Eostra by Maureen Bowden

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Illustration by Sue Babcock

On March twentieth, the day before the spring equinox, I bought a box of six free-range eggs from Asda, unpacked my shopping onto my kitchen worktop, and was about to distribute it into the appropriate locations when the egg box wobbled. I stared at it. It wobbled again. This was a mystery.

Get a grip, girl, I told myself. There must be a rational explanation. I reached out, slowly lifted the lid, and pulled my hand away before whatever was in there could inflict any damage upon my fingers. One of the eggs was rocking from side to side. I watched a crack spread across the shell. It broke apart, and an inch-high female figure climbed out. Within seconds she grew to a height equalling my own, and jumped off the worktop onto my kitchen floor.

She was slender and golden-haired: a young woman, normal in all respects except one. She had no navel. “I require a garment.” It was a demand, not a request, and I felt compelled to obey. I fetched my towelling robe from its hook on the bathroom door, and handed it to her. “Thank you,” she said. “What’s your name, girl?”

“Helen Hazelwood. What’s yours?”

“I am Eostra, Goddess of Spring.”

“Why were you in my egg box?”

“Hiding from the god Pan. May we partake of some refreshment while I explain? The hatching process has given me an appetite.”

“I’d be happy to oblige but I don’t usually cater for goddesses. Asda doesn’t stock nectar and ambrosia.”

“No matter. Unlike Pan, I move with the times.” She glanced at my recent purchases still lying on the worktop. “Instant coffee and a few chocolate-chip cookies will be acceptable.”

I made the coffee and led her into my lounge. She followed with the cookie packet. Settling on my couch, she said, “You may be aware that the time has come for my annual dalliance with Pan. Folklore requires it.”

“So, what’s wrong? Aren’t you in the mood?”

She crunched on a cookie. “Not really. Don’t misunderstand me, Helen. I love the old goat but if I have to endure those wretched merry, merry pipes one more time I’ll crack them over his hornéd head. It’s not as if he has an extensive repertoire. A woman tires of the same old tune, come century go century, and it’s not exactly ‘The Unchained Melody’. ”

She should be thankful for that, I thought. If ever a song had been crucified by decades of tonsil jigglers and karaoke crooners it was the unfortunate ‘U.M.’

I grabbed a cookie before she could scoff the lot. “You need to stand up for yourself and tell Pan how you feel.”

She sighed. “I know, but he’s a traditionalist. He hates change. If I force the issue he’ll sulk. There’ll be an awkward atmosphere and the knock-on effect will be no spring. No daffodils, nesting birds, or fornicating rabbits.”

“And how will hiding in an egg box help?”

“I needed thinking time”.

“So, what’s the plan?”

She leaned across my coffee table and grasped my hand. “I don’t like confrontation but I suspect you thrive on it. You can tell him.”

I pulled my hand away. “What? No chance. I’m not interfering with the love life of immortals. He might change me into a tree.”

She shook her head and shrieked with laughter. “Bearing in mind your surname, the idea does have a pleasing symmetry, but it’s not his style. I told you, he’ll sulk, but that’s all he’ll do.”

I felt like sulking myself. This wasn’t fair. She knew I didn’t have the power to disobey her. I stomped into the kitchen and began tidying away my shopping.

She followed me, carrying the coffee cups. “I’ll wash up while you calm down. You’ll come to no harm, Helen, and I’ll reward you well.”

I ignored her, thinking to myself, that’s what the gods always say, but it usually ends in tears.

When only the egg box was left on the worktop I said, “Are there any more surprises to hatch out of that?”

“Sadly, no. Those little ones were destined to be chickens but they were taken from their mother too soon. All that awaits them now is boiling, frying, poaching, or being added to a cake mix.”

I felt a stab of pity for all bereaved poultry, and their chicks deprived of the chance of life. “I don’t think I could eat them now. I’ve lost my appetite for eggs.”

She shrugged. “Suit yourself, but it’s too late to give them back to the hen.”

Resigning myself to the situation, I turned to face her. “Right. Let’s get this over with. What do you want me to tell Pan?”

“Tell him to ditch the pipes and sing me a love song.”

“Where will I find him?”

“He’ll be able to sense my presence so he won’t be far away. Where’s the nearest woodland?”

“Epping Forest.”

“Be there when the moon rises.”

After darkness fell I parked my car on the roadside at the forest’s edge. When moonlight lit the path through the trees I heard the merry, merry pipes and I followed the sound. They led me to a grove beside a woodland stream.

Pan stepped out of the shadows. He was grotesque but magnificent: more than seven feet tall including the antlers; naked, but covered in a furry pelt from his haunches to his cloven hooves. He called to me, “Greetings, maiden. Are you a dryad of these woods?”

“No, I’m a dental hygienist from Leytonstone, and I bring you a message from the goddess Eostra.”

“Has the fair one been delayed?”

“No. She stood you up.”

His nostrils flared in anger, and I quaked. “She cannot,” he bleated. “We must ensure the fertility of the land by mating before the sun rises.”

“Then get rid of the pipes. She can’t stand them any more and I don’t blame her.”

“But the pipes are merry.”

“Maybe so, but you can have too much of a good thing.”

He flung the pipes to the ground, crossed his arms, and pouted. I had the measure of him and I stopped quaking. “Sulking is forgivable in a petulant three-year-old,” I said, “but in an ancient deity it’s pathetic, so stop it.”

He sank to the ground and leaned against an oak tree. Tears trickled from his sad, brown eyes and splashed into the stream. “I knew she was going off me. You are wise, maiden. Tell me how I may regain her affection.”

I sat beside him. “Sing her a love song.”

He shook his head. I don’t know one.”

“No problem. There are hundreds on YouTube.”

“I have no internet access.”

I googled ‘love songs’ on my phone and handed it to him. “You can borrow this. Return it to me when you come for Eostra.” I told him my address, followed the moonlit path back to my car and drove home.

He arrived after midnight, stood beneath my window and serenaded his goddess, telling her of the long, lonely time in which he’d hungered for her touch.

She discarded my towelling robe and leapt out of the window. I watched until the two figures, hand in hand, disappeared into the distance.

The sound of birdsong woke me next morning. I drew back my curtains and looked down at my garden. It was covered in daffodils and the cherry tree was in bud. My phone was lying alongside the garden gate.

With a light heart I skipped down the stairs to the kitchen. Five newly hatched chicks stood chirruping beside an empty egg box, amid a scattering of broken shells. Luckily, my garden has sufficient space to accommodate a chicken coop.


BIO: Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has had over a hundred stories and poems accepted by paying markets, and Silver Pen nominated one of her stories for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize. She also writes song lyrics, mostly comic political satire. Her husband sets these to traditional melodies and he has performed them in folk music clubs throughout England and Wales. 

She loves her family and friends, rock ‘n’ roll, Shakespeare, and cats.