This is a very, very old story of mine. Except of course its not mine, it belongs to the Brothers Grimm, only I tell it a little differently. My apologies for dumping an old story on you tonight; I am caught up reading The Night Circus and so this is the best I can do ...
Once there was a girl who fell into a well. I guess you could blame her for that. She was hot, and thirsty, and it was water. She only meant to dip a hand, but you know how it goes sometimes. The whole of her went in.
And she found herself in the land of Mother Hulda.
She was not the first girl to visit there. Another had gone before, a good girl, perfect girl, about whose perfection everyone still talked. The sort of girl who opens her mouth and its like diamonds come out. Our heroine was not perfect. For a start, she had frizzy hair and scarred arms. No self-respecting prince would even look in her direction. She tried, always tried, but if she swept a floor there was some dust left in a corner, and if she sang it was too loud, and if she was quiet it looked like aloofness. She didn't realise the word for her was ordinary. After all, diamond perfection was the standard.
(I'm sad to say our heroine envied that good girl, could not help herself. This is what happens when you're imperfect; all that frizz, and the things that gave you scars, mean you can't even manage to have a completely good heart.)
So anyway, there she was in Mother Hulda's land. And first she found a loaf of bread burning in an oven. Oh let me out, cried the bread. I'm burning! The girl knew about burning. She too had been alight before. So she looked for a padded glove, a tea towel, some tongs. But none existed, and she was frightened, she did not want to burn herself. She had enough scars as it was. And in her hesitation, the bread charred.
She walked on, feeling sick inside that she had failed the bread. She came to a tree laden with apples. Shake me, cried the tree. I'm so weighed down by these apples of mine, it hurts! Our heroine looked at the tree and thought, rather cynically - an apple tree which does not know how to drop its own apples? She told it, I can help you now, but what will you do next time? Instead, let me encourage you to shake yourself. I've had to shake things off over the years - burdens, devils, chips on the shoulder. This is how I do it ...
But the tree could not hear her. It was a tree, after all. However, our heroine didn't understand how a tree could talk to her but not hear her (as if logic had anything to do with magic.) It did not move, did not move, it just begged to be shaken. She thought, if I leave it, then it'll have no choice but to help itself. You know, a kind of tough love. So she walked on, and the tree moaned. She hated to hear it, but she thought sometimes the right thing looked like a bad thing, and she tried to be brave.
She came at last to the house of Mother Hulda. The old lady was waiting for her, cheerful with anticipation. After all, that perfect girl had been through before, and Mother Hulda thought she knew what to expect from this girl too. Come help me, she said. I need to shake the feathers in my bedspread. And our girl wondered, doesn't anyone here say please? But she went to help the old lady. Because after all everyone adored the perfect girl for her kindness to old Mother Hulda, and our heroine wanted that for herself too. (This is what happens when you are scarred, imperfect, and have memories of burning & shaking - you go on ill-advised adventures in search of love.)
Except she was not a strong girl, she had a weak back, a touch of asthma, and could not shake the bedspread quite as vigorously as Mother Hulda wanted. She tried to explain about the back, the breathing, but Mother Hulda just rolled her eyes, sneering - excuses, excuses. And poured tar all over our heroine.
So the girl went blackened & shamed back into the world. She wanted to tell people why she was covered in tar, but it felt like every time she opened her mouth, the words were vile and wicked as toads. Maybe they really were. Or maybe people never expect to hear diamonds from a girl covered in tar.
I want to tell you a happy ending. I'd love to say that the prince's more intelligent and interesting younger brother came upon our heroine and thought she was wonderful, despite the scars (especially as the tar actually conditioned her hair, made it smooth and shiny.) But the truth is, even after she washed off that tar, she felt it sticking to her. She bent her head, closed her mouth, and decided never to speak again.
She also burned her hand pulling countless loaves from ovens ... and got a head injury from falling apples, shaking countless trees ... and pestered old women just incase they needed assistance.
And maybe one day someone drew a whisper from her, and then a laugh, and then kisses. Or maybe not. Endings don't really happen for imperfect heroines.
if you liked this you may want to consider getting one of my books.