Y’know the fable about that monkey who grabs a fist of nuts out the bottom of a narrow-necked jar and then can’t get his hand back out? Chimp-boy standing there like a putz, cuz he don’t wanna let go his booty—and won’t see if he just lets a few nuts go, he can pull a few others out and actually eat ’em?
Yup, that’s the one. You got it.
Is not that story.
Offer me a jarful of nuts, I won’t just turn ’em down; I’ll gnaw my hand clear off while you watch. I know it’s a trap you’re holding, even if you’re still kidding even yourself on that score.
Don’t bother pointing out any gaping abyss in logic here—I’ll take off your finger too, in a single bite, and t’hell makes you think I haven’t seen your logic myself already?
* * *
Let’s be real clear about this upfront: nobody sees a house made of food, in the middle of a forest surrounded by famine, and doesn’t think “TRAP,” right off.
Not even my fool brother, who charged in all slavering tongue and greedy fists even as I’m shaping my mouth to fit the word “waaait…”
Too starved for sweetness by then, that boy, and for once I’m not talking food. Whereas me, I was full up on account of those breadcrumbs I’d been shoving in my gullet as fast as I could grab ’em off our trail without him seeing. Faster’n any blue-ribbon winner at a county pie-eating contest.
Another thing to get clear? That trick the first time, with the white pebbles: not my idea. Wouldn’ta gone back at all, except I thought the kid was gonna pop a blood vessel, he begged me so hard not to make him trudge through the darkness following them stones on his own. Figured out why, too, once we got home and he presented me up like I was a fine-pelted rabbit he’d been made late catching, and maybe the old man would enjoy the skinning of me himself?
(Half-stew and half-gentlelady’s decoration. All sacrifice. Story of my damn life.)
I had no mind to get tricked back a second time. House-trap vs. wide open world-trap’s not even a contest.
Sure, food’s more cooked, less scavenged, in houses. Don’t kid yourself about safety, tho. There’s plenty ways to find yourself torn apart and eaten, wherever you bed down. Up to me, I’ll always lay my odds on the woods with the wolves and the grizzlies and no walls against winter.
Or—better even than the wild—lemme live in the bottom of a jar. The longest, narrowest bottle you can find, with the longest, narrowest neck. Something so skinny even two fingers alone, acting like pincers, would find me too fat a cargo to pull up and out. I’d play bait in that trap and gladly; anything for sleep undisturbed by hungry, grasping hands.
Just make sure it’s not like Jeannie’s bottle, and me now served up on a platter anytime some dude with a crewcut and a stiffie gets an itch he wants scratched.
* * *
Witches get a bad rap. More’n half the time, it’s just some old crone puttering about her herb garden, starved for company and maybe a little cracked in the melon, putting just enough disjointed gossip in her talk so’s a listener could puzzle out wicked imaginings, if he were dead set on it. If he had bad intent or was running a few eggs short of a dozen himself. And most of the rest split pretty evenly between Women with too much power, Women with too much independence, and Women with too comely a set of gams for the neighbor’s wife’s taste.
My witch was all three, and a helluva cook to boot.
She taught me how to make souffles that would rise to the ceiling and never fall. How to guarantee the flakiest of buttermilk biscuits, and how to caramelize sugar without once burning my stirring hand. How to know by sight when a simmering compote is ready to jar into jam.
She taught me subtler magics too: how the scent of brewing coffee wafts fastest along the pre-dawn air, when your skin still tastes of the darkness just about to break. How knowing the names of all the trees and flowering bushes makes the wilderness feel a little less wild, and when that is (and is not) the outcome you most desire. How the touch of a woman’s breath soft against your nape makes you go all goosepimply, like taken with a fast chill, even as your insides go hot. All this, she showed me.
And I roasted her in a 48″ stainless steel convection gas range with matching hood.
Like I said at the beginning: every offer hides a trap underneath. Love’s the worst trap of all. You don’t just gnaw your hands and feet off to get outta that one. With love, you gotta pull the beating heart out your own chest and leave it behind entire, warm and pulsing on the dinner tray.
And don’t look back. Not once.
Not when it’s love.
But what about my brother, I hear you asking—sweet-toothed boy slowly gnawing himself an escape tunnel through the wall, like some Shawshank Redemption-Meets-Willy Wonka escape heist. Did he get away? And if he did, did he return home—or bushwhack his own new path forward?
I never looked back to see.
[“Gingerbread” is part of an ongoing collaborative writing project using myths & fairy tales as tools to critique, resist, and heal from the impact of gender norms and sexual violence.
For more of the series.]