From the moment she saw Hannah Stilleschuyler, Florence felt as though she’d known her forever.
She knew from wide reading in fiction, jokes overheard, all the straws in the wind that blow through so many interactions, weaving themselves together until a trend grows into a custom develops a tradition creates assumptions and becomes an understanding about the way things must be that the relationship between a mother and daughter in law will invariably feel prickly and competitive. She came to the meeting wary, influenced by an already received expectation of undeclared antagonism; defensive artificial politeness – two trolls braced in a tug of war that went back generations: “my husband”: “my son”.
She walked in silence beside Eb along the rutted track to Hannah’s cottage, wondering if she would be acceptable, and what would be the look in Hannah’s eyes when they met.
The first thing that came to meet them, as they came within the vicinity of Hannah’s place, was not the way anybody looked, but a wonderful aroma of cinnamon buns baking. Flo wondered if this might be the beginning of a competition; Round 1: Anything you can do I can do better – cinnamon buns; this is what my son likes to eat.
Eb walked very close to her. Occasionally his hand brushed hers. “It will be all right,” he said quietly as they came to the small wooden house. Florence was not sure she believed him.
Before they had the chance to step onto the porch, the door opened, and Hannah came out to them, smiling eagerly, radiating excitement:
Florence did not always employ her power of Seeing, because people found it disconcerting; sometimes they felt she was glaring at them, some felt she was accusing them of unspecified faults. Those who can See learn to Look discreetly: but Florence thought this was important – this troll was to be her mother-in-law, and Florence just had to Look.
Smiling her best smile, she came to meet Hannah, and as she did so, allowed her glance to enter straight in through the other troll’s eyes to her soul, and Looked as thoroughly as anyone can in just a short moment.
She saw honesty and kindness; patience . . . resignation she thought, and shards of sorrow. She saw courage and determination, humour, strength, perception. Then, just before she allowed this shooting forth of her soul to return to her again, she understood with a flash of amusement and delight, that the gift was mutual and the search reciprocated – she herself had in turn been Seen. With that Florence settled down inside; there was no darkness in Eb’s mother, and she had the Seeing – so they would get along just fine.
Hannah nodded; “I think we know each other,” she said. She paused and sniffed “Ha! Those buns are catching! Quick!” and whisked away in through the door of her cottage.
“Told you it would be all right,” Eb smiled at Flo as they kicked off their muddy boots and left them on the porch.
Inside Hannah’s house everything was simple, warm and welcoming. Florence stood still within the doorway and felt its homely peace. She understood now the faith and goodness that had seeped into Eb in his growing years, keeping the gentleness that was in him safe from the thousand harpies that will harry it and snatch it away from a child if those who have the trust of overshining prove negligent. Nothing like that could happen here. Florence could feel the wings spread over this cottage, and she knew that whatever trouble or sorrow entered might come in, but it would be disarmed at the door and obliged to contribute to the Light.
“Cinnamon buns!” she exclaimed; “My total favourite!”