This story is by Jewel Eliese and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Waiting isn’t a problem for me — normally. I’ve waited for the sun to rise, watching it creep behind the same tree for the past 16 years. I’ve waited for days to end and for sleep to finally bring me something to do amid hours filled with nothing and no one, other than Mom. But this day, waiting is hard.
This is the first time I’ve had something worthwhile to wait for. Something I’ve only dreamed of. Today, I wait for my love.
I can only imagine what the rough skin on his hand feels like. Will my heart pound at the touch of his skin like it does to the sound of his oaken voice? Though we’ve yet to hold each other, our hearts are one. And today, when he climbs up he will find his lips on mine. No more waiting.
My hands shake; I need to calm down. So I sing as I brush, willing each note to still my nerves. That was how Eugene found me, by my lilting voice. Mom doesn’t sing so the music I was raised on was that of birds, and I do not compare. But Eugene thinks otherwise. He says my voice is brighter than the constellations that led him to me.
By the time I reach the ends of my hair, two hours have passed. I open the drawer in the center of the circular room which is filled with 15 hairbrushes, each to be used daily. They have been my timekeepers in life. Breakfast–brush. Shower–brush. Bed–brush. But today, that will end.
I put my brush away for the last time.
There is a hoot like an owl. I jump to my feet, excitement rushing through my body. Is it him? There again, another bird’s song.
I gasp. He’s early.
Without waiting for the rest of our signal, I throw my hair out the window. There’s a moment before my long strands reach the bottom but soon I feel a pull, harder than usual. My head slams down on the window sill as Eugene climbs my blond locks.
Though I long to see his face, I squeeze my eyes shut to bear the sharp tugging. It feels like someone is shoving little pins through my skull. Worth it. I hear a shoe on the stone floor and so, with a deep breath, I turn, ready to pounce with a kiss.
It’s not him.
Mom stands there with an eyebrow raised and a smirk on her beautiful face. Red curls frame her pointed chin. A mole lays next to her left eye as if it wants to take a swim in their ocean blue color. I know every line of her face as she is the only person I’ve seen up close — especially when she shouts an inch away from my nose.
“Not who you were expecting, Zel?”
I freeze with a sharp intake of breath. The signal. He didn’t call my name as planned. I didn’t wait. How stupid!
“Mama.” I put a smile on my face and rush to hug her in an attempt to recover. I can pretend everything is okay. I’m used to it by now. Eugene will be here soon.
“I’m so happy you’re here. Tell me everything.”
“First dear, I need my refreshment,” Mom says with an emphasis on the ‘t’.
I cringe. “Of course.”
She hands me a knife and goblet. I cut my scarred skin and let the blood flow into the glass. Gold streaks swirl amongst the crimson.
Mom takes back the knife, cup, and drinks with a sigh. The bags beneath her eyes lighten and a young woman’s glow shines about her once more. We now look like sisters rather than mother and daughter. I tap my foot, unable to hold in my urge to fly away. She squints at a leftover droplet on her ring finger.
“I’d almost forgotten what regular blood looks like.” She looks up at me. “His was so dark.”
“Ah yes. There was a man, quite handsome really, on his way here. He was humming that same horrible song you sing all day.” Our song. She knows. I can’t catch my breath and my fingertips go numb.
“Why was he bleeding, Mom?” I rush to the window, hoping to see him from this tall tower.
“You sweet, innocent girl. Poor little fool. You won’t find him there. He’s not coming.”
I want to raise my voice, scream, and tell her she’s wrong but I can only make a sound no louder than a sparrow’s twitter, eyes downward.
“He will be here. He promised.”
“Promises mean nothing to men, even kings. It’s time you learned that, Zel.” She puts the cup down but keeps the knife, the sharp metal pointing at me.
“I’m going to him. He might need my help.” I start braiding my hair.
“There’s no use. I ended his life to save yours, dear. You’ll never have to know a broken heart as I did.” Her blue eyes go dark and, in this moment, I know she never loved me except for my blood and youth.
“He’s dead,” she says.
The only magic I’ve seen is of that which runs in my veins and I don’t even know how that works, but it feels as though a spell has been cast on me. The magic of grief and rage. My body is not my own. Tears spring from my eyes as if ready to search for Eugene. The organ in my chest, that betraying heart, aches and skips a beat.
But it’s my hands that surprise me the most. They reach for the knife in Mother’s palm, my gifted blood staining the steel. Still numb, my fingers find the hilt, raise it high, and plunge it toward her chest. She whimpers.
I can’t do it. She is my mother.
Instead, I wrap my hair in a knot, hold tight, and jump out the window. The strands feel silken as I slide to the ground, the wind caressing my face. I touch grass for the first time expecting the emerald blades to be soft as a feather. They prick my toes. The world, once beautiful, hurts.
“Zel, come back here,” Mother screeches. I look up and, even from here, she looks old. Beauty must always come from within, even if it is eternal. She doesn’t deserve it. My life and blood are mine.
Frustrated, Mother readies herself to climb down my hair which still hangs in the window. I can’t kill her, but I can do this. I take the knife and slice. My locks fall to the earth.
Her screams scatter the birds.
The world feels lighter as I walk away from Mother and the life I never chose. Alone, but free. Soon her shouts go soft. She will die aged and alone; I can think of no worse punishment for her.
I trudge along the grass as the day turns orange with the sunset. Against my will my thoughts turn to Eugene, the way he used to stroll around my tower singing tales for me, singing my name.
I can almost hear his voice now, strong as oak but soft like a leaf. The singing grows louder as the rider nears.
“Woah.” Horse hooves pause their pounding. Yet, I keep my head down, knowing it can’t be real. Eugene can’t be here. Mother wouldn’t lie about murdering him, would she?
I stop walking, unable to move.
Of course she would. She didn’t kill him but only tricked and lied to me. Just as she has always done. But I will be a fool no more.
With a deep breath, I look up. He has a freckle on his nose that I couldn’t see from my tower. A dimple dot’s the left side of his mouth and he smiles at me as he jumps from his horse, boots crunching on the gravel.
“Rapunzel,” he says, taking my hand in his. Rough. Soft. Perfect. My heart pounds. “What happened to your hair?”
Out of habit, I brush my fingers through my short strands finding only air where golden tresses once lay. The time for waiting is over.
I answer him with a kiss.