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The Worms in the Side ofGingerbread House
She was a glorious thing, once.
Once, men had called for her andcourted her and tried to make her their own. Once, they had left presents ather door and flirted with her - told her she was beautiful (because she wasbeautiful) and cried that she was impossible (for she was impossible). Once,she had been the subject of poetry and dreams but not anymore. Now she was oldand worse still, she was alone.
Her child, a boy, had beenbeautiful too but the river took him and ever since, she kept vigil hoping hewould smell her gingerbread house and find home again. Hoping that the sugarcoated eves would lead him to her, hoping for his knock on her candy canedoor.
At the village they made up storiesabout her because she was old and alone, they said: Have you heard the oldwoman who lives alone in the forest is a witch? Have you heard, she castsspells and can see into the future? Have you heard she had a child once ofher own? Have you heard how he died, drowned in the river? Have you heard,she hasn't been the same since?
Very soon all anyone knew about theold woman was the lies that other people had told, the myths they had spun tomake themselves feel better.
Only the trees and the wind thatsighed in their branches would talk to her now, saying something softly as ifsinging. But, she had been a glorious thing, once.
Everyday she would add one moresweet to her doorframe, one more chocolate swirl to her awning, one morecrystal gem to her window pane and everyday she would sit by the sherbet fireand wait for the knock upon the door.
One morning, when the sun wastipping its head over the trees and a cold breeze was blowing through therafters, she heard the sound she had been waiting for for all this time; thesound of a child's footsteps.
He has returned! She said toherself and could not help the tears welling up in her eyes, He has come homeand quickly she looked out of the window.
There, eating the side of herhouse, were two children lost in their own greed, oblivious of the world caughtup, as they were, in their sugar-rushed gluttony. The woman clapped her handstogether.
Two little darlings She said,Two darlings, come home
She opened the door and crept up onthe two children, with a motherly tenderness she stretched out her hand but theboy, noticing her, recoiled.
Don't be afraid She said, Comein, there's more inside, there's more, take all you want.
The boy called to his sister and thetwo stood, for a moment, then his eye caught sight of the old woman's chest inthe corner of the room and noticed that it was full to bursting with pearls anddiamonds and gold. He nudged his sister in the ribs.
Her small round face lit up withavaricious joy as her eyes flitted over the trunk and its contents.
Go in the old woman said Go in,enjoy
The old lady felt so happy havingchildren in the house again. This house was meant for children, it was meantfor their laughter, for their joy, for their innocence. The boy and girl sat,neatly on the rug with their eyes fixed on the chest, weighing its contents,evaluating its worth, hatching their plan.
The old lady spoke, in a voice thatwas like a hand on a fevered head.
Why are such sweet little thingsalone the forest? Who has left you here to fend for yourself She asked and itwas the boy who spoke.
Our stepmother hated us, sheconspired with our father to have us killed he lied, (the two had been out walking,playing hooky from school and had smelt the delicious caramel smoke that camefrom her fire), Their plan was to leave us in the forest to starve, but Ioverheard and the first night I gathered up as many pebbles as I could and droppedthem, one by one out of my pocket so that we could find our way home again.
The old woman was transfixed, shehad never heard of such cruelty.
The next day, they tried again,but locked the door so I could not gather pebbles. I dropped bread instead but,when it was time to go home, we found the birds had eaten it all up and we werelost, Gretel started crying, and we were all alone in the forest. We are everso hungry
The old woman's heart bled, forevery syllable the boy spoke, she only heard the sound of her own son. She sawonly him sitting on the hearth, with his beautiful eyes and golden hair. Shesaw only his love and his innocence facing her.
So brave She said, And soclever, let me make your some fine soup and bread to warm your bones
When she out of earshot Hanselturned to his sister.
Now's our chance. He said, Now'sour chance to take the chest and kill the old woman.
We'll get caught Gretel said,They'll hang us for sure.
Who will they believe? Hanselreplied with a grin, The old witch who lives on her own in the gingerbreadbread house, who eats children and boils babies, who speaks to her dead son asif he were alive or us, two innocent, sweet children? We'll say she tried toeat us, we'll say she caged me and fattened me and that you saved me by pushingher into the stove. We'll look sad and disturbed and say 'We didn't know whatto do'
So as, she bent over the over thefire, to stir their soup, Hansel and Gretel pushed the old woman in the flamesand they could barely hear her screams over the sound of coins falling intotheir pockets.
As they left, they took one lastbite out of the gingerbread house but spat it out in disgust. It tasted bitternow - none of the sweetness was left.