(from the novella “Snow White: A Mirror In Several Voices;” “Q’An” is how who is commonly referred to as the evil queen prefers to be called in this rendition of things)
Truly, I am tragic. I am hated and necessary to them at the same time. I’m the one they have warned you about. I’m a creature of joy. Like a girl kicking up her gorgeous black fishnet stocking legs in a open roof Sapphire Cabaret car, squealing with gleeful invitation. Desired and despised. Then I dance into death and my feet are on fire. Some of the stories they told of me were pure lies.
Little Snow White was the one to whom everything came just because she happened to be beautiful, just because she happened to be young. She didn’t have to lift a finger for anything. Whereas I’m the one they warn about, she’s the one they always warn. Don’t trust anyone, not even another woman, perhaps especially not another woman. She lives in total fear. She is practically dead—deadly in fact, still, stilted, but beautiful.
And me? What choice did I have? It’s all fairytales anyway, and no one is ever telling these tales fairly.
You probably don’t want to hear this, but evil as such doesn’t exist. It all depends on whether you look from the view point of the lion or of the gazelle. I didn’t mean anyone any harm.
As to that precious little Snow White? I didn’t mind her that much, really. I wasn’t particularly interested in her. She was just a little doll left over from the last queen.
Regrets? I can’t say that I have any.
I don’t have hatred either. What I have is cold, numbed rage. Why should I go through the trouble of hating, high blood pressure and all that? I merely see an obstacle and determine that the best line of defense is to get rid of it before it gets me first. Eat or be eaten; something like that. I didn’t really want to kill her. I just wanted her gone. Out of my life.
I didn’t exactly think the hunter would kill her. What do you expect from us fairytale creatures anyway? A consistent affirmation of your own puny morals? I made it into a sort of roulette, with the universe free to make its own luck. Sure, I wanted her out of the way. I also wanted her so scared that she would never trouble me again with her open-mouthed enthusiasm and that radiant peach-blossom beginning-of-life beauty. Fancy me having to look practically jaded at the tender age of seventeen next to this little fizz of enthusiasm. It made me itch like flea bites just to be near her, that little goo-goo-eyed bundle of eagerness.
And he didn’t kill her in the end, did he? So the roulette worked out in her favor. It was the old Nazi dilemma, really. Whose responsibility was the execution of a command? That of the commander? Or that of the executioner? I merely gave the order and left it up to fate to determine how it was completed.
I’m cold. I’ve never had the luxury of warm and fuzzy dreams.
Anyway, later she will quibble over the details no doubt, once she has had a chance to think it over, the little beauty. She will say that she wasn’t the one to condemn me to dance to my death on heated iron slippers at her wedding feast. Rather I “was condemned.” Same sort of scenario, but if you don’t do it yourself, you’re not implicated. You’re just audience, shocked at best. Unlike with me and the hunter, in Snow White’s case we hold the audience innocent. Especially since she is so very young and luscious. Iron slippers had already been heated over the fire anonymously and were now brought to me with tongs. Nobody in particular did the condemning, or the heating, or the forcing. All that “was done,” passively. But I did dance for them.
In any event, back at the castle while we were still expected to peacefully coexist, she simply was too much trouble for nothing. On top of it all, she was too beautiful. It would have been too easy for her to slip into my place. And for the first time ever I happened to like my place in life.
I don’t know if her daddy-o, my precious husband, would have been capable of diddling his own daughter. He did rather fancy me when I was still very young and he was still married to his former queen. Going through a scenario like that yourself, you can’t help but wonder.
Other than that wonderment, my heart is just a lump of ice here, really. I don’t judge anyone. I may make people jump at my command, but I don’t judge them. I never judged the king. I’m as cool as a snake in the shade, thank you very much. Life taught me to be self-possessed. It was necessary to survive, and I did that very well, didn’t I? Until the end anyway. And that makes me just like you and everybody else, doesn’t it? We live until we die.
No, I was never meant to be a mother or a sentimental lover. What I was meant to do was to drink the sweetest possible drop that I could suck out of the bitter rind of this world. The most succulent bits, or the last hint of honey from a comb. Whatever I could get. That’s right. That, too, makes me just like you and everybody else.
The king thinks I worship him. Well, that’s my job, and I do it well. He is my meal ticket, and who wouldn’t value one’s meal ticket? My great heroine is Sheherazade. Not that my king is anything as cruel as hers was. But she did tell stories for her life, a song and dance for her dinner, if you will. Isn’t that what we all do in the end?
Why should I care what happens to others? I don’t even have the privilege of caring properly for myself, never mind “loving” myself. That part was somehow left out of me, or maybe drilled out of me. Where others have feelings, which I quite envy them, I have this stark gaping hole that doesn’t even scream to be filled. It just sits there, gaping, saying, “Here I am. Deal with it.”
I am not like others. I never have been. I am high drama over emptiness.
I see others being emotional, happy, laughing, distressed.
I am merely a cool and beautiful entity with a poker face.
It angers me, their easy vibrancy, like Snow White’s expectant, radiant face. Of course I envy it.
No, I don’t see myself as evil at all. I merely am. Successful, among other things. And beautiful.
When a king or a general looks in the mirror, do you think he sees the dead bodies he has lately commandeered? No. At best he sees marble opulence behind his self-satisfied face. He has no time to worry about the feelings of soldiers with sand in their noses and death dangling in front of their eyes. Then why should I worry about the feelings of a little chit like Snow White, dancing around like a carefree butterfly in sunlight?
Which brings me back to my own dancing feet. Few fairytales have such a cruel ending—often they stop with happy, don’t they? Not this one. It stops with me being condemned, at their wedding feast no less, to dance to my death on red-hot iron slippers that are brought to me with tongs.
I wonder how that charming little Snow White enjoyed her honeymoon, after seeing me suffer and hearing my shrieks of pain and torment. Or, even if I went in dignified and silent agony, the horror of seeing me bear these things with composure. You see, what is the point here? My cruelty? Or hers? She’s your typical man’s woman, isn’t she? ‘Okay, so step-mama is tortured to death. But that won’t happen to me. My prince will protect me from that sort of thing once I’m his queen. My man will look out for me. And that’s that.’
But that was my point, too. That’s exactly what I tried to prevent from happening to me when I tried to get rid of her.
Note the different methods, though. I always did things to her that could be undone. I didn’t watch her death as a public spectacle. In fact, she didn’t die at all, little missy, did she?
I will die, however. Well, like I said before, in the end, so will she, so will we all. But she’s the one who watches me die in torment, without lifting a finger to help.
It’s just a matter of living and being calmly able to bear what that entails, to pay whatever price must be paid. My price was pain in the end.
Let me play devil’s advocate here—what if I only wanted to prevent her eventual calm cruelty toward me? I would have saved her soul with that, don’t you think? In this instance, it is she who reminds me of my heroine Sheherazade, knowing that the nice king with whom she copulates every night after telling him one of her fascinating cliff-hanger stories, has before her time dispensed with a virgin a night, fucked her, then had her throat cut. Sheherazade could deal with that. Hands down.
Just so can Ms. Snow White deal with the image of me dancing to my death at her wedding, my feet scorched, the smell of burning flesh among the fragrant roses. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, how that gorgeous, radiant, open-mouthed girl doesn’t step in to ask for mercy on my behalf. Lovely bride that.
Not that I ever expected, or received, mercy in my life. That’s not how it went at all. No, Sirree. I just did what I had to do to get by. I wasn’t given elaborate maps or writings on walls that spelled out what I had to do.
All I had was that darn mirror that told me how beautiful I was. Magic mirror, indeed. Every mirror in the world is like that, if you know how to look. And every mirror can instill the fear of judgment in every woman who looks.
I’m quite philosophical about my death. What choice do I have? Well, not as philosophical as Socrates, I’m sure. He was probably quite pleased to be proving his eternal philosophical point with his death. But I will, forgive the pun, take it all in good stride. Bring on those red hot slippers. Then when you watch me faint into oblivion, try not to forget that my death is not in aid of anything at all. What good does it do her that I die at her wedding? In fact, what good does it do anyone? Oh, I suppose she can be reasonably sure now that I, personally, will not make any more attempts on her precious life. That makes sense. Especially since her own attempt on my life is successful, finite, and witnessed by all. And it will be named justice, not cruelty.
How will she live? How will she feed her children, carrying inside of her the image of me burning, much like a witch of old, except that I get to dance while I burn to my death? But didn’t they speak of bodies dancing in the wind on gallows beams? Dancing in the flames? How cold we are. Even a fire like that can’t quite cure our coldness.
Come to think of it, I do feel a bit like Socrates, dying here, proving something, and, like Socrates, never quite sure if anybody will even get the message, though I do pay for it with my own life. You see, this is exactly what I wanted to prevent by getting rid of her. But I wasn’t successful. It’s as simple as that. She, on the other hand, will now be successful. For a while. Until someone else comes along and has a compelling reason for her to die, or rather, to push her hour of death forward a little.
I’m not even sure what I am trying to say in the end, except that I am convinced that I did the right thing by living, as long as I could, a life of pleasure and extravagance. Better that than patiently sitting around by the window sewing and then dying anyway, in gloom and melancholy, making everybody else feel vaguely guilty. That’s how her lovely mother did things.
I reach to you through borders between life and death, Snow White. You weren’t particularly dear to me, no indeed. But now that I am fading, I wish you well. I can’t think of anybody else to wish well. You’ve emblazoned yourself onto my life. You’re my last thought, while the rest of the world already blazes up in torment and confusion. You and your beautiful face, your huge eyes as you watch me die.
Be beautiful then. And dance as long as you can.
About the hunter? I should have known. Men are wusses, all of them. They’re good for nothing. They promise you the earth. Then they simply keep it for themselves after all. They’ll tell you they owe you everything—and then they’re quite willing to keep on owing.
How I would love to wring that hunter’s neck in retrospect. For a while there I thought he was my ally. I really did. Why, I had fantasies about him being my brave and devoted sidekick for a long and profitable time to come. But men, no matter what they say, are devoted to one thing only. Their own hide. And how best to justify saving it. So now he’s gone. Good riddance. If he were around for their wedding, he’d probably be celebrated as a post facto hero. Meanwhile I’m wandering around with boar’s liver molecules upsetting my system. No wonder it was so chewy—no wonder it was so hard to digest. No wonder I nearly threw up.
Well, here I lie in my glass coffin, not entirely alive, but not entirely dead either, like a frozen soul waiting to thaw out, waiting to be seen, watching the world pass me by at a bewildering distance. Better that than from the midst of it all, you ask? Or maybe better from heaven or any other detached distance than not at all?
Why is there such opposition in the world to women who really live? Only in the glass casket do we seem to be entirely acceptable. Once the first excitement, the first sigh of relief of being alive—actually alive and in front of the prince!—has been sighed, everything becomes a matter of great anxiety. What should you do with this precious life? And often the anxiety gets compounded with questions like, are you good enough? Pleasing enough? Pretty enough? Sometimes it seems easier to just stay frozen under glass.
But of course I’m not in heaven. I didn’t properly die. I’m merely a matter of arrested development, or arrested enjoyment of life, if you will. Sometimes this makes me cynical, and sometimes not.
Which does make me a kind of, “I’m every woman,” doesn’t it? Except, of course, that I’m mostly still girl.
There’s one thing you can practically count on, though: there is always an apple somewhere. If there’s an apple involved, it’s always a given that something of significance is going on. If you don’t want to take my word for it, ask Eve, ask Helen of Troy.
How did I ever end up in this glass coffin?
How do I hope to get out of here?
Well, let me tell you.
They told me one wintry day my real mother was in one of her most dreamy states, sewing by herself in her room. She stepped to the window with her sewing in her hand, drawn by the beauty of the snowy world outside, dazzled by the gently falling sparkles. The window frame was ebony wood, rich black. She stood in the frame of the black wood in front of the snowflakes drifting down like a glittering curtain of peace. It was so heartrendingly beautiful that, for a moment, she stopped paying attention to what she was doing, and she inadvertently pricked her finger with her sewing needle. Three drops of her blood fell into the pristine snow on the window sill with its biting scent of winter. Three drops of blood falling on snow is usually another sign, much like the ubiquitous apple, that something significant is going on.
They tell me she wished for a daughter then, a girl with skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as the ebony wood. In other words, she wished for me.
I’ve often wondered, though, if she was all by herself, how did anybody know all this to tell me about it later?
Anyway, I like to imagine that she was already pregnant with me. Maybe she was feeling sad that day. Why sad? Well, I figure she must have been. I never met her, obviously, but from the stories I’ve been told, she had a fairly melancholy nature, and sad was probably how she felt most of the time. Those who aren’t always sad are more likely to go to a party or a ball than sewing by themselves in their room. After all, she was the queen and sewing for her was pretty much optional. She could easily have asked one of her servants to do the sewing for her.
What I suspect happened was that my father was already carrying on with my stepmother. Maybe I was even my own mother’s last ditch effort at something, though I don’t know what exactly she might have been hoping for. At any rate, by the time I was born, her trust in the benefits of living must have faded and so she opted for the face-saving way out. She died in childbirth.
Nobody ever questioned that my father remarried, and so quickly at that. It was how things were done in the world.
If I ever get out of here and get married, I sure hope my marriage will be different. Don’t we all, though? One thing’s for sure: Daddy’s remarriage had nothing to do with getting a new mommy for me.
In the first place, my stepmother was almost still a child herself when Daddy married her, and then counting back even more so, of course, when he carried on with her before my real mother even died. All in all, my stepmother probably already disliked me before I was ever conceived and born.
I can just see her begging Daddy to marry her, pouting, and maybe kneeling in front of him, kissing his hand. Actually, that last scenario, hand-kissing and all, is a picture I find a bit hard to image. Could have happened, though. In any event, Daddy would have told her, no, he couldn’t possibly divorce my mother. Not even for her. It just wasn’t done. Besides, my mother was pregnant with me. Protecting unborn children was always of the highest priority. There was even a chance I could have come out as the boy child Daddy coveted, though in the end it turned out otherwise.
So for Q’An I was a dreadful inconvenience, growing into a baby in my gentle and long-suffering mother’s body and providing my mother with marriage insurance and maternal respectability while she, Q’An, was obviously providing my dad with far more entertaining companionship than puking from morning sickness and sitting in her room and sewing by herself.
Meanwhile of course my mother had already given up her spirit long before she gave up her ghost, if you know what I mean. Eventually, however, she did give up her ghost, too, and now the coast was clear for a new queen.
Q’An glittered and glided right into place with her exotic beauty. There was nothing, but nothing, maternal about her. Ever since I’ve known her, her name was Q’An, which, she insisted, had to be spelled exactly that way, “Q‑‘‑A‑n,” but it had to be pronounced “queen.” Whatever, right? She sparkled like a ballroom dance professional. There were always tons of rhinestones sculpted all over her dresses in the most fascinating patterns. Her favorite colors were greens and blues. On her fingers and at her throat she wore her real diamonds. And she usually had rhinestones or diamonds, or both, somewhere in her hair. When I was little, I loved to play with lost rhinestones that lay scattered on the castle ballroom floor. I don’t recall her ever losing a diamond.
All of which goes to show that my real mother was simply a retiring, shy lady, because there definitely was a ballroom in the castle, and there was lots of entertainment to be had, including a huge collection of music from Vivaldi to Julio Iglesias. Truly.
Well, Q’An was clearly not retiring. Not she. We had ball after ball, and afterwards I was allowed to play with the lost rhinestones I would find on the ballroom floor. There was no need for Q’An, or her servants, to find them and glue them back on, for naturally she never wore the same ball gown twice. Just as there had never really been any need for my mother to sit around in the corner or by the window and do her own sewing.
My own favorite rhinestone colors were ruby, translucent, and jet black.
Meanwhile Q’An had a fabulous mirror, flattering like a gay ballroom teacher just before he is about to sell you an expensive program. She would admire herself in front of her mirror and chant to it:
“Mirror, mirror on the wall,
who’s the most beautiful of all?”
The mirror always said, “You are, Q’An.” I only got to see her do this a few times, because she really didn’t like to have me hang around her all that much, although I loved to watch her. She was so graceful. The few times I did watch her with her mirror, she’d have this gorgeous smile on her face. I loved that smile. It was the warmest and fuzziest smile you can imagine, warmer and gentler than any smile I ever saw her give another human being. Pure bliss.
I didn’t know any of this then, of course, but you can well imagine that, with all her beauty and her status as the new queen, she had a lot to lose. Having been diddled by my Daddy while my real mother was still alive, she now experienced two things at the same time. Triumph. And fear, which is probably the hallmark of all competition. Unlike a ballroom dancer, she couldn’t rely on practice and expertise or talent to further her cause. No, she had only her beauty, which was neither earned, nor deserved, and she couldn’t actively use it to compete at all. All she could do was eliminate any and all potential competition.
In the oldest tales they claim that she was just plain vain. Well, from what I learned by lying around here in my glass confinement is that no woman is really just plain vain. We all typically end up preening for our dinner one way or another. Unless of course we’re particularly good at sewing or doing hair, in which case we can possibly earn our keep by helping someone else preen for her dinner. I can’t really see much advantage in that either.
Well, for Q’An a fate of sewing or doing other people’s hair would definitely not have been appealing. She would probably have said, “No way,” which happened to be one of her favorite expressions. But it’s never that clear cut either, because she could well have changed her mind. It’s amazing how quickly you can change your tune when you fall on hard times. Believe me, I know. I would never have dreamt I would one day be doing dishes for dwarfs.
For a good while things were okay at the castle. I grew up playing with lost rhinestones and pieces of scrap velvet, and I ardently admired Q’An. I do want to mention that playing with rhinestones was not exactly my life’s ambition, but there wasn’t much else to do, and I had to play with something. As most children are, I was bored to tears by having nothing to do except devise sparkling ways of entertaining myself.
Naturally I also learned a lot by watching Q’An. How to lift up my ribcage to good effect, how to let my head float on my neck just so. I never cared to imitate her manners, though. For one thing, she complained too much, and she accused too much. Everything was always someone else’s fault. Everybody was always ruining her stuff, from handkerchiefs to vegetables served and tea water not caught at the precisely correct moment to make her tea palatable. But I did learn to imitate her way of physically carrying herself through the world, head held high, the distance between ears and shoulders as wide as possible, shoulders back, and moving through any space as though she owned it. I’ve never worn a crown in my hair, not yet anyway, unless you count wearing little circlets of daisies, buttercups, and cornflowers. But one day I will no doubt wear a real crown. If I ever get out of this coffin, that is.
There are no guarantees, especially if you’re not quite sure if this experience is in fact life. Or is it death instead? Or is it simply being on hold, stalled in some potentially magnificent development?
When I was seven years old, the tragedy happened. Q’An stepped in front of her mirror and her mirror told her faithfully,
“You’re very beautiful, that’s true,
but Snow White is now more beautiful than you.”
I ask you, how could I not be? I never had any worries, never anything to complain about. Unless I was dreadfully bored, I was enthusiastic about almost everything in life. I welcomed whatever came my way, rhinestones, hamsters, butterflies—I loved them all. I was happy in a way she had long forgotten how to be, if she had ever known such sunny happiness in the first place.
The mirror’s judgment was unacceptable to her, of course. Not that she suspected Daddy of any leanings toward incest. After all, she was then still practically a child herself and could take care of all his needs, whatever they might turn out to be. But in a life-long practice of competing, sometimes the goal of the competition gets lost in the process, and then suddenly competition itself becomes the goal. It’s like politicians vying for power until at some point nobody even thinks to ask anymore: So then, when you have all that coveted power, what will you do with it? That’s how it was with Q’An and beauty. She needed to be the most beautiful. She needed to be the best. She needed to be every superlative possible, without ever asking why and what for. And so my own developing beauty was definitely a threat to her pie. She couldn’t possibly eat the whole pie all by herself, but she would be damned before she was going to share a piece of it. After all, she might have use for dried-out pie crumbs in some nebulous future.
She decided to get rid of me, so that I would not ever threaten her peace of mind—and her piece of the pie—again.
At first she couldn’t conceive of doing away with me herself. Like a nature lover faced with the hygienic necessity of killing a mouse in a small baby’s bedroom, it just didn’t appeal to her.
Let me jump ahead to a later time here. Time floats for me in this strange oneness of being on hold in my glass coffin.
I can understand her, you see. After all, among other things, Daddy definitely required her to be his pretty trophy, his arm candy that earned him the admiration of his fellow men for having snagged her. Which isn’t too far afield from this prince of mine. He, too, fell in love with me while I was preserved in glass, where nothing ever changes and I remain an adorable and possibly adoring child. The ultimate question is, will my prince be content once I revive and become real? Or will he regret then that I haven’t remained frozen in convenient and unforgettable immobility? Will he be able to live with the reality of me being something besides a cherished trophy?
I hope he stumbles. Or if not he, then one of his servants, please God.
I’ve been known to sing, “One day my prince will come,” but I think perhaps the truer lyrics would be, “One day my prince will stumble.” That is my wish.
I hope the glass breaks, the poisoned apple falls out of my mouth, and I will have a chance to live again.
I know it’s risky. I don’t even know what life is like for a woman. No one has taught me much. Do I sit in the corner by the window like my mother and sew? Or do I strut around in party dresses like Q’An and say yes and amen to everything that Daddy might require?
Then again, a man, no matter how princely he might be, probably doesn’t know what life with a woman entails either. No one teaches men what to expect any more than they teach women. Let’s hope for the best. Oh, come on, stumble already. Stumble, my love, so that this prison shatters. For life is better than death.
But back to the story now. The hunter was the next to come on the scene.
I was quietly playing in the garden, the way I had been taught. Be seen at most; never be heard. Best not to be in evidence at all.
I was playing with the roses. My favorite game was counting their heads, their blossoms, rather, but in my game the blossoms became heads of people. I played an elaborate elimination game with them. I counted off blossom after blossom and eliminated ones with a certain number, and the very last rose left would be my special friend and protector for that day, or for that hour if I was particularly bored and felt like playing again. At least all those numbers that I had to count and keep track off kept my brain busy.
One of Q’An’s hunters suddenly stood next to me. I never saw or heard him until his shadow fell over the roses.
“Come,” he said. “We’re going on an adventure in the forest.”
I was a little frightened of him. For one thing he was so big; or else I was just very small compared to him. He was meaty, a bit like the older Marlon Brando. For another thing, I’d never been on an adventure in the forest before, especially not with a man. He smelled funny, too, like old butter, and also a little like dog, and I’d always been afraid of dogs anyway, especially their teeth.
I went along, because I always did what I was told to do. Generally I didn’t have much choice in the matter, so I just did it out of habit.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Into the forest.”
Than what? But he didn’t seem to be in the mood for conversation. So I started signing. La-la-la-la.
It was beautiful in the forest. Some chickadees were singing. Deet-deet. Deet-deet. We walked for a very long time.
I always walked a step or so behind him. That wasn’t because I couldn’t keep up with him, but more because he obviously didn’t want to talk, so I didn’t. With most other adults I would have reached for one of their hands, which oftentimes they seemed to like also, and it usually made me feel good and safe.
But he wasn’t that kind of an adult. He was like the one thing that was completely out of place in this forest, this green magic world with sun-drenched trees and light trembling in the wind like whispers.
Suddenly he turned around.
“Come here,” he said. He held a large spotty knife in his right hand. He rubbed it on his leather apron as though to clean it. I stepped back.
“Don’t hurt me,” I whimpered. He lifted his knife. “Don’t kill me,” I begged, even before I quite realized consciously what he was planning to do.
“I have to,” he said. “It’s what she wants. She’s the boss. I have to obey.”
“Why?” I asked. Then I fell on my knees, preparing to seriously beg. It had worked for me on the few occasions when I had fallen on my knees in front of Q’An. Maybe it would with her henchman as well. He looked uncomfortable; his face was still like a poker player’s, ruddy, fleshy, and sullen. His eyes did not meet mine.
“Please let me live,” I begged. I believed that I had the power to stop him. Nobody would kill a pretty little girl like me, would they? “I’ll go away,” I said. “I promise you, I’ll go far away.”
A boar came crashing through the underbrush toward us, grunting, and the hunter threw his knife at the running, snuffling shape in a skilled arc. The boar squealed, went silent, squealed once more, a long, high sound of complaint. Then the beast gave a few muffled grunts and its massive shape shuddered. Finally it lay still on the ground.
“Run,” the hunter yelled at me.
I stood frozen in panic.
“Run!” he bellowed.
So I ran. And I never looked back.
As I ran and stumbled over roots and scratched my hands on brambles and scraped my knees on knobby wood to catch myself from falling, I imagined him cutting open the boar and taking out its liver and its lungs as proof of my demise. My stepmom had been very specific in that regard.
I imagined him arriving back in the castle, all bloody, handing over the two tokens of my death. I imagined Q’An being a little surprised that he was not greener in the face, and she probably immediately earmarked him for future difficult assignments, as he seemed to be able to move swiftly and untouched by fastidious emotion. But it never came to that, for he left her employ that same day. Nobody ever got to ask him any questions or give him further assignments. Nor could Q’An take revenge on him once she discovered that she had been deceived.
You bet I was frightened! I’m one, or was one, who was frightened to reach for matches in the dark in case a spider had settled on the match box. I was frightened to walk anywhere at night in the castle unless the whole place was lit up. With so many corners and shadows everywhere, a single candle was hardly ever enough for comfort. So suddenly I am here in this forest among all these crawling, cawing, hissing, chirping things—and the wind whipping small branches into my face. I lived because after a while you simply do. Berries, nuts, acorns. I figured if a squirrel could eat it, so could I. Fortunately it was fall.
Speaking of food, Q’An promptly had the lungs and liver boiled and salted—an interestingly plain way of having me prepared, compared with the more elaborate ways in which she was in the habit of having her other meals served. But this time, plain and simple was what she wanted. Then she sat down to eat my lungs and my liver. Or so she thought.
How fascinating she was. Even in her failure. A tragic figure, really.
The besom should always be hung ￼
thistle side up, surrounded by hollyhocks,
wormwood, artemisias and black iris:
to celebrate the sex joy of the thatch and rod,
the white harmonies between male and female,
as in the giving rain and the power of thunder.
Keep close your besom to dispel
an encounter with a black bear
not bound by wolf bane and trouble, even in a dream.
Besoms of foxglove, snake leather and hawthorn
can out fly a swarm of Ayahuasca bats and
most hail storms, provided there is moonlight.
The best besoms are powered
by Mars, tin and memory.
Familiars along for the ride cradled to the heartbeat
or lungs are said to obtain a bird’s hollow bones,
breath eaten by wind while imaging the altitude.
Sanctity above, forests below, rivers like scorpions.
As with a fire drake, a besom needs a
considered husbandry. Never dally
by a still green pond in which dwell
snapping turtles; these are the incarnations
of the Page of Cups who would steal
your besom by splintering your Earth soul,
his cold hard jaw you must then bind
with a blue silk cord. Beware of such
crude ponds. And blessed be.
Demeters world is falling apart
she enters the tomb
leaving behind every last bit of skin
and bone, naked and torn
her heart in jagged little pieces;
tears like condensed salted earth, ashen.
spirit as dark as Hades
her womb, a barren undergrowth of loss
her voice, a howling banshee sevenfold
Persephone revisited in dreams
her escape futile, Hades whispers in her ear
she runs, never holding on nor looking back
dismembered dissociation awaits those who fail
and while cadaverous limbs are discarded
fertile appendages flail
her pieces crumble into dust
Demeter withdraws her love
only to find a serpent tongue
suckling at her breast
Demeter descends, and Persephone awaits
her chamber the great unclean
unashamedly devouring our lost souls
Demeter falls to her knees in despair
death is just a figment,
and life here is just a memory
she breathes in the rancid air,
the smell of a distant pyre
she kisses the hand that feeds her
there are only fools here in paradise.
© 2009 Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
Who says there is a God?
wishful thinking created by man
to control the masses; no
Mothers in sight – save Mary
look what happened to her our Lady?
will rise again, known by all her names
we will see them come, and recognise
fire, earth, sea and sky; Ishtar
we shelter in the rivers and forests
we gather all the sticks and stones
Mary emerald as the forest green
will ride with Rhiannons guiding moon
her shoes of moss and lichen
her cloak of rainbow silk: transformed
her eye’s like Innana shedding tears
as sisters mourn and do
all that’s dark and been before, will shadow us no more
she has awakened in terrible wrath and has unleashed a whore
Kali destroys and makes anew
Pele knows which heart is true
Abundantia makes it very clear
there are no more second chances here
Gaia, Papatuanuku and Ostara, forging ahead new life
Innana, Dana and Isis surrounding them with light
Athena and Mother Mary have much to undo and teach
Aphrodite, Ostara, Nemetona and Ixchel
Mothers of divine healing heart
all these Mothers will guide us through without the slightest flinch
She is all Mother and we recognise her full
we run with open arms, no fear
she restores our wayward souls with care
she cradles our broken hearts to weep
and peace will be reborn again
where war has gone before with man
our raging rivers will forge and cut
ravage and avenge; our rivers
will shed tears of pain
new paths lest we forget
calling all our wonderous women
our voices banshee wail
we will hear them in our hearts full throb
and never fear again
here comes Persephone from the dark
the first to see the light,
Demeter fills an earthen jug that overflows with tears
she gently wipes her daughters feet to cleanse away her fears
and without Mothers no seed will grow
and so they must obey
but men are men, God or not
and evil still prevails
our Mothers cast all seeing eyes
and none shall let them pass
Zeus may watch with Ranginui
for both have known this day
Hades left enraged behind
his plans for her subdued
for she is with the Mothers now
a war he cannot rule
Persephone is free at last
Who says there is a God?
for Goddess rule this world or ours
Papatuanuku birthing fruit
my Maiden showing me the truth wary as she treads
my Mother prays the safest journey our Mothers forged ahead
my oldest Crone will rest her bones on her dying day
and sisters will be reborn again and again
woven waxed and waned
© Copyright 2010. Jodine Derena Butler. All Rights Reserved
(from the novella “Snow White,” in which the evil queen incidentally prefers to be called “Q’An” for reasons of uniqueness and elegance)
The way to become an effective hunter is, of course, not to identify with foxes, but to start calculating how much gun powder it would take to rid the whole forest of foxes in the cheapest and most efficient way. Which easily translates into knowing where exactly a small girl’s heart beats so that she wouldn’t bleed a lot and make too much of a mess. That way you can keep your mind off the fact that you are about to rob another creature of its life.
You have to admit that these are confusing times we live in. There was a time when a guy would be presented with his wife’s child—or his mistress’s child—and if he accepted it, then the child was allowed to live, and if he didn’t—well, then it wouldn’t. Those were much simpler times.
Still, why should I argue with a queen’s wishes for the death of one that wasn’t even her own child in the first place? Maybe she was just clearing the way for producing an heir of her own? How should I know? Except that I do know that sort of thing is done all the time.
All the same, there’s something foul and heavy about accepting an executioner’s task. Mind you, when I accepted the job of chief hunter for the royal court’s forest service, I wouldn’t have dreamed—not in my worst nightmare—that the job would entail anything like this. I thought I was committing myself to keeping things neat and tidy in the forest, fixing broken birds’ wings while having a loyal dog scamper at my heel, that sort of thing. That’s what I signed up for; not this ridiculous assignment of killing a little princess.
What exactly was I to do, I ask you? Talk back to the queen? You didn’t talk back to that one. She has a very cold streak, very mean. Still, you can’t help but admire her. You’re in awe of her, whether you want to be or not. She’s imperious. And more than that. She’s mesmerizing like a snake. She’s magnetic.
Still, I’m packing my bags as fast as I can. Anyone would have to understand that. When I got back here with the boar’s liver and lungs, she was a notch too cold even for my taste. Sure, I was impressed by her composure. But I didn’t find her very feminine. There she stood in all her finery and frippery—a blue gown of silk and velvet—accepting from me what she thought was her stepdaughter’s liver and lungs.
For my part, I’ve seen plenty of animal entrails. I was a master at skinning them and disemboweling them by the time I was a lad of fourteen. But she? A woman?
She was impressive. Didn’t bat an eyelash as she accepted the parcels of meat wrapped in linen strips into her dainty hands, half the size of mine, and pale and white and creamy.
But despite her amazing calm, in the end I think women are basically weak, even this one. Nice, of course, in a way. I have a good deal of respect for them—but it’s hard to understand most of the time what they’re up to. I mean, you expect them to be motherly and sweet, with milky chests to bury your head in, and aprons smelling of cinnamon buns straight from the oven. Instead, half of the time they turn out controlling and weird, or ice-cold like that Q’An. Oh, she makes me shudder.
I did my duty. I did what I had to. And now I’m packing my bags. I don’t want to be around here and around her.
Yes, women are weak. They ought to be lovely. Yet here’s this Q’An ordering me to kill a little girl for no good reason. I mean, if it were a man killing a child, I could almost understand that, I think. He’d have his reasons. And they would probably be good ones. But a woman? And yet, not too long ago, there was something about a woman who drowned her two babies in a lake because she didn’t want to lose her boyfriend, or God told her to do it because she wasn’t going to be a good enough mother, or something like that. In fact, I’ve once had a beautiful bitch hound who killed all five of her pups by breaking their necks because the water of the well was poisoned, which we human caretakers didn’t know yet. The pups would have died soon anyway. So she saved them from the agony of a poison death by killing them swiftly. She died a little while later, unaided, convulsed by poison. I tried to save her, but I couldn’t.
My point is, I’m certainly not lily-livered. Still, she gives me the creeps. Sort of like a Roman Nero—-I learned about him in history way back in school. He played his fiddle while Rome was burning to the ground. I imagine she’ll have herself quite a candle-light dinner with that boar’s liver and lungs.
I don’t know exactly why I let that little girl go. She was nothing to me. Not really. I guess she was so young, sort of like a pretty pup with all its cute soft features and huge eyes.
Now I am proud that I let her go. Later, as an old man, I’ll get to remember my own moment of kindness. Maybe I’ll have grandchildren of my own, and I’ll tell them this story. Though I’d have to marry first, and I don’t see that happening, not in any near future anyways.
I don’t like women on the whole, and the queen certainly doesn’t do anything to change my mind in that regard. Women have no heart. They’re just animals. Everybody knows they have no souls. I’m happy to keep my distance. That’s why I prefer leaving. I want a quiet place, somewhere in the mountains where no one bothers me. Court life is something I can do without.
I’ll miss the hounds. But I’ll have to leave them behind. Too bad. I’m rather attached to them. They like me, too. Especially the little runt. I call her Mini. She’s my best. Maybe I could sneak her into my knap sack? But no, she’d just make it more difficult for me along the way. I’ll get another one like her one day.
I’m not too worried. I’ll find some sort of employment.
Imagine, a woman wanting her stepchild killed. And such a pretty one! At some point I thought maybe she was pregnant and wanted something, craved something to eat, like they always do in fairytales. Turnips or a special salad from the witch’s garden. It would have made sense, too, if maybe she wanted to have the young girl out of the way so there would be no quibbling over inheritance later. But she doesn’t look pregnant to me. She’s skinny as a rail, though she has all the right curves in the right places. But not in the place where women normally carry their brood.
She doesn’t act pregnant either. No sickness, no looking unusually pale. She looks like one of them models, flat bellied. Not my type at all. But of course I don’t have a type in the first place. I’m not interested. Well, I like to look. But I’d much rather not touch. It’s altogether too complicated to be around women, if you ask me.
It bothers me, though, that someone would have the power to ask me to do something I would never have dreamt of doing on my own—kill another human being, I mean, and kill her at close range, with a knife in my hand. Slit her throat, carve her up, as easy as you’d strangle a puppy or break a hare’s neck or wring a chicken’s neck. The mechanism is basically the same either way.
I’ll never let anyone have so much power over me again, so help me God. When I think of the queen now, I think of how easy it would have been for me to break her own neck. Just clamp my hands around that delicate pale skin. And squeeze. The end. It might have felt very satisfying.
The main reason I didn’t strangle her—these thoughts do run through one’s mind—is that they’d only catch me afterwards and then I’d be sentenced to death for sure. Besides, I’ve never killed a human being. That’s not to say I couldn’t. Obviously with the little girl I came close. It would probably be easy. You just push your humanity aside for a moment and act like an efficient machine. Knife to flesh, like with the boar. Hands twisting neck, as with a chicken. Club over skull, as with a mouse or a fox.
Instead, I’m running away. I’m moving on. I’m pretty certain I’m not important enough for anyone to take a great deal of trouble in royal pursuit.
All women are ever interested in is frippery anyway. Frippery, frappery.
She would have been a nice morsel to crush, though. She’s not that much older than the little girl, either.
From now on I just want to live, put one foot in front of the other, do my stuff. Pick up brambles. Make sure the traps are empty. Make sure the lookouts are all right. That sort of thing.
I don’t know where I’m going yet—preferably somewhere where there aren’t any people at all. It’d be so much easier to just deal with animals. I’d like that. I have no great ambitions to become immortal by spreading my own seed around. In this pathetic place where people kill and maim one another, and the animals as well? Actually, I’m sorrier for the animals than for the people half of the time. They don’t deserve being killed. They haven’t done anything wrong.
I wonder how the little girl is doing in the woods. Not so good, I’m sure. Something has probably eaten her by now. I wash my hands off it. It wasn’t me, that’s the main thing, and now it has nothing to do with me anymore. I left her to God, whoever that’s supposed to be. Maybe she’ll get recycled into a bear cub or a raven chick. Anyway, I don’t want to think about her anymore. Things are bad enough. She’ll probably haunt me for the rest of my days with that thrilled smile on her face, that tearful thank-you-for-letting-me-live smile, as though I had suddenly turned into God. Thank me for what? For leaving her exposed and defenseless out there in the wilderness? She’ll soon enough realize that it’s no picnic. But it’s her own fault for being a girl. If she were a boy, it would be a different story. A boy would figure out what to do. But girls are pretty useless that way.
I’m packing a loaf of bread and a hunk of hard cheese, which is more than she had when I left her to fend for herself. I have to be grateful for that. Of course, she’s smaller and won’t need as much food as I do. Berries will probably do her for a while, unless she gets eaten by something first. Anyway, I have nothing to do with that. I wasn’t there.
And off I am into the big wide world.
If only I didn’t constantly have to carry around the picture of the little one on her knees in front of me, wringing her tiny little hands up into my face, tears streaming down her cheeks. Don’t kill me. Please don’t kill me. Well, damn it, of course I couldn’t. If a deer in hunting season, or a wolf cub in no season at all, were to fall on its knees and beg me for its life, I would let it be, let it live. I sure do think of the absurdest things. But then again, I also live the absurdest of lives right now.
So, off I am with my backpack. Never to be heard of again in these parts.
Sleeping Beauty was left sleeping on a plane
They tried to wake her but couldn’t
so they locked her in for the night
When she got up in the middle of the night
she was completely disoriented
and staggered up the aisle to the bathroom
to take a pee in a tiny little closet
“Where am I?” she kept whining “Where am I?”
Ordinarily Sleeping Beauty did not whine
so you can understand how extraordinary
After finding herself locked in the plane
she sat down in the pilot’s seat
and began pushing buttons and fondling
Suddenly the engines fired up
She taxied that puppy out onto the runway
and radioed the control tower
“Control Tower? This is Sleeping Beauty.
Permission to take off?”
“Yeah, right,” was all they said from the tower
They were smoking a giant doobie
because it was the middle of the night
and it seemed like the planet had stopped spinning
Also they thought someone was joking
until Sleeping Beauty powered up and took off
“Okay, May Day, May Day, we got Sleeping Beauty
circling over Manhattan and don’t know
how to get her down! May Day! May Day!”
“Tell her to splash down in the Hudson River,”
said an unknown voice over the intercom
probably her handsome prince in a rowboat below
“It’s been done before. Don’t worry. Piece of cake.
But next time watch out for the Magic Geese.”
copyright © 2010 by Jerry Ratch
God Save The Queen Of Hearts
by Coleen Shin
make it smile, whatever
I’m not asking for a signature
though your name is another country
and laying in the dentist chair, needles seem
a given, the numbing sensation of a could care less
I wanted to count pricks, I thought that’s how it went
like a quill or pen, a subtle maneuver
on soft terrain, the praying mantis, a choice
even the artist tips his hat, scratches his head
remarks that this is the repast of a greening royalty
practically a genius of its genus
I could imagine that, the court costs alone
predates modern litigation, another
off with her head! or his, though minstrels
are so devout, so iconoclastic when it comes
to their craft. I wanted to save you
keep you in a locket warmed by my breast
not queen the bees, or lead the dance
a devotee of public hangings is here at noon
winner of my silver spoon, it is a trick, a trick
of my consort, his council, to make a spectacle
all could see through, find the deadly metaphor
all who do will be free to go, the rest
God help them, there is nothing more