The Crane Wife

Once a peasant woman found a crane with a wounded wing in the woods.

“It is a hungry winter,” the woman said to the crane, “but it must be just as hungry for you as it is for me.”

“The highborn claim that my flesh is excellent,” the crane said matter-of-factly.  “I should not like to deprive you of that delight.”

“You think rather too highly of yourself, friend crane.”  But the woman was smiling, and she shared her rice and water with the crane.

On the next day, the crane was still there.  “Aren’t you worried about wolves?” the woman asked.

“I am a prey animal,” the crane said.  “One might as well meet one’s end with a certain dignity.”

“Dignity nothing,” the woman said.  And she shared her meal with the crane again.

On the third day, the crane cocked its head at the woman and said, “You know, my cousins tell stories of a crane wife.  Are you doing this because you’re in need of a wife?  I would think that there are easier ways to get one than by wandering in the woods.”  The crane flexed its wing experimentally.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” the woman said tartly.  “I helped you because you ought to fly again, not because I wanted to take you home and tie you to a loom.”

“You’re assuming that the two things are mutually exclusive,” said the crane.  “They say crane wives make excellent lovers, you know.”

“I see your vanity is intact,” the woman said.  But she did have to admit that the crane was likely to be beautiful in any guise it took.

“I shall just have to prove it to you the old-fashioned way, then,” the crane said, undeterred.  “Now, which way is home?”

for Nancy Sauer