Gretel Was Getting Fatter
“It’s no good,” said her stepmother, Cleo, who spent much of her day asking her mirror for reassurance of her fairness. “At this rate, no man will ever fall in love with her, and she will die a spinster.”
Gretel’s father remembered Gretel’s mother and the soft curve of her belly, but he said nothing.
“Not enough exercise,” said Cleo, who ran ten miles through the woods every day.
So, the next day, she woke Gretel early in the morning. “Get up, lazybones,” she said. “You’re coming running with me.” Gretel blearily obeyed, pulling on her old red coat, for it was the middle of winter and the air was cold and sharp as diamonds. “Don’t be foolish,” said Cleo, who wore only a singlet and jogging shorts. “You burn more calories if you’re cold.” Gretel followed her stepmother into the woods but did not take off her coat.
Cleo set a brisk pace, but Gretel did not want to run. Instead she dawdled, turning to watch the smoke curl from the chimney and the early sun bounce off the roof. Several times she stopped to admire the shape of bare branches twisted against the sky or puzzle over strange tracks in the snow.
Her stepmother soon got impatient and, anxious of neglecting her own fitness regime, ran ahead, leaving Gretel to find her own way through the woods. Gretel continued along the path, gnawing on a piece of bread she had stowed in the pocket of her red coat, and enjoying the sweet scent of morning mist amongst the pine trees.
Loping out of the mist came a figure, tall and thin with gangly limbs, deep, dark eyes, and a wild shock of black hair.
“Hello,” said the figure, sniffing the air. “My name is Lui.”
“Hello, Lui. I’m Gretel,” said Gretel, and offered her some bread. The two sat in a small clearing near the path and ate the bread together.
“What lovely big eyes you have,” said Gretel.
“All the better to see what lovely big thighs you have,” Lui returned.
“What a wolf you are,” said Gretel with a wink.
“What a woman you are,” said Lui, and kissed her.
After that, Gretel went walking in the woods every day and met Lui in the clearing where they would build a fire and eat bread and roast the ducks and rabbits and fish that Lui had hunted. Then they would make love and sleep wrapped in each other until the sun slipped behind the hills and the fire died out.
“It’s no good,” said her stepmother. “She goes walking in those woods every day, but it makes no difference. She’s still fat as ever. At this rate she’ll never get married and leave home, and we’ll be stuck with her forever.”
Gretel’s father remembered Gretel’s mother and the soft curve of her hips, but he said nothing.
“Too much gingerbread,” said her stepmother, who ate nothing but raw vegetables and steamed fish.
So, the next day she got up early and slipped a note under Gretel’s door telling her to go to the highest room of the highest tower where there would be a surprise waiting for her.
Gretel loved surprises so she climbed the long, spiral staircase to the highest room in the highest tower as quickly as she could. Breathless, she flung open the door and rushed in, stumbling on the uneven floor and into the thick, dusty drapes that covered a large window. The room was so small that she would have tumbled straight out the window if it hadn’t been covered.
Suddenly she heard the door slam shut and the lock click into place. “That’s what you get, greedy guts,” said Cleo. ”From now on, it’s lettuce and water for you.”
Gretel banged on the door and tried to get out, but it was locked tight. She opened the window and looked down, but the walls were smooth and sheer and it was a very long way down. She tried making a ladder of the dusty drapes but they were too old and moth-eaten to hold her.
As the day wore on and Cleo showed no sign of relenting, Gretel thought more and more of Lui and how much she wanted to see her. She swallowed her tears into a hard lump in her throat.
In the clearing in the woods, Lui paced back and forth, wondering where Gretel was. She had caught a particularly tasty rabbit that day, and she wanted to share it with her lover. When the sun sank behind the hills and the fire in the clearing finally died, Lui took the rabbit and loped along the path to Gretel’s house, determined to find out why she had not come.
As she approached the castle, Lui saw Gretel standing at the window of her room and brushing her long hair. Lui howled to her, but Gretel could not reply, for the tears she had swallowed had hardened into a diamond that stuck in her throat. Lui understood her silence as grief. She called to Gretel to let down her hair and tied the cold roast rabbit to her tresses so that at least she could have something satisfying to eat. Every evening after that, Lui returned with a rabbit or a duck or some other delicious offering for her love.
“It’s no good,” said Gretel’s stepmother, who made her poke her finger out the door every day to see if she was getting any thinner. But Gretel’s fingers remained as soft and plump as ever. “At this rate, she will never be able to leave her room.”
Every evening, Lui would visit Gretel and howl her longing. Gretel would swallow hard on her tears and every evening the diamond in her throat would grow bigger with her grief. Then, as the moon came up, Lui would slink away into the woods, only to return, ever faithful, with more offerings the next evening.
But the lovers missed the touch of each other’s skin, and so one night they came up with a plan to free Gretel from her tower. The next day, instead of giving Cleo her finger to pinch, Gretel stuck a rabbit bone through the door. Cleo was delighted by the svelte feel of her stepdaughter’s finger and excited to admire the results of her own hard work and perseverance. She flung open the door and rushed in, stumbling on the uneven floor and tumbling straight across the narrow room and out the window, right into the crackling fire that Lui had built below.
Gretel cried out in joy at her freedom, and so dislodged the biggest, shiniest diamond from her throat, which she promptly sold to buy more practical things like a new red coat and sturdy walking shoes. And, of course, all the trimmings for a wonderful roast dinner.
After that, Gretel and Lui lived happily for a couple of years, before going their separate ways. Then there was the affair with the Beast. But that is another story.