Once upon a time there was a widow who had a son named Peter. The boy was strong and healthy, but did not like to go to school and spent all his time daydreaming.
“Peter, what are you dreaming about at this hour?” Asked the teacher.
“I was wondering what I will be when I grow up,” he answered.
– Be patient. You have a lot of time to think about it. Once grown up, not everything is fun, you know? She said.
But Peter had a hard time appreciating anything he was doing at the moment and always longed for what came next. In winter, I longed for the return of summer; In summer, I dreamed of skiing and sledding. At school, I longed for the end of school so I could go home; and on Sunday nights, he sighed, “Ah, if the holidays came fast!” What entertained him most was playing with his friend Lise. She was as good a companion as any boy, and Peter’s anxiety neither affected her nor offended her. “When I grow up, I’ll marry her,” Pedro said to himself.
He used to get lost in forest walks, dreaming of the future. Sometimes he lay in the sun on the soft ground, his hands clasped under his head, and gazed at the sky through the high treetops. One hot afternoon, as he was about to fall asleep, he heard someone calling for him. He opened his eyes and sat down. He saw an elderly woman standing before him. She had a silver ball in her hand from which hung a thread of golden silk.
“Look what I have here, Pedro,” she said, offering him the object.
– What is it? He asked curiously, touching the thin golden thread.
“It’s the thread of your life,” said the woman. – Don’t touch him and time will pass normally. But if you want time to go faster, just give the thread a slight tug and an hour will pass like a second. But I must warn you: once the wire has been pulled, it cannot be put back into the ball. It will disappear like a cloud of smoke. The ball is yours. But if you accept my gift, tell no one; otherwise you will die on the same day. Now tell me, do you want to be with her?
Peter took the gift from him, pleased. It was exactly what I wanted. He examined her. It was light and solid, made of one piece. There was only one hole from which the shiny thread came out. The boy put it in his pocket and ran home. When she arrived, after making sure of her mother’s absence, she examined her again. The thread seemed to slowly come out of the ball, so slowly that it was difficult to see the movement with the naked eye. She felt like giving her a quick tug, but didn’t have the heart. Not yet.
The next day at school, Peter wondered what to do with his magic thread. The teacher scolded him for not focusing on his homework. If only, he thought, it was time to go home! He felt the silver ball in his pocket. If he gave just a little tug, the day would soon be over. Carefully, he took the cord and pulled. Suddenly, the teacher told everyone to pack up and leave, neatly. Peter was amazed. He ran nonstop until he got home. How easy life would be now! All his problems were over. From then on he began to pull the thread just a little every day.
However, he soon realized that it was foolish to pull the thread just a little every day. If it gave a stronger pull, the school term would be over at once. She could learn a profession and marry Lise. That night he gave a sharp tug on the wire and woke up the next morning as an apprentice to a city carpenter. Peter loved his new life, climbing roofs and scaffolding, lifting and hammering huge beams that still smelled of the forest. But sometimes, when payday was slow to come, I would tug on the wire and soon the week was over, it was Friday night and he had money in his pocket.
Lise had also moved to the city and lived with her aunt, who taught her the chores of the home. Peter became impatient about the day they were getting married. It was hard to live at the same time, so close and so far from her. He then asked her when they could get married.
“Next year,” she said. “I will have learned to be a good wife already.”
Peter fingered the silver ball in his pocket.
“Well, time will pass very quickly,” he said, very surely.
That night he could not sleep. He spent the rest of his time flailing, flipping back and forth on the bed. He took the magic ball from under the pillow. He hesitated a moment, but then impatience seized him, and he tugged at the golden thread. In the morning, he discovered that this year had passed and that Lise had finally agreed to the marriage. Peter was really happy.
But before the marriage could take place, he received a letter with the appearance of an official document. He opened it shakily and read the news that he was to report to army headquarters the following week to serve for two years. He showed her desperately to Lise.
“Why,” she said, “there’s no problem, just wait for us.” But time will pass quickly, you will see. There is so much to prepare for our lives together!
Peter grinned, but he knew that two years would last forever.
By the time she got used to life in the barracks, however, she began to think it wasn’t that bad. He liked to be with the other boys and the tasks were not as arduous as at first. He remembered the woman who had advised him to use the magic thread wisely and avoided using it for a while. But soon he was restless again. Army life bored him with its routine tasks and strict discipline. He began to pull the thread to hasten the course of the week so that Sunday or the day of his day off would come soon. And so the two years passed, as if it were a dream.
After the military service was over, Peter decided not to pull the thread except for an absolute necessity. After all, it was the best time of her life, as everyone told her. I didn’t want it to end this fast. But she gave a little tug or two to the wire just to anticipate her wedding day a little. He wanted to tell Lise his secret; but I knew that if I did, I would die.
On their wedding day everyone was happy, including Peter. She couldn’t wait to show her the house he had built for her. During the party, she glanced at her mother. He noticed for the first time that her hair was turning gray. It had aged rapidly. Peter felt a twinge of guilt for pulling the thread so often. From then on, it would be far more parsimonious in its use, and would only pull it if strictly necessary.
A few months later, Lise announced that she was expecting a child. Peter was very enthusiastic and could not wait. When the baby was born, he thought he would not want anything else in life. But whenever the baby got sick or spent a sleepless night crying, he would pull a little of the thread so that the baby would be healthy and happy again.
Times were tough. Business was bad and a government had come to power that kept the people under heavy oppression and heavy taxes, and tolerated no opposition. Whoever was regarded as an agitator was arrested without trial, and a simple rumor was enough to condemn a man. Peter had always been known for saying what he thought, and was soon arrested and thrown in jail. Luckily, he brought the magic ball with him and gave the yarn a strong tug. The prison walls dissolved before his eyes and the enemies were thrown into the distance in a huge explosion. It was the war that was creeping in, but soon ended, like a summer storm, leaving the trail of a peace exhausted. Peter found himself back home with his family. But he was now a middle-aged man.
For a while, life went smoothly, and Peter was relatively satisfied. One day he looked at the magic ball and was surprised to see that the thread had gone from gold to silver. He went to look in the mirror. Her hair was starting to grow gray and her face was creased where you couldn’t even imagine it. She felt a sudden fear and decided to use the thread even more carefully than before. Lise had given him other children, and he seemed happy as the head of the growing family. His imposing manner made people think he had a boss profile. He had a certain authority, as if he had everyone’s fate in his hands. He kept the magic ball well hidden from the prying eyes of his children, knowing that if anyone discovered it, it would be fatal.
He had more and more children, so the house was becoming crowded. I needed to expand it, but I didn’t have the money to do it. I had concerns too. Her mother was getting older, and as the days went on she looked more tired. It was no use pulling the thread of the magic ball, for that would only accelerate the arrival of death. Suddenly she passed away, and Peter, standing before the tomb, wondered how life had passed so quickly, even without making use of the magic thread.
One night, lying in bed, unable to sleep, thinking about his worries, he thought that life would be much better if all the children were already grown up and in careers. He gave a very strong tug on the wire, and woke up the next day to see that his children were no longer at home because they had found jobs in different parts of the country, and that he and his wife were alone. His hair was almost all white and his back and legs hurt when he climbed a ladder, or his arms when he lifted a heavier beam. Lise had grown old too, and was almost always ill. He couldn’t stand to see her suffer, so much so that he used the magic thread more and more often. But whenever one problem was not solved, another appeared in its place. She thought that maybe life would go better if he retired. So he would not have to continue climbing buildings under wind-blown construction, and could take care of Lise whenever she fell ill. The problem was the lack of enough money to survive. He picked up the magic ball, then, and stared. To his astonishment, he saw that the thread was no longer silver but gray and had lost its luster. He decided to go to the forest for a walk and think better about the meaning of it all.
It had been a long time since I had been in this part of the forest. The small bushes had grown to leafy trees, and it was hard to find the way they used to go. He eventually came to a bench in the middle of a clearing. He sat down to rest and fell into a light sleep. He was awakened by a voice calling him by name: – Peter! Peter!
He opened his eyes and saw the woman he had met so many years ago and handed her the silver ball with the magic golden thread. He looked the same age as the day in question, exactly the same. She smiled at him.
“So, Peter, was your life good?” – He asked.
“I’m not sure,” he said. – Your magic ball is wonderful. Never in my life have I had to endure any suffering or wait for anything. But everything was so fast! I feel like I haven’t had time to grasp everything that has happened to me; neither good nor bad. And now there is so little time left! I no longer dare to pull the thread, as that would only anticipate my death. I don’t think your gift brought me luck.
“What a lack of gratitude!” – Said the woman – Would you like things to be different?
“Maybe if he’d given me another ball, where I could pull the thread out and in too.” Maybe then I could relive the bad things.
The woman laughed.
– You’re asking a lot! Do you think God allows us to live our lives more than once? But I can grant you one last wish, my demanding fool.
– Which? He asked.
“Choose,” she said.
Peter thought a lot.
After a long time, he said:
“I’d like to live my life again, as if it were my first time, but without your magic ball.” In this way I can experience bad things as well as good things without shortening their duration. At least my life won’t pass so quickly and it won’t look like a daydream.
“Yes,” said the woman. – Give me the ball back.
She reached out and Pedro handed her the silver ball. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes, exhausted.
When you woke up, you were in your bed. His young mother leaned over him, trying to wake him lovingly.
– Wake up, Pedro, you won’t be late for school. You were sleeping like a rock!
He looked at her, surprised and relieved.
“I had a horrible dream, Mom.” I dreamed that I was old and sick and that my life had gone by in the blink of an eye without even having anything to tell. Not even a few memories.
The mother laughed and shook her head.
“It will never happen,” she said. “Memories are something we all have, even when we’re old. Now, walk, get dressed. Lise is waiting for you, don’t let her be late because of you.
On the way to school with her friend, she observed that they were in midsummer and that it was a beautiful morning, one of those when it was great to be alive. In a few minutes, they would be meeting friends and classmates, and even the prospect of facing some classes didn’t seem that unpleasant. In fact, he was not happy with himself. William J. Bennett The Book of Virtues New Frontier Publishers, 1995 (adaptation)