Original Fiction: Underneath (inspired by Mighty Kate)

July 8, 2010 at 2:29 pm (Uncategorized)

Mighty Kate is a NY/NJ-based singer-songwriter of phenomenal talent. I’ve seen her perform live on countless occasions, and I never leave the venue without a smile on my face. And today happens to be her birthday. So, in honor of that happy occasion, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before on this blog — post a piece of original fiction.

This story (beyond the obvious fairy tale source material) was inspired by Mighty Kate’s song Underneath, and was written for a scrapbook project a group of fans put together in honor of the release of her latest album. If you like the song, or my story, I highly encourage you to check out that album — you can buy it on her site, on iTunes, or on Amazon.

In the meantime, here’s my story, which only Mighty Kate and the other scrapbook fans have seen before. Happy Birthday, Katy!

Underneath
By Jennifer Margret Smith

Underfed

For weeks I have been underfed. No food is left in our cupboards – no bread in the breadbox, no meat in the larder. My brother crumbles the last stale roll to mark our path, but the birds are the only creatures who find supper that day. Can we be blamed for taking our share, when a bounty comes upon us? Can we be blamed for devouring marzipan and peppermint without a moment’s thought to anything but the growling in our bellies?

The witch of the gingerbread house is a harsh jailer, a cruel mistress, and my brother thinks he is clever to trick her old eyes into believing a bone is his flesh, saving our lives one day at a time. But he sits in a cage suspended on high while I roam freely with my spoon and my apron, and it is he who gapes between his bars as I push the old witch with all of my strength into her own oven.

I will never go hungry again.

Under the Covers

I am under the covers, but there is something under me. I lie still, poised in limbo between twenty feather comforters and twenty feather mattresses. Somewhere, far below the downy fringes and sharp spines of the feathers, lies a tiny object so round and so hard that I toss and turn above it, exhausted by the effort to find my way past the distraction to the sandman’s realm.

The next morning, I don’t wish to complain. I came to this castle bedraggled, my ringlets sodden, desperate for shelter with no proof of my identity. The keepers’ kindness is a blessing I can only hope to repay. But my eyes rest above dark sunken pools, my lack of slumber evident, and when the lady of the house raises the obvious query, I confess the truth, hoping for her forgiveness for my criticism of her hospitality.

The delight in her eyes is a surprise, but one I welcome gladly.

Unappreciated

I wake at dawn each day with a broom already in my hand. The quiet night has allowed the sediment of life to settle, and it’s my duty to sweep it away, to crumble the cobwebs to dust and clear out the corners with a fine brush. Then there’s the tea to set out, the china to rinse, the candlesticks to polish, the floor to scrub, the petticoats to beat with a rock on the banks of the stream. And of course, above all, there are the cinders, the fine dust that clings to my dress and hair and skin as I scoop them from the fireplace. All this for little more than a curt nod at best, a sneering criticism and raised hand at worst. I am unappreciated.

But I do not complain. To complain would be to invite the wrath of those who enslave me, to increase their abuses a thousandfold. I have no desire to anger my stepmother, with her cruel eyes and thin lips; I have no desire to irritate the stepsisters who compete for my dutiful attentions. I merely acquiesce, content in the knowledge that someday my patience and resilience must be rewarded. Someday I will rise above this prison of drudgery. Someday I will encounter those who will appreciate me every bit as much as my family does not.

When the fairy arrives, I know my faith was sound.

Undetected

I am undetected, here in the woods. I have run far beyond the safe paths, the well-known trees and brambles of my childhood, past bears and deer and rabbits and all manner of creatures, in search of a single cabin. I have created a new life – a life of service, true, but a life perhaps more real than my life back at court. Here my work holds meaning, as I prepare seven tiny men each day for their trips down to the mines. If they scrape at underground walls each day for the hopes of a single gemstone’s discovery, what hardship is it for me to make their beds and prepare their dinner? I am useful, and in my simple clothes and tangled hair, I am unrecognizable.

When she finds me, years later, I know that only magic could have led her to this hidden place. Her magics are powerful, her mirror most of all, and perhaps I can never truly hide. But the apple is red, and plump, and I am prepared for its poison. I fall to the floor, the world narrowing to one black point, and then I am placed in glass.

In that moment between life and half-life, I am more undetected than I have ever been, and I know I have beaten her game.

Undaunted

I am undaunted. The wolf holds no power over me. His voice howls in the night, but I know my mission. Grandmother’s needs will wait for no man, no woman, no wolf, and the paths are circuitous. I know what I must do. I step from the path, trampling through the brush to my destination, and when the wolf arrives I am prepared, wrapping my red cloak around me in feigned innocence as he points to the beauty of the flowers.

At Grandmother’s house I see him again, wearing her bonnet and dress. His eyes are cruel, his teeth long and sharp, but my undaunted voice carries through the woods to a huntsman nearby, his axe the perfect weapon for the deed. Grandmother is saved, the wolf’s belly filled with rocks, and I lay out the bounty of my basket, sure in the ultimate goodness my actions have wrought.

When I return home, days later, through the same winding woods, the howls of the wolf’s brethren bring a cruel smile to my lips.

Uncommon

They say he is uncommon, but I am uncommon as well. I am the daughter who begged for a rose as a gift, rather than finery; I am the daughter who left the comfort of my home and family to join this beast in his woodland castle. I am the odd one, the strange one; that’s what my sisters always said.

Here, though, even the uncommon is common – enchanted rooms, invisible servants, and my beast, a terror of fur and fangs whose voice is sweet as honey and manners impeccable. He has become my friend, and while I will not acquiesce to his proposals, he is a comfort at my side. I do not wish to leave him; only my love for my family propels me to visit my home again.

When I return, to a beast half-dead with sorrow, I can only hope my uncommon tears will produce uncommon magics.

Unreleased

I will remain forever unreleased. High in this tower I sit, day by day, braiding the hair which has grown long enough to snake around the room five times. I have read my witch-mother’s books a dozen times each, have eaten each of my meals with mechanical steadiness. Even as the pain sears my brain from the tugging at my long braid, I appreciate the times my witch-mother visits, breaking up the monotony of my days.

He is nothing special. A prince, he claims, but I have no way to prove that truth or lie; I know little of princes beyond the few words my witch-mother has shared. But he is the first to see me as something other than inaccessible, a faraway untouchable beauty to serenade for just as long as it takes my witch-mother to destroy him. His determination flatters me, plants the first small seeds of hope in my chest, and when he climbs I don’t even feel pain.

When my witch-mother comes, with her long scissors and her promises of destruction, it is too late. I have already begun to imagine a future of freedom.

Underwater

I am underwater, but I do not wish to be. Far above the crest of the waves lies another world, a world of sands and grasses that do not shift with the tides, a land of solid tables and marble floors and dancing. A land of legs and feet and tiny little toes. A land of sweet princes whose arms are too weak for swimming.

I have been warned of the Sea Witch, but I am heedless. The others do not know what it means to feel trapped in one’s own form, to look at one’s scales and fins as foreign impositions. They do not know what it means to crave running, to crave dancing, to crave the affection of one who could never love a creature of the waves. I would cut out my own tongue to make it so.

I may die, may evaporate to seafoam at the end of all this, but I cannot be underwater a moment longer.

Unaffected

For sixteen years of my life, I believe I am unaffected. I have heard rumors of a curse, placed upon me at birth, a curse that would lead me to sleep for one hundred years. But no one has told me how this curse might come about. “I have taken care of it,” my father says, when I ask him. The kingdom has been cleansed; I am in no danger.

Yet I remain curious. I have led a charmed life, protected from any scrape or bruise. Nothing can touch me in my father’s kingdom. Even my floors are pillowed, my food pre-cut so I will never see a knife. I yearn for adventure, for risk, for danger, if only to feel, for once, that the outside world has any effect upon me at all.

When I find the spinning wheel, glorious in its rhythm, its spindle sparkling sharp, my fingers reach out unbidden, prepared at last to feel.

Undefeated

I despair, but I am undefeated. I will find a way out of this mess into which my father’s boasting has let me. In this room full of straw, I will find a way to produce gold. My resilience is my greatest strength, and it has carried me this far. So when the little man comes, I know he is the reward for my resilience. I shower him with gifts and promises, and he showers me with gold.

Years later, I sit with my newborn son in my lap, remembering that promise made long ago. My resilience has led me to this place as queen of a kingdom, and it will not fail me now. I am thankful for the man’s assistance, but he has had his payments. He will not take this from me as well. And so I send out my spies in the dark of night, searching for a hole in the clause.

He flees when he hears his name, his face a mask of rage above his flying ladle, and I hold my son tightly to my chest, secure in the certainty that I will never know defeat.

I am an undisputed ace in the hole.
I am an undeniable story untold.
I am underneath.

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