Gretel

Judy Labensohn

House

A. My upstairs neighbor heard voices in the walls. The voices called her at night, but she didn’t get their language. A light fixture fell in the hallway. She was told to shake sage in the corners, to open all windows and chant Aramaic words she didn’t understand.
It worked.

B. During the year of my cancer I saw a gingerbread house at the home of a Christian woman. I wanted to dive into that house. The woman said, “Taste whatever you want,” so I nibbled religion.

C. Each time I move into a new rental I hang up a mezuzah on the right side of the doorpost, a hamsa on the left, the evil eye amulet opposite the entrance and Madonna and Child against the books.

Forest

A. I grew up in a primeval forest before a rich man turned it into a suburb. Cries of murdered trees seeped through the linoleum kitchen tiles.

B. When my father made me feel like a cornered ant, I ran out of the house without a coat. I hugged the lone elm on the tree lawn while gentle rain caressed my hair and the elm, like a blessing, hugged back.

C. I gave my neighbor a black and white photo of trunks of stiff pines. Between the pines lay gray underbrush and small black stones. When I visit my neighbor I allow myself to relax into that emptiness.

Family

A. Mom whittled away her time at the beauty shop, while Grandma made goulash and rolled cheese blintzes. When a friend came to play, Grandma stood there peeking through fake Greek columns. I wanted to kill the witch.

B. Once an uncle bounced me on his knees. “You are so cute,” he said, “I want to eat you up.” In his mouth two fillings shone like my gold barrettes.

C. In a family of five, when one dies how many are left?

Food

A. During the Depression my father starved. Thirty years later the two-door yellow fridge bulged with JELL-O and butter. Then it was my turn.

B. My children complained There is nothing to eat. I emptied the fridge to show them empty, then the cupboard to demonstrate bare.

C. When they did not leave home by eighteen, I filled their pockets with breadcrumbs. Still they would not leave.
So I left home.
I wandered in a forest hugging trees until I came to the sweet house of a witch.
She looked like me.

When I finally returned, the children were gone.

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