Hold Fast, says Tam Lin, no matter how I change in the circle of your arms.
If I burn you, it is phantom pain, it will cauterize.
If I become a copperhead and bite, I will suck my venom from your wound. You
And she does.
To keep him, she holds him.
He is an iron bar blistering red from the forge; her fingers melt, drip, disappear.
He is a drooling grey toad with acid-oozing sores;
she cradles him to her breast with her stumps -
spittle flicks on her neck, her clear eyes,
the world diminishes. First half, then none -
she holds him
and she wins Tam Lin.
They come together in white silk and orange blossom.
The bride's skin is cream and satin. Her fingers,
waiting for his golden circle, are whole. Eyes,
the blue of crossroads shadows. Her godmother cries at the couple's perfection.
Her brother's buddies -
Tam Lin's groomsmen -
laugh and down another Michelob Light at the tale of their courtship - just
like a woman, ripostes one of the thrice-divorced, to stop you from leaving.
A toast to being caught!
Down the gullets race another round of sunlit beer.
Tam Lin's baggage hides a dowry of one dozen gold cups, faery gold and reeking
Eyes stinging, she scours them with Comet.
Hold Fast, says Tam Lin, no matter how I change. For I love you and you are
And she holds him, yes, she holds him,
as he explores this forgotten human existence
he is hairless, trenchcoated, creeping through the playground,
he is a potbellied lush shepherding prostitutes to their white bed,
he is an avuncular preacher taking pensions from old ladies,
he is a rapist, a pickpocket, Tam Lin the Ripper
as he flits and mutates
ringing the changes.
But these are phantom pains, he reminds her as she cries.
He wipes aside a burning tear and brushes her hair back into perfection. These
are not me. Don't watch the knife separate a drifter's ribs, don't listen from
the hallway when I cry Fawni or Tawni, these are only changes of form
and not your dear Tam Lin. Every night
I suck this venom from your heart, erase your pain, smooth worry from your forehead
we come together between the white sheets, with explosions of scent - jasmine
and honey, cyanide and almond
a little death, a little birth -
if you really love me, you will hold fast.
Tam Lin was long in the faery circle -
as hydrangea grows pink in base soil and blue in acid
so Tam Lin has grown. And if he is not elfin
neither is he human,
not in his desires, mutations, erasures -
from his slow hothouse time
the only nutrient the cold elvish light.
Hold Fast, says Tam Lin, a stuck half-elfin needle.
She has held fast through two thousand reincarnations, two thousand days she
has died from pain and been hauled back, Tam Lin her poison and her IV drip,
Tam Lin the lifeline that binds, Tam Lin her bound husband. But now -
There is a daughter.
She has double and triple-checked, surprising the babe at night, under the moon,
in faery rings, with iron, rowan, mirrors, even silver and garlic.
Grâce à dieu, the child has her eyes. Blue, as yet unshadowed -
And when she is certain
she packs her car. Takes an autumnal family outing to the crossroads. Says formally
to a confused Tam Lin,
I release you.
Hands him the papers
and a gold ring already crumbling to dust.
Hurries to the humming silver Passat before pity's sharp teeth catch her a second
and drives away.
In the rearview mirror, a lovely terror on Tam Lin's face.
A tall woman on a white horse
coalescing from shadow. Tam Lin drops to his knees -
But there is crisp fall in the air
and a gurgling blue-eyed babe in the carseat.
So she turns up the cajun pop that Tam Lin always hated
adjusts the mirror
and rides off into the sunset
holding fast to the steering wheel
that takes her to a world where hurts have consequence
and pain is visible.
Where raising a daughter will cause crows' feet
and laugh lines
where there is growing and thriving, sunlight and sunburn
there is no Tam Lin.
Tina Connolly is a writer and actor in Portland, Oregon. For her day job, she's a face painter. Her credits include Son and Foe, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and the Magazine of Speculative Poetry. She's attending Clarion West 2006 and she has a website at http://tinaconnolly.com.
"Hold Fast" started when I was supposed to be working on a dark retelling of a different fairy tale. I started thinking about the negation of consequence in Tam Lin, and then - as with so many of the tales - started wondering what happened next....