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A Step Mother's Karma
Real Fairy Tales were meant to be scary
I hope you enjoy my personal take on a beloved fairy tale based on the original version I grew up with
You may want to read this version of the story before or after reading my short story
Mrs. Jacobs’ screams and obscenities greet me- as usual- as I step in her room. I know I’m in for an unpleasant and long session, but, it’s my job and she needs me. It’s been approximately three years that I've been treating her, with no success. Whenever I feel that we’re about to make any progress, something always happens and Mrs. Jacobs is back to her old nasty self. Her husband stopped visiting her three months after she was interned in this mental institution- in which I've been working for the past twenty five years. Still, she always has visitors- although I've never seen them- at least once every three months: her two daughters, and her step-daughter. Hum, now that I just mentioned her, I’m starting to realize that Mrs. Jacobs’ condition became worse when her stepdaughter started to visit her. Oh well, I guess it’s nothing.
Mrs. Jacobs is a schizophrenic; she has been taken off all oral medications because of a liver problem, which forces me to inject her sedatives whenever she has an attack. During her schizophrenic phases, she yells, pummels the bedside table with her fists, and shakes her side rails and threatens me whenever I ask her what afflicts her so much. Today, I’ll try a different approach… Let’s see…
“Good morning Mrs. Jacobs, Did you ask to see me?”
“Miserable wicked girl! Did you finish combing my daughters’ hair, polishing their shoes, and fastening their buckles?”
Oh Brother! Here it goes again, the maiden and mistress act. I’m growing sick and tired of this... All right, buckle up and…
“Of course Mrs. Jacobs! Now perhaps we can have some tea and chat, you know, for a while.”
There’s no answer. Mrs. Jacobs’ left eyebrow rises with anger and with those Machiavellian hazel dark eyes, wrinkled forehead, and big open mouth she shouts: “It doesn't matter how nice and sweet you pretend to be with me, in front of that donkey you have for a father, I know you’re pretending! Filthy brat!”
Well I tried! Wish I could know what’s going on in her mind. I better leave her alone, before she becomes more aggressive. So while I still hear Mrs. Jacobs calling me the “W” word, I lock the door of her room and walk straight to my office hoping to drop myself in my couch and sleep for a while. Instead I find this beautiful young girl sitting on the chair next to my writing table.
“May I help you?”
“No one could tell me where you were, so I decided to wait for you here. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Well, if you just could tell me your name?”
“My name? My name is Cinder…Cindy. Cindy Erella. I’m Mrs. Jacobs’ step daughter.”
“Mrs. Jacobs… My favorite patient!” -Yeah right, if hell was created for liars Satan must be saving me the V.I.P. room- “Erella? How come you don’t have the same last name?”
“Wow, you seem so young!”
“Well things happen, you know…” Her blue eyes glitter and her pale face blushes. “When prince charming comes to you in a carriage pulled by two beautiful horses and offers his whole kingdom at your feet, while white doves chant only for the two of you and…”
I smile. I cannot believe there’re still people who live and breathe fairy tales. This girl cannot be more than twenty two years old. At her age I was still in college. I notice something, though, in her hands. Her palms are full of calluses, burns and marks, even though she has a manicure, I can tell she used to work a lot with her hands. That’s odd. I was told Mrs. Jacobs’ husband was a wealthy merchant. Anyway…
“So, Mrs. Erella. What brings you here?”
“Well, I just wanted to congratulate you on the marvelous job you've been doing with my stepmother”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Thanks to you my step mother’s getting what she really deserv… needs.”
“But I haven’t made any progress. As a matter of fact, your step mother’s condition keeps deteriorating.”
Now, with a wicked smile, her eyes shine as if she were actually glad to know that Mrs. Jacobs won’t be getting better any time soon. A cold wind blows at my face as I feel my legs tremble. Cindy Erella strokes her long blond hair, stands up smiles, waves goodbye, and leaves. I’m puzzled. What just happened? I’m must see Mrs. Jacobs. I don’t care how spiteful she is going to get, I’m going back to her room.
I open the door. She pretends to sleep; I just saw her with her eyes wide open through the window- Clever.
“I know you aren't sleeping Mrs. Jacobs, open your eyes.”
“Oh it's you again! You, wicked wench! You filthy…”
“Cut it out. You know I’m not your servant. I’m your psychiatrist, Karyna Tijero.”
“I know your game! You’re trying to drive me insane! You’re pretending to be someone else so your father thinks I’m crazy!”
I stare at her. You’re already crazy, dear…
“Mrs. Jacobs please. Make an effort, look at me. I’m your psychiatrist, not your maid.” “After all the misery you’d brought me! Me! The one who put food in your mouth and gave you shelter! Me! Who taught you how to earn your daily bread!”
“Fill me in, I’m clueless.” I take out my notebook and pen.
“Everything started the same day your father brought us to your house. You had everyone fooled but me…”Mrs. Jacobs nodes her head.
… “People who want bread, must earn it. Get into the kitchen where you belong!”
Saying this, the step mother took away the young girls fine clothes and gave her an old gray dress to wear, while her two step sisters laughed exclaiming:
“Look at the haughty princess in her finery!”
The young girl always had to do all of the housework, waking up before daybreak, carrying water, lighting fires, cooking and washing.
One morning her father was going to the town’s fair, he asked his two step daughters what he should bring them.
“Beautiful dresses,” exclaimed one.
“Diamonds and pearls,” exclaimed the other one.
“And you my pet. What would you like?”
“Father, break off the first branch that brushes against your hat on your way home, and bring it to me...”
Mrs. Jacobs starts coughing. I offer her a glass of water but she refuses, then she points at me with her index finger while moving her hand back and forth.
“I tried to be nice with you. But no! You had to be weeping and crying over your good-for-nothing dead mother all the freaking time. You drove me insane!”
…When the father got home, he gave the step daughters what they had asked for, and gave a hazel branch to his daughter. After thanking him, she went to her mother’s grave and planted the hazel sprig over it and cried so hard that her tears fell on the sprig and watered it… “It wasn’t my fault your father didn’t bring you anything from his trip! You asked him for that stupid stick! Witch! I heard you mumbling chants over that old thing until your conjures made that abomination appear out of nowhere!!”
… The branch grew and became a beautiful tree. Three times a day the young girl went and sat under it and wept and prayed…
Mrs. Jacobs starts to agitate. I touch her arm to comfort her but she abruptly moves it away, then she stares at me.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
“I’m doctor Tijero. I’m your psychiatrist and you’re in a mental asylum.”
“Where’s my husband?”
Far away from you. God Bless him...
“I don’t really know. But your daughters always come to see you.” I scratch my nose, for some reason I feel my glasses heavier than usual.
“See me? My daughters? How?”
“Don’t you remember them coming to visit you?”
“Yes… I do.”
“I’ve never met them. But I’m sure they want to see you completely recovered. Your illness is treatable but you need to cooperate.”
“But how can they see me?” Mrs. Jacobs’s face becomes pale and her mouth turns down at the corners while she wrinkles her chin. She starts to shiver.
“Even your step daughter came by asking for you…”
“Aaaaaaah noooooooo! That witch! Wiiiiiiiiiiitch! Mrs. Jacobs starts to pull her hair and scream. I call up the nurses, poor lady she needs a sedative. I’m about to give her the injection when I notice that she is starting to pull herself up.
“Y-you t-think I’m crazy. B-but I’m not. Please, no more needles. I’ll tell you everything you want.”
The nurses stop holding her arms and legs, so I let her arm go. I place it on her chest. She breathes and with tears in her eyes she looks at me. I ask the nurses to leave.
“Everything happened so long ago, but it feels like yesterday. I cannot forget my daughters’ faces and how it broke my heart to see them going through all that suffering, all because of her… Her.”
“My husband’s daughter. She fooled us all, pretending to be sweet and charming but underneath it all she was a witch.”
“O-k. What-ever-you-say.” I smile. I cannot fight it. I don’t believe in witches.
“With her trickery she took away my daughters’ chance of happiness and wealth. She bewitched the prince I wanted for son in law. All because of a shoe! A tiny shoe! A demonic shoe that didn’t fit anyone but her! I bet she got it from the devil himself! Harlot!”
“Please go on.”- Why does this sound so familiar?
“For some reason the prince came to our house the night after the party he had invited us to, searching for his ‘bride to be’. So I thought one of my daughters could be worthy of being a princess…”
… “No girl shall be my wife but the one this golden shoe perfectly fits.”
The two girls were overjoyed, for they had beautiful feet. The mother asked the oldest one to try on, so she did, but the shoe wouldn’t fit…
“Her foot was just too big! I don’t know how or why but something inside of me… I bet it was the devil…. Something inside of me made me get a knife and the rest you can imagine it…”
“Did you try to kill her?” “No idiot! I made her cut her toe off so the fucking shoe would fit on her fat foot! We could have fooled the prince, if it wasn't because of those demonic doves sent by my step daughter…”
…He accepted the older daughter as his bride-to-be, lifted her up on his horse, and rode away with her. But they had to pass the grave of the young girl’s mother. The two doves were sitting in the hazel tree and they cried out:
There’s blood in the shoe.
The foot’s too long, the foot’s to wide,
That’s not the proper bride”
He looked down at her foot and saw the blood spurting…”
“Those demonic birds told him about our trick, so he took my wounded daughter back home!”
“Ok. So what did you do then?”- I cannot believe I’m asking this!!
“I made my youngest daughter try on that shoe and again… the demonic force had completely overtaken me again… Oh God…”
… The youngest sister went to her room and managed to get her toes into the shoe, but her heel was too big. So her mother handed her a knife.
“Cut off a chunk of your heel. Once you become queen you won’t have to walk anymore…”
“He would've married my daughter if it wasn't because of that witch! She sent her demoniac birds again…”
…. “Roocoo -coo, roocoo-coo,
There’s blood in the shoe.
The foot’s too long, the foot’s to wide,
That’s not the proper bride”
He looked down at her foot and saw the blood was spurting from her shoe and staining her white stocking all red. He returned his horse around and took the false bride home again…
“The prince came back and asked if we had any other daughter.”
…“This isn't the right girl, either,” he said, “Haven’t you got another daughter?”
"He could’ have left but my stupid ass-husband opened his big mouth…”
“No, there’s only a puny little kitchen drudge that my dead wife left me. She couldn’t possibly be the bride. ”
“Send her up.”
“Oh no she’s much too dirty for your majesty to see,” said the step mother.
“I order you to send her up!” he demanded.
“If that asshole hadn’t opened his big fat mouth, the prince would’ve never learned about Cinderella’s existence.” Mrs. Jacobs cried.
“Cinder what? Cinderella? Who’s Cinderella?”
“Cinderella’s my step daughter.”
“Mrs. Jacobs, your step daughter’s name is Cindy Erella not Cinderella.”
She stares at me confused. I ask her to keep telling me her story. “When the prince tried the shoe on her foot, it fit. It was the perfect fit! Can you believe that? That shoe was enchanted I just know it!”
“Perhaps it was indeed her shoe.”
“There’s no way she could have gone to the same party we attended.”
“Perhaps she sneaked in, Mrs. Jacobs, who knows?”
“She didn't have anything to wear. That’s why I didn't let her come with us in the first place.”
“You could have lent her something to wear.”
“I gave her a chance to come to the party with us. All she had to do was complete one simple task.”
“Really?” I smile at her.
…“You little sloven! How can you come with us when you’re all dusty and dirty?”
“Please madam I beg you let me come with you to the party.” The young girl pleaded.
The step mother dumped two bowlfuls of lentils in the ashes.
“Here. If you can pick them out in one hour, you may go…”
“It was just a measly task… she… she did it anyway…” Mrs. Jacobs looks down staring at her hands.
“But… you never took her to the party. Did you?
She keeps silence.
“So…?” -I just feel sorry for this old woman whose illness has taken her away from reality.
“That devil’s daughter wasn't yet happy at getting married with the richest man in the land. She had to destroy my family so she could enjoy even more her new life full of luxury and opulence.”
“Cinderella tricked us into attending her wedding. We all went, with our best intentions. I even forgave her for the fact that my two precious jewels were handicapped because of her. But seeing my daughters limping their way to the church wasn’t enough. Oh no! She wanted them to suffer even more so she sent those devilish birds again!”
Mrs. Jacobs starts to pummel the sides of her bed screaming and kicking:
“Doves…? Doveeeees! Those demonic birds! Damn birds! Damn you Cinderellaaa! Damn youuuuuuu!”
God not another attack! I cannot do nothing else but call the nurses again. I’m sorry dear; this is going to hurt me more than you. I hold her arm and inject the whole sedative into her vein in only one shot and she closes her eyes. I look at her and all I can see is a decrepit old woman prisoner of her own crazy fantasies who inspires nothing more than pity. At least today we made some progress. Conclusion? She just couldn’t take not being able to marry either of her two daughters to a rich man- just like her step-daughter’s husband. I caress her gray hair and kiss her wrinkle forehead. See you tomorrow.
I leave her room almost running. I feel so sleepy. Someone embraces me by my waist with one arm. I turn and a familiar face smiles at me with pity in her eyes.
“Let me guess… Mrs. Jacobs?”
“She gave me the worst version of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Cinderella”
“Cute? I never thought that such a big imagination would drive a person so insane.”
We both sigh. It’s been more than thirty-five years since the last time I opened a Grimm Brother’s book. I don’t even remember what ever happened to the so called “evil step sisters” at the end of the story.
“What ever happened to the step sisters?”
“Did you skip the third grade or something?” Helen laughs and lets go of my waist.
“Come on! It’s been more than thirty-something years.”
“Well, as far as I remember, on the day of Cinderella’s wedding the step sisters and their mother tried to ingratiate themselves and ‘share’ in her happiness.”
“Yeah, but on the way to church the elder was on the right side of the bridal couple and younger on the left. Then two doves came along and pecked out one of the elder sister’s eyes and one of the younger sister’s eyes. Afterward, on the way out, they switched places, and the doves pecked out both of their remaining eyes. So the sisters were punished with blindness.”
“Blinded and handicapped… freaky. The Brothers Grimm sure knew how to spice up a good fairy tale.”
“Good night, Dr. Tijero.” Helen says smiling.
“Good night, Nurse Herewith.”
I walk to my office, I feel so tired but I cannot stop thinking about Mrs. Jacobs. There’s Nurse Harriet! She’s on her way to Mrs. Jacobs’ room and she isn’t alone. Mrs. Jacobs has visitors today. That’s good. She’ll benefit from seeing her family. I should present my greetings. I walk toward these two middle aged women. I want to say hello, but they ignore me. I think they haven’t seen me. Harriet is in the middle, walking and holding them both by their arms.
I ask Harriet to stop and finally I’m right next to them… But now…Now I realize that both women are… in fact blind and…slowly-painfully limping to their mother’s room.