Sarah is a 17-year old student residing in the city-state of Singapore. A professional daydreamer, she often spends time staring off into the distance at nothing in particular. For her, writing is a way to transcribe these reveries into rational thought. Her work often takes inspiration from the dangerous women of fiction and reality, both past and present, and has been published in Litro Magazine, Page & Spine and Cultured Vultures.
Hear me out – I am not the woman the stories make me out to be, the wizened crone who stole a girl from her parents, imprisoned her against her will. Yes, I did bargain for her with the herb that shared her name; yes, I did keep her in a tower of stone; yes, I did fly into a rage when I found the prince whispering sweet nothings into her ear. But the stories forget I was also the one who sang her to sleep at night; who brushed her hair till it shone; who told her stories to make her laugh. Till now her peals still echo in my head, like bells chiming in the wind.
Know this – her father wasn’t a bumbling simpleton desperate to stop his wife from starving, he was a drunken liar. He didn’t steal from my garden because his wife craved the herb – that was just the lie he concocted when caught. Truth be told, I had seen him slip into my garden countless times before I finally confronted him. The fool used it to flavor his drink – he thought it improved the taste. Or so his wife told me, when she visited my house and begged me to take her unborn child. She whispered of nights when too many sips left him frothing at the mouth, left her to bear his wrath. When she rolled up her sleeves to show me the bruises that stained her skin, how could I refuse?
So the next time the man crept into my bed of greens, I was waiting. I appeared before him like an apparition from the shadows, thundered that I would curse him for his insolence. He cowered before me, babbling empty promises I knew he would not keep. “I’ll give you gold,” he shrieked. “My wife can clean for you!” I would have struck him down then, but for my promise. When I demanded his daughter instead he almost toppled over, so great was his relief. “You want…my child? She’s just a girl, have her! This time, I whipped my hand out and sent him reeling backwards with an unseen force.
After I let him scramble back home, his wife emerged from behind a tree. She did not speak; her shining eyes told me enough. “Leave him,” I urged. “Start a new life.”
Ruefully, she shook her head. In that moment I saw her as a child who had always been taught to obey, as a girl who was told her place was by the hearth, as a woman who had known only submission. I saw she was bound by another shackle, one far more frightening than mere duty. She looked at me, pleading. I do not want the same for her.
Later, I found the baby on my doorstep, asleep in a basket. Awkwardly, I picked her up, touched her creamy skin, smoothed her flaxen wisps of hair. I nestled her in the crook of my arms, felt her heartbeat against mine. “You will not live the life your mother did,” I promised, and I swear she smiled in her dreams.
Listen – I made good my promise. I took her far away; called stones together, built a tower that stretched high into the clouds. At the very top I furnished rooms with gold and velvet, fashioned playthings with my magic – talking dolls, rocking horses that galloped of their own accord, books with scenes that came alive. I gave her everything – all I asked in return was her.
And for a while, we were happy. She loved nothing more than to fasten paper chains round my neck, to pretend we were knights rescuing villages from dragons, to sink into my embrace after I returned laden with food. Often, she would clamor for me to tell her a story, and I obliged. She liked hearing most about my life before her, so I told her tales of my childhood, born into a family of enchantresses, respected throughout the land for our power. That I was taught from a young age how to listen to the elements and ask them to do my will. That I found her abandoned at my doorstep and raised her as my own.
I didn’t tell her that for a woman, power is a curse. That when I was her age, the same neighbours whom my mother had healed with her magic started muttering she was a witch who would wreak evil on them. That one day they assembled in front of our house with torches while we were asleep; cheered while fire swallowed our thatched roof.
I didn’t tell her that the man who led the attack was betrothed to my sister; that his betrayal so wounded her she stood at the door of our burning house and let the flames engulf her. That my mother perished while trying to save her, pinned by a falling beam.
I didn’t tell her that power may be a curse, but love kills.
Sometimes I wonder – if she had known the truth, would she have stayed?
Perhaps it was my fault, for not letting her keep other company. What growing girl wouldn’t desire to see the world? Surely promises made by a handsome prince would sound like honey to her ears. So yes, I cut off her golden tresses; pushed him from the tower into the jagged thorns below. But believe me when I say I did all that to protect her. The hurt I caused, I thought, was nothing compared to what he would do.
I banished her to the desert because I could not bear the silence between us. Because her cries at night were knives to my heart. Because I looked into her eyes to find forgiveness, but I found only hatred; and this was what broke me at last.
Yet even then, I lingered. I made sure she could always find a spring to soothe her thirst, and trees to provide shade and fruit. I was there when he found her, a shadow of his former self, blindly staggering towards her voice. I saw them cling to each other, watched her trail kisses down his neck. As her tears fell on his clouded eyes, I worked my last spell. Sight restored, he gazed at her with such tenderness I could almost forget the ache in my own heart.
I hope, for her sake, he was worth it.