…I’ve never had a turn, not one! I haven’t even been given a name; I was always just the ugly sister; put the stress on ugly…As for the prince, you think I didn’t love him? I loved him more than she did; I loved him more than anything. Enough to cut off my foot. Enough to murder…But all my love ever came to was a bad end. Red-hot shoes, barrels studded with nails. That’s what it feels like, unrequited love. She had a baby, too. I was never allowed.
A libel action, that’s what I’m thinking. Put an end to this nonsense. Just because I’m old and live alone and can’t see very well, they accuse me of all sorts of things. Cooking and eating children, well, can you imagine? What a fantasy, and even if I did eat just a few, whose fault was it? Those children were left in the forest by their parents, who fully intended them to die. Waste not, want not has always been my motto.
The thing about these good daughters is, they’re so good. Obedient and passive. Sniveling, I might add. No get-up-and-go. What would become of them if it weren’t for me? Nothing, that’s what. All they’d ever do is the housework, which seems to feature largely in these stories…
I stir things up, I get things moving. “Go play in the traffic,” I say to them. “Put on this paper dress and look for strawberries in the snow.”
You can wipe your feet on me, twist my motives around all you like, you can dump millstones on my head and drown me in the river, but you can’t get me out of the story.
I’m the plot, babe, and don’t ever forget it.
All excerpts from “Unpopular Gals,” in Good Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood. This one little essay teaches more about storytelling than any dozen creative writer’s workshops.
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.