Once upon a time there was an old woman who put buttons on everything. She put buttons on all her shawls and coats and dresses and boots, and even on the curtains and table-cloths. Every day someone trudged up the mountain to ask her why, and every day the old woman made up a new reason. Sometimes she said ‘because it makes the mundane mysterious,’ sometimes ‘buttoned-up things are so much cosier,’ and so on. Some people thought her wise and wonderful, others believed she was quite mad, but they all thought they, and only they, knew the secret of the buttons, for she had confided it to them alone. At first they were smug and content, but then they began to talk to each other and to discover a myriad answers where they had thought to find just one, and that one securely in their own keeping. So they marched off to the old woman together to make her tell them the truth. She laughed and put buttons on all of their mouths too.
You are all my joy and my only despair, she wrote, fiercely raking in breath and strength, willing her eyes to stay open and her hand steady, and I would die for you even if I would also like to kill you sometimes, like right now, because how on earth am I to make an apple costume for you by tomorrow morning I really don’t know and if you had just told me on Friday I would have made you the most beautiful apple in the world, but only those who have time have the luxury of regret, and I have no time left at all, so, soon now, something like this lopsided farce of an apple that makes my fingers yearn for their old dexterity, soon something you ask for will remain unmade or unbought or ungiven, soon you will learn to resent and then - hopefully, one day, perhaps when you have your own child in your arms - you will learn to forgive me for dying, for robbing you of your right to take being loved and indulged for granted, the sweet and precious birth-right of all children which you will have had just long enough to miss: so I leave you this, my darling, this letter, which will remember for you, remember how hard I fought to be here for one more laugh, one more caress, one more moment your heart and memory might hold onto in the coming darkness, a letter to tell you again and again how much I lo- she struggled in vain to form the v of love; her fountain-pen fell down, embedding its nib in the cardboard apple, and drowned the glowing red crayon in eddying blue ink.