Steps [The villainess series]

* * *

“But, then again, what if they were role models?”
–Sarah Gailey, In Defense of Villainesses

* * *

old-stone-steps

Steps

I lost my father too, y’know.
Do you see me drowning my hair in ash,
refusing to sleep anywhere but under the kitchen table?

I don’t have a second mother neither,
showing up like magic if I’m ever careless enough
to lose the first one. Nope, just the standard issue—
telling me how much easier I’d be to love
if I lost a little weight,
if I chopped off a little toe.

So I play by the rules, so what.
Doesn’t mean I wrote ’em.

And don’t think for a second I didn’t notice
that little run-and-stumble you pulled on the stairs.
Tripping hard enough to “lose” your crystal shoe
but not hard enough to break it?
Mm-hmm…

Guess it’s true, that old saying:
Them what has, gets.
And those of us who don’t have? Lose.

We lose right down to the bone.

~a.i.


END-NOTE:

Not strictly speaking a “villainess,” I suppose, yet I am struck by the level of vitriol that gets heaped on ‘bad sisters’ in our fairy tales and other lore. Cinderella’s stepsisters. The kind and the unkind girls of Grimms’ Frau Holle or Charles Perrault’s Diamonds and Toads [which I first came upon while researching for my own The Writer Dreams of Rivers]. Even the greedy Goneril and Regan, King Lear’s eldest daughters, fall into this pattern in their contrast with the devoted Cordelia.

And I gotta cry foul.

Continue reading “Steps [The villainess series]”

Gingerbread

Y’know the fable about that boy who grabs a fist of nuts out the bottom of a narrow-necked jar and can’t get his hand back out? And then boy-o stands there like a putz, cuz he doesn’t wanna let go his booty—or refuses to realize if he lets some nuts go, he can pull a few others out and actually eat ’em?

Yup, that’s the one. You got it.

This story?

Is not that story.

Offer me a jarful of nuts, I won’t just turn ’em down; I’ll gnaw my hand clear off while you watch. I know it’s a trap you’re holding, even if you’re still kidding even yourself on that score.

Don’t bother pointing out the gaping abyss in logic here.

I’ll take your finger too, in a single bite, and t’hell makes you think I haven’t seen your logic myself already?

* * *

gingerbread-house

Continue reading “Gingerbread”

A Father’s Daughter’s Hand Firmly Grips the Pen

[CN: sexual assault, incest]


pexels-photo-26750

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Once upon a time, a beautiful maiden in possession of all her limbs [so every version of the Armless Maiden begins] lived in the forest with her father the woodsman and her mother, the woodsman’s wife. [Or sometimes her mother is already dead, depends on which version you choose to retell.] The woodsman is seized with sexual desire for his beautiful daughter—or perhaps greedy desire to trade her to the devil for wealth—or perhaps marital desire to replace his dead wife with similar product already close-to-hand and convenient.

[Such surface details of a father’s lust often shift, the critics agree, while leaving the underlying incest motif intact.]

Angered at her strong rejection of his plans, the woodsman chops off his daughter’s hands with an ax. [Just above the wrist, or a bit below the elbow, or let’s say he takes the whole arm—at this point, you really wanna quibble details with me??] He may even demand that she cleaver them off herself [though I am fuzzy on the mechanics of how this would be done]. She flees from him into the woods, to eat fruit from the ground where it has fallen and, in general, to survive like a brutish animal.

Now, since this is a fairy tale, you and I both know what’s coming: a handsome prince, true love, and marriage. [Still that tricky “look, ma! no hands!” issue, though. Happily ever after is harder with a princess who can’t hug her spouse, care for their babies, or even wipe herself after a late-night visit to the chamber pot.] So the story hiccups into a second half, during which our handless heroine flees back into the woods, communes with herself and with nature for a number of years, and becomes such an overall loving spirit, inside and out, that her arms and hands grow back entirely. 

At which point, the Armless Maiden—armless no long—reunites with her love, scoops up their baby [grown surly preteen, no doubt, in her absence], and takes over all the housework, allowing everyone to Happily ever after, for ever after…

Do you know this story? Have you come across it elsewhere? Can you perhaps then explain to me, because I really don’t understand, why our heroine comes back to herself all sweetness and light and not, for example, royally fcking pissed the fcking-fck off?

Me, I think I might pick up the first ax my new hands could carry and go hunting myself a woodsman.

[Or maybe I just like to think I might.]

[Me being me, I’m much more likely to pick up the first available pen.]

[Which is another way of saying: I’ve been having a lot of trouble figuring out how I want to write today’s post.]

Continue reading “A Father’s Daughter’s Hand Firmly Grips the Pen”

Love Letter, Unsent

sink-baby
Photo of the author being given a bath. Presumably by the author’s mother.

Dear Mom,

I miss you.

It has been exactly a year since we last communicated. I recognize our estrangement remains fully my choice, that I have only to pick up the phone and you or dad would without doubt answer. I think about that option every day.

I miss you—deeply—every day.

And, every day, I remember: sometimes we face decisions where all the options are bad. All that anyone can do then is choose the least shitty of the shitty outcomes.

And so I choose to orphan myself.

For me, losing you remains the least-bad option available.

* * *

I remember clearly that it was Valentine’s Day, the last day I replied to any message from you. One of the texts you sent, amid that final flurry of texts, simply said “Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you!” And I’m sure you thought that was innocuous. I’m sure you thought that, THAT, was a message I couldn’t possibly take issue with.

And so I would give you what you wanted.

But this is not how love works. This is not how anything works.

Continue reading “Love Letter, Unsent”

Red

I had the dream again.

Eyes too impossibly wide, teeth too impossibly sharp, slavering tongue and hot breath too close against my face and I cannot even scream as the huntsman’s scrabbling claws rip deep into my belly.

Woke up drenched in sweat, tangled in sheets. Panting.

I lay rigid in the dark and waited for the room to stop spinning.

* * *

Joseph Campbell was asked once why he didn’t account for stories about women when developing his archetype of the hero’s quest. “Women don’t need to make the journey,” he replied. “In the whole mythological tradition the woman is there. All she has to do is to realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.”

And if she is the place people got to already?

What does she do then?

* * *

poppies

Continue reading “Red”

Cicada

Adulthood begins
not when as a nymph I emerge
from the underground where I have already lived years
but when I pull myself, vibrating and fragile,
from this shell already grown brittle
and too small.

Between my eyes, my body first splits open.
Unzips down my back like a cocktail dress
as I wriggle out my head. One desperate moment
as wing buds catch and (my heart in my mouth
what if I never get free)
I flex and arch for sky, four membranes suddenly blooming
from my shoulders.

Hollow legs cling at last to discarded exoskeleton.
A pause to catch my breath, soft flesh hardening
in first exposure to the sun.
Before I go, I will arrange my leftovers
carefully in a chair at the family table,
disguising my departure as long as possible.

~a.i.

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[Image by Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE – Molting Cicada (Cicadidae), CC BY-SA 2.0]