Monday, 28 June 2021

'One Red Balloon' by Adele Evershed

Gretel arrived home without Hansel; she hadn't been able to save him and that knowledge still tortured. As she reached their neat house, the brightly lit windows blinking in surprise, and then the part of her mind she tried to pay no heed spoke. "You see, they expected you to stay lost. They are not even out looking for you". This made everything easier somehow.

As she opened the door, her stepmother rose from her chair and turned towards her. Her fat cheeks became hideously pale against the black of her dress as she stammered, 'Gretel is that really you? Where have you been all this time? Is Hansel with you?"

Ignoring the questions, Gretel stepped into the room, pulling the red balloon behind her. "What's that? Is that where you ran off? Some tawdry fair? Your father and I were worried sick. I think that's what..." but before she could continue, Gretel ran outside. Her stepmother followed, calling, "Gretel, come back." The woman's steps were slower than Gretel remembered, and when she got closer, Gretel noticed her dark hair was threaded with grey, and there were cracks around her eyes. "How do you still look so like a child?" her stepmother's voice was soft from lack of use, "I don't understand. This must be a dream, yes, just another bad dream."

Gretel smiled and offered the old woman the balloon. "I am so sorry, Gretel, for everything, but we were starving. What else could I do? But losing you chased Wheresmeine into an early grave anyway. I'm so.." but her words were lost as the balloon dragged her up into the moonless sky.

Gretel walked back into the forest, her braids untwisted, her chest swelled, and her pudgy legs lengthened as she approached her gingerbread house.

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