After the wedding of her sister Lily White to Rufty Tufty, a fête champêtre or country feast that took place in the woods between the two kingdoms, Brown Betty contracted a mysterious illness. She no longer wanted to eat and drink, not even a sliver of honey cake. She no longer had the strength to walk, not even to see and smell the flowers abundant at that time of year.

    Most alarming, the wit Brown Betty had from birth, the store of intelligence and sparkle which won universal admiration, this sense of humor left her in the lurch. She no longer read the latest books and offered her own amusing opinion. She heard important news from abroad and yawned with indifference.  Even to the latest gossip at court she seemed at a loss for what to say. All she could do was lie in bed and listen to the birds repeat their songs again and again, with slight variations.

    The royal physician examined Brown Betty and reported to the queen. (more…)

     There once was a queen who was brought to bed of a son so ugly and badly formed that the midwife doubted the baby was human.

    “It isn’t normal, ma’am. You may have been bewitched.”

    A fairy who was present at the birth reassured the queen.

    “The boy is healthy. He will always be lovable, because he will have plenty of wit, which is to say presence of mind. By virtue of the gift I now bestow, he will also be able to give as much wit as he wants to the person he will love the best.”

    This prediction consoled the poor queen. Though beyond reproach, she was distressed to have brought into the world such a queer monkey. True enough, when the child began to talk, he said a thousand pretty things. And something in his prinks and pranks won people over. His mother, his nurse, and the inner circle of the royal court proclaimed him utterly charming. (more…)

     I like my hands—small, translucent. As I look at them now, I see that my fingertips are pink with cold. Strokes of black soil are embedded beneath the fine slivers of pearl. I touch the bark of a tree. I can’t feel it.

     On my feet are red, satin slippers. I always wear them, even in the woods, even when it’s cold like this and pebbles press painfully through the soles. Droplets of blood mingle with the seeping dye. The cold has burnt all feeling away so that my hands and feet are no longer mine. I dance through the woods on numb toes.

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     “Red,” I called her. It was because of the red, hooded cape she always wore. No one else could have worn that cape. Anyone else would have looked ridiculous. But my little Red could never look ridiculous. Maybe it was the thick, straight eyebrows, the simmering, liquid-gold eyes. She was such a dark, little beauty, the eyes stood out in sharp relief. Looking at her then, you would not have believed she was only fourteen.

     Perhaps that’s why no one ever worried about her, not even when she walked alone in the woods. The mother was awful. The grandmother was worse: all day in that musty bed, in that hideous nightgown buttoned all the way up to the grotesque glob of chin. They took advantage of poor Red. The girl had no childhood at all. And, like a child, she stuck religiously to that path.

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