Shveta Thakrar


Once upon a time
There was a girl
With all a monarch’s markers:
Flowing hair like flax
In search of a spinning wheel,
Eyes of afternoon sky,
Skin like sweetest cream
The kind you eat with peaches
(Mmm, said the wolf, tastes like candy!)
This girl knew once-upon-a-times like
A party trick
A faded tattoo
Easy as donning a red cape
To catch those devious forest-dwelling devils

Once upon a time
There was another girl
This girl knew once-upon-a-times like
The savory pasta that supplanted
Her grandmother’s spicy lentils and rice
The others called our girl mud
Instead of milk
Monkey instead of maiden
Not for us
And the leering, rabid wolves so starved
For fine young flesh (How they slaver!)
Never glanced her way
Not even


She saw stories everywhere she looked
Guzzled them down, watery dreams
Against the desert of her days
But her stories, like her skin, never fit
(Maybe the wolf should eat her grandma
And then they’d let her in.)
Not for us
(Go back where you came from!)
Who needed heavenly nymphs and nagas
When you had fleet-winged faerie queens?

And this girl saw the first girl
The conventional girl
The one fairy tales were made for
She bleached her own skin
(We all burn for beauty.)
Swapped her punjabis for donkey pelts
Combed the woods for kind old women
(Not her grandma. Wrong color.)
And even huge, hirsute wolves
So maybe at last, just maybe
She, too, could be Cinderella, not
The beastly brown stepsister
The girl they deemed a danger, a bother
The girl they hastened to dispose of
Like an enchanted bear’s bride

She would write her own story
Prick her own finger
Cast her own spell of bloom
And blood
And sing it to the world


Not for us, they said much later, sorry
To the girl with eyes dark as hope
And skin to match
It’s just not right for us
So sorry

They shut the book
(Not worth a slam)
Dropped it in the dustbin—
Its strange, curving script,
Nagas, celestial nymphs,
And lost girl still inside—
Then claimed the hand of the princess
All sapphire gazes and tresses of gold
And they lived happily ever after

first appeared on Strange Horizons (2015). Reprinted with permission.

Photograph: Scandia Cavi / NASA

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Shveta Thakrar
Shveta Thakrar is a writer of South Asian–flavored fantasy, social justice activist, and part-time nagini. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Interfictions Online, Clockwork Phoenix 5, Mythic Delirium, Uncanny, Faerie, Strange Horizons, Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories, and Steam-Powered 2: More Lesbian Steampunk Stories. When not spinning stories about spider silk and shadows, magic and marauders, and courageous girls illuminated by dancing rainbow flames, Shveta crafts, devours books, daydreams, draws, travels, bakes, and occasionally even plays her harp. She can be found at