It was Prudence's turn to be the fairy queen at tea that afternoon. Nursing her arthritic wrist, she sat in the esteemed wicker chair by the hearth and surveyed her two sisters – Viola and Estelle. Viola – the eldest sister – passed a cup of "Dixie Peach Passion" tea, taking care not to strain Prudence's wrist. They both politely overlooked Estelle's chronic lethargy – at only seventy-nine, she was the youngest – and Prudence proceeded to assign her fairy helpers the whimsical tasks of the day. Viola sucked on shortbread with her good teeth and chortled graciously at Prudence's fanciful requests.
"Now, I'll not have my gardenia canopy looking shabby, today," she would say. Or, "Sister fairies, there is much work to be done in preparation for tonight's firefly festival."
Viola mused while Estelle dozed, and the sisters enjoyed their afternoon tea just as they had every day in their little lake cabin for much of a century.
Then someone knocked on the cabin's attractive blue door, and Estelle was roused to answer.
Standing on the porch was a bright, winged man, holding a leather lead to a lovely brown cow. Estelle's eyes widened to a circumference seldom employed in her sunset years, and Viola dropped her teacup on the table. Prudence, excellent hostess that she was, welcomed the winged man to their home.
"Thank you," replied the winged man. "Ladies, pardon the interruption, but I've come to offer a rare opportunity."
Estelle complained that the gentleman was trying to sell them the cow, and that they shouldn't buy it, for the upkeep would fall to her. The elder sisters suspected the same, and waited impatiently for the winged man to explain.
"You misunderstand me," he said. "By tomorrow morning, one of you will be called to the next life. But today I offer each of you this gift: to go wherever you wish before the next sunrise. What do you say?"
Viola declared the decision entirely up to Prudence.
"You'd have to miss your turn, dear," she told Prudence firmly. "It won't do to interfere with the fairy queen rotation."
Prudence laid her teacup upon its saucer and tucked in the wicker chair, by which she indicated to the winged man, we accept.
"Very well," he said, pulling the brown cow, "I shall meet you all on the lakeshore."
Before locking up, Viola, Prudence, and Estelle gathered their silver hair in swirls and tucked them under their sun hats. Only Prudence took her pocket book, for Viola and Estelle felt the winged man should take care of any expenses. They picked their way across the pebbly lakeshore, where the winged man stood facing the lake and a string of low, blue mountains beyond. He bade the sisters to sit upon the cow.
"Who is to be first?" inquired the man, light trickling from his limbs.
"Prudence will go," answered Viola. "She is fairy queen today." Viola hoped her generosity would be remembered the next time she was fairy queen. But Prudence proved the more generous.
"Because I am fairy queen, I shall go last," said Prudence. "I would otherwise not be very queenly."
"Viola, then," yawned Estelle. "I have not yet decided where to go."
"Very well," conceded the eldest. "Take us, please, to Venice. I would very much like to lie in a gondola and listen to a master violinist."
The winged man tugged at the cow and the cow plodded into the rippling waters of the lake.
Frogs and fish splashed aside as they waded into the water. They waited for the cow to swim, but it only walked deeper. The sisters closed their eyes, breathed in, and held onto their sun hats. Slowly, they were submerged. While under water, they strained with wilted muscles to remain firmly on the cow's back – and miraculously they were still astride when the cow returned to the surface again.