My mother was the girl who pushed the witch into the oven, only it wasn’t quite like you’ve heard. She entered the witch’s house alone. Her siblings—there were four of them—weren’t survivors. When their parents left them by that fire deep in the woods, the first child climbed a tree and wrapped herself in a cocoon she would never emerge from; the second chopped wood for hours on end until, his vision blurry, he mistook his legs for logs and bled out in intricate rivulets; the third buried himself beside a poison ivy, and the ivy crept spider-like along the forest floor; the fourth submerged herself in a murmuring lagoon.
My mother wasn’t fooled by the bread walls, the cake roof, the window panes made of sugar. She knew that sweetness was often a trick.
But always, she took what she could get.
You know what happened next. The witch took her in, gave her free rein of the pantry.
What you might not know is that life with the witch was not all bad. There was food aplenty; a warm, soft place to sleep. In the evenings, they sat by the hearth and told stories.
For her room and board, my mother had chores, and yes, the witch was sometimes on her back. My mother kneaded the dough too roughly; she swept the floors too harshly; she clanked the dishes too loudly. But, my mother conceded, the witch’s criticisms were not unjust. My mother never was much of a homemaker.
This business about the oven, my mother didn’t see it coming. Sure, the witch remarked on the fit of her clothes, the curves of her flesh. What woman didn’t assess the bodies of the girls in her care? And the witch, she couldn’t have been more lovely about it—never a cruel word, only flattery. It wasn’t until the witch instructed her one day to stick her head inside the oven to check that it was hot that my mother gleaned she’d been duped. My mother nursed her broken heart by sucking severed pieces of sugar window pane while the witch’s scream dwindled in the fire.
The part my mother didn’t tell me, the part I know without a doubt to be true, is that she trusted no one thereafter. Yet she married and gave birth to a daughter of her own.
About the Author:
Michelle Ross's fiction has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Arroyo Literary Review, Bird's Thumb, The Common, Hobart, Necessary Fiction, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Synaesthesia Magazine. She's Fiction Editor for Atticus Review.