Short Stories

Nursery Rhymes #1

Prompt: The story (or at least one of the stories) behind the nursery rhyme “Ring Around the Rosie”.

June 1717

Sarah rocked the wooden chair faster and faster in hopes that the noise the motion made would drown out the voices of her grandchildren playing outside. It seemed a cruel twist of fate that she was otherwise losing her hearing but could make out the lyrics of the newest children’s song whenever it was chanted nearby.

If only they knew what had really inspired the little tune. Would they still smile as they spun around and landed in the dirt or would they shudder with emotion as she did?

“Ring-around the rosie,

A pocket full of posies.”

The year was 1665 and Sarah was standing on one of the dirty street corners, trying to convince the dandies to buy flowers for their sweethearts. She was just about to make a sale when her friend Beth ran into her.

“For goodness sakes Beth, be careful!” Sara cried when the impact nearly knocked her basket out of her hands. “What is the matter with you?”

“Shelley’s family has the spots!”

Sarah and her potential customers gasped and the couple rushed off with terror in their eyes even though they wouldn’t have known that the Shelley’s lived just one lane over.

“So the plague has reached us at last,” Sarah sighed. “As we knew it would. Heaven help us.”

The glint in Beth’s eyes was not appropriate for the topic at hand but that didn’t stop her smile. “And if Heaven does help us we will be well off. I heard the other girls speaking and if they tell it true our baskets will be empty soon enough.”

“We will be dead soon enough, you mean.”

“Not at all!” Beth cried. “The stories say that our posies not only keep away the stench of death but holding them to your nose will keep the sickness from entering your body,” she whispered.

“That is not true!” Sarah thought of the many flower sellers who had succumbed to the disease. Selling flowers was nearly as dangerous as being a doxy when it came to the spread of plague.

“We know that flowers are not a cure but they do not.” Beth looked out at the streets that were still busy even with the threat of disease in their midst.

Knowing it was wrong, Sarah soon joined in her friend’s chant of “buy a posie and keep the plague away!”

“Ashes, ashes

We all fall down!”

Sarah’s mother had passed first and then her three younger siblings one right after another. She’d bonded with her father when they’d wrapped up the bodies and snuck them out of the house in the dead of night, not wanting their house to be branded with the red cross on the door that meant they were prisoners in their own home.

Then Sarah’s father passed and she had no reason to stay so, in the early morning light, she packed a bag and rushed to the city gates. She could only pray that on the way she would find out how to get the certificate of good healthy that she needed to leave London.

She was only a few streets away from the gate when the woman in front of her collapsed and the man she was with fell to his knees. Sarah couldn’t help but stop and watch the horror unfold.

Sarah watched as the woman’s breaths slowed and the man turned his haunted eyes to her. “She had not been feeling well but she did not have the signs. No spots,” he whispered. “Now she is gone. They all fall down in the end.”

“We are still here.” Sarah reached out and touched his shoulder and the next thing she knew he was handing her a certificate, the one that his companion would no longer be using.

When they were allowed out of the gates they ran as fast as they could without falling down.


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