A Millennial Fairytale
Updated: May 3, 2018
Once upon a time, there lived a young girl in a small town called Nowhere in deep Arkansas. Her name was Persephone. She had long, silken hair that flowed right down her back. Her eyes were a big as saucers; her skin was softer than silk. Persephone was quiet. But she saw everything. She didn’t speak much, but when she did, she would make all the townspeople laugh with her wit and impressions. She lived on her family’s farm and knew each animal as a distinct character. Everyone liked Persephone. She listened to people and tried her hardest to please them. Everyone knew, that if they could open her up and see her heart, it would be gold in colour.
Every night, as Persephone went back to the cottage after riding the horses or feeding the pigs, she would look up at the stars, shining over the town.
“I want to be one of those,” she would say.
Persephone knew that Hollywood was the place where stars were made.
She travelled around the streets of Beverly Hills on Google Street View. She pored over the images in Hollywood Weekly. Persephone told the townspeople that Hollywood was her destiny. They nodded and said, “of course it is” but looked at each other and grinned when Persephone turned her face. Hollywood could not be further away from Nowhere, Arkansas and everyone knew it.
But Persephone had this notion, deep inside herself. She could live with it but not ignore it. She was special. She also knew that if she didn’t do anything with her specialness, it would curl into something sinister.
As Persephone got older, she was teased by her schoolmates. She became morose. She cut her long, silken hair and dyed it green out of spite. One day, Persephone came home and could no longer speak. She did not have any words left. Persephone’s mother sat down beside her and took her hand.
“You want to go to Hollywood and be a star”.
“It might happen. You might get away from this town, from these people. But only if you work very hard. Only if you take every opportunity that comes your way. Don’t let anything pass you by, Persephone, do you promise me?”
One Saturday morning, when Persephone was almost grown, she packed up her bags and ran. She took a bus to this the strange foreign land they called ‘Hollywood’.
Slowly but surely, Persephone made a life for herself in this strange new land of avocado and crossfit. In Nowhere, Arkansas, the townspeople had God, and in Hollywood, they had the looming figure of The Wolf. She saw his photograph wherever she looked. Everyone raved about his wit and charm. Anything The Wolf touched turned to gold. As soon as he noticed someone, they would shoot off into the sky. Persephone watched their gilded days play out with hot, dark desire.
Persephone lived in a basement flat with the four least fun Australians in the world. She swept floors. She ate Pot Noodles, alternating between beef & tomato and chicken & mushroom. She waited tables in a fancy restaurant in Silverlake. She brought grain bowls to white women who cross-questioned her about gluten content. She wanted to be seen. She looked at the front covers of Hollywood Weekly and wondered when her life would start, when she would be spirited up, up and away. Every week, Persephone would meet with her agent, Sandra, who moonlighted as a psychic. She would always tell her the same thing: “no news”. “What about next week?” Persephone would ask, and Sandra would look into the crystal ball and say, “nothing then either”.
As Persephone became more withdrawn, her Facebook updates became brighter and more detailed.
One February day, The Wolf came into Persephone’s restaurant. The whole place snapped to attention. Persephone, her hands shaking, served him lamb (wolves like lamb), with salad and potatoes and green beans and cheesecake. He ordered so much food it made Persephone woozy. He smiled at her, showing all his teeth, and she smiled back, making sure to keep her back straight and her voice soothing. She laughed softly at everything he said. The Wolf complimented her beauty. He asked if she had representation. She passed him her card. At the end of the meal, Persephone took The Wolf’s plates into the kitchen. As soon as she was sure no one would see her, she picked scraps off every single one.
The next week, Persephone’s agent had news. The Wolf had summoned her to a palace high up into the hills called the Chateau Marmont. Persephone finally chose a gown of the deepest blue, hand sewn by her mother, with silver slippers. She moisturised and primped and waxed herself until there was nothing left.
That night, she arrived at the Chateau, her heart racing. The receptionist looked her up and down.
“I’ve come to see the Wolf”, Persephone said, barely managing the words.
The receptionist’s face brightened. On the mention of The Wolf’s name, all the hotel staff sprung into action.
“Come right this way”.
The hotel was more beautiful than the inside of Persephone’s dreams.
The Wolf was on the plushest seat, at the best table of the restaurant. He had the loudest laugh and the finest clothes. Circled around him were a group of happy admirers. They complimented him on his talents and laughed even when he didn’t make a joke.
Persephone was struck by the sight of him. His suit was so well-cut, his fur so shiny and soft. The Wolf flashed her a big, kind smile. None of the admirers looked at Persephone, and she sat quietly on the edge on the table. But The Wolf was polite. He kissed Persephone’s hand.
He called to the Waitress to bring Persephone a gin and tonic.
“I shouldn’t”, said Persephone. “I’ll have a water”.
“Oh come on”, said The Wolf. “Have a Gin & Tonic. It's the best Gin & Tonic in America. I insist.”
“I really shouldn’t”, said Persephone.
“She says no, she means yes”, said the Wolf, winking at the waitress.
Persephone smiled, pleased with The Wolf’s attention and generosity.
“How exquisite you look,” said The Wolf.
“Thank you,” Persephone squeaked.
“Do you know what I do, Persephone? I turn people into stars” said The Wolf.
“Oh yes”, said Persephone.
She smiled. This was a scene from a fantasy she had played over and over again in her mind. She thought - for a second - of her mother. ‘Take every opportunity that comes to you, Persephone. Make the most of every chance you get’.
“I could do that for you, if you wanted”, said The Wolf.
“For me?” said Persephone.
“There’s something about you. I can tell”.
The Wolf smiled, baring all of his pointy teeth. He was looking at her - really seeing her - and Persephone, for a second, was not a girl any more but a burgeoning, explosive bud.
“You want to be a star. And I could make that happen for you, Persephone”, he said. “Everyone in Nowhere, Arkansas will look up at the sky and see you there. I have a script. Just read it.”
He looked around.
“It’s too damn loud in here. Come upstairs with me where it’s quiet. We can go over a scene. I can hear you act. We can talk”.
Persephone felt life rush past her ears. She knew that every moment she had experienced had just been preparation for this one. This was it. The moment of arrival.
The Wolf led her upstairs to his suite. Persephone looked around. It was the largest bedroom she had ever seen, with a four-poster bed and magnificent red-gold curtains. She was scared to touch anything or sit down in case she ruined it.
She looked around. All of the Wolf’s footmen and general admirers, so thick and bountiful around him, had got lost somewhere between the restaurant and his private boudoir. Persephone swelled. She had been chosen. Out of all the waitresses in all the restaurants in all the world, it was only she who was in a room alone with The Wolf.
“Would you like to read the script?”
“Oh, Mr Wolf, that would be -”
“There’s just one thing I ask in return, Persephone”.
“What is it?”
The Wolf smiled. He held up one paw. He went into the bathroom and came out in a robe.
Persephone looked around the room. She looked at The Wolf. She was suddenly struck by how big he was and how strong. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and thought about how slight she looked next to him, how small and pale. She tried to recall all she knew about wolves. She could only remember they were were natural predators, hunting mostly at night.
The Wolf put his mouth to her lips. It happened before Persephone could understand it.
The Wolf and Persephone spent the night together in his four poster bed. They were the softest sheets Persephone had ever touched.
Persephone had never kissed anyone before. She knew, from reading fairy tale books all of her life, that a kiss gave life to a beautiful sleeping princess. But, for Persephone, the kiss took her life away.
In the morning, she put on her wrinkled ball gown and took her shiny silver shoes in her hand. She took an Uber back through the traffic to her dirty basement flat, with paper-thin walls and mould and passive aggressive Post-its.
She called her agent/psychic, Sandra, to tell her what happened with the Wolf. Sandra wasn’t interested in the sadness, only in the light.
“Oh, you know, that’s just the Wolf being the Wolf”, Sandra said, dismissively. “You know what, Per-se-phone? I’ve been in this business 30 years. You can’t tell a Wolf not to growl. It’s what they do”.
“But -” said Persephone, a darkness rising in her chest.
Persephone stopped herself. She would forget about the dark rumbling inside of her. She would think about the films and the parties and the glamour and how she would shoot up, right into the sky, so high above Arkansas she wouldn’t be able to see it.
The Big Bad Wolf made good on his promise to Persephone. Script after script fell into her lap. She thought every one would be her last. One day, Persephone opened a copy of Hollywood Weekly, and there she was. Every week, more passersby would whisper and smile as she passed in the street. The more money she made, the more things she got for free. She bought her own apartment. She bought chandeliers and fine furnishings and mussels and fancy soap. One day, before she knew it, Persephone was a shining star in the sky, just like she’d always wanted.
But she felt nothing. She had no friends. In Hollywood, everyone was nice but their niceness was like candy floss or sherbet lemon.
All Persephone could think about were the simple days back on the farm in Arkansas, before she had left home, before the Wolf. But whenever she went home, she felt a strange kind of distance, like she was hearing everyone through a pane of glass.
Many years later, when Persephone had won every single golden trophy, the townspeople of Hollywood turned against the Wolf. They decided he was big and bad and rotten, and had used his power to trick beautiful young girls into doing things they did not want to do. They charged at him with flaming torches and banished him forever to a Sex Addiction Clinic in Nebraska.
Persephone addressed the raging townspeople. She told them what The Wolf had done to her all those years ago, when she was still almost a girl. Most of the townspeople were sympathetic. However, some were not so kind. They shouted things like, ‘why did you go with the Wolf to his castle?’ ‘why would you go into the Wolf’s private boudoir?’ ‘why didn’t you know about the Wolf’s reputation? He is a wolf after all…’ ‘why didn’t you say anything about the Wolf earlier?’ ‘why didn’t you do anything so the Wolf didn’t hurt any other girls?’ ‘Why did you wear such a lovely gown that showed off your chest, with such shiny silver slippers?’
The ‘whys’ piled up on top of Persephone until she could hardly breathe. She had nothing to say. She did not have the language. Their voices formed a fist, against which she had no strength. Shame enveloped her and dragged her down to Earth. The townspeople were right. She had been silly to go to the Wolf’s castle. She had been silly to go back to the Wolf’s bedroom. She had been silly to wear such a beautiful, hand-stitched gown and shiny silver shoes. She hated herself for what she had done. She decided she would never, for the rest of her life, speak about it again.
One day, Persephone met a kind, handsome Prince. He recognised her strangeness and loved her more for it. They shared interests and values and sometimes a toothbrush. Against Persephone’s best efforts, the two fell hopelessly in love. One spring day, he asked her to marry her and she said yes. Persephone wore a long gown made of chiffon and white lace and everyone was stunned by the couple’s shared beauty. Persephone gritted her teeth and tried her best to enjoy the best day of her life. But around every corner, Persephone heard the wolf’s howl. She felt his sharp teeth, his soft fur and his hot, milky breath. But she tried to think about anything else. I am lucky, she told herself. I’m a star. I’ve been saved by a handsome, noble Prince and I’ll never be sad again.
Persephone and The Prince sold their wedding photos to ‘Hollywood Weekly’ for $4 million, which they gave to charity. The caption on the front page read, simply: “Persephone: My Happily Ever After”.
Illustrated by Laura Howard @lauralupinhoward