I Can Explain
Maybe the witch wasn’t a witch at all, not to start with at least. She was just a mother who couldn’t feed her babies (a missing father, a bad harvest), who watched them wilt, empty stomachs hard and bulbous from want, who never used it as an excuse to banish them to the forest one day, who stewed all the dandelion greens she could find until the earth around her for a mile was barren. Maybe some well-meaning woman came and took her children to someone who could properly provide for them, and the witch who wasn’t yet a witch lost it, begged for death, downed what should have been enough poisonous mushrooms to do her in, sliced deep into her arms her children’s initials (funny enough also h and g), and cruelly couldn’t die. To add insult to injury, the deadly mushrooms gave her the power to magically transform anything into food; she could touch the earth and it became shortbread, her fingers turned the siding to streusel, her roof to treacle tarts. Now that she had no mouths to feed, she had infinite bread. When the children wandered in she was delusional, thought they were hers finally returning to her, fattened Hansel in the cage so he could never leave again, and yes, she can’t deny she put him in the oven, but in her defense she put all her dearest possessions in the oven these days to keep them warm and safe: family photos, dentures, her ax, her baby boy at long last returned to her.
ERIKA ECKART is the author of the tyranny of heirlooms, a chapbook of interconnected prose poems (Sundress Publications, 2018). Her writing has appeared in Agni, Quarter After Eight, Quick Fiction, Passages North, The Tampa Review, and elsewhere. She is a High School English Teacher in Oak Park, IL where she lives with her husband and two children.