I am listening to Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Dangerous Old Woman: Myths and Stories of the Wise Woman. She analyzes myth and stories showing what they can teach us about ourselves. In her analysis of Snow White, she points out that each character is an aspect of the self. I wrote this particular piece when I first became interested in retelling fairy tales. I had just read Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and wanted to try my hand. In this piece, I do not go into a detailed retelling but this is the idea behind this voice piece which explores a bit of modern day jealousy in the literary world. Let’s say it takes the saying “murder your darlings” in a different kind of direction. Flash fiction writer Kathy Fish posted a flash fiction exercise this past week having to do with voice which you can find here and I thought….oh, so that is what I was trying to do. What would the voice of each of your favorite characters sound like if you retold a fairy or folktale through their perspective?
There was never a time I knew Anoushka when she was not in some sleepy-eyed phase of a delayed bloom. Yes, she was much younger than I was and much more beautiful and far more talented. I felt some inexplicable responsibility to protect her though at the same time, I wanted her to wake up and not rely on me. It was becoming so that I was constantly reminding her of her talents just to keep her going. Yet she remained untried in the real world and I grew weary. I wanted her to ply our trade, to finish her stories, to submit them for publication, to suffer.
And while I haven’t wanted this mother’s role of reassuring her and encouraging her in her writing, I have found myself taking up this mantel. Maybe there has been something to gain by my being her friend, OK, call me creepy if you want, call me a sycophant, call me a desperate, middle aged lady who’s flattered that this twenty-something would want to be friends with me, someone who is – what – not hip to the scene or whatever it is they’re saying these days.
And no, I’m not a lesbian. I’m happily married to a man, thank you very much. I’m happy most of the time, that is. OK, let’s just say I’m happy enough to get by, alright. But one can still have beautiful, young friends, can they not? Yet I grew weary of the dewy youth on this one as I waited for her to break out of her writing virginity, to publish the product of her labors. She secretly gloated that she was much better than I, better than most. So out with it, I said. If she demanded so much from me by way of reassurances to her ego, do I not have a right to insist she pop the publication cherry?
It was her lethargy I craved to kill, but as my weariness grew, other aspects to her personhood and our relationship became vulnerable to my vicious fantasies. I wanted to be rid of the very idea of her and of our friendship. I could not afford the ambition she siphoned off with her need, her expectations that I love her for her looks and her humor and her youth and as if that weren’t enough, her cracker-jack ability with the words which came rolling off of her, spinning out as a beautiful vine of roses from fertile soil, as if there were never a phenomenon more natural.
The market supports and encourages those of her ilk, who take beautiful cover photos, who will not make waves, whose writing, above all free of what may disturb or unsettle, or at least not to an inordinate degree. You can see how, my readers, this may be a problem for me, admitting already as I have that I am: a) jealous, b) covetous, c) ambitious, and d) of the murdering persuasion as it applies to the murdering of one’s literary “child.”
You can only imagine my narratives. You can only imagine my look behind the podium given what you can guess of my age, given what I covet enough to abolish. Other writers would not be as forthright as I. I have seen many a female writer who will swear they have never felt competition with any other female writer and yet they cut and undercut other women like a scythe mowing a hayfield. It happens. Men don’t know it. They are the compassionate hunters who can’t believe some woman has sent them out to cut out a heart.
So here was how I murdered her, so to speak, my gorgeous literary darling:
1) The corset binding. I forced her to gaze upon what was inconsequential to the writing itself: Her looks. I emphasized over and over how beautiful she was while she drew herself to the mirror and away from her desk. I cinched in her waist and she was mesmerized by her own proportions. By my manipulation of her waist size, she almost ran out of breath as she was overcome by a sense of the futility of self-expression in light of her growing dedication to her physical form.
2) The poisoned comb. I infected her thinking with faint praise, going in deep to kill the root that would poison the bloom, once and for all. If this had been successful, she would be like the women who yearn to write but who finally give up because of self-doubt.
3) The poisoned apple. At this point, she had found others who were wise to me, clever girl, so this step was the trickiest of all. I was determined that she must see me eating from the same fruit, as it were, and so I told her: “You can be a writer and have it all. Don’t listen to what people say about giving up the life of wife and mother to dedicate oneself to one’s art. Choose as I have chosen. See, I have done so, and it hasn’t killed me!”
These are only half-truths because my children are estranged, my husband sleeps on the other end of the house, my career consists of shredding up budding artists at the women’s college to whom I feed poisoned apples. My creative output consists in enumerating these tales of my passions, my crimes, but I’ve found the market responds, for grist and the gristle can be literature as long as it’s beautifully spun. The market eats almost anything in a pretty package, and Anoushka does too, chomping down on the succulent flesh of my tempting suggestions, taking the bait, wedding a man who loves only her beauty. After a while, he can’t even stand the sound of her voice.