I suppose they’ll spin you a fairy-tale, the other six. They’ll have to. No way can they tell you what really happened to poor Snow-White.
It started out good and well. Of course, we were delighted when the girl came knocking at our door, asking for food and shelter. Our eyes were popping out. A princess! And such a beauty! Of course she could come in.
We all fell in love with her straightaway. We grovelled and scraped. Take our food. Have the best bed.
She was grateful that first night. She must have been tired and hungry enough. She ate our broth and fell into Doc’s bed that night without a complaint. (He calls himself Doc; we call him Sleazy behind his back.)
The fleas must have liked Snow-White’s pure white skin, because she kept waking up with a yelp. I didn’t get too much sleep that night either, because Sleazy took Grumpy’s bed, Grumpy Happy’s, Happy Bashful’s, Bashful Sleepy’s, Sleepy mine, and I had to get in beside Dopey who smells, snores and itches. So I knew what Snow-White felt like in the morning.
‘Where are the silk sheets?’ she demanded.
‘But I must have silk sheets. I cannot possibly sleep another night without them,’ she said, when we shook our heads in apology.
‘What’s shilk sheets?’ Dopey asked, but we ignored him, and brought out the honey to make up for our inadequacy.
But we gagged when we saw the great dollops she was ladling onto her porridge.
‘That’s got to last us all winter,’ said Grumpy.
‘Sssh,’ said Sleazy.
They’ll probably tell you that she took up a brush and had the cottage spic and span, and the supper cooked and the table set by the time we came home for work. Don’t you believe it.
‘Work?’ she said, as if she’d never heard of it. ‘Are you going to leave me all alone? Then, remember to bring back silk sheets.’
‘Snow-White, your Highness,’ pleaded Sleazy, ‘we must go and work in the mine. We cannot bring back silk sheets. We are so sorry.’
She was afraid her wicked stepmother would send hunters out for her, so before we went out we locked the door and windows and told her to answer to no-one.
She was bored stiff when we got back, but it hadn’t crossed her mind to get supper ready. Not that we expected her to. We gave her the very best bits of meat in her broth, but it wasn’t good enough.
‘This meat is so gristly. Is there nothing better?’ she asked in dismay.
‘Have mine, Snow-White,’ Sleazy said. ‘I’ll cut off the gristle.’ Then Grumpy felt obliged to give Sleazy his share, Happy gave his to Grumpy, and so on down the pecking order to Dopey who got the gristle from Snow-White’s meat. He was too thick to notice, but some of us felt the sacrifice.
Let me explain. We dwarfs who work in the mines have a hard life. We’re not proper dwarfs like you see at the travelling shows. We’re just small. Some folks say it’s because we don’t get enough light to grow. I say it’s because we don’t get enough to eat.
I’ve been going down the mines since I was nine years old, or thereabouts. We get up at dawn, eat our porridge, pick up our axes, and walk up the mountain to the mine. Then it’s down, down, down. The tunnel is small. We keep banging our heads. That’s why we wear pads under our hats. Folk laugh at our high pointy hats, but that’s why they’re like that. We have to bend down all the way, and we stay that way all day. It soon gets to the point you can’t straighten up when you come out.
It’s dark, of course, and we take candles, and it’s hot and stuffy and dusty. We miners cough all the time. It makes us hoarse and breathless and wheezy and gives us chest pains. Eventually, it gets so bad you can’t go to work any more. Then maybe you start coughing up blood. Then you know you haven’t got long to go. It happened to my brother, Wheezy. It must have been a relief, in the end. It was a relief to the rest of us, I can tell you. I’m really more wheezy, too, than sneezy, but they had to call me something different.
Anyway, we work in the mine all day, hacking at the rocks, and in the evening we haul up the copper and gold. The boss takes it away and pays us our pittance, and we go home, knackered. Then we make our supper, and maybe play cards over a few beers. Then we go to bed.
That’s our life, except for Sundays. In winter that’s the only time we see daylight. We go to church, then to the pub, pick up the gossip, try to pick up a woman (and fail), buy food for the week and go home. That’s our life.
So it was really special when Snow-White came. We kept it secret from everyone, although we had to keep reminding Dopey not to tell. He nearly did once, in the pub, after the palace made an announcement that the princess was missing. He beamed round. ‘We know where she aaaaaaagh!’ Several of us had kicked him.
We carried on being good to Snow-White, although some felt she was pushing her luck. She was taking too much honey and more than her fair share of meat, and she never did anything to help. I kept reminding the others she was a princess and too delicate for work and anyway she wouldn’t know how.
It all turned quite suddenly. One night we got home very late because a stretch of tunnel had collapsed and we had to dig our way out. It took ages, we were more wrecked than ever and our tempers were short by the time we got home.
‘You’re late!’ said Snow-White. ‘I’m so hungry!’
Maybe the servants at the palace were used to being talked to like that but we thought it a bit unfair. ‘We’re hungry, too, Snow-White. You could have made the supper, yourself,’ said Sleazy.
I suppose Snow-White didn’t expect humble dwarfs to talk to her like that. Her mouth dropped open. ‘But – but – I’m a princess.’
That did it for Grumpy. He bawled at her. ‘You might be a fxxxing princes but it’s high time you pulled your weight. Now get cooking!’
Snow-White jumped up in alarm and picked up the big iron pot. But it was too heavy for her and she dropped it on her foot. Then she went into hysterics. ‘Oh look what you’ve made me do! You’re so cruel! I hate you all!’ She kept on shrieking.
It was all too much for Grumpy. He lunged at her, clamped his hand over her jaw and pushed her against the wall. Snow-White thrashed out. Grumpy banged her head on the wall this time. Snow-White kicked and screamed. Sleazy came to help Grumpy pin her down. Happy joined in the fray. Between the three of them, they managed to get the struggling girl upstairs, and by the sounds of it, I think they each gave her a seeing to. By the time they were finished with her, her protests were reduced to a whimper.
Poor Snow-White. I don’t think she deserved that. She wept all night. I would have gone over to comfort her but those three would have beaten me up.
She tried to leave in the morning but the door and windows were locked and Sleazy had the key. ‘You don’t want to go out there or your wicked stepmother will get you. Now be a good girl and have our supper ready when we get home.’
‘And lay the table.’
‘And sweep the floor.’
‘And scrub it.’
‘And bake some bread.’
‘And brew some beer.’
‘And warm our beds.’
We locked the door when we left.
We must have scared her rotten because she did have our supper ready that night and the house was nice and clean.
Really they should have left it at that. The arrangement would have suited us perfectly. But oh no. Grumpy, Happy and Sleazy were on a roll now. They had bedded Snow-White and they would do it again. And again and again. The other four of us didn’t get a look in, but it was already bad enough for Snow-White. Those three were quite rough with her.
They’ll probably make out the wicked stepmother came and poisoned Snow-White, maybe by disguising herself and handing her an apple through the window.
But I don’t think so. I’d been lying sick in bed upstairs for a whole week and I never heard anyone at the window. They had ordered her to keep the shutters closed and had put iron bars over the windows, just in case. I did hear something fall to the floor but I never thought anything of it.
They panicked when they came home and found her lying there.
‘She’s covered in bruises.’
‘How did she get them?’
‘That’s where you…’
‘It won’t look good at the inquest.’
‘We’ll have to bury her.’
‘It’ll take too long. What if they find us first?’
‘Let’s get out of here!’
And that’s what they did. They went without locking the door this time, but, alas, too late for Snow-White. They left her lying on the floor and me upstairs in bed.
I staggered downstairs and gaped at her. She was whiter than ever. She looked so beautiful, and peaceful now. Her life hadn’t been worth living of late. Every day I had lain upstairs and listened to her weeping, but there was nothing I could do.
She had been good to me; she had looked after me while I lay coughing and wheezing. She had brought me food and medicine.
I should never have said anything. ‘Go easy on the arsenic, now. No more than a tiny bit, or it’s lethal,’ I told her. I must have given her ideas. The jar was left on the table, uncorked; she must have taken some, then bitten into an apple to get rid of the taste. The apple lay on the floor beside her.
Oh Snow-White! Her cheeks were no longer rosy, but her face was so white and pure and even more beautiful than ever. I stared at her through glassy eyes until my hot tears spilled over her icy face. I lay down beside her, her coolness a comfort to my fevered body. My princess. At last she was mine, to love and to cherish, until –
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t do anything disgusting. I couldn’t even try. I had no energy at all.
After a couple of days she didn’t seem so pure and I heaved her outside. I really wanted to bury her but I didn’t have the strength.
They found her not long afterwards. The prince from over the valley came. He looked grief-stricken. Some say he’d had his eyes on Snow-White. If he married her he’d get her father’s kingdom when he died. No wonder the stepmother wanted rid of her!
His people came back for her and put her in a shiny wooden box – glazed, I think they call it. I watched through a crack in the shutter.
I’m waiting for them to come back and get me. Obviously, I’ll have to take the blame. But I’m coughing up blood now; my time’s nearly up. It hasn’t been much of a life. They can take me if they want; there is nothing more for me in this life.
But I believe in the everlasting. I’ve got a feeling there’s a future for Snow-White and us dwarfs.