The Gingerbread House

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They told me “the way to a man’s heart”
and, doggedly, I trod it.

My oven was a fecund womb
that whelped out treats
from morning to night:

butter wafers that would melt
like my heart
at the touch of his tongue,

salty-sauced
bitter chocolate gateaux,
where he’d have to lick the cream
to get to the cherries,

little gingerbread men
for the little gingerbread men
that we would stamp out
after rolling.

Kneading the moist, yielding dough,
I felt a pleasure I assumed would grow,
like the sweat-scented loaves,
aroused by the yeast,
that swelled against their swaddling
as they proved.

But my bread lay uneaten
and my hopes went stale with it.

I lived as best I could.

Single women couldn’t get a mortgage back then,
so I baked myself a house,
moulding bricks from flour and black treacle,
melting caramel into window panes
through which I could view the world
blurred
and with a sepia tint.
At night, the smell of spice
leached into my dreams.
In my sleep,
I sought comfort in dark sugar,
then woke to find the sheets
sticky with golden syrup.

I could have been happy then,
but my neighbours
would not let me.
They taunted me with
the children I did not have,
called me “witch”,
called me “selfish”,
called me “unnatural”,
said I’d confected for myself
a spun sugar cage,
a meringue bubble
where I gorged myself on cake
while they, living in a shoe,
had to make do
with bread and butter.

At length, I grew to hate
other people’s children –
a double reminder
of what I did not have
and what I was hated for not having.

When I saw a pregnant woman,
I yearned to bite the jam
out of her doughnut.

Babies were misshapen
choux puffs
I longed to crush.

When the boy came
and helped himself
to my rendering,
his thieving teeth
gnawing away at the mortar
holding my house together,
it was easy to tempt him in.

I cackled to think that,
at last, I had
a bun in the oven.
I had finally punched out
a gingerbread man
and now I burnt him
to a crisp.

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