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Danielle Wood is a versatile writer of ction and non-ction who writes
both for adults and for children. She is the award-winning author of
The Alphabet of Light and Dark (The Australian/Vogels Literary Award 2002), a
short story collection Rosie Littles Cautionary Tales for Girls, and a work of non-
ction, Housewife Superstar: The very best of Marjorie Bligh. Together with fellow
Tasmanian writer Heather Rose, Danielle is Angelica Banks author of the
childrens novel Finding Serendipity, the rst in a trilogy-in-progress.

Danielle teaches writing at the University of Tasmania. She lives with her
husband and three children, writes in a gypsy caravan in her backyard,
and oversees an extensive menagerie of creatures great and small.
Copyright Danielle Wood 2014
Mothers Grimm
Danielle Wood
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Mothers Grimm
Danielle Wood
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Mothers Grimm
Danielle Wood
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prologue
the good mother
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NOW THAT YOU think about it, you realise youve known
her your whole life. On the magazine pages and billboards
of your childhood, she was fair as Rapunzel with a shoulder-
length haircut. You were indifferent to her, back then, barely
registered her presence. Or so you think until you realise
you can remember precisely the way her hands lookedtheir
fingernails short and practical though still perfectly tipped
with white crescent moonsas she drew V-shapes in menthol
rub onto the chests of her ailing children.
She wasnt always the Vicks Mum, of course. Kneeling
by the bath, she would soap her toddlers blonde mop into
a quiff of white foam and promise you No More Tears. To
soothe the unsettled infant, she could provide her favoured
brand of paracetamol, as well as the comfort of her pert
moulded bosom inside a candy-coloured shirt. With a plump,
two-toothed cherub on her hip, she would de-holster a spray
pack and vanquish the invisible nasties on the bright white
porcelain of her toilets and sinks. For she was the Good
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prologue
the good mother
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Mother, as safe and mild and effective as every unguent she
ever squeezed from a pinkly labelled tube.
The Good Mother had the powders to return muddied
soccer shirts to brightness and the potions to ward off sore
throats and flu, but you realise now that her true power lay
in those hands with their frenchly polished nails. Remember
how she placed them coolly on fevered brows, cupped them
around mugs of chocolately-yet-nutritious fluids, splayed
them protectively over the shoulder blades of her sleeping
babes? Yes, you remember, although it occurs to you only
now how implausible it actually was that the peachy boys and
girls they found to match her could have been born from her
trim blue-jean hips. Come to think of it, where did those
children come from? Did Dad ever stop breadwinning long
enough for her to rest a hand on the honest chambray of his
shirtfront? If he did, you cannot remember it.
0
This is how it is for the Good Mother. She pricks her finger
when shes embroidering. The bauble of blood teetering on
her fingertip sets her to thinking, and soon she is noticing
the deepness of the red and the way it shines against the snowy
ground beyond her window. Add the ravens-wing black of the
window frame, and voila! Shes knocked up and has chosen her
childs colour scheme to boot.
This is how it is for you. Deep in denial, you hardly even
tell yourself when you stop taking the Pill and start taking
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folate. Your partner would probably be quite interested if
you were to let him know how much better is an unprotected
ovulatory orgasm than a regular Pill-protected one, but this
knowledge feels for some reason like a secret, so you keep it
to yourself. Although you become obsessive about taking your
temperature and despite your new habit of cooling your post-
coital heels high on the bedhead, theres nothing doing. You
get your many test kits from pharmacies in different suburbs
so that the sales assistants dont start getting to know you,
but no matter how many mornings you lock yourself in the
bathroom with a bladder full of potent overnight piss, theres
only ever one little line in the window of the white stick.
Its been three years since the rash of weddings in your
life, and now its thirtieth birthday parties. And there she
is. Over there by the cheese plate, scooping a strand of fair
hair behind one ear and staring down the camembert as if
she knows its sole purpose in life is to kill her unborn child.
You havent thought of her for years, if ever you have thought
of her consciously at all, which is why you dont recognise
her. You say hello and she clinks her water glass against your
thrice-emptied champagne flute. Wearing something white,
and tight, she sinks into a chair and sighs, and its only now,
as she stretches her hand a full octave across her belly, that
you notice her fingernails. Theyre exquisitely oval and pink
as confectionery, each one smoothly iced with white. She
gestures at the empty chair beside her and then somehow
you are sitting in it.
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At all those weddings, people would ask, So, what do you
do? Not anymore.
Do you have children? she asks, stroking herself as if
she is her own pet.
No, you say.
Not yet, she soothes.
Fuck off, you wish.
Your first? you ask, tilting your champagne towards her
belly.
Oh, God no! This is my third. She laughs and her free
hand flies up into the air. When it lands again, it is on your
knee. She looks right into your face now and smiles.
Im so fertile, my husband only has to look at me and Im
up the duff.
0
You make deals with God. You make deals with the Devil.
Youre not fussy. But as a wise man once said: Its the saying
you dont care what you get what gets you jiggered. So you
say it, and youre jiggered, but what you give birth to is a
hedgehog. Its prickly and its cry is a noise so terrible that
you wish someone would scrape fingernails on a blackboard
to give you some relief.
You learn that hedgehogs are both nocturnal and crepus-
cular, but yours doesnt sleep in daylight either. In search of
support and camaraderie, you join a mothers, group. You
turn up at the clinic covered in prickle-marks and with your
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squirming hedgehog in your arms. The other women are
there already, sitting in a circle nursing their soft, boneless
young. The only seat left is beside the Good Mother.
Shes wearing pale pink and making smooth circles on her
babys back with her hand-model hands. Things are different
since you last met, and youre prepared to forgive her if only
shell tell you how it is that her eyes are so bright and her
skin so clear. Youre desperate to know how it is that her
shiny golden hair is brushed. Clearly her child sleeps, but
what is her secret?
You know what they say, she says, with a contented smile.
Calm mother, calm child.
0
One day, you fall into a deep, deep sleep. Valiantly the prince
fights his way through forests of fully laden clothes horses,
past towers of empty nappy boxes, to reach you where you lie
with your rapidly greying hair straggling around your face.
He puckers up. His lips brush yours.
You stupid fucking prick, you yell at him. What the hell
do you think youre doing? I only just got to sleep!
This happens more than once.
Your hedgehog gradually morphs into a child, a boy whose
sunny countenance is sufficiently beautiful to make you forget
the spines and the sleeplessness. When you conceive again,
you are pregnant with the vision of a placid, smooth-skinned
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human girl child, but what you give birth toalthough
femaleis just another hedgehog.
When Hedgehog II is a year old, your partner announces
he is leaving you.
I think you have a personality disorder, he says.
Of course I have a personality disorder, you say. I havent
slept for three years.
So your partner moves out, just as your maternity leave
expires. Your plan had been to go back to work part-time, but
now that youre a single mother you have to work full-time to
afford childcare for two kids. The economics of this confuse
you, but youre too busy thinking about how youre going to
manage to worry about that as well. When you go into the
childcare centre to make inquiries, your little hedgehog clings
to you and makes her sanity-withering cry. The carers hold
closer the human children they have in their arms and offer
you a three-day trial to settle in your hedgehog before you
have to leave her there for real.
On the first day you leave her, she screams until she
vomits, so you take her back home. On the second day you
leave her, she screams until she vomits, so you take her back
home. In a fairy tale, things are always different on the third
go. But this is life and on the third day you leave her, she
screams until she vomits, so you take her back home.
Then comes the day that you are to go back to work. Is
that Rumplestiltskin giggling in your mindscape as you hand
over both your second-born and the bale of hay-spun gold?
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The carer takes a tentative hold of your hedgehog. You smile
and coo. You turn your back and walk out the door and, as
you do, you hear your hedgehog screaming. The effect is like
having your uterus torn out through your ear holes. You are
sure you can smell vomit.
You only just make it out the kiddy-proof gate before you
begin to weep. The weeping makes you red and puffy in the
face and now you are hardly presentable for work. In order
to pull yourself together, you call in to a caf. You open the
door and look inside but every table is taken. Theres one
bar stool but you think perhaps its the Good Mother sitting
on the neighbouring seat and nursing a peppermint tea.
Youre not certain, but theres something in the blonde foils
that makes you wonder and youre in no mood for her today.
And, besides, by now youre too experienced to fall for her
ol empty-seat routine.
Outside there are no free tables either, but two women
who are taking up only half of a large table gesture for you
to join them, so you do.
Thank you, you say, and they nod in unison.
You take out your fold-out mirror and try to hide the
blotches on your face with powder. Then you notice how
peachy is the skin of the raven-haired woman sitting on the
same side of the table as you. And the skin of the redhead
sitting across from her. Each of them has a slim-line pram
in a bright, interesting colour. They push their prams to and
fro with gloved hands. The gloves are reasonable, arent they?
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Its winter. Its cold. Youre telling yourself all of this even
though you already know.
No, no!
Its her. Both of them.
And although shes talking to herself across the table, shes
really talking to you.
How old? one of her asks.
One, the other says, with a can-you-believe-it manoeuvre
of the eyebrow.
Incredible, she says. I mean, is there anybody who thinks
its a good idea to a leave a one-year-old in childcare?
0
You take a vow of silence. You will not speak to her. You will
not look at her. You will not accept seats at her caf table. Out
of the corner of your eye you glimpse her, auburn-haired, in
a Dettol advertisement, and wonder when youre going to clue
up to the fact that these days her hair can be any colour at all?
You tell yourself the consequence of breaking your vow is
that your twelve brothers will turn into ravens, or something.
In order to hold to your promise you make sudden reversals
in supermarket aisles, hide from her in clothing store change
rooms, buy bigger sunglasses for their greater protective
surface area, teach yourself sign language out of a library
book so that if she speaks to you, you can easily pretend to be
deaf. You are doing well. Until your eldest child starts school.
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You know which is the Good Mothers Volvo. Its the one
with the My Family stickers on the back window; shes the
one with the handbag and the mobile phone. At first, you
think this knowledge will help you to avoid her. You can just
make double the number of Green bottles when you start singing
as you lap the school in your Hyundai, but soon you realise
the Volvo is parked multiple times around the perimeter,
no matter how early or late you arrive. This is her territory.
Here, she is omnipresent.
Its almost Mothers Day and the kids in your sons kinder-
garten class are given a photocopied page to fill in. Mostly,
the page is taken up with a blank square in which each child
is to draw a picture, but above the box theres a line of text
that is followed by what you will come to recognise as the
ellipsis of doom.
I really appreciate it when my mummy . . .
A week later you see the completed tributes where theyre
pinned up on the wall just inside the classroom. All the
figures in the pictures wear bright colours and most have
hands pronged with twelve or more fingers. Little Laura
reports she really appreciates it when her mummy tucks her
into bed at night. For Oliver, its his mummys cupcakes. Tara
appreciates it when her mummy takes her to the library.
Already you are predisposed to like Clytemnestra, who
is a tiny little skun rabbit of a thing to be lugging around
the name-equivalent of four suitcases and hatbox. You see
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that Clytemnestras had a go herself at changing mummy
to mummies. Her picture is a constellation of mint green
spots: she appreciates it when her mummies dont cook peas.
You are still smiling at Clytemnestras peas when the Good
Mother materialises beside you in her black puffer jacket. She
patrols the pin-up board with her eyes.
Ummm-aaahhh, she says, happily shocked. Look what
Davids done.
You havent yet found your own sons handiwork. And
now, even though the Good Mothers manicured index finger
is pointing right at it, somehow your eyes are still missing
the mark. They are slipping over all the generously endowed
hands and circle-striped bellies. You dont want to know.
The Good Mother realises shes going to have to read it
out for you.
I . . . really . . . appreciate it . . . when . . . my mummy
. . . She snickers, snickers, before she continues: . . . buys
takeaway.
Under the sentence, written blackly at your sons instruc-
tion by one of the teachers aides, there is a disturbingly
accurate reproduction of the golden arches. You want to
protest that you never take him there yourself. Its your ex
who does it. And the birthday parties! Its not as if you can
say no to these things. Well, not unless youre . . .
The Good Mother interrupts your thoughts with a hand
on your upper arm.
Oh, honey, she says. You must be so embarrassed.
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0
Literary scholars view it as a mystery to be solved by careful
textual analysis. Psycholanalysts propose theories that involve
words like splitting and internalisation.
But you could give them a much simpler explanation.
Yes, you could tell them, couldnt you?
There is no mystery for you.
You could tell them exactly why it is, in fairy tales, that
the Good Mother is always dead.
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0
Literary scholars view it as a mystery to be solved by careful
textual analysis. Psycholanalysts propose theories that involve
words like splitting and internalisation.
But you could give them a much simpler explanation.
Yes, you could tell them, couldnt you?
There is no mystery for you.
You could tell them exactly why it is, in fairy tales, that
the Good Mother is always dead.
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First published in 2014
Copyright Danielle Wood 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording
or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in
writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a
maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be
photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided
that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a
remuneration notice to the Copyright Agency (Australia) under the Act.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through
the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.
Grateful acknowledgement is given for permission to reprint a line from the poem
Everybodys Mother by Liz Lochhead from Dreaming Frankenstein, copyright 1984.
Used by permission of Polygon Books. The storyThe Good Mother was previously
published in Griffith Review.
Allen & Unwin
83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065
Australia
Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100
Email: info@allenandunwin.com
Web: www.allenandunwin.com
Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available
from the National Library of Australia
www.trove.nla.gov.au
ISBN 978 1 74175 674 6
Typeset in Mrs Eaves 12.5/17 pt by Bookhouse, Sydney
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Tis is an extract from Mothers Grimm by Danielle Wood and does not refect the fnal text. Tis
item is for promotional use only and is not for sale. Te extract can also be read online at
www.allenandunwin.com
You make deals with God. You make deals with the Devil.
Youre not fussy. But as a wise man once said: Its the
saying you dont care what you get what gets you jiggered.
So you say it, and youre jiggered, but what you give birth
to is a hedgehog. Its prickly and its cry is a noise so terrible
that you wish someone would scrape fingernails on a
blackboard to give you some relief.
In a fairytale, the only good mother is six feet under. All the others
are bad news.
A fairytale mother will exchange her rst-born child for a handful
of leafy greens. And if times get tough, shell walk her babes into the
woods and leave them there.
But mothers of today do no such things. Do they?
In this collection of heartbreakingly honest stories, the mothers
of the Brothers Grimm are broughtwith wit, subversiveness and
lyrical proseinto the here and now.
Danielle Wood turns four fairytales on their heads and makes them
exquisitely her own.

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