Rapunzel is the key. Her tower, with no doors or windows below the fourth floor, stands atop a hill and sets its roots deep within it. Every night, she cuts her long, golden hair, and every morning cuts it again — it grows fast. She takes the braids to the spinning room for the miller’s daughter. The morning braid becomes steel, the night braid rope or bowstrings.
She wheels coils of rope to the roof garden, where Della works on the trees. Her tears water them, and periodically one will shower her with gold or arrowheads; they are learning how to be useful. Della sings to herself and works barefoot, the better to feel the soil. A layer of rich dirt hides the scars that cross her feet like the veins of a leaf. Rose smiles at Rapunzel and adds a mark to her slate; the bearskin cloak around her shoulders nearly brushes her feet as she turns to watch the work far below.
They’ve cleared the woods from their hill and planted a hedgemaze of briars and nettles. Little Bri-Rosie weaves branches together without fear. Her fingers are heavily callused, and not even the sharpest thorns can draw blood. She works tirelessly, too hard for someone not yet sixteen. If she’s not exhausted by the end of the day, she tosses and turns through the night, unable to rest. The wall is almost to her shoulders.
At noon, Bri-Rosie meets Gretl, who carries baskets of bread and sweets. Each day, their occasional cook leaves for her workshops, where she builds things that are not exactly fireworks, and comes back with black hands and baskets that smell faintly of candied ash and sulfur. Her bodyguard wears red — the girl wants to be Rose when she grows up, and would hunt bears instead of wolves if she could find any. The group returns by blonde rope and pulley, the same way they left. Lunch is set out in the great hall, then it’s back to work.
Rose watches it all, making notes. Everyone works together, princess and peasant. She strokes the glossy bear pelt as she plans. At supper, she leads the prayer. Remember Snowie, remember your sisters, remember the sea foam, remember your mothers. She mostly remembers Snowie as she reaches for the apple tarts.
After dinner, Gretl starts the fire; she likes to watch things burn. The rest of them know not to bother her but sit, talking, sewing, sharpening knives. All in a circle, each more beautiful than the last, the way leopards are beautiful, or the very best swords. Rapunzel cuts her night braid, Della covers the birdcages, Bri-Rosie empties the fairy traps into the jar for the compost heap. When they retire, it is to soft, soft beds; the one who finds a pea has to make breakfast tomorrow.
They wait for their princes to come.
Catherine Krahe lives in Iowa. She plans to save the world by telling stories and planting trees.
They met at Sarah Culler’s party and spent the entire evening talking about Charlie Chaplin movies and what inspired Michelangelo. By the third date they were making movies of their own, and smiles the envy of Mona Lisa. Three months later they agreed to stop seeing other people.
“It’s like I know everything about you, like I’ve known you all your life,” Marda said one night against his chest. “How is that possible?”
“Anything is possible if you love deeply enough,” he said and proved his sincerity until the alarm signaled it was time to get up for work.
After that, they were in agreement.
For their six-month anniversary they shared a plate of sushi, a bottle of sake, and walked along the beach until the sun extinguished itself in the black glass water. Later that night, Marda massaged her labia with grape seed oil until the fleshy folds were supple and giving enough for Carl to climb inside. He began by sliding his left hand and then his right into her vagina, tenderly stretching and easing the coral pink flesh until his left elbow fit inside. Carl glanced up as he positioned himself between his lover’s meaty thighs. Marda smiled at him. There were tears in her eyes.
Carl took his time and great care as he pushed his head inside. Her depths were warm, dark and safe. She spasmed as his right elbow and then shoulder eased in. He thought he heard her whimper, or perhaps her heart skipped a beat. “I’m sorry,” he mouthed against her moist musk, and wondered if she felt the intent.
His shoulders were the most difficult part, but not impassible. Gripping her from within, Carl squirmed and stretched until she accepted his chest and hips, and finally his legs, drawing the left knee up and then the right. His feet flush against the inside of her vagina, Carl curled fetal and tight within Marda and rested, savoring her gurgle and rush.
Heartbeats marked the only time that mattered, and when the time was right Carl pushed a finger into the fleshy knob of Marda’s cervix. And another. And another, until her flesh fit snug around his left wrist. Carl carefully made a fist and rotated his forearm. Marda convulsed, a seismic embrace. Liquid warmth pooled in the crooks of his elbows and knees, in the creases between shoulders and neck.
Carl worked his right hand into the cervix a finger at a time to join the left, a miraculously tight fit. Slowly and with devotion, he dilated the iris of muscle and opened the door of her womb. The reception was earthy and toothsome, rich with iron. Marda shivered around him as she cried out, the sound waking sympathy in his bones. “I love you,” Carl said against the threshold of flesh and crowned into her depths.
It was slow going. He panicked when he thought he might not make it through, his heart thrusting a staccato counterattack as Marda bore down. And then his chin was free and he tasted tears of joy. When had he begun to cry? Carl wasn’t certain.
He reached up with his left hand until elbow and shoulder were clear, and then with his right, pausing long enough to turn on his side to bring his elbow past his chest. Taking hold of the fleshy walls with both hands, Carl pulled himself into Marda’s uterus. He brought his knees to his chest and tucked his fists under his chin.
Relaxed, he shrank, becoming less a grown man and more a young man. Virile, thrusting, she would make her man of him.
Less a young man and more a boy. Mommy’s honey cunny, the bestest place to play and touch her in the dark.
Hair, features, ridges retreated. Lines unlaughed and wrinkles unworried. The boy ebbed, diminished, form losing definition until only the most basic of functions remained. Carl bobbed in a dark sea thick with the scent and being of his life with Marda. His feet tangled in the cord until they surrendered function, the cord becoming a thread and then a bare memory as the sea receded into his dwindling self.
Carl drifted, scent faded, sight a memory, needing nothing more than Marda and Marda being all he would ever need. She would take care of him, understand him.
There was a moment’s respite; his single cell metabolism held its breath as forty-six dancers paired off, and then he was beside himself and the intricate dance began anew.
“…like I’ve known you all your life,” she had said, and Carl loved Marda very much. What a good boy was he.
Sandra M. Odell is a 42 year old happily married mother of two children with special needs, an avid reader, and a rabid chocoholic. She is a Clarion West 2010 graduate. She says:
I wrote “Afterglow” as a love story, albeit a love of a different sort. The expressions of love throughout history are many and varied, subject to cultural whim and fancy. So, with a dash of Oedipus, a hint of Kafka, and a smidge of that dark place people don’t care to admit they sometimes linger, my love story was complete. Thank you for sharing this intimate moment with me.
Our times call ghosts to us. Though Homer knew
the power of dark blood to loosen tongues
parched centuries past silence, we insist
on sensory amnesia when the same
shades permeate the wreck of Port-au-Prince
with Pompeii’s wailings. While the limbless wraiths
who stalk Rwanda mourn their martyring
in Cathar accents, or some murdered girl
misnames her honor killing as sati,
we disbelieve… as if coincidence
alone explained such wounds of history
reopening afresh to slake a thirst
familiar as the ghosts of our bad nights,
& like them wandering unsatisfied
between hells happening that no one meant.
Ann K. Schwader’s poems have recently appeared in Strange Horizons, Tales of the Unanticipated, Star*Line, and elsewhere in the small and pro press. She is an active member of SFWA, HWA, and SFPA.
dust yawns through scissored
gapes ambiguous worlds in brief
arborescent splendor, overture for velvet night
which moves its sinuous muscles
David Kopaska-Merkel, descendant of procaryotes, describes rocks for the State of Alabama. He lives in an urban farmhouse with a yellow “tin” roof. He has published a thousand poems, etc over the past quarter century. His latest book is The Simian Transcript. He says:
I had the idea of combining (1) a tear in reality that connected, temporarily, two very different worlds with (2) a qualitative difference between day and night, so that night wasn’t simply darker, but that something moved in it. These were just images. I find the Fibonacci-no ku form very good for messing around with images and fragmentary ideas because the changing line lengths naturally lead you to build to a revelation or conclusion. You play around with the words until they fit the form and say something. Whatever that is, that’s what the poem’s about. It may not be what you expected when you began.
Our September 2010 issue delves into some off-kilter relationships: how they go subtly right, or wrong, and what we do about it.
Sandra Odell’s “Afterglow” takes an aspect of love and need and transforms it into something literal and disturbing; Lenora Rose’s “It Shall Come to Pass on a Summer’s Day” hops through time, showing the complications of a narrative that’s usually rendered simple; and Catherine Krahe’s “Fairest in the Land” takes on the most interesting, and maybe most neglected phase of a relationship: after it ends.
Our poets this month—Rachel Swirsky, David Kopaska-Merkel, Mikal Trimm, and Ann K. Schwader—round out the issue.
We hope you enjoy this quarter’s issue, and if so, please consider dropping something into our tip jar. Ideomancer relies on reader donations to pay its contributors for their excellent fiction and poetry, and even five dollars makes a big difference.
See you in December!
Vol. 9 Issue 3
“Fairest in the Land” – Catherine Krahe
“It Shall Come to Pass on a Summer’s Day” – Lenora Rose
“Afterglow” – Sandra Odell
“An Evening in Pompeii” – Rachel Swirsky
“diurnal/nocturnal” – David Kopaska-Merkel
“Moondance” – Mikal Trimm
“Time Ghosts” – Ann K. Schwader
Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death – Elizabeth Bear
Douglas Smith’s Chimerascope – Alyssa Smith
George Mann’s Ghosts of Manhattan – John Bowker