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Goldilocks on the Fourth Floor

Goldilocks on the Fourth Floor
by Gabriel Ertsgaard

For Botham Jean

Three bears lived in a little cottage in the woods. You know this story. The momma bear made a big pot of oatmeal for breakfast (or perhaps it was the papa bear – no need to get stuck on gender stereotypes), but the oatmeal was too hot to eat. No problem. The whole family just went for a walk in the woods while their food cooled. But then Goldilocks showed up – again, you know this story – that little blond-haired girl who waltzed into the three bears’ home like she owned the place. She gobbled up the baby bear’s food (and sampled the rest). She broke the baby bear’s chair (after testing the rest). She slept in the baby bear’s bed (but first tried out the rest). Then, when the homeowners finally returned, she fled the house in terror.

That’s not the whole story, though.

Goldilocks, you see, also lived in a little cottage in the woods. But she made a wrong turn at a branching path; she went right when she should have gone left. That’s how she ended up at the three bears’ house. Now there were plenty of signs that this was not her own home. The bears had a big, red mat outside their front door, and Goldilocks didn’t have any such mat. The furniture in the three bears’ cottage was also different than what she knew. The chairs and the beds, none were the same. Goldilocks ignored all of this, though, and just proceeded as if it really were her place. Then, when the bears returned, she fled in fright from the “burglars.”

But even that’s not how it really happened.

Goldilocks wasn’t a child, she was all grown-up. She was a police officer, in fact, with a badge and a gun. She didn’t live in a house in the woods, but in an apartment building. And she didn’t turn down a wrong path (not literally, at least); she got off the elevator on the wrong floor – the fourth floor instead of the third. There really was a big, red mat outside the door, though, to warn Goldilocks and all other confused souls that this was someone else’s home. Inside the apartment that was not her own, Goldilocks didn’t find a bear, but rather a black-skinned businessman with a Caribbean accent. Goldilocks shot him dead on the spot; then she burst into tears. Some people say the man asked her, “My God, why did you do that?” right before he died, but Goldilocks was too busy crying to answer his question.

I know the answer, though.

Goldilocks shot that man – right there in his home – because in the land where Goldilocks lived, white people had for a very long time pretended that black people were bears.

* * *

Gabriel Ertsgaard teaches writing and literature at Kean University in New Jersey. He earned his D.Litt. From Drew University with a dissertation on environmental themes in an Irish legend. His literary criticism, fairy tales, and poetry have appeared in various print and digital publications.

What do you think is the most important aspect of a fantasy story?

Generally, the enchantment in a good fantasy story needs to transform a pivotal character. This cannot be a merely superficial transformation, either. It has to hit beneath the surface of the skin. Conversely, if the enchantment fails to transform the character, then, in a good story, this failure cannot be superficial. Rather, the failure has to carry as much weight as success would in a different story. Either way, the success or failure of the transformative enchantment must be essential to the story’s heart.