When I lived in the village, round and red-faced, they shunned me. Mocked me even while they spent their pennies at my bakery. The best breads and treats for their feasts, their weddings, to surround their platters of slaughtered beasts. I mastered the plump pop of a pastry, crusts that rose and shone with gleaming sweet. Never welcome at the tables I helped fill, I set out for the woods, a tiny shack beneath a dying tree.
The woods were kinder, deer and rabbits soft beneath my swollen fingers, my thighs whistling with the birds as I sought the brightest berries to stain my lips. As time passed, my expertise increased. I began to replace the walls, the windows with my skill – sheets of colored sugar spun thick and strong, slabs of gingerbread carved with leaf motifs. The more I built, the less I sought the solace of the sugar on my tongue. Meringue now mortar. Licorice twisted to picture frames.
Soon my clothing hung loose as my skin. The river near the berry patch reflected a face I did not know. Drawn. Hollow-eyed. I would bear this visage back to visit. They had hated my old face, my old body, but surely now, winnowed, armed with a basket of pastries, dusted with white and shaped like flowers, they would welcome me. But the parents tugged their children back – saw a ragged woman, clothes ill-fit, skin folded beneath a pointed chin.
Taunted, stoned and driven back, I retreated, my caramel heart hardened to stale. If they wanted a witch, they would have one. Having lost my taste for sugar, I plotted a different diet. First the rabbit who defiled my doorstep. Then the deer who nipped my hand to bleeding. Then the boy on the path, the one who tripped while his friends ran back to safety. How I nursed his ankle, fed him from the saccharine walls. How he sizzled. How savory the meat.
But trespassers were few. I learned to lure as I grew more gaunt, more closely wrapped to the bone. It wasn’t their flesh I wanted, really. It was the proof that I could, surrounded by a home that could sustain me, reject what once made me.
Training to Failure
Regimen and vitamins. Pre-dawn miles beating a path to the castle, imagining. Always back by six to fix their breakfast. Mother says I am not fine enough or fancy. My heavy limbs hearth-swept and cindered. But I will trip lightly with the prince despite her. Squats with the cast iron pot. Lunges to lift each crumb from the floor. My arms and legs strange to me, tinged with tingling. Weeks of silence while my siblings gab of gowns and curls. I cover my new glow with rags and ashes.
The night of the ball, I sneak to meet the lady up the street who has salvaged me a quinceñera dress. She zips me in and whistles. Damn. You’ve been working out. Careful or you’ll disappear. I smile and bite my lip. Glass bracelet dangling from my left wrist. Tight. My fascia strained and stretched. I ignore the warnings, stride in and collide with several men, avoid their leers until he peers around a sequined blond to catch my eye. We dance. We laugh. Walk along the parapets until the break of dawn while I ignore a strange pain gathered at my shoulders, pinned to my hips.
When the clock strikes six, I panic, twist from his grip.. I’m almost away when I feel a release, a whole arm dropping from its socket. I keep running, shocked and off-kilter, but then a leg comes loose. I fall to pieces. In the stories, a prince would save me. How odd then to watch him grimace, pluck my glass bangle from the damage, slide it on the wrist of the next girl he sees.