by Wendy Wheeler
copyright (c) 1993 Wendy Wheeler, all rights reserved
Published in Snow White, Blood Red,
edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, AvonNova, 1993
I think it began with the hat.
Helen had seen it in a shop on the way to our third rendezvous. Back then, we were still meeting in hotel rooms. She unbuttoned her shirtwaist dress as she told me about the hat and how it would look on her daughter, becoming all tittering and giddy, her pale face colored with something more than just anticipation of our lovemaking.
At this stage in my adventures, I enjoy making the grand gesture. "We'll go back together and buy it for your little girl," I'd said. "Afterwards." I remember how dark my hand looked on her white shoulder. My swarthiness usually pains me; I have even plucked the black hair from the back of my hands. But during these moments of passion, I find contrast only whets my appetite.
Helen had nodded, fingers to her lips, shivering from gratitude-- or anticipation. The fresh smell of her was like an intoxicant. She didn't smoke or marcel her hair like some of the other women of my acquaintance. The planes of neck and collarbone above the bodice of her white slip had seemed achingly fragile. White slips have always excited me.
Later, after we drove in my new black Studebaker over to the store in one of the older sections of Chicago, I could understand her enthusiasm for the hat. When the shop girl lifted it out of the window, I took it from her myself before Helen could even reach out a hand. I caught my breath at the texture and plushness of the yarn.
"And such a darling color, too," breathed Helen. "That crimson will look just stunning on Regina."
It was a beret sort of style, hand-knit in Italy according to the tag. The wool had a clean, animal scent. I turned it around in my hand and saw the thing that was to fire my imagination.
On the side, a tiny red bud, so cunningly crocheted it almost looked alive. A flower as red as the hat itself, but with a slim green stem and two diminutive green leaves. Those tightly curled petals held an almost unbearable promise.
"How old did you say your daughter was?" I asked.
"She'll be fourteen in two weeks," said Helen, taking off one of her white cotton gloves to stroke the beret. Her nails were plain and unvarnished. She usually didn't even wear lipstick unless I asked her to. "This will make a wonderful gift."
I handed it to her. "With my compliments, then."
Helen blushed and shot a look at the shop girl. "Oh, I can't let her know it comes from you. But thank you, Josef. I will accept it on her behalf. You--you're very generous."
As the shop girl wrapped it up, I saw her unobtrusively stroke the tiny red bud. That caught my attention and made me look more closely at her, at the olive complexion free of makeup, the plain black dress, the dark hair pinned severely back. But there was a hint of fullness to her bottom lip, a certain set to her eyes. I fought the appetite that flared in me, tried to become totally the cultured man I truly am.
Still, I found a way to let my hand linger in hers as she returned my change.
Just a taste! You'll have to buy the anthology Snow White, Blood Red to read the rest of the story! Can you guess which fairytale I'm retelling here? I'm amazed that some people take a while to figure it out. Especially when the title is such a clue!