“Death and Gingerbread” by Joseph Hirsch

The sergeant of the watch…stumbled onto the once-enchanted house….

We pulled up at the oxbow bend
in the driveway paved with crushed sugar shards.
The officers secured the crime scene, unspooling yellow tape
between candy canes large as lamp standards. 

I lit a cigar to cover the smell of death
and gingerbread. “What do we got?” 

The sergeant of the watch, who first stumbled onto the once-enchanted house,
took stock of the candy manse. Noted the spun sugar fretwork, confectionary cupolas,
chocolate chip shingles, slabs of fruitcake stacked like dressed stone.
Said, “Got the kids in the back of the carriage,
scared shitless, shivering in their trauma blankets.”
He paused, spat. “They said the broad’s been basting ‘em,
poking the boy once a day through the bars of his cage with a willow branch
till she was sure he was plump enough to go in the oven.”
He shivered, which was saying something,
as he’d seen quite a bit while beating feet in Grimm Town:
like that unfaithful husband whose wife turned him into a cat and skinned him,
or that mighty oak that learned to walk after someone shoved
a still-beating heart in its hollow.
“She tried to cook the boy,” he continued.
“But the girl shoved the old broad in the oven before she got her chance.” 

I noted a sickly sweet, yeasty scent
over the smell of my cigar
and the ever-present hint of gingerbread.
A stiff wind picked up, added the musk
of pine needles to the air. 

Child Protective Services would soon pay a visit
to that no-good woodcutter
who brought them out here to die.
The parents would no doubt plead poverty.
But Mother Goose was a hanging judge
and would brook no fairytales. 

The smell of the witch smoldering away
in her brick beehive oven
brought me back to the moment.
My mouth watered against my will,
as I entertained strange thoughts 
about giants
grinding man to bonemeal. 

This darker, tallowy scent was reminiscent of cornbread,
and woodsmoke, graced with the faintest hint of mesquite,
bearing an undercurrent of the sinister:
something like links sizzling in a pan
tended by gourmand who’d had a heart attack 
while flipping his greasy Würstchen,
well-past being able to work the spatula
when the neighbors found him keeled
heels up,
a fat pawn on the kitchen’s chessboard linoleum.
“Christ,” I said, chomping my cigar. “I’ll never eat candy again.”

Joseph Hirsch is the author of many published books. His shorter works have appeared Terror House, 3 AM, and Bull: Men’s Fictionwww.joeyhirsch.com

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