Tammy Dominguez–The Truth About Hansel & Gretel
Hedda lived in the Black Forest, far from any of the villagers in the nearby village of Darnshagen. She liked the quiet, the solitude. However, she loved children. They didn’t come often, but when they did, she made it a point to make their dreams come true. She spent countless hours covering her small cottage with colorful, sugary confections which she baked in her own kitchen. Cooking was her passion.
Her house was a testimony to her skill and her enthusiasm in the kitchen. The old stones were covered with gingerbread bricks. The cornices were long strands of licorice. The windowsills were boxes of gingerbread filled with flowers made of jelly beans, gumdrops and lollipops. The bushes lining the front path were cotton candy and marshmallows. The stones themselves were thin pieces of caramel. The door was solid chocolate.
One day, as she was baking sugar cookies, she heard children’s voices. She was very excited and rushed to the door, wiping her hands on her apron. She threw open the door and two small children stood there, looking worn and neglected. Their clothes were dirty, their hair disheveled, and they looked quite skinny. “Oh, dears! Please come in,” cried Hedda.
She learned their names were Hansel and Gretel. They claimed to be lost in the woods. They hadn’t eaten for a long time. Although desserts were Hedda’s personal favorites as well as her specialty, she knew these children needed true nourishment. She made a big pot of rabbit stew and vegetables from her garden and fed the children huge bowls of the hot liquid with fresh bread from her oven. As they ate, they talked. Something tugged at Hedda’s mind; something didn’t quite seem right with their story. But, after all, she didn’t know them, and they had traveled far and been through some difficulties. Who was she to judge?
After the wholesome meal, she gave them iced sugar cookies for dessert. She ran them hot baths, took their soiled clothes, washed them, and hung them to dry on the lines out back of her cottage. She loaned the children fresh, white nightgowns and tucked them into her own down-filled bed. She covered them with a heavy quilt that her grandmother had made. She would sleep in the rocking chair tonight.
In the morning, she awoke late. After all, she’d been up hours past her normal bedtime, washing the children’s clothes, making a meat pie for the morrow and cleaning her kitchen. It seemed too quiet in the home. No pitter-patter of little feet. No laughing. No voices. Nothing. The children’s clothing was gone. Her cookies were gone. So was her antique gold looking glass that had belonged to her grandfather. And the coins her uncle Fritz had given her from the war! The pearl necklace from her mother! “Oh, dear!” she cried. Why would they do this to her? Why would they repay her kindness with thievery?
She went out the back door to her stone bench. She sat down and cried. Before long, her dearest friends surrounded her, nudging her with their warm noses and thick fur. Fox. Rabbit. Deer. Robin. Possum. Badger. Wolf. Bear. They decided in unison to help her. They ran!
A few hours later, she heard children screaming in terror. She threw open the front door and in ran Hansel and Gretel. They dropped a satchel and out spilled her treasures. They slammed the door and barricaded it with her old rocking chair. Hansel ran to the kitchen and grabbed the biggest knife she had. He moved towards her. She put her hands up, as if to ward him off. “Hansel,” she pleaded, “please, no.” Hedda looked at Gretel for assistance. Gretel had a heavy cast iron skillet in her hand.
“Into the oven, old woman!”
“Please,” begged Hedda.
“Now,” shouted Gretel.
“We’re making the snacks today,” said Hansel.
Hedda didn’t know what else to do. She opened the door to her oven and gingerly positioned herself on her side, tucked her knees up to her chest. She prayed as the children closed the door. She saw Hansel fidgeting with the burner knobs. Immediately, she felt the warmth. The oven was heating up! “Oh, dear,” she thought, “these are my last moments.” She could see through the glass door, the children were leaving. Gretel picked up the satchel. The heavy chocolate door closed behind them. Hedda tried to push the door open, but to no avail. She began to feel feverish. Her mind wandered. Perspiration ran down her temples to mix with the tears on her cheeks. It got darker and darker until soon Hedda was grateful for the blackness that claimed her.
Suddenly she felt a cool cloth brushing her forehead. She was lying on the kitchen floor in the arms of Leopold, the woodcutter who worked all over the Black Forest. He was pressing a cool cloth on her forehead. “Miss Hedda,” he said, “I came for the blueberry strudel you promised, and I found you in the oven.”
Hedda was overwhelmed by feelings. Sadness that the children had betrayed her. Gratitude to Leopold for saving her. Happiness she was still alive.
Unfortunately, things got worse for Hedda. The children got to the constable before she did. The local newspaper editor interviewed them and believed their completely fabricated and twisted story.
Somehow, they became the victims! Hedda was the wicked witch of the forest, with her sweet cottage laid as a trap for unsuspecting children. They even said she lured them in to cook them for her supper! Ludicrous! Preposterous! Insane! She did later learn from Leopold that the children’s own father and stepmother were at their wit’s end with those two hellions! They sent them away as the children were out of control rebels who refused to obey. The children found Hedda.
Hedda was blamed for many missing children for miles around. Because she was isolated and a loner, she had no alibi. The only thing on her side was the authorities found no evidence. No charges could be brought. But that didn’t matter. The damage was done. Hedda would forever remain the hag of the forest in everyone’s eyes.
She often caught children and even at times, adults, peering at her from the edge of her fence line with binoculars. Her privacy was gone. A tour guide even showed curiosity-seekers where she lived and charged a pretty penny to do so! The braver ones snuck up to the cottage and began breaking pieces off of her baked goods and candies as souvenirs and trinkets. Her cottage soon was a shambles on the outside. She took the remaining sweets down and fed them to her friends, the forest animals. Her cottage would have to be a plain old cottage once again.
Leopold was her only friend. He knew the truth. He believed her. One day he asked her to marry him. She decided to accept the kind, handsome widower’s invitation. It would be better to get away.
She would have a purpose again. She would cook for Leopold. She would make them a happy home. She would try and forget the day that Hansel and Gretel stumbled onto her porch.