Content warning: violence/violent imagery, kidnapping and abduction, child abuse
The trick for good gingerbread is fresh ginger, grated vigorously until your fingers scrape the metal and drops of blood dribble in the dough.
The trick for maximum sturdiness is blackstrap molasses straight from the refinery, fresh off its third boil and shining, ready to be the bulwark between you and the world.
The trick for troublesome mouse-types nibbling at your house and disturbing all your hard-won peace is a hot oven and the heartiest vegetables from your garden, a cage of bones, the howl of your loneliness transforming your touch into brambles, your hunger into fangs, your softness into brittle dough that cracks like thunder before it crumbles.
Hollow the Bone
Hansel returns to his father’s house with his pockets full of jewels and gold, flour and sugar, spices and eggs, the clack-clack-clack of chicken bones knocking together a fell rhythm against his hip. His father locks him in his arms with a cry and crushes the breath from his lungs.
Hansel returns to his father’s house and is a child no longer. The man who left them in the woods is stooped now, bloodless and weak, his wife cold in the ground; it is Hansel who earns their keep cutting wood and selling it at market, Gretel who fills their bellies with sumptuous food that’s never enough. Their father eats and weeps, eats and weeps.
Hansel returns to his father’s house and finds its walls suffocating and its ceilings low. When he closes his eyes, he feels the bite of the forest’s cold, the bite of ginger on his tongue, the bite of bone against his palm. He imagines his father is a child he lures into the woods. He imagines Gretel is fattening her father up for a meal. She pulverizes chicken bones into his broth, shards of marrow sharp as a crone’s shriek, and Hansel lifts the spoon to his lips.
Gretel gets to a certain age and stops speaking English. After much discussion, everyone decides it’s Pennsylvania Dutch.
Gretel gets to a certain age and stops wearing clothes. She wears heated whispers, averted glances, hissed supplications of “Grandma!”
Gretel gets to a certain age and cannot find Hansel. She breaks the sugarpane window, steps barefoot into the sunshine, and follows the breadcrumbs home.