Bedtime Story: Part 1 (Gretel)

Lauren K. Alleyne

There was no way back —

the birds had pecked our loaf to nothing

our small hearts in their beaks;

we wandered the dark, despairing.

Then, the tiniest whiff —

honey and ginger and cinnamon —

the sweetest ache. We ran towards

what our noses thought was home.

The stories call her a witch,

but she was our third mother,

our private, tragic joke. We told

her of our mother’s passing,

our father’s slide into madness,

how step-mother lulled him into calm,

or made her small body its own defiant storm,

how she sent us out, and didn’t look back.

I will be your third mother, she said,

and we bowed our heads, ashamed

to have run through so many mothers;

afraid she meant stepmother was gone too.

She must have read the look on us,

(her only witchery) and said, Come

now, I’m too young to be called Grandmother,

call me Nenny! And we did, shyly,

the syllables tripping awkwardly at first,

growing surer with each passing day.

She fed us milk and bread (so much

like step-mother’s heavy loaves!);

She taught us the woods —

the berries and roots that would satisfy

hunger and thirst; how to make a fire

from stones and breath — lessons in survival.

But we saw she would not survive

the waiting. Days into weeks into months,

and still, no step-mother. We saw

how her smile brittled, grief tuning her

voice to an unfamiliar timbre,

how her eyes measured us when she thought

we weren’t looking. We saw

the storm gathering in her, and made ready.

One morning, we found her

asleep in her chair beside the oven.

We wept as we fed her body

to the flames, huddled against her final warmth

until the air was heavy with ash.

We bundled ourselves, packed

food, potions — a small inheritance —

and headed out into the motherless dark.


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