Category Archives: Fairy stores….modern tales for modern folks

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall

she knows what it looks like, what it looks like to them, the watchers, the hangers on, those quick to judge, quick to point, quick to make assumptions.

She knows what it looks like, the fading beauty, still vain, but with less and less reason, standing for hours on end in front of her mirror, that mirror, the magic mirror.
They think she’s shallow, self obsessed, no-body sees the pain , no, not pain, the mounting terror as her reflection stares back at her and the question, always the question, but these days it sticks in her throat, takes longer and longer each day to say out loud the words that used to trip so easily out of her mouth
“mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”

The mirror has a brooding quality, it seems to hunch against the wall, sucking up the air in the room, a dark presence.

She can remember other days, other times, when, her feet light on the stairs, out of breath from the games of chase with the young, widowed king, her husband, her lover, she would rush to the mirror and it seemed to glow with all the sunlight from all those summer days.
Then, she could throw out the question, carelessly, sure of the answer, already alight with love and desire.

Of course, she knew about the child, the little baby.
Sometimes, when, she remembered, she would pick it up, coo at it, it seemed plain enough, just a bundle of fabric and wriggling limbs and a pink rosebud mouth, often, she forgot about it for days on end.

Time passed, her philandering husband, whose passion had so delighted her, didnt change.
She caught glances at table, other hands in his when the household went to walk, a slither of silk moving quickly down a corridor when she visited her bed chamber.
She was realistic, shrugged, found her own entertainment.
Sometimes, she heard the child, babbling, laughing, tottering around the knot garden.

She overheard conversations in corners, knew that she was meant to overhear
“The child is becoming a beauty”
“The child looks like her dear mother”
“The child has the eyes of a saint”

She went to look and took action.
Told the household that she would take more interest in the little girl, that she would be like a mother to her, would cleave to her.

She cut the childs’ hair herself, hacked off the long black curls, made sure the fringe was uneven, lop sided.
She choose clothes for the child, over -sized, over patterned, in colours most guaranteed to to clash againts the milky skin, the deep red mouth, the violet eyes.

The mirror is still there, still re-assuring, just part of the ritual.
She takes longer now, eyes travel over every part of the body, re-assseing, looking for change.
She runs her fingers over her collar bones, her ribs, her breast bone, takes comfort in what she feels.
She is still beautiful.

The child is bigger, goes through an awkward stage.
Legs and arms too long
Carrying a little extra weight
Nose too big for the face.

The queen is attentive, quick to offer sweetmeats, the juiciest cut of meat, cakes decorated with rose petals.
Drops sweet raisins into the rose bud mouth
She watches the flesh gather on the childs’ belly and thighs and takes delight in this.

She has become fixated by the mirror, visits daily and then twice a day and then 3, 4 times.
Each time, she stares more intently, more carefully.
She eats less and less, intent on keeping those bones visible, cutting through her white skin, a skeleton of perfection.

The child grows taller, the additional flesh falls off, she becomes wilowly, drifts around the building, hair grown out, clothes outgrown and still, even when she should look ridiculous, even clown like, she is beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful.

The woman broods, watches the child from behind corners, sees how others watch her, they way that they used to look at her.

She sets the child heavy outdoor tasks so that her hands become rough, reddened, her face sun burnt, but the childs’ beauty is simpy enhanced and the exercise tones her body, gives her curves, planes of desire.

And then one day, it happens, as she knew it would.
It is dusk, she finds now that she prefers to use the mirror in gentle light and she asks the question and receives her answer.

The mirror looms above her and she swears that the glass has darkened, mottled.

From her deepest despair, she hears that voice, that hated voice, raised in laughter in the gardens and holding onto the walls to steady herself, she moves slowly, suddenly feeling so, so old and looks out of the window.

The girl is in the garden, leaning into the pond, looking at her own reflection on the still water and laughing with the joy of her own beauty.

The woman pauses, looks down and wonders where exactly this will end.


DIY fairy tale

Sometimes, driving, you hear a tiny part of a news story, just enough to jolt your mind, but, you never hear the resolution, so, a half story, a partial image stays with you and sometimes becomes a piece of fiction.
Yesterday, I heard such a piece, a woman in the North of England, on trial for possibly, allegedly, starving her child to death and the body, almost mummified, still in the cot 2 years after his death.

This is almost a fairy story, but, you, the reader, make decisons, set the path, choose your route at each fork.

Once upon a time,
far far away or in the kingdom of long ago or in a town of dark satanic mills or round the corner where the poor people live or in the house next to yours where the curtains are never drawn
there lived
a sad princess or an evil witch or a woman in league with the devil or a victim of the legacy of Thatchers’ Britian or someone who should have known better
her home was
the darkest tower in the darkest corner of the dark. dark castle or a cottage where briars and brambles grew, engulfed the windows or the attic of a home where everyone ignored the noises that came creeping downwards or that house, the house with a fridge in the garden, the dog at the gate, barking and barking and barking
and she was blessed or cursed with
a golden haired son or a noble little princeling or a secubus, suckling or a changeling, lying blank-eye in the crib or a baby who cried and cried or something, something else, that she forgot to take care of
and she
rose with the larks or lay under a spell, eyes too heavy to lift or shouted out at the voices in her head, when it all got too loud or measured her days in spliff and rock and cheap, cheap wine or moved the piles of paper, the rotting bin bags, backwards and forward, trying to make a space
the baby or changeling or seccubus
lit up the world with his smile or judged and cursed her with his dark reptillian eyes or lolled in the cot, too small, too weak to make any noise but a mewling, but even that felt too loud
and then one day
he kissed his mother and went out into the world to slay or one dark night the faries came and stole him away or finally sated, on leather wings, stomach heavy with her milk, he flew, slowly, unsteadily into the dark or face presed against the bars of the cot , that cot, his cries grew so faint that finally they made only a sound memory, unremembered
and then
the beautiful princess stood at the top of the tower, waving her silken handerkerchief or the evil witch laughed and in the woods the wolves joined in or the woman, released from her secubus’s hunger fell, drained onto a nest of rags or tugging her hair tighter into a scrunchie, face pulled straight, she sat wishing she had money for the meter or closing the bedroom door, skirting the lpiles of clothes and bags and something worse that filled the stairs, she picked up her mobile and ordered a pizza, extra hot, no anchovies
time passed or time passed or time passed
then one bright day, there came a knocking on the door
a wandering peddlar, laden with a sack of gaudy treasures or a woodcutter, carrying a tiny wooden boy or a neighbour, complaining again about the barking dog, the smell, oh that smell or an almost proper police woman – hi viz marking her out before she even enters the street
and then it all falls apart
the princess falls from the tower, head smashes on rock, golden hair fanning behind her or the dragon, tiring of the games of maidens and warriors, opens his mouth and devours, teeth splintering on bones or a doctor, afraid to put her bag down, clutches it to her chest, tries to step over the piles and heaps and holds her hand over her nose to mask the stench or a husband stands, rabbit in the headlights, keeps saying.. I knew nothing, I knew nothing
and finally, the big finish
The princess is buried in a glass coffin, hard to see where coffin ends and tears begin or the villagers, pitchfork armed, torches blazing drag the witch towards the pond or facing the mirror for the last time, truth outed, empty glass smashes images into smithereens or at the end of a search, the tiny bundle, bones and bear, actually unbearable is carried from the home.

The End


You can take the girl out of the cinders…..

Cinderella drops her head, a terrible combination of guilt, embarrassment and anger at having been caught, yet again.
The woman, girl really. standing in front of her, extends her hands,cupped together, skin chapped, reddened, palms calloused and Cinderella drops the tiny fireplace brush and pan into cupped palms.
She tries to smile at the girl, make some sort of connection, but the drawing room housemaid simply sniffs, turn on her heels and leaves the room.

Cinderella sinks miserably onto the pale yellow silk day bed and a fat tear falls onto the fabric, causing immediate water damage, damage that should, if it is to avoid leaving permanent marks, be dealt with now,but she remembers other attempts to enter the staff quarters in search of cleaning products and so she stays still, slumped in misery, watching as her tears mix with the coal dust on her face to leave sooty damp smudges on the bodice of her dress.

She tries hard to ignore the fireplace itself, tries to not see the fluff, the badly swept corners, the tiny bits of coal left behind when all it needed was a quick brush, a tidy up, a few seconds of spick and span-ness.

She sighs, this is not how she thought it would be, back in the day, when it was all about the dancing and the parties and the shoes and the dress and him, of course, the prince and happy ever after.

She got swept up in it all, the fairy tale ending and yes, there was pleasure in beating her step sisters, coming out on top, but no-one told her about the boredom, the empty days, the nothing to do and so much time to do it in.

There are so many servants and all of them charged with her well being and it seems, personally offended if she tries to do anything for her-self.
So, someone dresses her, someone else undresses her, there is a maid whose only job is to care for her clothes, someone else to brush her hair, even the tiny lap dog is not really hers to care for, there is a boy who walks and groom the pet and hands it her only when it is spotless and be- ribboned.

More and more, Cinderella finds herself harking back to the days before all of this, the days when the kitchen was full of noise and warmth and conversation and laughter, her and cook, stealing the best slices of meat before the plate was sent upstairs for the family, the cook impersonating the step sisters, getting their voices just right and both sitting at the end of a day, hot milk and the sense of work well done.

Cinderella remembers the boy, Buttons, flirting across the wash tub, eyes on her, even when she only owned one dress and laughing and the pleasure of a stolen kiss or a stolen apple.

She remembers the work, knows that she is mis-remembering it, cutting out the days when she ached, when she was tired, cold, when the step sisters teased her, when she felt so alone, dozing next to the fireplace, waiting for something to happen.
But the work had it’s own rythmn, it’s own pleasures, doing something right, keeping the dirt and dust at bay.

This is not what she expected, not what she hoped for, all the time ago, when the clock struck 12 and she ran as fast as she could but knew that she would not, could not out-run him, not at the end of the story.

She drags herself back into the present, into today and looks at herself in the mirror, her reflection is elegant, dressed in a fashionable pale green, her skin is white, hair gleams, brows carefully shaped, lips delicately colored.

She doesn’t recognize herself at all, the french clock chimes, 12 o clock.
In a few moments, someone will come and suggest that she changes her clothing so that she can join her husband, her prince, for lunch.

She wonders what would happen if she simply refused.


The Seal Wife – version 2

I want to take this story and re-write it as a performance piece.
Feedback would be welcome.

The fisherman is all alone and his heart is cold, frozen, he is brusque, distant and fearful that he will become like the icy wind, the stormy sea, he goes in search of a wife.

He brings her back, dark haired, eyes like sloes, sleek skinned, fleshy, the women of his village see her for what she is.

Behind his back, behind their hands, they whisper
“Seal wife”

But to their faces they are kind, welcoming, they know that they cannot warm the ice at the centre of his heart, they know, though many of them have tried to kindle a little warmth, a little taste of spring, they know that they have failed.

At first, all is well,

The winter storms come, the sea too fierce for the little wooden boats that huddle together in the tiny harbour.

The seal wife has brought wedding gifts;
A wooden chair painted periwinkle blue,
A cooking pot so shiny it fills the room with light
A quilt stuffed with goose feathers, patches of red, gold, green, flashes of summer colour to trick the eyes and heart.

The fisherman and his wife stay indoors buried under the feather quilt, lsitening to the wind howling around the flint covered cottage.
The seal wife opens her arms to him, envelops him in her soft giving body, he feels his heart thaw, his body warm.

Then one morning, the winds drop, the sea is calm and the fisherman leaves the bed that smells of her, leaves their tiny home and prepares to catch the fish.

The seal wife clings to him, weeps, says that the sea is tricking him, that the storm will come back.
At first he is kind, but finally exasperated, he pushes her away, pushes hard and walks toward the harbour.

As he walks he feels the icy coldness grip at his heart again, feels fear, wonders if love has made him less that he used to be, wonders if he can still do battle with the waves and wind and snow.

His is the only boat to leave the shore and as he leaves the little harbour, he turns and sees her, his seal wife, pacing on the shore, her keening louder even than the seagulls screams.

The sailing is easy, the sea gentle, the wind kind and the little boat cuts through the swell, heading for the winter shoals.
The fisherman laughs at the wind, but the wind is only waiting, waiting to trick him and it begins to blow, pushing him out towards the rocks and the fisherman laughs again
“You’re strong, but I’m smart and he tacks against it, heading back to the shore.
And all the time he can feel her eyes, her sloe black eyes burning into him.

The wind is waiting and the wind is watching and it comes round from the west and takes the little boat further and further out to sea.

The fisherman tries everything to escape the storm , but he is cannot fight it, the wind too strong and he feels the cold grow in his heart and he is afraid and he remembers the warmth of his seal wife and the warmth of the bed and the smell of their lovemaking and he prepares to die.

And at that moment on the shore, she stiffens, her head comes up and for just a moment, she pauses and remembers the periwinkle blue chair, the shiny cooking pot, the warmth of their quilt and his weight on her and then she dives.

Into the crashing, grey waves and as she dives she becomes her self, her true self, her true aquatic self and her sloe black eyes are fixed on the tiny wooden boat and the fisherman feels her coming and a warmth grows in him and he knows that he will not die.

Not today.

And when the storm abates and the other fisherman go out to find him, they see his boat, mast snapped, rudder lost and in the stern, curled up, is the fisherman.


And next to him and over him is a seal, keeping him warm, keeping him safe.

But she, is quite, quite dead and the settling snow is almost melted on her back.


Snow white, ruby red.

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
They see me at the mirror, hour after hour in close contemplation.
I know they think me vain, shallow, a woman obsessed with surface,
but they are wrong, I’m not beguiled by own face,my own form, this is not vanity,there is nothing superficial about this, this is the mapping of the beginning of the end of beauty.

The mirror knows the routine, a long measuring gaze and then a pause and then, the question
“mirror, mirror on the wall, who IS the fairest of them all?”

And as the years go by, the pause becomes longer, more fear filled, the question asked with eyes closed as if not seeing will make the answer more easy to hear.

After all, the mirror can only speak the truth and I have waited so long for this new truth,have rehearsed in my head how it will feel, how I will act, what will happen next?

Time passes , the ritual continues and yes, I have tried to cheat just a little, heavy velvet curtains to cut out the unforgiving daylight, candles strategically placed, creams and potions that promise to reverse the irreversible.

Oddly, though, I never really ask myself why I allow this to continue, why I torture myself, why I don’t simply smash the the glass, draw back the drapes, open the windows, start to live?

Trapped in our narratives, she and I travelling towards this moment, this point, this truth.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all ?”

A pause, heavy with everything I have feared for so long

“Snow white is far more lovely than you, Oh queen”

And only then, do I find the strength to hurl a goblet, glass on glass, sharp shards scattered, his voice stilled, but the sentence hangs…..

I call for the Huntsman, my lover, my obedient servant and set him the task.
It’s easy, straightforward, I send him off before he can see what the mirror shows.
His hands are greedy, needy on my body, grasping for comfort, for reassurance of the rightness of this act.
I let him know how grateful I will be ………………afterwards.

Alone, I sit on the floor, broken glass all around me, there is enough mirror left in the frame to reflect a thousand refracted broken me’s, all staring back, all waiting for it to be over, this time.



The Seal Wife

This is a little departure from the other pieces in this category, its not a post-modern take or a re-telling of a traditional tale, instead, it’s my interpretation of an old fisher mans’ tale – based on a Newfoundland version of the story.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a young fisherman who was all alone in the world. There was no mother, wife, sister or daughter to stand on the shore when his little boat struck out to sea, no woman to watch the horizon, a hand shading her eyes from the sun, waiting for his safe return.

This loneliness cut coldly to his very quick, made him brusque, distant and one day, fearful that his heart would freeze forever, he went away to find a woman to be his wife.

He brought her back, dark haired, eyes like sloes, sleek skinned, fleshy.

The women of his village looked at her and knew her for what she was, but they understood his hunger and besides he was one of their own and they wanted to be kind.

At first, the marriage went well, the winter storms came, the sea too fierce for the little boats which huddled together in the rough, tiny harbor.

The fisherman and his seal wife stayed indoors, buried under the feather counterpanes, listening to the wind howling around the little cottage. The seal wife opened her arms to him, wrapped him in her soft, giving body and he felt his heart defrost, his body warm.
It was as if spring had come.

And then one day, the winds dropped, the sea was calm and the fisherman left her arms, left her bed, prepared to catch the fish.

The seal wife wept, clung to him, begged him not to go, told him that the storms would come back, that it was too dangerous.

At first he was kind, tried to comfort her but finally, exasperated, he pushed her hard, pushed her away and walked towards the shore.

As he walked, he felt the warmth in his heart, wondered for a moment if she had unmanned him, made him somehow less than he had been, made him fearful of the waves.

His was the only boat to leave the harbor that day and as he set off for the fishing grounds, he turned to the shore and saw her, pacing the shore, her keening audible above the sea gulls.

The sailing was easy, the wind gentle, pushing him away from land, the sail puffed out, the boat cutting through the swell.

But the wind, the wind was only waiting, tricking him and it began to blow harder pushing him away from the safety of the shore.
The fisherman laughed at the wind
“You are strong, but I am smart” and he began to tack against it, heading back towards the shore
” Watch me now wind ” he shouted
But the wind, the wind was watching and it began to blow hard and fast and strong, pushing the little boat out towards the rocks.
The fisherman tried everything, zig zagging across the currents, but the wind was too strong and the fisherman too exhausted and knew he could do nothing more.

The wind brought its friends, snow and hail and rain and the fisherman was frozen and close to death.

He took down the sail and wrapped himself in it
” Sail, keep me warm” he said ” I am dying” and he lay in the bottom of the boat waiting for death.

And at that moment, standing on the shore, the seal wife heard his dying breath and with one movement she was in the sea and as she hit the salt water, she changed, became her aquatic self, swimming towards her husband.

The wind saw her coming and was angry, but she was stronger and she drew nearer the tiny boat and he saw her coming, her sloe black eyes fixed upon him and he felt the warmth grow in his heart once more.

The next morning, storm abated, the other fisherman found the boat drifting, sail less, rudderless, peaceful on the calming sea and in the boat, the fisherman, asleep, wrapped in the sailcloth, a big furry seal covering his body, keeping him safe.

Her back was covered in snow and she was quite, quite dead.

Hansel and Gretel.

There are times when I really hate this job, the things you have to see, the stories you hear, the dark places it takes you to.
Most of the time, I know not to engage, not to listen too carefully, not to buy into the sob stories that come as part of the territory.
But sometimes, just sometimes, even when you think you’ve been careful, kept the boundaries, observed the rules, a bit of someone else’s shabby little life worms its way into your dreams, your nightmares.

I knew this was going to be a bad one, right from when we got the call, 2 minors, reported missing, maybe abducted months ago, dead old lady and of course the parents claiming innocence.

You think you’ve seen everything in this job, but I tell you straight, this one, this one was weird.

For a start off, there’s the house, barley sugar railings, toffee roof, gingerbread walls or at least painted to look that way, but really convincing. I could see my colleague do a double take, he stretched out his hand when he thought I wasn’t looking, touched the railings, casually licks his finger, the fool.

What kind of weirdo decorates their house to look like some kind of cake?

Answer, the kind of weirdo who wants children to knock on their door of course.

For a few seconds I wondered if the Childcatcher had changed his MO, stopped being mobile, but then I remembered that he was still banged up after the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang caper.

So, this was a new perp, another sicko on our patch of the enchanted forest. I sighed, took out my notebook, went off to interview the kids, the innocent victims in all of this.

And that’s where it started getting a really dark and let’s face it, I know dark.
The kids, boy and a girl were siting on a rock, just staring at all the uniforms and the officials, but blank faced, typical victims, or so I thought and then they both turned and looked at me and I tell you,I felt my soul go cold.

But, I’m an experienced investigator, so I ignored the hairs on the back of my neck and I started the questions.
The kids were plain, almost ugly, the girl was thin, stringy, mousey hair scraped back, she had that wirey strength you see sometimes. She reminded me of one of those worker ants, the ones that can carry 10 times their own weight.
The boy was completely different, soft, doughy, his eyes hidden in folds of fat. He was so pale that I could almost imagine him actually made of uncooked bread.

I tried to hide my prejudices, fat kids, plain kids, they could be victims too. My job was to get the story down, reunite them with their family, set up a happy ever after.

So, the kids told their story, it was all the usual stuff;
Lost in the forest
House made of cake
Slave labour
Possible cannibalism

Like I said, same old, same old , although this one had a few twists, seemed this perp was a feeder too and unlike most of the victims we rescued, these two had taken things into their own hands, didn’t feel like they needed rescuing at all.

In fact, by the time we rolled up, well lets just say that their perp was quite literally toast. Forensics were creaming themselves, nothing they like more than a really complicated stiff.

So, I kept on with my questions and for a while it seemed that the kids didn’t want to say why they were wandering in the unfashionable end of the magic woods, but part of me could feel the manipulation, the double bluff.
They wanted, needed me to know the whole saga, but they also wanted to be good little boys and girls, not the sort who rat on their parents soon as look at them.

So, I got the sorry story….the starving family, the wicked stepmother, the abandonment , not once but twice, the piteous trail of stones and finally the tragic waifs falling asleep in the forest.

But, I could feel another story, not as straightforward, not the one the children wanted me to hear, I guessed it went something like this;

A remarried husband
A starving family, all stories have some truth in them
Stepchildren, quick to judge, to complain
A second marriage faltering
Desperate measures

I never got to hear her version, the wicked stepmother.
The father appeared at the crime scene, very much alone, very much the grieving parent.
Scooped up his children, headed back to the lonely woodcutters’ cottage.

Both of them stared at me from over his shoulder, faces blank, careful, considering.

I walked back to the station, handed in my badge, lost my taste for gingerbread.