Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales Paperback (15 page)

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her ears. Then a disturbance in the dirt, a writhing, then four nubs appeared, then eight, like pink growing tendrils of an unpleasant

plant.

He rose up naked and fully erect.

He fell upon his bread lady, roaring, biting, thrusting, filled with lust and fury. Doe looked away and she thought,
I will tell her I
understand. What woman could lie with this man and ever feel clean
again?

He fell upon his dough-wife, the Lady Bread, and his sweat, his

juice, the dampness of the air, helped to dissolve the bread into a

pale mush. He did not seem to care. He stood up, shook himself like

a dog, then nodded and sank into his grave.

All at once, sound returned; the rustling leaves, the howling dogs,

and Doe felt that she could leave.

In the morning, the only tragedy found was Mrs. Crouch, strangled

with her own hands clenched around her neck, her eyes wide, tears

dried in a map across both cheeks.

There was reward to be had though.

On clearing the Crouch’s house, their secret fortune was found,

and this was shared amongst them all. Not only that, but for a dozen years to come the crops grew tall and golden and brought good

fortune to them all.

As for Doe . . . as her mother aged, they looked for a baker to take her place. One day he came to them, and Doe felt soft on the inside

as she had never felt before.

His hands were warm and she could feel her flesh shift at his touch.

He could mold dough like an artist and needed only four hours sleep

a night.

All the village was happy for their Doe.

• 125 •

• Born and Bread •

And that is all to explain why, each year on December the twenty-

first, the villagers all buy the perfect Lady Bread, thus bringing good luck upon themselves and upon the village and all who pass through

her.

••

Kaaron Warren
has lived in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, and Fiji, She’s sold many short stories, three novels (the multi-award-winning
Slights
,
Walking the Tree,
and
Mistification
) and four short story collections. Two of her collections have won the ACT Publishers’ and Writers’ Award for fiction, and her most recent collection,
Through
Splintered Wal s
, won a Canberra Critic’s Circle Award for Fiction and is shortlisted for nine Australian SF awards. Her stories have

appeared in Australia, the U.S., the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, and have been selected for both Ellen Datlow’s and Paula Guran’s “year’s best” anthologies.

You can find her at kaaronwarren.wordpress.com and she tweets

@KaaronWarren.

••

• 126 •


The story “Tales That Fairies Tell” seemed like a natural for me.

The invitation to contribute to this anthology came as I was

working on a collection of modern, feminist-centered fairy tales —

The Queen, the Cambion and Seven Others
: eight fairy tales generously illustrated with art by Arthur Rackham and Gustave Doré. Recently

published by Aqueduct Press, it also includes my essay, “A Secret

History of Small Books,” tracing the path of literary fairy tales back to the late seventeenth century and Charles Perrault’s
Histoires ou
contes du temps passé
, in which Puss—featured in this story—makes a memorable first appearance.

Richard Bowes


• 129 •

Tales That Fairies Tell


Richard Bowes

1.

“In the old world years ago,” said the Cat, “monarchs were

plentiful, Mortals and Fairies co-mingled, dragons flew and

animals spoke; witches, ogres, dragons, a host of magic creatures

roamed the countryside, and a cat could stare at a king.”

The Cat spoke to Julian in the midst of a mad collage of a dream.

He’d had a few of these recently and would wake up trying to grab

some of the details. This one began in his stepmother’s loveless

suburban kitchen in New Hope. But instead of his father and

stepmother with their respective despair and hostility he saw the

figure everyone in New York (the Big Arena as it was called) desired or at least wanted to be seen with at that moment.

The artist/couturier Clemenso sat naked and looked right past

Julian as everybody did. Clemenso’s Crisis Fashion Show was also

in the dream. Models covered head to toe in bullet-resistant fabrics filed past his fridge.

There was more. But during it all, only the Cat—better known

as Puss—spoke. He sat on the lap of the infamous and beautiful

Veronessa who, in turn, sat under a basketball net suspended from a

gold hoop at the gym-themed Park Avenue High and delivered his

little speech.

Always after these dreams Julian would awake wanting to grab

and preserve details and always they evaporated at his touch.

• 131 •

• Tales That Fairies Tell •

This time they stuck, even made a certain sense when Julian awoke

in the dark. Not many hours before he had seen Puss and Veronessa

in just that pose and place. Veronessa was tall, with a cloud of pale red hair. Her blog,
Tales That Fairies Tell
(
TTFT
), was the hottest tip and scandal site in the Big Arena. It featured a running commentary

on Fairy Godmothers, who had them and who didn’t.

Everyone said Puss was her pet. A few hinted it was the opposite

way around. But none disputed that she wore clothes better than

anyone else in the Arena and could command a spotlight. Her

costume that evening at Park Avenue combined a lightweight bomb

fragment-resistant jacket—its blue matched her eyes—and gray/

black city camouflage slacks.

Julian wore a class of 1958 U.S. High School gym uniform, the

prescribed outfit for waiters at Park Avenue High—1958 had been

last autumn’s discovery and was tired. It was easy to know what was

passé but those said to have zeitgeist antenna, who could sense the

next new thing, were treated as sacred prophets.

Julian was waiting on one said to possess that skill. Jack Reynard,

an impresario also known as “the Fox,” was there with a party. About Reynard someone had said, “Cold whimsy is his style: he works

with a chuckle and a blade between the ribs.” His current project—

Macabre Dance, ballets about the famous deaths and mutilations of

dancers—had the aura of a sure thing.

Julian saw no way he could be part of that scene. He was not

graceful and members of Reynard’s party seemed amused by even

the sight of his bare knees. So his attention was fixed on Puss.

Julian had heard stories of Veronessa bringing the Cat right into

places that didn’t admit pets because she was Veronessa and he was

extraordinary. So the first sighting of what seemed a plain black and gray tabby was a disappointment. Puss looked as if he owned the

place. But what cat doesn’t?

In the dream Puss was much larger and stared right at Julian. In

real life he hadn’t deigned to do that. Nor had he spoken.

Julian opened his eyes and immediately looked at his palm

• 132 •

• Rick Bowes •

(as everyone did on waking) to see if there were messages in his

implanted feed. There were none. Julian gazed around the two-

room studio on the twenty-fourth floor of a Chelsea high/low (high

floor/low rent) with uncertain heat, hot water, air conditioning,

and elevator service. He shared the place with a waitress/composer,

a pedicab driver/dancer, and a tour guide/filmmaker. All four had

come from various bankrupted suburban towns or small wrecked

cities hoping to snatch a crown out of the gutter.

Lack of success and poverty had not united them. None of his

roommates were close enough to Julian that he could wake any of

them up and tell them his dream.

Then, suddenly, the Cat was back, ears twitching. Julian realized

that what he was seeing wasn’t a dream but a kind of vision that was being sent to him somehow. Puss said, “My tale was born around fires in caves, given form before the hearth and came of age in palaces

without an unscented breath of air. It has entertained sophisticated adults and small children for centuries.”

The tabby’s tail switched back and forth. “In the past I’ve swallowed monsters whole to help certain mortals whom I loved. Who knows

what wonders are yet to unfold?”

The pedicab driver snored in the background as Julian watched

Puss who regarded him through slitted eyes. “Whatever shall I do

with this one?” he asked.

Veronessa was no larger than the Cat who sat beside her. “He’s

nothing special,” she replied, propped on a pile of gosling down pillows and seemingly amused. “Okay-looking but not compelling. He isn’t

someone who’d succeed without a lot of help. The simplest way would

be what you do most easily: a quick pounce, a bit of play, and done.”

The Cat ignored her. “It’s easy to get attached to the memory of

one’s first pet. Mine was a wonderful young oaf without an idea or

plan. His imagining he was my owner was what charmed me most. I

get sentimental about those who remind me of him.”

Veronessa shrugged. Puss stretched and bared his claws. “Cardinal

Richelieu had a litter of kittens in a basket in his study at all times.

• 133 •

• Tales That Fairies Tell •

He found their antics amusing, and a distraction from the bloody

murder of running France. When the kittens grew up he gave them

as presents to favorites who cherished them.”

“As a pet,” she said, “everyone will say that this one seems an odd

and boring choice.”

“They said that about me when we first went out in public,” he

replied. “And will say the same about you when they know me a little better.”

2.

Next morning, Julian woke up late and alone. His roommates were

all at work. As he showered and shaved he remembered the Cat and

Veronessa clearly. He wondered if he was crazy and if the insanity

could be used artistically.

He left the apartment, descended in an unreliable elevator. As New

York approached the mid-twenty-first century, artists were abundant

and some were even talented. Though much of the city’s wealth was

lost, most of its towers remained and the classier neighborhoods

still blazed with nighttime light. In those enclaves the beautiful and desperate mingled with the famous and wealthy.

The city was, as always, restless, hard to please, and easy to bore.

Painters, chefs, comedians, dancers, actors, and even writers were

each worshipped in their turn and then abandoned.

Julian hurried to work hoping he could get a coffee and roll out

of the kitchen before his afternoon shift. Instead, when he came in

the door, the maître d’ immediately sent him to the manager’s office.

The manager, a brute of a woman, said, “Don’t bother changing into

uniform.” When he asked why, she answered, “Customer complaint

from last night. You ignored a request so he had to ask twice. That’s once too often and one complaint to many.”

“I don’t remember there being another one,” he said.

She replied, “Precisely.” He started to argue, but the large blank-

faced man who escorted unimportant guests out the door when they

misbehaved did the same for Julian.

• 134 •

• Rick Bowes •

He walked home in a dull panic. Thinking about the night before, he

could imagine only one incident that could have produced a complaint.

Jack Reynard had snapped his fingers to get Julian’s attention away

from Veronessa and Puss. The Fox had been irritated. He had gestured across the gym floor where a three-on-three basketball game was

taking place. These were regular, staged events: shirts vs. skins. This time two of the skins were female one was male.

“One of my guests prefers the skins be all boys,” said Reynard.

It took Julian a few long moments to realize this was a command

not an idle wish. Only then did he bow and go to find the maitre d’

with the Fox’s orders.

It had cost him his job. He was broke and alone.

Julian had been on the lookout for the next cutting-edge

phenomenon since coming to the city. BIG, at the moment, was Crisis

Fashion with its respirators built into collars and tops so silken it was impossible to believe they stopped bullets. But its hold was shaky.

Julian was an artist, but he had discovered he was no designer;

he lacked both the instinct needed to tell him how far to go and the nerve to go an inch or two farther. Nor could he model clothes to any effect. “Buyers don’t really see you and they certainly don’t see what you’re wearing,” a very thin and bald agent once told him.

BOOK: Once Upon a Time: New Fairy Tales Paperback
12.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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