“A Craving,” by Jennifer Diemer
Snow knows little of the world, having spent most of her life within the safe confines of the cottage she shares with seven little men, her protectors. But every day, a young girl comes to the door, offering her an apple, and every day brings Snow one step closer to taking a bite.
(photo by pixel_unikat)
(Part of Project Unicorn: A Lesbian YA Extravaganza, updated twice weekly, on Mondays and Fridays, with a free, original, never-before-published YA short story featuring a lesbian heroine. Every story is a work of genre fiction [Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Post-apocalyptic, etc.].)
by Jennifer Diemer
Every day, she comes to the cottage door and knocks three times. Every day, I peer at her through the curtains, tell her that I can’t let her in. They’ve warned me—a hundred times, a thousand—that I mustn’t ever let her in.
And every day, she smiles at me and removes from the basket balanced on her hip one perfect red apple. So red, surprisingly red. She holds the fruit out to me, flat on her palm, just beneath my nose, and I breathe in its sweetness. My hand itches to enclose it; my teeth worry at my lips.
But, “No, thank you,” I say—every day—even though I feel weak from my longing and must duck inside, must sit down and breathe and try to forget. The little men told me that the girl is a witch, that she means to steal me away from them for some dark purpose. Sometimes I believe them, when they speak in their low soft voices and pet my head and promise to keep me safe, to protect me from the dangers of the forest.
Sometimes…at night, before sleeping; or while I’m sweeping the floor with the ragged old broom; or while I’m setting the table—eight plates, eight cups—I remember the girl and her gleaming apple, and my hand itches again, and my eyes half-close, and I think, Surely they’re mistaken. Surely she intends me no mischief. Just one bite… What harm might one small bite of apple do?
Irreparable harm, they say, when they come home from the mountains and I ask them. They make me swear again that I will not let her in, that I will not accept her fruit, that I will stay here, where I am provided warmth and food and comfort and companionship. Where I am safe, where I belong.
And I swear. I always swear. But every day, my words taste less true, like a cake stirred with salt in place of sugar. I don’t think they notice how I glance away when I make my promise, how my hands twist behind my back.
I’m waiting for her. The beds are unmade and the washing has soaked too long in the tub, but I’m perched on my stool beneath the window, back against the wall, and I’m listening for the rustle of her skirt (having caught up dead leaves in its loose hem) and for her knock.
My feet scuff against the floor, impatient. I chew my nails.
Then it comes: knock knock knock.
And, “Apples,” she calls. “Apples for sale or trade.”
I close my eyes and open them—wide. Then I stand and draw the curtains aside.
“Good afternoon,” she says, slipping the hood of her cloak back to fall upon her shoulders. Her hair is the color of honey and long enough to spill over her hips, to tangle with the rough straw of her basket.
“Good afternoon.” I regard her coolly, though my heart tumbles and my skin warms as she watches me watching her and smiles gently. “You’re late today. I thought you might not come.”
“Were you hoping I would not?” She tilts her golden head, gripping the bottom of her basket with one hand and gesturing toward the woods with the other. “Did you hope that the forest had gobbled me up?”
“No,” I whisper, startled by her words because they—the little men—have used them often themselves. If you disobey us, girl, the forest will gobble you up. We won’t be able to protect you anymore, not if you disobey. I shake my head and swallow. Perhaps it’s a common expression. I’ve spoken with so few people; I know nothing but what the little men have told me. When they found me in the forest, I was only a child, lost and crying, waist deep in snow. I would have frozen if they had not taken me in. I owe them my life, my loyalty.
The girl—the witch—clears her throat, and my gaze is drawn to the fair skin of her neck, stretched pink over her collarbones. “I have fine ripe fruits today, still warm from the sun, plucked with my own fingers.” Her eyes tease, tempt. “Tell me—would you like to buy an apple?”
“No—” I begin to say, out of habit, out of duty, but my tongue resists, falls slack, dead against my teeth. My fingers curl upon the windowsill and my mouth waters as she scoops from her basket an apple as red as hands chafed raw from too much scrubbing: my hands, reaching out now in accordance with their own secret pact. Disobeying me. Disobeying them.
The girl’s green eyes shine. The apple hovers beneath my nose, near enough to bite. “Will you?” she breathes, and she looks so hopeful, so lovely, and the sweet scent of her—no, not of her; of the fruit—makes my head dizzy, my knees weak. “Will you?” she says again, moving nearer, trampling the hedge.
But the beds are unmade. What will they have for dinner? And the washing… I must finish the washing. I must set the table and peel potatoes for soup and—
“Will you, Snow?”
“I… I promised.” My hands are fists. I take them back, push them hard into the rough edge of the windowsill. “I promised that I would—”
“Obey?” She raises one honeyed brow.
I blush and bow my head.
Then she does an odd thing. I lift my eyes and watch her breathe upon the apple in her palm and, afterward, rub its surface against her bodice, over her heart.
“What are you doing?”
Again she holds out the apple to me, and its scent fills my nostrils, makes me shiver and crave.
“Look,” she says.
I cock my head at her but peer at the fruit, and within its mirror-bright shine, I see…myself. My dark hair is piled loose atop my head, and my cheeks are flushed, my eyes black and wild.
“There is the one you must obey. Be fair to yourself, Snow. Obey your own heart.”
I look up, startled. “No, I can’t. I can’t. They saved me. They take care of me—”
“And you have thanked them in kind. There is no debt owed.”
“But…” I am standing on my stool, half out of the window, half in. “But they’ll be angry. They’ll never see me again if I…”
The apple looms large before me, filling up my sky.
“If they love you, they will come to understand.” She takes one step nearer; her body is pressed against the cottage wall. There are only bricks between us. Dull red bricks and one beautiful red apple.
This close, closer than we have ever been, she examines my face, and I examine hers. Blood quickens within me as my eyes rove the soft slope of her forehead and the place where her hair curls against her ear. She is a girl, like me, but there is a knowing, an ember in her eyes that melts the last drift of winter within me.
I lean out through the window, on tiptoes on my stool, and I bite the apple she holds in her hand.
My teeth break the skin easily. The flesh tastes like sugar. It tastes like the sun and the forest and the world. It tastes like… It tastes how I imagine, how I have always imagined…
I lean forward again, and the girl leans forward, too, and when our lips meet, I know why the little men warned me against letting her in. I know why they feared she would take me away from them.
And I know that she is not a witch, only a girl. A girl who has come to my door every day. She offered me her apples every day. And every day I refused—not because they told me not to let her in, but because I was afraid to let myself out.
I hoist myself onto the ledge, drag my skirts through the narrow opening, and fall into her arms. I feel her body fit against me, feel her sweetness slide into place at my core, in my heart.
“I shall pay you in trade,” I say, breathless, my mouth pressed against her hair. “For the apple.”
She draws back, grazing her lips against my eye, and smiles. “Oh? What will you trade?”
I kiss her again. And again, and again.
“I like your trade,” she whispers. “Perhaps you would like another apple?” Her mouth moves in a sly curve as she slips her arm through mine.
We leave the cottage, and as it recedes behind us, then disappears between the trees, I wonder if my life there was real at all, if it was only a dream. Because I’m awake, deeply awake, and the forest does not look quite so dark anymore.
Jenn’s note: “A Craving” is based upon the fairy tale of “Snow White,” though it is set in a different place and time and populated with different characters than those which may be found in my other Snow White retelling, the novella Seven, part of our Sappho’s Fables series. “Snow White” is one of my favorite fairy tales, so I love reimagining it, again and again, with new words, in new worlds. 🙂
Also, apologies for the lack of story on Friday! We intend to catch up with an extra story soon.
If you enjoyed “A Craving,” you’ll love “Seven: A Lesbian Snow White.”
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