Short Fiction

Six Degrees of Rumpelstiltskin

After the unfortunate affair with the miller’s daughter-turned-queen left him literally beside himself—split in two—Rumpelstiltskin recited his mouthful of a name two hundred and seventy times backward and got himself together again. Good as new.

But, of course, he hadn’t learned his lesson. (It’s only the readers of fairy tales who learn anything, never the fairy tale characters themselves.)

Rumpelstiltskin was still lonely and too unattractive to find a mate, so the next time he came across a wretched young woman, he demanded the same price for helping her out of her predicament. And that time he was rewarded. “A deal’s a deal,” she said, and handed over her very first bundle of joy.

Rumpelstiltskin took the cherished bundle back to his place in the forest. “Today I bake, tomorrow I brew, but this baby needs teeth before she can chew.”

Rumpelstiltskin had never seen a baby up close before and was indeed startled at her absolute lack of pearly whites. He had no idea how or what he was going to feed her. It never occurred to him that she’d drink milk. (He himself never touched the stuff, couldn’t stand the thought of it.) And how she wailed! He couldn’t believe his ears or his headache. Why had he ever thought he wanted a baby? No, it was painfully obvious, the life of a single dad was not the life for him.

To make a long story short, Rumpel, for short, wound up doing the only sensible thing he could do: he dumped his burden on the steps of an orphanage. He didn’t just lay the little bit of flesh and bones naked on a cold stair. No, most assuredly not! First, he tucked her carefully into a basket filled with straw. (Straw was obviously a very plentiful commodity. Why he didn’t spin more of it into gold for himself, no one can say, but the writers of fairy tales do seem to have rather perverse imaginations.)

After leaving the baby, who, by the way, was destined to become the girl Goldilocks, Rumpelstiltskin wandered off. He had many new and challenging experiences which transformed him into a much more reflective soul. He developed a greater understanding of his own past and, in more ways than you’d expect from a typical fairy tale character, he expanded his consciousness.

When he thought back to the nights he spent with the miller’s daughter—all the straw he spun into gold to save her life, only to have her throw her life away on that bastard king—he wondered why she never offered him her friendship. That’s all he ever wanted. But no, he’d had to come up with that “firstborn” thing. What a way of saying “I want to be a part of your life. Invite me over for dinner now and then.” (Okay, he had been very afraid of rejection.)

But, he’s quick to remind himself, it did all work out for the best. He took some needed time off and traveled around the world. There was so much of it outside the forest! He met all sorts of people and other terrestrial creatures. Eventually he realized that what he wanted for a companion was something or someone more like a teddy bear—not a woman or a baby human—and one night, while Papa Bear was attempting to teach Mama Bear how to prepare a proper Japanese-style bath, Rumpelstiltskin, with great quantities of Maya Mountain honey, lured innocent Baby Bear out of his bedroom window. That’s why Baby Bear doesn’t figure more prominently in this story.

To back up a bit, I should tell you that Papa Bear had relatives on Hokkaido and always loved things Japanese. Sometimes he’d parade around in samurai, sumo wrestler, and Zen-master outfits. He drove Mama Bear crazy, trying to turn her into a geisha. Now, where were we?

Goldilocks began her growing up in one of those institutions for little unclaimed humans. The good woman who first stumbled over the baby in the basket (She had been on her way down the stairs, whistling a happy tune at the time, and not paying attention to her feet.) tried, but failed to ascertain the identities of Goldilocks’s biological parents. By the time Goldilocks could wash dishes and scrub floors and toilets, there was nothing else to do but rent her out, or, as they prefer to say, put her into foster care.

The Three Bears were a dysfunctional family, a bad choice on the part of the overburdened child welfare system. They never should have been entrusted with little Goldilocks. And when you think about it, Papa and Mama should have been charged with negligence after Baby disappeared. They had failed to provide a child-safe environment. It had been nothing but dumb luck that had prevented Baby from falling out of the window before being lured out of it, as he eventually was. Papa and Mama never even missed Baby. And, no, it wasn’t because with him gone they had more porridge for themselves. They couldn’t stand the stuff. They ate sushi. They simply resented the low ratio of reward to responsibility involved in caring for their young.

Goldilocks, however, never minded being a latchkey kid. She didn’t feel neglected at all. She didn’t care where the Bears were when they were away. In fact, she wished they’d stay away forever. Papa and Mama skimped on all her needs, pocketed as much of the monthly allowance as possible and believed they deserved it for all their trouble. To make matters worse, they looked at her funny, as if she were missing a tail or something. But, don’t worry, she didn’t have to stuff her face with porridge for very long. The woodsman who killed the wolf and saved Little Red Riding Hood came along in no time. The fairy tale world is a small world after all.

Between you, me, and the four walls—Papa and Mama Bear are still out—the real down and dirty is that after the woodsman rescued the girl in the hood, he was so pumped up that he carried her off to Papa Bear’s Bed-But-No-Breakfast. He had a thing going on the side with Papa Bear, who rented out his beds by the hour at rates competitive with those of the smaller Japanese love hotels. That’s why Papa, who’d begun this sideline long before Baby’s disappearance, always made sure to get Mama and Baby out of the house on various pretenses and at discrete intervals. They were never to know of his domestic enterprise or to share in its profits. He was saving up for a trip for himself to Hokkaido to see his relatives and maybe get to Tokyo for a bit of true geisha experience. He’d given up on Mama Bear’s ability to satisfy his needs in that department.

Meanwhile, back in the bedroom, the horny woodsman was just about to get it on with Little Red Riding Hood, about to do it to her in Papa Bear’s bed when, lo and behold, he discovered another well-rounded tush, rosy and warm, under the blankets.

Goldilocks and Little Red Riding Hood made quite a handful. They were both obviously under age, but the woodsman had been watching and rewatching that scene from Blow-Up. He couldn’t resist. He just had to indulge his urge for a ménage a trois.

Hell, an opportunity like that doesn’t come along every day!

Quite an orgy was underway when Papa and Mama Bear suddenly appeared in the doorway. And, yes, the porridge was gone! The woodsman, Little Red, and Goldi had probably smoked something and gotten the munchies.

Mama Bear did not want to believe her eyes. For a moment, until she took in the absence of any stage director, she tried to convince herself that she’d walked in on a rehearsal for a theatrical reenactment of a scene from the life of Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. (She had been classically educated and still remembered all the names of all the Roman emperors.)

“What kind of a house do you think I’m running?” she asked, narrowing her eyes suspiciously at her mate. She’d been getting pretty fed up with Papa Bear’s shenanigans and she knew, she just knew that he had something to do with this. “And I’m not going to buy any of your nonsense about the local witch casting another one of her spells! So don’t even start.” Giving him a shoulder cold enough to trigger premature hibernation, she removed herself from the unbearable scene and returned downstairs.

All she wanted was to wrap herself in her favorite shawl, settle into her rocking chair with a cup of warm sake, and treat herself to the next chapter in The Adventures of Babette, She-Bear of Paris. But it was not to be.

At almost the precise moment that Mama Bear stepped off the bottom stair, the Ugly Duckling popped in. He explained to her that he’d heard from a friend of his, who’d heard it from a reliable source, that she—for a price which he was more than willing to pay—could perform various controversial procedures.

Calculating the profit she stood to make, Mama Bear listened attentively to this tiny, desperate creature heaving his downy breast before her. Yes, she was acquainted with the delicate species-change operation he had in mind. Yes, she’d be happy to help him out. Yes, of course, she understood. Young ducks can be so cruel!

  • Published in Rapunzel’s Daughters and Other Tales (Pink Narcissus Press)

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