Matilda Rampion

Thunder still rumbled in the hills when I found the fledgling robin, soaked in rainwater, appearing more dead than alive. Despite no success in raising feathered orphans and believing that it mattered, I carried the bird inside, dried it, and named it Oliver Twist. To my delight, the orphan thrived on the pulverized worms I fed him each hour, growing daily.

Several weeks later I noticed that his cage had suddenly grown small. I took him to the edge of the woods, sat the cage on the ground, and opened the door. Oliver Twist remained on his perch, uncertain what to do. Quickly resolving to keep him, I had just reached down to shut the door and hurry him home when he flew from the cage. I followed his maiden flight toward the trees, rising on wings surprisingly steady and sure. As he reached the edge of the woods, a Cooper’s hawk swooped from a tree, catching Oliver in its talons. Both fell to the ground and I watched until Oliver’s wings stopped flapping. I had lost a lot of sleep for a predator’s mid-morning snack.

Because Cooper’s hawks come in all shapes and sizes, Matilda Rampion’s parents kept her sheltered from the world, her cage a room on the third floor of the house, her only companions books of fantasy and fairy tales. Unsurprisingly, Matilda dreamed of marrying a handsome prince. She had little else to look forward to. Matilda was her parents’ precious flower and they were determined she would retain her petals until the sanctity of marriage permitted a plucking.

Spending one afternoon, as usual, in the room that served as her de-facto prison, Matilda glanced up from her book and saw her prince, dressed in white, looking through her window.

It is uncertain why the Rampions, who believed that all young men wanted to seduce their daughter—it was actually no more than 60%—hired house painters without inquiring as to the age, marital status, and attractiveness of the workers. They should have known better. When a handsome youth appears at the top of an extension ladder with a cigarette in his mouth, tattoos on his arms, and a caulk gun in his hand, sheltered maidens are easy prey. Those who do not believe in love at first sight should consult Matilda.

One night two weeks later while her parents slept, Matilda slipped from her tower, riding away in a rusty pickup with her prince. Matilda has never returned and her parents moved away several years afterward. Happy Fohl heard that she’s happily married and works as a conjugal-visit coordinator for a major prison.

I don’t know if the Rampions ever realized their mistake, but parents should profit from the lesson. You have to allow your daughters to leave the tower, hoping and praying that they follow your example. If you don’t, they may not get eaten by a Cooper’s hawk, but every tattooed painter is going to look like a prince.

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