. . . The pages turning, the blue pinafore, white sleeves, red cherub cheeks flung into the unknown . . . what is the crumb/diamond of this story?
you could have been R. in her blood-red glamour bursting intrepid
from the Wolf’s lower mouth or C. in her tight shoes and pail full of dust.
you are G. as straw fence, pile of wood, pile of stones, yellow flower.
you are G. as sun on iron, G. as would-be ballad, as would-be balladeer.
you are G. as wooden shutters, inferior first-floor view.
you are G. as green border on thin straw mat.
you are G. sick of the high road.
you are G. as clenched jaw that won’t unpin.
you are G. as temporary subject, temporary friend.
you are G. with a tepid hangover that should be worse.
you are G. writing a novel about patricidal hatred, inherited misogyny, and looking for good kin.
you are G. as little Korean American fraulein . . .
H. is praying to the GREAT EYE
of the Believer who made the world by believing in it. If the Believer stopped believing, would the world cease to exist? H. thinks it wiser to not risk it, so he prays every day, climbing the green and brown peaks, dirt and gravel slipping under his well-worn feet, until he reaches the Witch’s hut where he will suck on the Witch’s cold tits, ripe and smooth as the flesh of pale green fruit. They taste like cold soup, and each day H. will climb the mountain to suck first one Witch’s tit then another, sucking each globe until it is dry and wrinkled like a fava bean, like the face of the Witch, a face that has seen the beginning of this world and a face and fucking mind that had once tried to eat him.
H. had loved that house, devouring each translucent red window pane with his eyes and mouth, each succulent door handle and decorative sugar knob, as the fat, greedy boy that he was—chubby, pale, good for nothing but being consumed in a human-flavored stew or tartare or roast one might serve to a passive Father who had married badly after being widowed, marrying a woman with small hips and red lips in a hard face with a will of gold glittering like malice beneath her unlined skin. But that was a world ago; H.’s Stepmother was long dead, mysteriously, suddenly dead upon H. & G.’s return to the cottage where, as far as H. knows, their Father still lives.
Of G., H. knows even less. He remembers her packing a small red box one day when they were ten years old and disappearing with it into the black-leaved forest over the snow-covered mountain. H. thought that she might come back, but she did not, and after the first century or so, H. was no longer surprised. G. had never really trusted their Father after the first abandonment, and more to the point, G. had had no need of him, which had become clear to H. when she’d shoved the Witch into the oven.
H. remembers the startling decisiveness of his sister’s action, watching her push the crone into the enormous oven from his seat in the corner, his face covered with sugar, his hand in a cloudberry pie. He remembers crying, “No!” and G. telling him to shut up as she slammed the hot iron door shut and pressed against it with both arms and all her might. He remembers the Witch’s curses and cries as she kicked the oven from the inside and of course, the horrid smell of her old, burning flesh.
Usually ravening, H. would not eat for weeks after that, not during the whole long walk home to their Father’s cottage, which seemed to take weeks, not days and not for many days after that. He remembers their Father raising a worried brow upon seeing him and asking, “Why is Hansel so skinny?” which G. answered wordlessly with a look of rage that never subsided when their Father was around.
H. knows now as he did not know then that G. was always on the verge of leaving, abandoning him like a trail of crumbs or their dead Mother or Stepmother ferocious with wanting. Sometimes he thinks about the red box when he is sucking on the New Witch’s tits, which he loves to think about whether he is sucking on them or not.
He thinks of them in his hands when he is walking up the steep hill alone each day, how he will take one in both hands, pinching and licking the surprisingly large wine-colored nipple until the tit is sucked dry and flat as a poor man’s wallet. How he will move on to the next one once the first one is done and suck that one too until it is spent, and the Witch cries out her terrifying cry and pushes his head away, and the Believer grants the world another day.
The Believer believes in sexual ritual.
The Believer has made gods castrate each other to birth love in her fickleness and beauty.
H. understands that every day is a prayer as seduction, supplication as taking and not giving anything back but pleasure, which is incidental to the giver. H. sucks like his life depends on it, because it is what he is good at— the only thing he has always been good at—eating, siphoning dominion and beauty from powerful women who want to save him and eat him.
The Witch strokes his golden hair as she suckles him, telling him how good he has been, how sturdy he is, how well he climbed the mountain, how good he is to save the world like this, how strong and authoritative his hands are on her cold, ripe, deceptively youthful body. H. feels he can do anything when he is drinking and holding the Witch’s tits, which grow a little warmer as he sucks them, softer around the dark diamond-hard nipple, softer and warmer until each tit is spent, H.’s task for the day done.
Afterward, the Witch’s face is restored to youth, smooth as a plum, though her body is as flat and shriveled as a hag’s. H. is frequently exhausted afterward, though he feels competent and satisfied with his work. He prefers the Witch the other way around, the way she looks at him when he first enters her hut, with her ancient visage, spotted and overtanned—burnt too many times in the high-altitude sun—with her clear brown eyes, not unkind. Unbuttoning a tight semi-transparent shirt or letting him unbutton it to reveal one full, hanging Witch’s tit, new each time in H.’s mouth. The Witch is thousands of years old, as is H. though H. has retained all the strength and lubriciousness of youth through some strange genetic or geographical miracle. They are the only two beings in this village at the edge of the world, and they may be the only two in this whole world, thinks H. “I’m lucky she has nice tits,” he says to no one in particular. “It could be worse. I could have no skills at all.”
Someday the Witch will tire of me too—prayer and fate of the world be damned—or she will die and either way I’ll be abandoned again, surmises H. Alone with nothing but this rocky, dirty peak to climb, an empty hut at the top.
Wolf across the hall
It was another 30 years before G. felt that very few people wanted to eat her or do her monstrous harm. Most people, she concluded, had enough of a handle on themselves to be indifferent, and only a few were wired to commit murder, cannibalism, child sacrifice. Most of us, thought G., bury that stuff or don’t feel it. Who knows what the others really think? Not I, thought G.
Anna Maria Hong is the Visiting Creative Writer at Ursinus College and was a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Her novella H & G is forthcoming from Sidebrow Books in 2018. Her poetry collection The Glass Age won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s 2017 First Book Poetry Competition. She has poetry and fiction appearing recently in The Nation, The Iowa Review, Fence, Ecotone, , Poetry, and The Best American Poetry. She is a Contributing Editor at The Offing.