Grimm’s Origins: Hansel & Gretel

| April 23, 2017 | 0 Comments

The birth was long and complicated, and ultimately unsuccessful.

Her diet was restricted. She was put on bed rest for the last two months. The midwife was called for once her water broke. All the proper steps were taken.

Once hearing of what had happened, the yet-to-be mother had moaned in despair and rushed to the nursery room, in her blood soaked dressing gown and all, and ripped everything to shreds with her bare, shaking hands. After the initial chaos and mourning had subsided, she had sat there in the now ruined room, pieces of wood and cloth strewn about haphazardly, softly stroking at a stuffed bear. Wouldn’t speak nary a word to anyone besides the occasional, wistful thought: I’ll try harder, next time. I’ll be better, next time.

Unfortunately, there would be no next time. For you see, this was the fourth child lost from this family. The husband, disgusted and angered at his wife’s failed attempts, had annulled his marriage with the still-grieving woman. Since her father and brother died some years before and she had nowhere to go, he had her relocated to a distant part of the countryside about a three days journey away.

I have paid for your home. I will pay for your food. I shall even spare you a handmaiden. So, for the love God, get out of my sight.

It only took a month for his next wife to have a baby cooking in her belly.

 _________

The woman acclimated to her new solitary living situation. It was all she could do, really. The handmaiden hadn’t lasted very long and was quickly relieved of her duty before one could die of boredom and the other of annoyance.

It was a small house enclosed inside a forest with two bedrooms, a cellar, a kitchen, and a garden in the front. For a while, with the allowance given to her every month, the woman would spend her time planting in her garden and baking sweets for the children living in the town nearby. They would come running to her every evening, crowding around her kitchen and sticking their gooey dirty hands out pleading for more desserts.

And she would smile warmly, kiss the top of their heads, and tell them various stories depending on what suited her fancy that night. They initially listened in rapture as she spoke, but soon became bored of her tales and, once realizing there were no more sweets in sight, eagerly ran back home. The woman would deny the way she tightened her fists or how her breathing labored every night when they left her alone. How fickle children are.

But, oh, she loved them. Any child she saw morphed into what could have been her child and she wanted nothing more than to hold them close and will herself to fold in over them and trap them completely. So that they were always with her. Only with her. It was an obsession that the nearby townspeople took pity on. The poor Hag, they would say.

Then the allowances stopped coming. The woman could barely scrape by on her own and struggled to eat, for she would rather starve than lose her hold on the village children. Determined to get her due before she became unable to make more desserts, the Hag made the three day journey back to the home that she was removed from some odd years ago. There, the man who she once considered her husband had become old and senile and it was the wife who had snubbed her and showed her the door. The Hag, seeing red and so very hungry, had sneaked around back the house, determined to confront the wife again. It was there she saw her child playing with a small dog in the courtyard. So plump and round and with a smile that could make the heavens cry, the Hag was sure this was her child.

But how to keep the child safe? Away from everyone and only for herself. The Hag panicked. Knowing she had little time left and dazed from being oh so hungry, she beckoned the child closer to the shadows, promising sweets for good behavior.

She devoured the child with unease.

Contrary to popular belief, it was very difficult the first time. The first is always the hardest, mothers always say. It’s nothing like you’re used to. The Hag held these words in mind as she stopped herself from gagging, tears pooling at the base of her eyes.

Now the child would be safe. The Hag rubbed her slightly protruding belly, whispered sweet words, and quickly left the grounds.

  _________

The Hag was satiated for months. Nine months to be exact. And during those nine months, the Hag had planted enough wheat, sugar cane, and various other crops to create sweet treats from scratch. She needed her children by her side, and she would do anything for them. So her roof and windows were made from gingerbread and other parts of the house were formed from cakes, gumdrops, and caramel. Anything to keep the children entertained. Anything to keep them eating.

In her isolation, the townspeople presumed that the Hag had died and mourned the loss.

They mourned the loss of the six children who had gone missing in the next four and a half years as well. So it was no surprise when the town became deserted after these events, in fear of whatever lurked in the forest.

The Hag, with no children to hold, lived in an almost catatonic state. Her stomach couldn’t handle anything else and so she conserved her strength, waiting. Until one day she could hear the pitter-pattering of footsteps on the roof. Her eyes still closed, the Hag smiled warmly.

Her children.

 

 

photo credit: FlorItzelArte “De Hansel y Gretel: calaveritas de azúcar” via photopin (license)

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Soubhana Asif

About the Author ()

Soubhana Asif is a junior at Boston University majoring in Biology and double minoring in Arabic and Medical Anthropology. "Have I said too much? There's nothing more I can think of to say to you. But all you have to do is look at me to know that every word is true."

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