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Oberman, the Footnote

The Snow White tale retold by Mike Walsh

Section 7: Love and Resignation for a Footnote

They untied me, and I was served a bowl of their stew, which I ate even though it was a foul concoction. Since it had become quite late and I had a terrible headache, we agreed to postpone any attempt to revive Snow White until the morning. We retired for the evening, me in the bed where I had been restrained, next to Snow White. I lay on my side and gazed at her. She was flat on her back. Her face was pasty white like her father’s, but her cheeks showed a slight trace of color.

I got up and checked her pulse. It was almost dead, and her skin was clammy. I opened one of her eyes and held a candle in front of her face. Her pupil contracted. It was a good sign.

I lay back in the small bed and made two decisions. First, I decided that if any of the dwarves had abused her, I would see to it that her modesty was avenged. Second, I decided to waste Stumpy at the slightest provocation. First chance I got, Stumpy was going down.

When I awoke the next morning, I found Vaughn in bed curled up against me. "What the hell!" I shouted and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck.

"No, don’t hurt me, please. I’m sorry. I must’ve been sleepwalking."

"Throttle him," said Stumpy.

"Get a hold of yourself," I shouted and soundly shook him. "We’ve got work to do, and I’m not in the mood for any funny business." He slinked off.

Within the next hour, I gave Snow White an injection, but it had no effect. As the dwarves had told me, she had been poisoned by the Queen more than a month ago and had remained motionless ever since. They had tried to revive her, but it was no use.

"Stumpy was supposed to be guarding her," Vaughn pointed out.

"I was sleeping off a hangover," Stumpy replied. "What did you expect?"

"We expect you to live up to your responsibilities," said Meyer.

"Well, why didn’t you say so?"

An hour later, after the second try with a slightly larger dose, she sat up, once more alive, and said, "Oh, heavens, where am I?"

We had to explain to her where she was and how she had come to live with the dwarves. In fact, we had the darndest time convincing her that she really was a princess and that she would soon rule the kingdom. Unfortunately, she had no recollection of ever meeting me, which made the dwarves somewhat wary of the whole situation.

"You’re telling us that you have no recollection of these events?" said Meyer.

"None whatsoever," she replied. "Who are all these short, ugly men?"

"Do you recognize this man?" Meyer asked, pointing at me.

"I’ve never seen him before in my life," she stated without hesitation.

"Well, naturally, she’s lost her memory," I explained.

"Yeah, so we noticed," said Stumpy.

The return trip was uneventful. The dwarves were indeed in charge, and they handled every detail, from killing a band of unfortunate marauders who crossed our path, to hunting and fishing for food, setting up camp, and keeping watch. I did discover Stumpy manhandling a young farm girl, and I gave him a good thrashing. The fat little bugger managed to inflict a nasty bite wound on my shoulder before I heaved him into a pigsty, but that was about as exciting as it got.

We were met in the forest by troops loyal to the King, and by the time we reached the castle, our ranks had swelled enormously. Wisely, the Queen offered no resistance to our entrance. Within a couple of days, we were in complete control of the government, including the police and military. The King died shortly after our return, Snow White was immediately crowned, and the Queen was put under house arrest on the outskirts of town. Snow White deferred to me on all points, so for the first few weeks, I pretty much ran the show.

Snow White soon got the hang of running the place, and it became obvious that she didn’t need me around making decisions for her. It also became obvious that she had no intention of implementing any of my reforms.

"Your majesty, would it be possible to implement just one of my political reforms?" I asked. "Just a teeny-tiny one? Like, say, free speech."

"I’m afraid not, Oberman," she replied. "It wouldn’t be wise, especially during this time of transition."

"I see."

"The people don’t want too much change all at once."

"Yes, yes, of course."

I really couldn’t blame her for that. No matter how cute you are, once you get power, it’s only natural to try to hang onto it.

"Just one more thing, your majesty," I added. "Are you certain you don’t remember anything at all from that fateful day in the woods?"

"Not a thing, " she said. "But I’ve heard the stories, and I am forever indebted to you for your noble behavior, Oberman."

"You don’t remember anything that was said, such as proposals, promises, emotional declarations that a certain young lady expressed toward her tutor, that sort of thing?"

"Oh, gracious, no. The poison must have erased my memory."

Perhaps the amnesia was for the best, after all. Besides, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that at one time she had been in love with me and I with her. Still I wondered, as the Queen had once suggested, if Snow White had tricked me.

It wasn’t long before Snow White fell in love with a handsome young prince from a neighboring kingdom, and they were married, joining the two kingdoms. The wedding was held with much ceremony and splendor. The Queen was still so mad that she refused to attend, but Snow White gave me the honor of giving her away. The Prince immediately brought his men in to run things and, to no one’s surprise, consolidated the government in his castle many miles away, where he installed Snow White on a permanent basis.

There wasn’t much reason to stick around, so I retired from public life, and believe it or not — I hardly believe it myself — I took up residence with the Queen. After the purity, innocence, and limited experience of Snow White, the Queen’s cruel streak gave her personality an unpredictable edge that I found absolutely irresistible. What the Queen saw in me, I know not, but we soon discovered that we could not live without one another. Of course, she wasn’t happy that I had been instrumental in forcing her from power, but after all the pain she had inflicted on me in the dungeon, we figured that things had pretty much evened out.

We soon settled into a productive life of writing and publishing. I did most of the writing, finally recording my political theories, and the Queen did most of the publishing — under her name.

"The problem is that you have no visibility," she explained. "I, on the other hand, am a celebrity. I mean, do you want to sell book or what?"

The public bought her books — my books, that is — by the cartload. Soon she was on the lecture circuit, and I was left at home with my memories.

As for the dwarves, most of them returned to the mountains when she married and moved. Meyer, however, went with Snow White to the Prince’s castle, and he became her accountant and legal advisor. Stumpy and Stuffy, once bitter rivals, put together a successful vaudeville act that toured for many years. Vaughn met the love of his life, a young page from the royal court, but they were caught in the act by the young fellow’s father, and poor Vaughn was shot to death in the ensuing struggle.

The Queen and I took Gummy in after he was let go by Snow White, and he continues in our employ. He does odd jobs around the house — cooking, cleaning, gardening, painting, copy editing.

"It should be ‘com—com—com—prise,’ not ‘comprised of,’" he said to me one time. "As in, ‘my theories of political reform comprise many principles heretofore unimplemented—ted—ted.’"

Best damn copy editor I’ve ever had. He even accompanies the Queen on her publicity tours, and we both have come to regard the good-natured little fellow as part of the family.

This new, relaxed existence has provided time for thought and reflection, and sometimes I wonder if Snow White actually manipulated me. Maybe I had been a pawn, I don’t know. I regret nothing. I had power, and I didn’t abuse it. My conscience is clear, and I’d do the same thing all over again. It was an exciting time, a time when I was affecting the course of human events, a claim that few can make.

I did find time to jot down my memoir of the Queen’s rise to power, my dalliance with Snow White, her exile, the boar’s heart, the dwarves, the King, the dungeon — the whole shebang. Unfortunately, our agent felt that it was too controversial to see print.

"This is the Middle Ages," he reminded me. "Freedom of speech has not been invented."

He was right, of course. The new King had autocratic powers, including that of censorship, and he never would’ve allowed the publication of such a risky document. The King’s official biographers took Snow White’s story and toned it down. In fact, it was eventually made into a children’s tale, and my role was relegated to that of a "noble huntsman," a footnote in the kingdom’s folklore.

Nevertheless, I can’t say that I’m not happy. Heck, I have my very own Queen. She isn’t nearly as nasty as she used to be, and she doesn’t stare into mirrors anymore. She still rants, raves, and threatens, and I still bring a sense of logic, moderation, and thoughtfulness to her decision-making. Maybe it’s because of this dichotomy, this intricate balance, that we are such a perfect match. Even Gummy sees it.

And at a certain point, I had to be realistic and give up all hope of seeing my political reforms enacted.

"I suppose we’ll have to wait for another time and place for that," I whined to the Queen one day.

"Don’t be bitter, dear," she said. "I’m sure your ideas will be enacted someday, somewhere, perhaps in a faraway country, a country that hasn’t even been discovered yet. And everyone will call it the ‘new world.’"

"Maybe, but I won’t get any of the credit, naturally."

"No, you won’t, but mankind will be better for it."

In the end, I suppose that’s the important thing. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

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