Gretel’s Tale

Forty-five years later I can still

smell her stink, indistinguishable

from sour cabbage in the halls, carpets

too old to clean.

 

Mother laughed at the old woman’s shapeless

black dresses, her shrunken shoulders, the mottled

skin beneath her thin black hair. She was

never home to see her chase

 

us up dark stairwells, shrieking

imprecations until, breathless, we

slammed the apartment door behind us.

The dog was young then and

 

the fourth violent husband

still a few years away. The third appeared

amiable as long as he was drunk, and in California

1955, before Las Vegas, Boulder City, Reno

 

Apple Valley, Albuquerque, before

sitting on the kitchen floor, a cold beer open

between her legs, weeping and talking about

suicide to her 13-year old

 

Mother was on the way up.

 

But even then, when

it looked like, in a year or two, we might

have enough to go around, she

and the woodcutter husband

 

planned one day to lose us

in the woods. If we hadn’t been

so hungry, we would have saved up crumbs for

the trip, because we already knew

 

the old witch was out there

firing up the stove

bringing the water to boil

eager to pinch the meat on our bones.

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