wicked alice| fall 2011
Little Red Riding Hood
Oh sweet little red, if we just change your hue,
there are myriad things you canít do we can do.
You know our tendency to revise the past: at the end
of The Little Mermaid Ariel kicks the bucket, vilely, but
we tell kids what kids need to hear. She lives, loves. Recall
now Cinderella, whose poor sisters take knives to their feet, slice
their own toes away, that the stubs might slide into
glass slippers like butter. You know the drill: innocence
wins. Red and grandmother make it out alive, scared but alive,
load that sucker down with rocks. Good triumphs; the ever-after is
as happy as ever-afters get. But you think youíre one
step ahead here. You know the real ending, gross and gory.
Maybe youíre even aware of the version with a slice of sexual.
Think thatís the real ending. And it is. But what youíve missed is
the beginning, and so youíve missed the pointónamely,
how Red and company were looking for an exit, concocted
a plan to lure that wolf with jelly-slathered biscuits, whistling
for him to come on out from the deep darkness of the woods. Red,
standing there, singing in a voice thick as molasses, making
that irresistible ďcome hitherĒ motion, rolling finger by juicy pink
finger. She coaxed that creature, swiveled those jelly-biscuits under
his wet and wanting nose. How she begged him to come home with her,
offered him all sorts of sweet pieces. Ask yourself: how
can a wolf refuse a gesture like that? You know the answer:
he canít. Red and grandma knew it, too, begged him to take a bite,
to put an end to it. But donít stop there. Itís tempting, I know. Resist.
Ask questions. Just donít ask why these stories get watered
down. Donít ask who does the watering. None of that matters.
What matters is this: there once was a little girl, a girl sad enough
to invite death, but doubtful enough to have sweet grandma go first.
I have said before, Iím sorry, Iím just timid with someone new.
I have said it, and I have kept a list of those who have heard me say it.
I have kept itóthis listóand I have kept it updated, and in mind.
Really, it is a Word document with a coding system cataloguing
who, exactly, got what of me, and when. It was Darleneís idea.
The list keeps growing, she said, but our memories remain
small, false, and isnít this something we should keep straight?
So I got to cataloguing and having something to catalogue,
to saying blank statements on shyness. And I have said things
too private, and now Iíve said these things to too manyó
the grand emotional gestures, and the almost-whispered
admittance of self-hatred. And itís not that theyíre lies,
theyíre just a little less full each time spoken. But the air
can never hold them, just as I cannot, so they exist now
in the minds of those I told, those I bore and bared myself to.
And these minds are connected to heads connected to bodies
in four states across the US, and on European nation.
But now I have no right of use, of entry, to these lives
as they carry my echoes through aisles of Whole Foods,
of Winn-Dixie, of Shoprite, Meijer, El Corte Ingles.
Mary and Math
Picture a bright red bird dipping down from the sky
and its churn of clouds. Picture it landing on the grass
twenty or so paces away from where you are picnicking.
Perhaps its round figure touches two dozen blades
of grass; perhaps it touches more. What matters is,
technically, the birdís body-mass rests on one blade.
If you were to spell it out mathematically, you could
pinpoint the one blade at the birdís center of gravity.
This is all to say: What were the odds of the red bird
landing on that specific blade, out of all the ones
within eyeshot? Infinitesimal. Yet it did. Consider this
logic when something happens, and someone says
something went wrong when really everything went as
could have been predicted if that someone had just been
paying more attention. If that someone hadnít been
so busy all the time and had been better about looking
after her daughters. That is, weíre talking about math.
So say you want to know what it means when a girl gets
knocked up and her mother finds out one Tuesday and
is angry, scolds her, and says, Mary, I do not understand how
this happened; itís a one-in-a-million chance. The mother who
said that probably meant it without actually meaning it
because she was upset and you let her down again, but
sheís just laying the foundation for analysis by probability.
It will make you feel a little better to think this way. Try.
Englandís current population is about 20 million. Assume
this event happens to one person in every million this year,
and assume half the residents of England are female.
You can logically reason 10 English teenage girls will get
pregnantóaccidentally, mind youóthis year. Which is
to say it is going to happen to 10 British girls this year,
which is to say it has to, okay? Donít say these things
donít normally happen to someone my age because
they do; here are numbers, Iíve given you numbers.
And itís not a fault thing, and itís not a virtue thing,
itís a numbers thing, and it was an accident.
Jessica Young's Pushcart-nominated work has appeared most recently in Copper Nickel, Versal, and Cold Moutain Review. She held the Zell Fellowship for poetry in Ann Arbor, MI after completing her MFA (poetry) at the University of Michigan, where she received two Hopwoods and the 2010 Moveen Residency. Her undergraduate work was at MIT.