Once Upon a Tour in Grimmsland

Esoterica OUATG 02 230620

By Mark Gallini,

“Get up! Get up you lazy one,” her mother sings, or rather recites. “It’s time to go to Grandma’s.” She leans over her daughter, who feigns a cherubic sleep. Finally her mother shouts. “Red Riding Hood, get out of bed and get over to your grandmother’s right now.”

Red Riding Hood opens one eye and shoots her mother a nasty look. “I wish they never built that airport!” she whines, slamming her little pink fists into her blanket. “Then they’d leave us alone, those horrible tourists.” She explodes out of bed, twirls on her red cape, and gulps down some strong Blue Mountain coffee. “If you think I’m going to do this forever, you’ve got another thing coming,” she hisses at her mother, then snatches up the basket with the wine and the cakes and stomps out of the cottage.

Her mother, a stickler for tradition, calls out to her as she always does: “Go quickly before it gets hot, and don’t loiter by the way.” As she speaks a passenger jet roars over, aligning itself for the runway on the coast, and although Red Riding Hood does not hear her, her hand gesture makes clear that she’s heard it all so many times before.

On the path Red Riding Hood breathes deeply. It is, she must admit, another enchanted day in her fairy-tale land. And it makes her proud. Even the hordes of tourists who have descended upon the country since the king opened the border couldn’t destroy that. She tries to steady herself for the performance that follows, a performance that will start amidst a phalanx of camera phones once the wolf confronts her. If only these people would see us as we are now, she muses, Old-World creatures thrust into the modernity and trying their best to get along in what now is sadly just a colorful backwater.

With a sigh, and her basket a-swinging, Red Riding Hood skips into the wood. She smiles beatifically to the cheering, clapping throngs and hops to a stop at the little plaque embedded in the paved path. Right on cue, The Wolf, her classmate’s father, springs out in front of her. It still gives her a vestigial chill, that leering face. The Wolf spouts his lines a little too loudly:

“Whither away so early, Red Riding Hood?” he asks.

“To Grandmother’s,” she answers sweetly, as if she’s never seen a wolf before, as if she can’t smell the imported brandy on his breath.

“And what have you got in your basket?”

“Cake and wine for my Grandma.”

“Where does she live?”

“A quarter hour into the wood,” she says, “in a cottage near a hedge of nut trees.” The Wolf faces the crowd, licking his lips and rubbing his paws together. He keeps it up until the camera flashes die down and the laughter passes its peak, then he pivots back to Red Riding Hood.

“Maybe you should take her some flowers. They are so very pretty,” The Wolf hisses.

“Well I guess I am early,” she agrees, “and Grandma does so love flowers.” She stoops to pick flowers and The Wolf tiptoes away, arching his eyebrows to the tourists.

The flower picking gives the tourists time to board the bus to Grandmother’s house. Red Riding Hood looks to see that they are all aboard, then sinks down into billowing meadow. As she gazes up at a blue sky streaked with jet contrails, tears roll down her rosy cheeks. “I hate them,” she sobs. “I hate them!” She rolls onto her belly and weeps into her folded arms. In no time at all she drifts off to the twitting of the bluebirds….

Suddenly she is lifted up into the sunlight in the arms of a man in coveralls. Squinting, she makes out the face of Old Shoemaker. “Little Red,” he coos, “wake up. They’re all waiting for you.”

Red Riding Hood groans. “No, Old Shoemaker,” she cries, “please let me be.”

“No can do,” he clucks, putting her down and pulling his work cart down the path. “We’re depending on you. Heck, The Wolf can’t gobble up your grandmum forever now, can he? She’s a game old woman, but it’s got to be pretty uncomfortable for her. Besides, those tourists paid money, a lot of money, to see you. I wouldn’t turn down that kind of dough. You know how many shoes I’d have to make to earn what your family does by restaging your tale?

Red Riding Hood studies the old man’s determined face. His dignity shines through his hardship. She loves this about her people. “Why don’t you perform?” she asks him. “Everybody loves the story of you and the elves.”

The old man nods sadly. He grabs her hand. As they walk toward the cottage, he stares far off into the wood. “Yes…” he sighs, “yes, they do. But those damn elves wouldn’t go along with it. You know how independent they are.” Red Riding Hood gazes up at him. He runs his rough hand over her smooth cheek. “With all this tourist money floating around, everybody wants imported shoes.” This makes her blush. She scuffs her Italian shoes in the grass. The Old Shoemaker pretends not to notice. He sniffs bitterly. “And that’s why I pick up after these rude foreigners who give us so much, yet take away so much more.”

Mark Gallini’s short fiction has been published in the US and Australia. His play, La Leche, based on his published short story, was a 2023 finalist for the LaBute New Theater Festival. He lives and works in Philadelphia.

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