I am not what people believe me to be. I am innocent of all charges. Blame has been heaped upon me for things I have done but bear no guilt for. I am…in my opinion, Faultless. The story you are about to read is a tale written by many hands. It has been pieced together through the centuries and woven into the fabric of myth and legend. It is nothing like it was nor will it ever be close to the truth. But truth was never a large factor in any of the character’s lives. Few would admit it but not many people are terribly concerned about what is known as fact, they prefer a fictitious view to facing the truth. This is the story of how I became like them. I would like to tell you that this story has a happy ending, but I cannot, it does end of course for no tale could continue forever, but the choices made will eternally affect the lives of those after me. And if I continue to affect those who come later, and they affect the ones after, can my story ever truly end?
Nine Years Earlier…
“Ella!” Jack yells frantically as he runs down the stairs, he’s a year older than me but sometimes it feels like he’s the younger one.
“Yes Jack?” I yell from my seat by the fire where I curl up with a picture book in my hands and let the warmth wash over me.
“It’s mom!” He yells as he bursts into the room panting.
I look up from my book, “Is it time?” I ask a bit frightened, father isn’t home, he had to take Hansel to the doctor for a fever. He looks at me his face pales and he nods. I lick my lips and calmly stand and say, “Boil some water please.”
He nods and runs into the kitchen for a pot. I hurry up the stairs and yell, “When you bring it up bring me some rags too!”
I don’t wait for his response. Our mother has been pregnant with her fourth child for a while; I’m nearly eight years old but not quite. I knew I would be helping my mother but I didn’t know that I’d be doing it alone…
“Ella?” I call up the stairs, it’s been almost a day now, I didn’t know delivering a baby would take this long. I’m scared. What if something goes wrong? There’s no one here but Ella and I, and I know people who have died of child birth. It’s been silent for too long, I feel a chill go up my spine and then I hear the blessed sound of a baby cry and shout, “Ella? Ella? Is it over?”
Ella walks out of the room holding a small bundle in her arms but she looks paper white, for a moment I think it’s because she’s been up all night. Then she licks her lips and I know something’s wrong. My smile fades and I ask, “What’s wrong?”
She looks up from the baby who is still making noises and whispers, “Go get a doctor.”
“What?” I ask.
“Go get a doctor!” She yells, “Now Jack! Hurry!”
I run out the door and into the barn. I feel my eyes start stinging from tears, I’m only eight, not very good at riding but I have to try, it may be too late if I walk. I mount old Bessie and make her run. “C’mon old girl,” I mutter into her ear, “Mama’s in trouble, we have to save her.”
It’s a two hour ride into town, I know there’s little hope. If mother’s bad enough for Ella to have me ride for a doctor, then she’ll probably be dead by the time I get back. I feel the tears fall. And I don’t stop them. There’s no shame in crying for a loved one.
I sit in a rocking chair by my mother’s bed holding the baby. She’s finally asleep so I lay her in the cradle my father built for her.
“Ella?” I hear my mother’s whisper and go to the side of her bed. Her eyes have been unseeing for hours so I doubt she sees my tears. Her hand searches until it finds mine and she clasps it. Her hand is soft and weak. “Ella, my dear strong girl, I’m sorry.”
“For what?” I ask, careful to keep my voice from shaking.
“I’m sorry that you had to be the one to help me. You were very brave.” Her voice is gentle and weak.
“What’s her name?” I ask trying to change the subject.
“Gretel, tell Hansel to take good care of her, just like Jack takes care of you.”
I nod and the tears begin to fall faster, “Please don’t die.” I whisper.
“Ella, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to, but I think I may not make it.”
“No! Jack’s going for the doctor, you’re going to be fine,” I say my voice shaking.
She shakes her head, “No, I won’t.”
“But you can’t leave us, you can’t leave me yet, I love you too much.”
“You know that you are beautiful, and brave, and strong,” She laughs, “You weren’t even two yet before you began to help me around the house. You do love to help. I don’t think I ever told you thank you for that, I’m sorry Ella.”
“You will have plenty of time to say thank you, the doctor will be here in an hour and everything will be fine. Please.”
“An hour’s too long,” She whispers sadly.
“No, no please no, you can’t leave me yet!” I yell.
“Ella, please, you’ll wake the baby.” I lick my lips, one thing I don’t want is a screaming baby. I had enough of that when Hansel was born.
“Ella, take my necklace, I wanted you to have it.” I remove her necklace and place it around my neck, it is made of silvery white diamonds that shine like the star they are shaped to look like. It is my favorite thing to look at.
I look back at her and her eyes rest on me. She smiles tenderly, I think she can see me, “Do you see me mother?” I ask and smile through my tears.
“Yes, my child,” She whispers, weaker than ever. She lifts her hand and places it against my cheek. I hold it there with my hand so it doesn’t fall. Her skin is soft and cold, too cold. “You have my eyes Ella. It was the first thing your father saw when you were born. If I die, I want you to show Gretel your eyes and say that that’s what her mother looked like. And if you ever miss me just look at your reflection in the water and you’ll see my eyes,” she begins to cry, “And if your father, heaven forbid, ever follows me. Look at Jack, Jack looks just like him.”
I nod, “Yes mother.”
“Tell your brothers that I love them, and your father, tell him I’m thinking of him even now, and make sure Gretel knows that I love her too. And Ella, I love you darling,” The light leaves her eyes and her hand goes weak.
My lower lip quivers and I let her hand fall. I gently close her eyelids and whisper, “I love you, so much.”
Gretel begins to cry. So I pick her up and carry her downstairs. We keep cows so I find some fresh milk and a bottle and begin to feed her. As I do I stare into the fire, somehow although I hear it crackle and pop, filling the room with brightness and sound; there is no heat coming from it and entering me. There is only cold as I wait for Jack to come back.