Erotic Fairy Tales:Red & Wolfe, Hansel, and Beast

By: Ella James


To Jenn and Rebecca -- for masterminding all the things.


an erotic fairy tale





Dear Grandma,

I’ve never written you before, so this is weird.


Dear Gertrude,

I know you don’t know me, but I know you. Aaaaand I sound like a stalker.


Dear Gertrude,

Hi, it’s me. Your granddaughter. The one you’ve never met. I know it’s been a long time. My whole life, in fact, but


Dear Gertrude,

My name is Red. I am your granddaughter. I’d like to meet you. I know you and my mom were estranged. She told me you didn’t want to see us when I was younger, but it would be nice if you would give me a chance. I’m a writer, like you. Okay, not like you per se. That would be something of a stretch. I haven’t won a Pulitzer, and I’m not a poet, but I worked for the Boston Journal until recently, when I was laid off. I was a courts reporter, then an art critic.

I don’t have any family except you. I need money. Or a friend. Or both. But I’ll get nothing, because I’m too proud to send this e-mail.

My rent is late. Like…really late. I’m eating ice cream by the gallon and over-using Mr. Happy, my huge, purple, LELO rabbit vibrator. That’s because my boyfriend left me…for a dude. Yeah, I know. It’s fucking weird. It sucks.

I wonder why the hell you and my mom were estranged. She didn’t like to talk about it. I can’t believe you didn’t come to her funeral. Or did you? I’m not even sure what you look like. I think your Wiki picture is about sixty years outdated. Maybe you could visit me in Boston and take a new one.

Wonder if I’ll ever really write you. I doubt it. I bet I get my pride from you, you old coot.


I slam my Macbook shut and race for the bathroom. The bathroom I’ve been using as seldom as possible, because I’m running out of toilet paper.

I leap over a pile dirty clothes beside my tan recliner, dash past a three-foot tall stack of paperbacks in the hallway, and narrowly avoid tripping on a pair of ice skates before I punch through the bathroom door.

Pink. This small room looks like the inside of a Bubble Yum bubble. I drop down on the pale pink toilet, let out a sigh, and blink at my reflection. Me: naked in front of an oyster-shell sink, surrounded by pink tile. I look thinner. More like I did in college. And it’s not just the leanness. A few weeks ago, shortly after I lost my job, I hacked myself some brand new bangs. I’m wearing them longish, almost in my eyes, the way I did my senior year at Northwestern. The rest of my bright red hair is long like college, too. Past my shoulders, hanging just over the swell of my breasts.

They look pert right now, and full. I’m an apple, with more weight on my tummy than my legs, and my breasts are a generous “C” cup. I’ve been irrationally proud of this since I hit puberty the summer after eighth grade.

But there’s no point admiring my new, thinner figure or my bust. These boobs haven’t done a damn thing for me lately. Suddenly I can’t even stand to look at my naked body. I tear four squares of toilet paper off the roll and wipe quickly. I flush and look into the basket beside the toilet: six more rolls. That’s not so bad. With any luck, I can make that last three weeks. Maybe more like two. If I run out, I’ll sneak back into the Journal and steal more.

I tuck my hair behind my ears, frown at my freckled, blue-eyed reflection, and pick my way back into the little living area.

Boston is expensive, so when I leased this place two years ago, a studio was all I could afford. And even then, rent was $2,200 per month. My landlord, a ball-cap-sporting, glasses-wearing hipster named Dursey, raised it to $2,250 this past fall. At the time, I barely thought about it. Carl had moved in a few months prior, so I was only paying half.

Now I look around the hardwood den and kitchen area and wonder how long until someone else’s dust is piling in the corners.

I sink into the nest of pillows and blankets on the couch, where I’ve been sleeping since I sold my canopy bed, and ask myself if it was worth it, being ‘house poor.’ I never minded not having a lot in savings, because I never figured I would need it. Before January 30, I spent most of my money on clothes, food, and utilities. Just the basics. I’m not a very materialistic person, which is good, because I guess I’m not very good with money, either.

I glance at the coffee table, where my laptop sits, adorned with stickers I put there in college. I keep telling myself I might have to sell it, too, but honestly, I’m not sure I can. I kind of think I’d check myself into a homeless shelter with it hidden inside a blanket if I had to. I know I’m not a great writer—I’m definitely not famous like my grandmother, Gertrude O’Malley—but I love writing.

Whatever, though.

Enough moping.

I spent the morning job-hunting, the afternoon reading the latest Richard Powers novel, and the early evening typing up a meal plan, just to be sure I make the food in my pantry last as long as possible. I’ve got one bottle of Sauvignon Blanc left, and I’m thinking about downing it. Goes well with everything, even tonight’s dinner: a little bowl of insta-mac and cheese.

I hop up, slip into the red silk robe hanging on the couch’s arm, and walk into the kitchen to microwave the mac and cheese, when my iPhone rings.

I turn a circle, skimming my gaze over the granite countertops and mahogany cabinets, then dash back into the den, where it looks like the women’s section of a large department store has vomited everywhere.


I can’t find anything in this—


I pluck the phone from between a cereal bowl and a copy of The New Yorker on my coffee table and see that “Katie Underpants Danger” is calling. My BFF’s name is actually Katie Stranger, but everyone from the Journal calls her Katie Danger, which makes sense because she’s a police reporter. Unlike my amoral self, Katie believes in never going without your underpants, so that’s how she got her middle name.

I press the green button. “Cat-yyyyyy!”

“Red!” Katie has a prim, little old lady kind of voice. She sounds like your grandmother crying out your name from the first row of fold-out chairs at the seventh-grade spelling bee. This makes it super funny when she curses.

“Whatcha doing?” I ask, plodding back into the kitchen.

“I’m at the KSC.” The Kendall Square Cinema, a little mom and pop place in Cambridge. “Ronnie and Betsy and I. And you, if you can come.”


Katie keeps inviting me out, and I keep having to tell her ‘no,’ because I can’t afford it. I bite my lower lip. I’m going to have to tell her something like the truth, or she’s going to think I’m dodging her.

I sigh. “I would love to come with you guys, but I’m running a little low on funds.” I twirl a lock of hair around my finger, figuring there’s no need to elaborate. I’ve been nine weeks without income. I’m footing the entire bill for an apartment I used to share. I’m also having to use a bunch of my unemployment money paying for an emergency room visit after spraining my ankle ice skating at the Frog Pond New Years’ day.

“Oh, okay. Well I see. I’m sorry.”

I shrug, adding water to my mac and cheese. “I didn’t mention it. And no problem. Is tomorrow Saturday? Yep, tomorrow’s Saturday. Come by on Sunday. We’ll go…I dunno. We’ll go walking or something. Something super cool. And tell Ronnie and B I’ll see them next week at Hugh’s.”

A few minutes later, I’m sliding the phone into the pocket of my robe and pouring cheese powder into my steaming noodles. I stop to pop the cork on my last bottle of wine before I even stir the powder in. It’s Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc: my favorite, which I used to buy maybe too regularly. I take a long swig from the bottle and pinch my lips together.

My robe vibrates. The phone. Katie again.

“Red, OMG, I forgot to tell you! True Crime channel, twenty minutes! Can you DVR for me? They’re doing a special on James Wolfe, and Rob told me they’re using some footage from the Times!”

“Sure.” I nod. “No prob.”

“Thanks, Red. And hey…we miss you.”

“Ditto. TTYL.”

I hang up before I can get all dumb and emotional. I see Katie at least twice a week, and the rest of the gang at our Wednesday night bingo game at Hugh’s. I have nothing to cry about.

Except that I don’t see them every day.

And this week, I realized I can’t even afford to go to the MFA to see a traveling collection of “W” paintings. A few months ago, I’d have gotten a private tour. Shit, I might have even gotten to meet the reclusive “W.” Okay—maybe not, but still.

I take a long chug from the bottle. Then another. I stir the powder into my noodles and swallow a few bites, followed by another gulp. It tastes so fucking good. God, I’ve missed drinking.

I miss getting drunk.

I take my bowl and bottle into the den and find the True Crime channel. I’m greeted by a close-up of an attractive guy with shaggy-looking dark brown hair; cold, dark brown eyes; and a mean jawline. Total serial killer material. Only I’m pretty sure this guy only killed his wife. Maybe her lover, too. I don’t remember. I was working here at the Journal when Katie worked this case as an intern with The New York Times. I didn’t know her until the next year, when she came on as the new cops reporter at the Journal.

I was hired first, and still, I’m the one who got canned.

“Who cares, Red?” I tip back the bottle to shut my bitter self up.

I sink back into the couch and listen to the sad story of one James Wolfe, a privileged upstate New Yorker who married a celebutant and longtime family friend. Her name was Cookie. Seriously—Cookie. I drink my way through the story of their debauched marriage: ménages, swinging, maybe a little bit of BDSM. Naturally, our murdering homeboy was the dom. I listen to college friends of both James and Cookie; officers who worked the crime scene; and the senior crime reporter for the Times. I think that guy was Katie’s superior.

I soak up details of the trial, reacquainting myself with familiar courtroom terms. When I hear the word “redirect,” I start to cry. It’s not logical. It’s silly. But suddenly I miss my old court beat. I pull my computer into my lap, and just to torture myself, I go to the MFA’s web site, where I scroll through “W.”’s breathtaking nature paintings. I cry a little more at ‘Self Portrait of an Owl.’ That one has really nice colors.

I slap a mental headline on my distress: ‘Canned reporter chokes to death on $20 wine’

A few minutes later, when I hear how James Wolfe walked free, I actually do choke. From there, I slip back into my crying jag. Why do some people have things easy while others don’t? Some people get murdered. Some people get fired. Some people starve to death. Kids get cancer. I hate life.

In this frame of mind, I open my computer.


You have a granddaughter. Remember? I’ve never met you, and you’re getting really fucking old. This is me, inviting myself for drinks. I’ll bring the scotch. You send the treasure map to your swanky ass island.

~Sarah Ryder (known to people in the know as “Red,” on account of my fabulous red hair).

When I wake up with a terrible hangover, I’m not sure if I really sent the e-mail to the address posted on The O’Malley Foundation’s web site. But I know for sure I didn’t DVR the special on James Wolfe.


Checking my sent box and realizing I did, in fact, e-mail Gertrude brings a strange relief. I know I’ve cashed in my only chip. I can finally surrender myself to fate.

Sunday morning, I list my iPad, my flatscreen, my coffee table, and my antique chifferobe for sale on Craig’s List and I call my landlord, letting him know I still don’t have March’s rent money. He offers to let me make a half payment. I tell him I’ll move out in two weeks, and I’ll give him as much as I can when I hand in the key; the rest when I find a new job. I’m not sure where I’ll go, but it doesn’t really matter. I can’t stay here.

In the two hours before I meet up with Katie, I list the rest of my furniture, my rugs, my Mikasa dinnerware, two antique mirrors, and my collection of shoes and handbags on Craig’s List.

Minutes later, my phone vibrates with the first of what becomes many e-mail notifications. People want my shit.

While I stand in front of the mirror to get dressed, I realize it’s the first time in a while that I haven’t felt like I’m staring at a loser.

Maybe I’ll end up sleeping on friends’ couches, but at least I’ll know I did everything I could.

I dress in jeans, a thermal shirt, my puffy, navy blue jacket, and my favorite pair of pink and black Nike sneakers, and lock the front door with a growing sense of nostalgia. As I walk the snow-caked sidewalk, headed toward the shops at Beacon Hill, I check my phone. I’ve got $63.29 in my checking account and $344.02 in savings. I move all but $5.00 from savings into checking and slide my phone back into my pocket.

It’s a gray day, not unusual for March in Boston. The kind of day I never minded when I was working, because writing about art is dramatic and fun, and riding the rail to a museum or a gallery or a show or an auction was part of my daily commute.

Before I reach the cozy little business district surrounding Beacon Hill, I try to brace myself for Katie’s work talk. Katie loves being a reporter. She tweets about the stories she covers almost ’round the clock. She’d rather check out a crime scene than eat or sleep or fuck her boyfriend, Gage.

Thinking of Gage makes me think of Carl, and I do not need to think of Carl. Carl, who waited until the dim afterglow of some fantastically mediocre Christmas Eve sex to tell me he was leaving me for Sam. Blonde, blue-eyed, freckle-faced Sam from Denver. A ripped bartender with a forearm tattoo of a red-haired mermaid. Sam who wears a black apron and an emerald earring. Sam who has a cock.

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