To celebrate National Storytelling Week, Standard Issue is running a short story each day. In Julie Balloo’s timeless tale, a father finds the path to forgiveness strewn with weeds.
Illustration by Claire Jones
The children huddled together on the sofa while their father did his utmost to make amends.
“Would you like some pie? I know it’s your favourite. Or what about a nice glass of lemonade? Really, you can have anything you want.”
But they weren’t going to give in that easily.
His daughter shook her head and stared straight at him. Her eyes were filled with sadness but there was something missing too. Respect: that was it. She no longer respected him.
His son looked down at the floor, unable to meet his gaze.
“Perhaps we could go out, would you like that? Go to the park and play ball?”
The boy shrugged. He yearned to be wrapped in his father’s big strong daddy arms and forget about what had happened, but he knew this was impossible. His sister kicked him hard in the leg as a reminder.
“You don’t know what we’ve seen, what we’ve been through. Especially him.” She pointed at her brother.
He looked at the ground.
“Look, please, I’ve said I’m sorry, I don’t know what else to do. I was wrong, but you have to understand it was her, your stepmother. She was so controlling. She had this power over me, I’m so sorry…”
With this he broke down and wept. His daughter seemed to take pity; she walked towards him and gently placed her hand on his head. Then, without warning, she slapped him hard across the face.
Her little voice grew stronger with every accusation.
“You loved her more than us,” she spat. “You took her side every time. You didn’t care what happened to us, did you, did you?”
Her brother was now at her side. His father’s betrayal had rendered his eyes dull, as though the soul had vanished, leaving an empty shell of a child in its place.
“You have no idea what we had to endure…”
“Please, darling….” He reached for her.
“Even now, after all we’ve been through, you’re not really sure we’re telling the truth, are you?”
She was screaming now. He bowed his head in shame.
“You should be locked up for what you did to us. We should’ve been taken away from you and given to a normal family. I hate you.”
Her father looked up, his eyes filling with tears.
“I was bewitched by your stepmother, but she’s gone now, and she won’t ever be coming back.”
“And you believe us?”
“Yes, I do,” he said.
Calmness returned to the girl’s face. She nodded.
“Good. Then go and bury her deep in the earth and we’ll keep this our little secret. Understood?”
Her father took up his shovel and walked out of the back door. Only then did Gretel relax.
“From now on we can go to bed whatever damn time we like. Here,” she said with a smirk, “have a beer”.
She passed her brother a can of lager and lit a cigarette for him; he was only nine after all.
Hansel allowed himself a smile. Sometimes he wondered what he’d do without his brave sister and secretly he hoped she’d be there for him forever and ever.
I am a former standup and now write stories and stage/radio scripts. My long- time collaborator is Jenny Eclair.