Critical Thought: Pin

In The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales (1975), Bruno Bettelheim, Freudian analyst and therapist to "severely disturbed children," claims that the folk fairy tale (opposed to the lesser modern fairy tale of which "Pin" would be a part) is the most satisfying form of literature. To Bettelheim, these time-tested works of art offer "a much more solid affair than the average naturalistic novel whose hooks go little deeper than a gossip column." As a fan of "the naturalistic novel," I'm not sure I can get on board with Bettelheim completely—he complicates matters further with his analysis of Cinderella's golden slipper as "slipper-vagina," but that's psychoanalysis for you. Bettelheim probably wouldn't even consider "Pin" a true fairy tale: among other things, it lacks the all-important happy ending, the element of consolation necessary to encourage children to press on through their difficulties. But I'm not surprised the ending fails to console; Hans Christian Andersen, author of my source tale, "Thumbelina," was an unhappy man who (especially compared with tales recorded by the brothers Grimm) penned explicitly didactic and heavily Christianized stories. Andersen thought he was funny looking—an ugly duckling—and so feared fire that he took his own rope ladder everywhere he went. Nonetheless, he's always been my favorite. Bettelheim thought Andersen's worldview was too depressed to be useful to children.

Lucky for me, the fairy tale no longer needs Bettelheim as champion. Maybe it never did. As an adult reader of fairy tales, I'm grateful for the attention Kate Bernheimer has brought to the form; her delightful and super-star stocked anthology of contemporary tales, My Father He Killed Me, My Mother He Ate Me, reminded me how much fun it is to play around with the stories I devoured as a kid. I owe a debt of gratitude to Bernheimer, in whose Nebraska Summer Writers Conference workshop I wrote "Pin".

Thank you for reading.

Wendy Oleson's recent work appears in Copper Nickel, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Rattle, and The Baltimore Review. She's a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she's senior fiction reader for Prairie Schooner and her graduate-student life quietly resembles that of "The Little Match Girl." She appears to be growing ever more melodramatic but doesn't blame fairy tales. Thank God it's nearly baseball season.

Pin: A Fairy Tale

A designer drew up a maternity collection that premiered in the spring.

The clothes bunched and bagged and made the models, long slips of ladies with volleyballs bandaged against their abdomens, appear paunchy.

How could the designer design for the pregnant woman when she'd never known the glorious swell of child?

So many people asked the question, it ruined the designer's career.

But her models still loved her.

One grew fond even of the volleyball; she kept it Ace-bandaged to her body. It bobbed with her breath when she offered to carry a child for the designer.

But she didn't quite carry it.

This model emptied her uterus into a copper pot.

The pot was not the right place for it.

She poured it into a great glass jar where she'd been culturing kombucha.

After many months, a child emerged from the kombucha-soaked womb. She was no bigger than a thread of kombucha, no bigger than a pin.

The designer held her daughter, Pin, and recovered inspiration.

People began to wear the designer's slippery silks in muted colors.

Although Pin matured quickly into a lovely young lady—you should have seen her cheekbones—she remained so thin she could sleep stretched out on a needle.

Crouched in a thimble, she wouldn't leave her mother's side.

The model became jealous. She longed for the designer's love, and her uterus had pickled in the kombucha. That wasn't right. She snuck into the designer's workroom and wove Pin into a jumpsuit that was part of a collection heading for Hong Kong.

During Hong Kong fashion week, Pin pressed against a model's hip. The model removed Pin at the midpoint of the catwalk.

Surprised, she showed the other models backstage.

Pin became their tiny mascot.

They didn't like their bodies, and Pin, being no bigger than a pin, didn't like hers either. They didn't speak the same language, but really, they did.

Mostly, the models found compassion for Pin. Even if we grow ugly, we will find other things to do with our lives, they said, but Pin will die young because technological advancements have not kept pace with the needs of her weak little heart.

On a night when they had something to celebrate, the models took Pin out with them. One of the models, older and thicker than the others, dropped Pin in a cup of kombucha.

Pin's face was so small, it generally appeared contented. The models assumed Pin was enjoying her beauty soak, but really, she drowned.

by Wendy Oleson