”
They all came to see, crying: “Oh, what a lovely supper we’re going to have!” Parsley-girl was scared stiff so she picked up the magic wand and hit them all on their big, fat bottoms and, yes! they all jumped, splash, into the pot.
“Take the pot off the fire, Parsley-girl! We were only joking!”
“Oh, no, you weren’t! You’re not nuns at all, you’re witches! You stay there until you’re good and done, but don’t think I’m going to do the honour of eating you, you’re much too old and tough. I’ll look on the stove to see what else you’ve got.”
She went to the stove and there, in a casserole, she found a fine young man.
“Hello, fine young man. I’m hungry.”
“Don’t make fun of me, I’m not young at all. I’m old and ugly.”
“Oh, no, you’re not.” And she showed him his fine reflection in the washing up bowl. “But as for me, I’m just a little girl, worse luck.”
“You’re not a little girl at all,” he said. “I’ll show you.”
And he measured her up against the wall, to show her how tall she’d grown. Then Parsley-girl said: “I’m going to make you a proposition.”
“Whatever can it be?”
“Let’s get married.”
“But you’re so pretty and I’m so plain.”
“I think you’re very good-looking, personally.”
“All right. If you want to get married, I’ll marry you.”
“Then let’s have some supper and go to bed. We can find a priest tomorrow.”
“But don’t let us stay in the convent, because the nuns put the devil in the place where Jesus ought to be.”
They went to look for the devil but he had turned back into Jesus because of the magic wand. Parsley-girl said: “You do realise I’ve killed all the witches, don’t you?”
They looked inside the pot. It was full of corpses.
“Let’s dig a hole and bury them and then let’s get out of here.”
They had supper, then they went to bed. They went to the priest in the morning and got married.