Once upon a time
My mama always told me to stay away from princesses, and I guess I should have listened and gone into the wizarding business, but there was an opening for princes when I graduated from charm school, and I didn’t know at the time that princesses came with the job.
Mama used to take me into the woods during her errands.
She sent me to the green pond to look for newts
and tadpoles while she gathered bats from the cave.
Sometimes she’d try and frighten me by quietly creeping up from behind.
She could walk so soft I would think she was floating
over the broken sticks and dried leaves on the forest floor.
I would always see her crooked hat
in the reflection of the pond
getting closer and closer to me, my hands squeezing through fish smelling mud.
I’d act surprised anyway.
It’s always good to keep mama happy.
She didn’t know.
Or at least, she claimed she did not know.
Every week I crept silently
to the tower’s broad foot
as she dried her warm yellow hair in the sunshine.
I was still young then and not tall.
I would walk to the old stones,
rimmed with moss,
press against their damp coolness,
stretch the length of my body
try to bury my hands in the thick,
Stray drops of perfumed water
slip to the tips of my fingers.
And I don’t know if it got longer
or I got taller
and I could finally touch it.
And after a while, even that wasn’t enough.
So I filled my fists with hair and started climbing.
By the time she noticed enough to say,
“What th—Ow! Hey . . . QUIT IT!”
I was already too high
and too far to even think about jumping.
Striking it out
Mama and I never were the same after that thing I had with her foster kid After all those years in the tower, I never could have known that mama would have loved her so much. When she changed herself into a cat and scratched at my eyes to temporarily blind me, I guess I never really blamed her for any of it.
Rapunzel and I went off and got a second rate castle out in the middle of nowhere, and I finally knew what mama meant about princesses.
Not a day went by that she didn’t complain about her lost hair or the security of a locked tower. “At least thereI didn’t need to worry about bandit raids or ogers standing at the window,” she’d say with her arms wrapped around her belly and her face squishing up, trying not to cry in front of me.
A week after the twins were born, she walked into my room with a baby in each arm, some speech about her needs, and One Eyed Heidi (who came with the house) trudging behind with an awfully heavy looking trunk slowly crushing her spine.
I thought you’d like to know that your little ward Rapunzel is following in your footsteps. She and the babies went across the bay to the Witching school.
I sold the castle to this dwarf that had a nose that was about twelve inches long, and I think I got swindled in the price, but you know how I am about dwarves, and I couldn’t for the life of me hang around and haggle.
Lately I’ve been freelancing and have gotten seven proposals from kings who want me to marry their daughters, but I think I’ll take a break from princesses for a while.
I hope that newt catching hasn’t been too boring without company.
He was lucky I didn’t eat him. Not that I go around eating my friends or anything, but I was so hungry that day, that I was about to just steam that fish, guts and all. But then I remembered something mama said about the hearts of fish, but I couldn’t remember if you definitely should eat them or definitely shouldn’t, but when I was thinking about it, the thought of eating hearts—or even guts for that matter—was so completely disgusting, that I decided to just clean the damn thing before I totally lost my appetite. That’s when Tom popped out, along with a real pretty ring, and told me that you can never never never eat the insides of fish, and when I asked him why, he just said “I know what I’m talking about so just trust me.” And I did, which is why I decided to keep him around.
Thoughts at a Wedding
That damn dragon is pestering us again and Mother is pestering me to have you buy her a condo on the other side of the forest. What the hell’s been keeping you, anyway? Last time I checked, it didn’t take four months to plunder a castle. Mother says you’ve probably been plundering more than castles, and I think she’s probably right. She’s as blind as a bat since that bird incident, but she can see right through you. Get your sorry self back home. It’s time for a chat.
We stopped, weary from wandering through the muddy forest because of some dumb idea Tom got all of a sudden, at a clearing that was heavy with the sounds of weeping.“Oh my god, Tom,” my throat thick and heavy, my mouth dry, “it’s dwarves.” A handful kneeling so gentle, I thought my heart would break. “She takes care of dwarves, man. I think I could fall in love with this woman.”
Walking up to the still glass coffin, we stared at her white, translucent skin.
“Well?” Tom was tapping his foot on the inside of my pocket. “Aren’t you going to kiss her?”
“Cindy’s mad enough these days.”
“Cindy isn’t here. Go on. Kiss her.”
“But she’s dead.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, the coffin, for one.”
“Would you just kiss her and be done with it?”
The dwarves looked up, and ran their delicate hands along their feathered beards. It was actually not too easy kissing those lips pressed hard together in some dream. She raised her heavy eyelashes, and her green silk eyes mildly looked at me, until she looked down and saw Tom, grinning.
“Oh my god!” she yelled, pulling her knees to her chest and throwing a flower in our direction. “What the hell is that?”
I should have known better and walked home to Cindy right then.
If I had known that a nice girl who took care of a bunch of dwarves for pete’s sake could be so infantile, I never would have opened that damn glass box and dug through all those wilting flowers to find you in the first place.
I don’t care if you don’t like Tom. He’s the smartest person I’ve ever met, and you were completely in the wrong to send him out with the laundry when you knew he was in my pocket. He could have drowned.
Anyway, I’m outta here. You can hang out at your step mom’s for all I care.
In love again
My upper arm throbbed from where I cut myself and the cloth around grew dark and heavy with blood. Holding the hand of the sleeping girl in front of me I saw her mouth was slightly open and her front tooth had a small chip on the edge. For a moment I let myself enjoy the thought that it might be from a topple on the steps during some game of hide and seek when she was eight and a half. That tooth made me love her. And, when that wild desire to hold her pink flesh in hands was caught in my throat, I bent down and held her lips in mine—only for a moment. Even though I wanted to, I didn’t let my tongue graze along the rough edge. Sitting up, I noticed for the first time the circlet of gold almost buried in her yellow hair, and I knew she was a princess. “Pity,” I thought as her eyelashes began to flutter and her mouth struck up a complaining pout, “We really could have had something.”
If I wasn’t such a sap, I wouldn’t be sent on these damn errands, but some mother is sobbing for some lost daughter and a father gritting his teeth and saying “half my kingdom” and the mama saying “please” through tears and snot, and I want to say “yeah sure, lady, everybody’s missing someone”, but instead I gallop away because they expect it, and let the rain worm its way into my boots.
My blade gleaming bloodless, the point just touching his jeweled throat, I almost feel sorry for him, in that brief moment before I use the whole force of my body to drive metal into flesh, forever quenching that irrepressible fire.
There is something familiar in his eyes. I thought at first it was just because they were brown and not yellow like I always assumed. But the round brown pools were filled with thankfulness that increased as I pushed the sword into his warm and opening flesh.
And I didn’t understand why until I saw a lithe figure emerge from the curtain of billowing smoke her hand on her hip, her eyes rolled towards the treetops and saying, “would you look at the ashes on my dress?”
Before I went to load her trunks on poor old Harvey, I glanced enviously at the dragon’s face, a smile permanently imprinted in the folds of shining red scales.
With ashes on her dress, I brought her home to her teary eyed mother, and I thought of my own mama who never cries, even when she wants to and I missed her.
“How can we ever repay you?” says a husky voice in my ear, and I turn to see her brother Richard, standing so close to my side that his breath heats my cheek and the backs of my ears start to sweat.
“No need,” I say, offering my hand which is immediately cupped, pressed by the two of his, and I know his fingerprints will be forever imprinted in the soft skin of my wrists.
And with the image of his jawline and the bread dough scent of his skin blazed in my memory, I turn quickly for the door and head of Harvey, the smell of regret itching in my nostrils.
lonely lonely lonely
Sitting in front of the mountain of glass, I look down and notice my hand is absently exploring the insides of my pocket as if Tom is still in there and just temporarily lost in the folds of the fabric. He and I were a team before he decided to settle down and get married.
“Marriage is for sissies.” I told him once, after Cindy and I couldn’t reconcile our differences. I told him that if he ever got married, I’d absolutely refuse to come. I kinda wish I hadn’t said it, but when the time came, it was too late to change my mind.
“A guy’s gotta grow up,” he said, trying to convince me to come, “I just got to that point when I really wanted a wife, and I wanted to settle down at a place that I could really call mine.”
After tying to reason with him that just because he has a wife and a house doesn’t mean that he has to stop adventuring with me. I told him that one night stands with pixies actually enhance a marriage. “I should know,” I told him, “I’ve been married tons of times.” Ho wouldn’t listen to me though and said I didn’t know what I was talking about.
Tom would know how to get up this mountain. He was always the one with the good ideas. I should probably write mama because I’m having a real tough time figuring out why witches have this nasty tendency to hide princesses on the tops of glass mountains. I mean, honestly, if they’re trying to be subtle, then they’ve got it all wrong.
When I was first looking for this girl, all I had to do is ask any random farmer who would always say, “Well, I s’pose I don’t know any princess Gwendolyn, but if I was you, I s’pect I’d check yonder on that glass mountain turned up ‘bout a month ago, ruined a third a my rutabega crop.”
I suppose I could borrow a pickaxe from somebody.
I wasn’t even gonna take this job, but her dad offered a castle on the water front and a roomful of gold, and hell, a guy’s gotta eat.
I saw her feet first—and if I only had to look at those—if I ever married her—which I could of done seeing as I was between princesses at the time, I suppose we could have made a life together, for a while at least.I saw her feet first when I finally made it up the mountain of glass, and after holding those delicate little things, wrapped in pink, in my eyes for a moment, I was all ready to wake her up with my kiss and see what she looks like smiling.
When I leaned over and saw what the witch had done to her face, it was only because I loved Fred, that I woke his kid up at all.
How’s Lina these days? I finally figured out about that damn glass mountain. You were right, that farmer did know more than he let on.
You should’ve seen that princess. That witch was pretty smart. She changed her head so it looked just like a sheep. Funniest thing I’ve ever seen. There she was all trying to be proper and pretty, like nothing’s wrong. I wish you could’ve been there. I nearly split my sides.
I sent a message about it to mama—she’s always wanting to know what the other witches are up to—but she hasn’t written back and I’m a little worried about her. I think she’s gone a little off the deep end with her gingerbread house plan. Have you heard any news through the grapevine these days?
Tom, riding just isn’t the same without you telling me what to do, you bossy little twit. I promise I’ll visit soon. King Fred’s been bugging me to settle down for years and he’s got this nice little furnished place over on the water. He offered it to me because it was his daughter on the top of that mountain. But now old sheep head is safely married to some shmuck over by the Caspian sea.
I like Fred and Helga, and it might be nice to have a place to crash with no wife around to bug me about stupid things like being home when she wants.
Anyway, I’ll come visit soon, and remember, if you ever need a break from married life, an adventure with me might be just what you need.
Poor mama. I never should’ve left her. I told my wife from the beginning that the situation with the tower was perfect. We got three squares a day, mama was perfectly happy, and I never had to tell anyone about my trips over to the public house. Or the sweet little shack behind the public house. Towers, I think, are vastly underrated as a marriage saving device. But Rapunzel started complaining about migraines, which, of course, I ignored, until the day she stopped letting her hair down and I knew she was serious.
I should have visited her more often, poor mama. I heard the rumors, of course. Children go missing in the forest and the first thing people do is blame the Witch. I knew it was just the villagers talking. They just didn’t know mama. She would never take what didn’t want to be taken. And she’d certainly never hurt somebody else’s kid. She just didn’t want people leaving her, that’s all.
There are sugar-encrusted footprints from where they all stood smiling and perfectly still except for the movement of their eyes. When the new ones arrived, she would dress and preen them and line them up like dolls. She fastened shining candy buttons on their shabby village clothing and kissed their motionless cheeks. Everyday she whispered love poems into their ears. She fed them cookies with blackened bottoms—an old witch secret for strength of will that she never even used on me. No matter what anybody else says, she loved all of them.
Poor mama. I should have written more often. Maybe then she wouldn’t have been so lonely.
I don’t think I blame those two kids, though. Or, I mostly don’t blame them. They were scared and homesick, although I’m sure I don’t know why. I saw their father right after it happened and I swear I’ve never seen a more passive looking guy in all my life. Mama was doing them a service by taking them in.
I’m actually kind of grateful. It was, after all an act of kindness, though the girl did not know it. When mama breathed her last, she was curled in her own warm, secluded darkness, blackened knees to blistered chin. She tasted bread and sugar and smoke and meat. She tasted birth and death, open wombs and rotten children. She tasted me. And you.
Most of all, she didn’t have to see all those kids she loved so much break their foundations and walk out on her. Like I did.
I hope you aren’t mad anymore.
I know it took me a while to be able to sit down and write you, but I knew you’d never do it, which is why it occurred to me at all. We need some closure on this thing.
I graduate from witching school in December, and the babies and I will be moving across the sea, because there really is a rut in positions over here. I wish I could say they ask about you, but they don’t. They really are pretty kids, though. You’d be proud of them growing up so big and beautiful and good. Angel has your eyes, so I don’t go a day without wondering where you are, or wishing you were the type of person who checks up on his ex wife.
Still, I hope you’re not mad about what happened between us. I think we both knew I couldn’t be your princess anymore, since I was sick to death with castles and towers and dresses and princes. It’s nice being a witch. You don’t have to bother with being beautiful. Your mama knew that secret for years and never told anyone. My hair won’t ever grow back, thanks to your mother, and I couldn’t be happier. I think she knew when she did it. She knows a hell of a lot more than she’ll ever let on. Every night I fall asleep, my hands running over my wrinkles and my mouth smiling.
It took me a while, but I learned to forgive you too.
And I couldn’t help but always wonder how many other princesses you’ve hurt. It’ll backfire on you someday, princie boy, mark my words. Speaking as a friend, listen to me when I tell you to be careful. Mama was right all those years ago.
Has she forgiven us yet?
I’ve been afraid to write to her.
I promise to write once we settle in. You’re welcome to see the kids if you want before we go. It would be good for them to know you at least care a little bit.
One-eyed Heidi is coming with us—or at least she said she would. I don’t know. It seems she’s fallen in love with this long nosed dwarf who lives in a castle in the middle of nowhere. I told her love is a four-letter word—I should know—but I don’t think she believes me.
Please come and see your children, my dear. Please, please act like a man, instead of a weak livered prince.
Thinking about the first
I suppose I should have written
or at least gone to see the babies
but I couldn’t face her
not with mama gone.
I rubbed my hand along her swollen belly trying to make her feel better, but my little wife who always smelled of soap and vanilla wouldn’t stop crying.
“Sweetheart, it’s all right. We’ll figure out some way around this. I’m sure there’s gotta be some loophole.”
“But my dad and I lied before. If we hadn’t, King Fred wouldn’t have made you marry me, and now we’re gonna lose the baby.” She crumpled up and laid her head on my lap and I, not knowing what else to do undid the snarls in her hair with my fingernails. I was glad she lied, actually. She was the one woman I’ve ever married who really didn’t like high society, and preferred to hang around in the same overalls that she used to help her dad in over at the mill. Even after she moved in, she still helped out on Saturdays, and sometimes she’d drag my tired butt along with her.
For years she didn’t get pregnant, but it never seemed to bug her at all, even though the ladies over at King Fred’s court were twittering and whispering whenever we went over for a visit. And then, when she did get pregnant, she kept on hiding in the storeroom where she spun all that straw into gold, and she’d cry and cry like the world was gonna end or something.
For a while, I thought she was scared that maybe some people would treat her bad, her being just a miller’s daughter and all, instead of a real princess.
When she told me about the short man who did it all for her in exchange for her first baby, she crouched up and started crying.
“This whole marriage is just a cover up for a lie.” She had this problem of over analyzing things. “I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped loving me. “ She was also far too moral for her own good.
I kissed her sun browned neck in response. Actually, I loved her more because of it. I was so proud of my little wife who was so smart that she could fool a whole country and even her husband for years.
My wife and I are supposed to figure out that short guy’s name whose trying to take the baby. Got any ideas? I already tried Harvey, but it was wrong.
She cries all day, Fred, and she doesn’t sleep anymore. She just holds the baby all the time and won’t put him down for anything. I don’t know what to do. The short guy says he’ll give us until the baby’s two months old.
Part of me wishes he just took poor little Ralph when he was born. Then maybe my little wife could’ve forgotten about the baby and tried for another.
Come and see us soon. She listens to you. Maybe you can make her happy again. I think she’s mad at me for making her pregnant in the first place.
Give Helga my love.
Tears of the Miller’s Daughter
Drenched in dark her screams would
push their way into my sleeping ears
and in knifelike fingers of sound, explode.
His name is still warm on her weeping lips,
I know she doesn’t see me, her husband
tangled in bed sheets trying to calm her
But that little man still looms, past death, whose red face contorts
pliable as playdough and whose voice hisses
and snarls and calls her devil and splits his seams in rage,
She stares at the ceiling, tears boiling in the corners
of her eyes. I kiss the chapped wet cheek
burning my lips with it’s fever.
She stares in disbelief. “I don’t know who you are,”
her voice broken, shattered
and I feel very small and very alone.
So I held her in my arms until she calmed into fitful sleep,
the baby crying in the next room wanting his mama. “It’s ok, Ralph,
don’t worry, baby,” I call to him but he doesn’t feel any better
and my own insides ache as I fall into nightmarish sleep
and awake with my arms empty and sore. Breathless, I run to
the baby’s room and instead of flesh, a torn piece of paper,
“hes mine and i wont lose him” scratched in pencil
unpunctuated and unsigned. I tear through the house
my eyes blinded by tears screaming her name
until I find her holding our child so hard that nothing
could pull them apart as they float midway between the surface
and the bottom of the pond out back.
I stand on the rickety bridge directly above her finally calm
eyes. That’s right sweetheart, I say with my throat heavy
and my tongue weighted, nobody’s gonna take your
baby now, and I drop the heavy gold band
and let the soft waves lap it under.
Too little too late
I saw that wolf as he lay, slowly pickling in his own blood, watching that girl in red walk away with a strong looking man hanging on her arm.
Mama always taught me to be unafraid of wolves, that’s the way to keep yourself safe from their mischief, she’d say to me, so I sat with its head on my thigh, stroking its neck as it coughed a bit and resigned itself to being dead.
“You know what?” he said to me before he died.
“Don’t talk, you need your strength.”
“What the hell are you talking about, idiot? I’m dying for pete’s sake. Humor me.”
“What were you going to say, Wolf?”
“I didn’t mean any harm.”
“You mean when you ate the old lady?”
He laughed a bit, but it sounded more like a cough.
“I didn’t eat her. I let the girl think so.”
“Why,” I asked, thinking that was a silly thing to do.
“I wanted her to stay a bit longer and mourn for her granny.”
I looked at him and I knew he was going a bit loopy with his face filled with death.
“You think I’m crazy, don’t you?”
I didn’t say anything.
“No, I’m not crazy. I just love her. I wanted to see her sitting still instead of walking. I didn’t mean to fall in love with her. I wish she could have stayed.”
Looking back, I want more than anything that I would have said something, but I was silent while I watched him die.
When I stopped at
Wizard to find
out how big
my next castle
he said “Round and
wet”, so I
laughed and gave him
I suppose I should be sad while I watch poor old Harvey clop away with heavy feet. I’m glad I thought to take off his harness before I drank from the iron smelling well and the long fingered worm haired lady came out screaming and waving her arms saying something about her right to be let alone from passers-by. I didn’t really understand what she was doing as she squished up her face and started talking nonsense, until I had a sudden craving for flies and everything around looked much bigger than it did before. But I think it probably won’t be so bad living by the pond with the other frogs. I needed a change anyway.