I once read Snow White every day for a week.
On the first day, I read Snow White and considered the color red. As many versions of red exist as there are fairy tales: carmine, cadmium, ruby, claret, blood-red, wine-red, scarlet, rose, sanguine, vermillion. Tales are spun like a spider’s web, and Snow White’s the spider with her jet-black mane and shiny lips. Snow White and her seven dwarves make eight; the legs of the spider ensnare us as she spins her tale of silk, capturing my imagination.
I stood in front of my mirror at home and examined my hair. I let the water run. Snow fell silently upon the window ledge nearby. I peered into the porcelain sink. A small, milky-white spider struggled at the edge of the water, flailing its legs, curling its body, about to be swept by the tide.
I did not want to be responsible for her death. I scooped her out of the sink with the edge of my comb and laid her on the counter where it was dry.
I noticed my eyes in the mirror, sadder than usual. I noticed my lips in the mirror, a color I like.
I watched, and the spider stretched her legs, extended one in the air like a white flag of surrender, and expanded her belly. Then she was still again.
I walked away.
A witch’s scars are the color of white flags, but her blood is vermilion like powdered red bones and cinnabar.
The word vermilion comes from the Old French vermeillonwhich is derived from the Latin vermiswhich means worm. Red is the worm, in the center of the apple, wriggling its way to the shiny red surface: birthing itself.
On the second day I reread Snow White, I bled. I stood alone in the still morning of my bathroom. The blood spilled fresh and bright and surprising; it ran down my pale leg in long lines, pooling on the floor. The doctor ordered tests, so I let a woman pierce me and conjure red from my arm like a witch casting a spell. But it wasn’t red; it was dark purple, almost black, and shiny like a belladonna berry. A bruise quickly rose to the surface in the soft curve of my elbow where the prick had been, the shape of an apple slice.
I could not bear the blood and the bruise, and I whimpered silently in the bathroom, but no tears appeared. I was shriveled, a witch myself, but without her magic. When I returned home, my love offered to press her lips to the crease of my elbow. I wanted her lips and arms to wrap around me like the sea. I should have seen the red flags. We wanted such different things. She wanted a baby, and I wanted a beating heart.
On the third day I reread Snow White, my brother gave me an apple. We were at work together in the mines, and we were in the red.
It was a red delicious. Which apple did the hag offer? Her bone-white fingers held, upturned, in the palm of her hand, the shiny gift. It robbed Snow White of life as it robbed Alan Turing, so the story goes. That bite was pure and white as snow, the flesh of the apple exposed, the whites of their teeth tearing into the skin of it; the sweet juice collecting in the corners of their lips.
The red delicious apple was harvested first in Iowa in the 1880’s. It was a blush-yellow, nothing like the gnarled, russet, tooth-shaped specimen we know today. Was it sweeter then?
In the skin of the apple my brother gave me, I saw pin pricks of white like stars in the night sky, constellations of light in the firmament.
I thought about the earth and its creation. I thought about Eve.
I thought about the seeds inside, which bring life, and the destruction it takes, and the tearing of the skin to get there, like giving birth.
On the fourth day I reread Snow White. These are the stories:
- Vermilion: the color of the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages (circa 1200-1400).
- Vermilion: the color of the frame now housed in the Spessart Museum in Lohr am Main. Some say Snow White is based on a woman, Maria Sophia Margaretha Catherina von Erthal, who lived there. Born on June 25, 1729, she died by poisoning. Some say it was an apple, and some say otherwise, but most think it was the juice of the belladonna that did her in. Belladonna: the beautiful woman. Also known as: deadly nightshade. Beautiful women are deadly, indeed. Dripped into the eyes of women in ancient Italy to enlarge their pupils and make them striking, belladonna could also be used in witch’s brews. Within fifteen minutes of consumption, it is said to arouse and can lead to fits of hysteria, psychosis, hallucination, and eventually, death.
- Vermilion: the lacquerware of the Qing dynasty (1736-1795). I once lived in the hometown of Confucius. That year, I saw Mao encased in his glass coffin. I squinted at his red lips and black, black mole. Mourners sold red carnations out front, but I did not buy one for him.
- Vermilion: the color of the awning of the Helen Hayes Theatre (originally The Little Theatre and the smallest theatre on Broadway) which, in 1912, housed a production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.The Dwarves were named Blick, Glick, Flick, Plick, Snick, Whick, and Quee. This theatre was destroyed in 1982, the year I was born.
- Vermilion: a mark on the forehead of a Hindu woman, made of powder, signifying her marriage but also her wisdom.It is placed in the “third eye” position in hopes of achieving self-realization.
- Vermilion: let it roll off of your tongue; let it curl around your lips, and spit it out.
- Vermilion: my blood: pooled at my feet, collected at my elbow, conjured from my veins.
On the fifth day I reread Snow White, I read Barthelme. I read Sexton. I read Broumas. I read Donoghue. I read Grimm. I discovered Snow White went to Skidmore and to the forest and back again. Snow White sleeps with the men and she does not sleep with the men. Snow White reconciles with her step mother and she does not. Snow White is fooled three times, and she is not. Snow White keeps coins in the folds of her dress but calls them knives. She is 13. She is 17. She is 22. She is never 31. Snow White is waiting for her prince and she is not waiting for him at all; he is named, he is not named, he does not exist. She is never in love with a princess. Snow White is pure and greedy and childlike and smart and dumb and beautiful and mirrored and beautiful and young and beautiful and asleep and beautiful and awake and beautiful. Snow White is kissed.
According to Barthelme, Snow White is writing a poem about four pages long in which the first words are “bandagedandwounded all run together.” Are the bandages in the crook of her elbow too?
The stories collapsed on themselves. I bit at them until the core remained.
My core is this: I am five at Disney World with my family. My mother and I wait in a long, tired line to meet Snow White. I am awestruck. I am in love. As I lean in for my picture with the princess, my mother whispers to her, “Sweetie, you’ve got lipstick on your teeth.”
Snow White is forever grateful.
I am mortified.
Please fill-in-your-own core below, keeping in mind that there should be a moral, and that Snow White is never 31.
On the sixth day I reread Snow White, it snowed again. A queen sits at her window watching the snow fall; she is sewing. She pricks her finger, and three drops of blood fall on the snow, collecting on the black windowsill. She wishes she had a daughter with lips as red as the blood, skin as white as the snow, and hair as black as the ebony windowsill. A child is born, according to her wishes, and she wants it dead.
And on the seventh day I reread Snow White, I stood once more at the mirror. The bruise crept down my arm, expanded, like the belly of the spider or the tide of the sea. And the milky-white spider, well, she was gone. Perhaps she escaped from me.
I moved from the mirror to the couch and turned on the Disney version. I felt a flutter to see Snow White, but instead I found her cloying, saccharine. Her honeyed voice was now shrill. But when I saw the queen—those perfect cheekbones, that smoky alto—I flushed red.
Megan Taylor-DiCenzo teaches English Composition at a two-year college in Upstate NY. She holds an MFA from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. She has had work published in Cactus Heart Press, Apple Valley Review, and Entropy Lit Mag.
Artwork: Anna Dittman, The Queen.