Tabitha loved to play with the vast collections in her grandmother’s sewing room, a whole wall of seashells organized by species and size, two boxes of elasticized lace on plastic spools, and thousands of hand-cut pink and red tissue-paper hearts. Her grandmother never threw anything away.
Including all her mother’s books and her grandmother’s very old books, Tabitha had more books than the average little girl.
In one particular fairy tale Tabitha took exception to a noted difference. Her grandmother thought it was the fright of the first little pig’s death by fire that lit the tantrum, but Tabitha hated the lie. All the other books had the first little pig escaping to the second little pig’s house. Which story was true? She threw the book and ran away crying, red faced.
And why were they called “fairy tales” if they never had any fairies in them? She had hundreds of so-called fairy tale books and not a fairy in one. She would return to the books with renewed fascination.
There were orphans, princesses, and stepsisters — always illustrated beneath the glow of a perfect moon. And after she learned the truth about what happened to the stepsisters’ feet, she imagined their gory-red stumps of toes and sawed-off heels, parts of them languishing on the expensive castle carpet, the tiny, pale edges of skin beginning to curl.
She had a book about princess sisters, one who spoke in slimy creatures and one in gemstones. She captured creatures in her grandmother’s backyard and stole her grandmother’s jewelry box and spirited them away to the sewing room to make herself gag on a mouth full of lizards and toads or giant sapphires and emeralds. She slid a ruby the size of her eyeball to the back of her tongue and almost lost it down her throat.
She fancied the magical, evil queens and witches, like the one who demanded her enemy’s heart in a jeweled box. She lifted her grandmother’s own jewelry box over her head, heavy with some poor, small creature's real, oozing organ. “Who’s the fairest of them all?” she bellowed into the mirror, blood drizzling over her hands.
Her mother and grandmother discussed the tantrum and what's transpired since. Should they throw the book away to make Tabitha forget about it?
No, the book was too old and too precious, grandmother said. Her mother argued that Tabitha had a whole room full of children’s books, but her grandmother's sentimentality won. They could not just throw away something they loved.
Instead, they decided to fix the book, remove the violence and death. Her mother drew ruler-straight blue lines through text replaced with more pleasing words. New, blue-ink pigs appeared on the appropriate pages, surviving fire and brute force — not getting destroyed or eaten but showing up at their brother’s brick house for a happy ending. One page — the odd side depicting one half of the wolf’s final attack on the house of sticks, and the even side showing the aftermath and the lip licking — she carefully removed in its entirety.
As it happened, Tabitha's mother announced she was old enough to use scissors and gave her a book of paper-doll princesses to cut. When she'd mastered that, her grandmother invited her to help cut her uncle out of all of the family photos — because of the divorce. While she cut out little uncle heads and paper-doll uncles, she imagined where they would end up.
Her uncle used to go to the dump and bring home treasures. He got her a red tricycle once. She worried about him finding himself there, cut from all the photos, so she took every scrap of him she could find. She found a yellowed bus map and plotted her route to the city dump, where she would retrieve all the discarded, slick bits of photo paper.
Tabitha also found the cut-out victorious wolf page and folded it into a perfect square that fit into her pocket with the seventy-two uncle smiles and twenty-six new paper dolls, an army of princesses and divorced-away uncles.
In her grandmother’s sewing room, she made a party of paper hearts and uncle’s heads. “Off with his head!” she hollered. And she tossed the heads and hearts like confetti, flying above her and spinning in the air around her. “Bring me his heart in a jeweled box!” she sang.
The paper hearts gasped as if they’d caught fire, delicate straw houses burning in a twister, like fireflies, like fairies, real ones. The fairies fluttered their delicate, paper-like, red and pink heart-shaped wings. They frolicked whispering to Tabitha in a whirlwind around her. They swept her away, out the sewing room window, and way up into the sky.
Being thrown so far away wasn’t what she expected. It didn’t make her feel like trash. Instead, she felt like heaven, like a star. She felt free.
She flew so high she could see the moon up close. It was perfect.
Kristy Lin Billuni is a writer and teacher in San Francisco. Lin Billuni's short stories have appeared in two anthologies from Cleis Press, and she has been a contributor to Fiera, the women’s sexual health blog. Also known as the Sexy Grammarian, she cultivates sexy, bold, free writers who understand their own artistic process. She is proud to be a two-time Fiction War finalist. You can find more of her original work at sexygrammar.com
Trash is a Fiction War Finalist entry.
Please do not reproduce without permission from the author.
Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: @gaellemm