Rapunzel, a Fractured Fairy Tale

“Rapunzel, for cryin’ out loud, are you fooling with your hair again?”

Dame Gothel stood with her warty hands on her ample hips, watchig as Rapunzel tried to French-braid her long, golden hair.

“Well, there’s sure as heck nothing else to do up here,” Rapunzel said.

A pretty girl, she wasn’t so pretty when she sulked, which was most of the time. But, as she frequently noted, what was there to be happy about, walled up in a one-room tower with only a witch for company?

Oh, sure, she’d heard the story about how her parents had agreed to hand her over to Dame Gothel at birth, just because her father got caught sneaking into the witch’s garden to steal rampion. Her pregnant mother craved it, just had to have it no matter what.  On Father’s second expedition into the garden, Dame Gothel nabbed him rampion-handed. She only let him go when he agreed to give her his first-born child, which Rapunzel thought was not exactly the best bargain of the century. And where was her mother in all this? Presumably munching away on her salad, with no thought for her future daughter.

Rapunzel had been living in the tower since she was thirteen, because that was the age when she’d developed curves in all the right places and Dame Gothel decided she was a flight risk.

“I don’t even like boys!” she’d shouted, as the witch and her work crew disassembled the ladder.

“Just concentrate on growing your hair,” Dame Gothel yelled back.

“It’s not like I can will my hair to grow,” Rapunzel said.

But the next morning it had grown nearly a foot. And the next night, another foot. And the next, and so on, until it was so long Rapunzel had to bundle it up in her cape.

Her food supply was almost gone and the chamber pot was filled when at last she heard Dame Gothel calling, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel let down your hair, so I may climb the golden stair.”

She looked down and saw little witch below. “Ride your broom,” she said.

“Nope, has to be your hair,” said Dame Gothel. “Just toss it out the window.”

So Rapunzel did, and immediately felt such a pulling on her scalp that tears sprang to her eyes. “Ow! Ow! Ow!”

Dame Gothel pulled herself up Rapunzel’s hair hand over hand, stepped in through the tower’s one window and plunked down the packages she’d carried on her back. Rapunzel’s head hurt for days afterwards.

The next time she heard the witch’s command to let down her hair, she threw the contents of the chamber pot out the window instead. Dame Gothel didn’t seem to mind, just stood there dripping and yelling, until finally Rapunzel sighed and flipped her mane downward. Despite the pain, it was the only thing she had to look forward to, those once-a-week treks up her tresses. It helped when Dame Gothel brought an IPod, but still, the days were interminable, and the years glacier-like in their creeping passage.

Rapunzel was singing along with Beyonce one day – “All the single ladies, all the single ladies, put your hands up, oh, oh, oh”- when she heard a different voice below.

“Hail, the tower,” the voice said. “Who is singing that haunting melody?”

“Me,” Rapunzel said, popping her head out the window. “Who’re you?”

“Handsome Prince here,” said the young man on the ground.

“Is your name really Handsome Prince?” Rapunzel asked, laughing.

“None of us can help what our parents name us,” he said stiffly. Rapunzel could see his blush.

“Well, what do you want?” she asked.

“I heard you’re a beauty. Thought maybe we could mess around. How do I get up there?”

“You’d have to climb my hair, I guess. That’s what the witch does. Are you game?”

“Uh, I guess. I’ll try, anyway.”

And up he clambered. The young couple spent blissful nights in the tower from then on, with Handsome leaving only when it was time for the witch’s weekly visit. Dame Gothel noticed the change in Rapunzel’s attitude. No longer sulky, the girl was positively radiant.

“Hmmm,” Dame Gothel said, tapping her fingers on her nose. “What’s with the radiance? Have you had any company besides me?”

“Why, gosh, no,”Rapunzel said, big blue eyes round with innocence. “Only you, Dame. Nobody else even knows I’m up here.”

“If I ever catch a man with you,” Dame Gothel said, pushing her ugly face right up into Rapunzel’s, “I’ll fix him so he never sees the light of day again.”

With no warning, she sprang upon the girl, pulled a pair of scissors from her pocket and hacked off the long golden hair. “There! Let’s see how you like a pixie cut,” she said with her trademark cackle.

Handsome didn’t like the new haircut a bit. He tried repeatedly to scale the smooth sides of the tower, but to no avail. Rapunzel hung out the window and watched his awkward scrambling. Finally, he gave up.

“No can do,” he said. “Much as I want to see you.”

“Well, see this!” Dame Gothel said, leaping out from behind a tree. “Eye of newt, rooty-toot, blind this prince so he ain’t cute!”

The spell was cast, and instantly Handsome lost his sight. For years, he wandered the forest blindly, picking up tip money by singing in taverns. He never forgot his love, Rapunzel, and the magical hours he’d spent with her. In his dreams, he climbed her long, shining blonde hair only to be met at the top by the horrible visage of Dame Gothel. He feared Rapunzel was lost to him forever.

Meanwhile, Rapunzel had grown quite rotund, with nothing to do but eat. Her hair never again reached staircase length. Finally the old witch got tired of hoisting supplies up to the tower in a basket, and freed Rapunzel.

“Nobody would want you now, anyway,” Dame Gothel said. “Nobody with eyes.”

So Rapunzel, too, wandered the forest, always searching for Handsome Prince. She heard of a blind troubadour who worked the bar scene, but somehow their paths never crossed. Then one night, she heard a familiar voice murdering her song (“All the single ladies, all the single ladies!”), and there he was.

“Handsome!” she shrieked, and with that shriek the enchantment fell from his eyes and he could see again.

“But I’m older, my hair is sort of dishwater blonde now, and I’ve put on a pound or two,” Rapunzel said sadly. “Maybe you don’t like what you see.”

“Are you kidding?” Handsome replied.  “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any women at all, so my standards aren’t exactly sky-high. You look good to me, baby.”

And with that, Rapunzel and Handsome Prince fell into each other’s arms. But they couldn’t go on wandering in the forest forever; there was the little matter of making a living to consider. Handsome was the third son, so he wasn’t in line for his father’s kingdom. Rapunzel had long been forgotten by her rampion-crazed parents. But one thing the couple could do was sing, and they auditioned and won a spot on Fairy Tale’s Got Talent. Their cover of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” zoomed to the top of the I-Tunes hit list.  They became the Next Big Thing, and lived happily ever after.

 

 

 

 

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A Dish Best Served Cold

If you stop and think about it, Thanksgiving is the perfect time for a family murder. All those relatives gathered under one roof; all that food setting out on the table for hours. A murderer couldn’t ask for a better alibi than a bit of ptomaine poisoning. Or perhaps a sleepy drive home, zonked out on tryptophan; who’d ever think to check the brake line? So when I decided to kill my cousin, Megan, I zeroed in on Thanksgiving.

Megan had been a thorn in my side for years. She was one of those kids that would pinch you black and blue under the table while smiling sweetly at Aunt Nell. I’d get in trouble for screaming, and Megan would look at me with big, innocent eyes. Then she’d pinch me again. I knew better than to tattle, and no adult ever figured it out.

As we grew up, we realized that Nell Abernathy was our only rich relative. One of four siblings, Nell was a prune-faced single lady who lived very well indeed, though she had no visible means of support. I often heard my family’s bitter remarks about the sister who stole their inheritance. Dad and his brothers and sisters stayed angry about it their whole lives.

Maybe Megan and Nell shared some family DNA for meanness, I don’t know, but they grew closer and closer over the years. Megan was especially attentive as Nell aged, driving her to innumerable doctor appointments, gathering in groceries and crawling about on the floor to dust the deeply-carved legs of the Chippendale chairs. Sometimes, she’d go over to Nell’s and spend the whole weekend cooking up big meals so there’d be leftovers for the next week. Then the two of them would giggle late into the night over old movies.

I didn’t particularly like Aunt Nell, but still, I resented Megan for once again pinching me under the table, figuratively speaking.  As Nell’s only nieces, we’d inherit a small fortune when she died, but at this rate, only Megan would get her paws on it. I contemplated cutting in on some of Megan’s do-good attentions to the old bat, but really, I had better things to do. It just seemed simpler to take Megan out of the picture, and poison was the neatest way to do it. I volunteered to bring the dressing to Thanksgiving dinner.

“You know I always make dressing to stuff the turkey,” Megan said.

“That’s stuffing. This will be dressing. Of course, it won’t be as good. Everyone loves your stuffing so much, there’s never enough. When it runs out, they can eat my dressing.”

Flattery always worked with Megan. She agreed.

You can find anything on the Internet. With a little Googling, I came up with a plan. The eggs…they’d be a little off. Just enough to show up in the toxicology tests, if there were any, hiding the trace of cyanide. Now, I had to make sure only Megan ate the bad dressing. No point in slaying the whole family. I’d make a test batch and take it to her the night before. Revenge is a dish best served cold, but mine would be warm and tasty.

“I don’t think I have the spices quite right. Just taste it and tell me what it needs,” I’d say. “You’re a much better a cook than I am. Here, have some more. ” And she would comply, happy for the chance to tell me my food was lousy.

All went as planned. I knocked on Megan’s porch-lit door on Thanksgiving Eve, carrying my covered dish of death. She ushered me right into the kitchen, where she was cooking for the next day. I was surprised when she offered her own stuffing for a taste test; she who was always totally confident that everything she did was perfect. Oh well, I could play along.

~*~

From the Tipton Times:

Two cousins, June and Megan Abernathy, died the day before Thanksgiving. Cause of death is suspected food poisoning. Relatives became alarmed when the women didn’t show up for the family’s annual dinner and went looking for them. They were found dead on the kitchen floor of Megan Abernathy’s home.

Their aunt, Nell Abernathy, said, “They were such lovely girls, and so close. My only comfort is to think that now they will be together forever. ”

 

 

 

 

 

Saucer Boy

Bill waited impatiently for the teacher to call his name. It was Report Day in Mrs. Henderson’s room, the day when each child stood before the class and gave a talk. They were allowed to bring something to show and then tell about it, but it wasn’t called Show and Tell because that was for babies. Fourth graders were ‘way beyond that.

On Report Day, it was hard for Mrs. Henderson to keep order. There was a lot of fidgeting, whispering and note-passing. Fear of public speaking took root at an early age.

Bill was as nervous as everyone else. His past efforts hadn’t exactly lit the place on fire. In fact, his classmates’ faces took on a flat look of boredom when he spoke. But today he was actually looking forward to his turn. He had an important report about something everyone needed to know. He could hardly wait.

“William,” Mrs. Henderson said with an encouraging smile, “You’re next.”

He strode to the front of the room and began. “There is something called a UFO, an unidentified flying object, that looks like a fat Frisbee, and it has lights that change color depending on what’s happening. Amber for landing, blue for resting, red for flying.”

The kids rolled their eyes at each other and stifled their giggles behind open hands. Mrs. Henderson stepped forward and touched Bill’s shoulder. “William, today’s report is supposed to be factual, not a make-believe story.”

“This is factual,” Bill said. “There is such a thing as a UFO. I’ve seen it.”

“Now, William, it’s okay to have fantasies and I love your imagination, but remember, today’s assignment is to tell about a real person, place or thing.”

“But it’s real.” Bill didn’t mean to argue, but he couldn’t give up. He needed to say this, even if Mrs. Henderson didn’t want to hear it. “The UFO moves so fast it looks like a shooting star. Maybe you’ve even seen it and thought it was a shooting star. But it’s not. It’s a space ship and there are…beings…inside. And they’re not humans, exactly, but really good beings who would never hurt anyone. People shouldn’t be afraid of them, or chase them away.”

The class exploded in laughter, and Mrs. Henderson rapped on her desk to restore order. She had thirteen more reports to get through before the end of this very long Friday.

“William. Please take your seat.”

“But what about the rest of my report?” Bill asked, his face tense with anxiety.

“That’s all for today. Next week, I expect you to be prepared to follow the assignment.”

~*~

“Saucer Boy! Saucer Boy!”

The taunts began immediately when the children were dismissed for the day.

“Silly Billy’s got a flying space ship!”

“Billy, Billy, U-F-uh-O!”

Bill felt his face burn. He should have known better; would he never learn?

Ignoring the line of yellow school buses, he set off on foot. It wasn’t allowed; if you were a bus-rider, you were supposed to get on your bus. But Bill slipped away, losing himself in a crowd of town kids who walked home. He knew the bus ride would be torture today.

The family’s isolated farm house was a long trudge from school. It took him almost an hour, and when he got there, the door was locked. That wasn’t unusual. Bill got the key from beneath the third flower pot on the left and let himself in. Nobody was home, but he knew what had to be done.

Going directly to his room, he reached up to the top shelf of his closet and got down his duffle bag. In it he placed his favorite book, Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing, his warm fleece jacket and his toothbrush. Last, he tossed in a couple of granola bars. That should be all he’d need. He went to the kitchen, poured a glass of milk and munched his way through most of a bag of Oreos. Then he settled down to watch cartoons. His eyelids slowly closed; it had been an exhausting day.

He woke instantly when amber light flooded the room.  Casting one farewell glance around his home, he grabbed his duffle bag and ran out the back door. A deep blue glow emanated from the airship that rested silently on the grass. When a hatch slid open, Bill moved forward.

“Mom?”

 

In the Arms of the Angels

Burt wished Sarah McLachlan would stop singing that darn song on T.V., the one about the arms of the angels. When he heard it, he’d hurry to hit the remote or even leave the room. The pictures of those sad-eyed dogs cowering in cages or back alleys just killed him.

I can’t save them all, he told Sarah in his head, as he wrote a check to the SPCA. Save just one, then, she replied soundlessly. He tried not to hear.

Burt loved dogs, but he really wanted to own a big, pedigreed animal that would excite envy and attention. His dream dog. Maybe a mastiff. Or a Doberman. One that told the world Burt was a special guy, a force to be reckoned with, not just another cog in the machine.

He’d do research and visit breeders, get enthusiastic and ready to plunk down several thousand dollars for one puppy or another, but then Sarah would sing again and he’d be lost. Finally, in self-defense, he made his way to the shelter. I’m just looking, he told himself sternly, in case a good dog got hauled in with the strays.

Burt walked along the concrete corridor between the tall wire enclosures. His nose stung from the mingled odors of disinfectant and despair. The noise level was deafening. He’d read dogs in shelters go a little crazy from the din, and he could understand why. But the dogs couldn’t help themselves; his presence brought excitement and hope. They barked. His ears ringing, he peered at the hopeful faces.

Just looking.

Here was a quiet one. She was smallish, with rough brown fur, one floppy ear, and a sagging belly from too many litters of puppies. There was absolutely no resemblance to his dream dog, but when she calmly met his eyes, he felt a jolt of recognition.

 I’m your dog. Take me home.

He did. Their song began.