A princess is trapped in a tower. She was put there as a baby by the witch who kidnapped her, the witch who is her mother/not her mother; her best friend, her sister, her lover, her rival; the witch who is the only soul she’s ever spoken to; the witch who tells stories as she brushes the princess’s long, long hair, of what the world is and why the princess cannot go there, of wolves and dragons, liars and thieves, men; the witch who is ugly and old and reviled; the witch who is powerful beyond belief; the witch who hates her, loves her, feeds her, fears her.
In the tower there is one window. There is no door.
Through the window: trees, sky, sun. This is all the princess ever sees of the world. It doesn’t add up with the things the witch tells her.
When the prince comes; when the princess lets her hair down and he climbs to her; when they kiss; when he slides into the space between her thighs; when he promises to return, to free her; when he keeps his word; when she takes her first step on grass not stone; when they go to the movies, sit in the dark, watch the lights flicker onscreen; when the prince leaves her; when she feels pangs of hunger, alone in the fairytale city; when she tells her first lie and realizes she likes it; when she finds work at a brothel; when the women there show her where to get her hair cut and how to decorate her face and how to gossip and how to share; when customers pick her from the throng and she leads them to her room; when it is bad, when it is good; when one of them hits her; when she bears his child; when her little girl looks around with wide, startled eyes and tries to grab everything she passes and tries to fit the world inside her mouth – all these times and more, the princess cries.
She cries for her mother-best-friend-sister-lover, and everything the witch tried to steal from her, and everything the witch tried to save her from. She cries because the witch succeeded for so long and because she wishes the witch had never failed.
The princess cries because it was unforgivable.
A princess is sold to the highest bidder. No one says it that way, but everybody knows. The economy’s in crisis. She’s the only resource her family has left.
She meets her prince on their wedding day. He is tall, broad shouldered, handsome. He kisses her like she is precious. She hates him.
The prince gifts her with a tower in his castle. “All yours,” he says.
If he expects gratitude, she’s not sorry to disappoint. If he expects love, he’s delusional.
There is a door, but the door leads to stairs that lead to him. There is a window, but the window opens to lands that are his.
The princess stays inside. She tallies the things that are still hers.
She’ll grow old and she’ll die here, in a shroud of her untamable hair.
Rapunzel lives in a tower.
She moved there with the handsome prince who loves her, who makes her laugh and makes her come, who still steps on her feet when they dance, who gets along with her parents, who won’t let her leave.
“Am I not enough for you?”
“If you loved me, you wouldn’t ask to go.”
“You know how jealous I get, babe. Why would you want to make me feel that way?”
She sings to herself whenever he’s away, when he leaves her for hours or sometimes for days, songs from when she still moved through the world, outdated now by seven summers. Remembering is the worst part until forgetting becomes the worst part. What had freedom felt like, and could it really have been better than his strong arms lifting her, his warm kisses on her neck?
One day, a voice responds: “I forgot about this song!”
Rapunzel rushes to the window. Out the window is a witch.
“Hello,” says the witch.
The witch comes back and keeps coming back. Rapunzel doesn’t know how she does it, but she always manages to time her visits to when Rapunzel is alone. They talk and they talk. The witch brings Rapunzel a device loaded with all the music she’s missed. Rapunzel learns the words quickly, grateful for something new to sing.
“What does it feel like to fly?” Rapunzel asks.
The witch grins, gestures to the front of her broomstick. “Wanna go for a ride?”
“Oh no. I couldn’t.”
The witch doesn’t press. But now, each time she returns, she always offers.
Rapunzel grows to hate the question. It’s insensitive. Rude, even, when of course Rapunzel can’t say yes.
One day, the witch says, “Would you mind if I came in? Hovering here is starting to hurt my thighs.”
Rapunzel had never considered that it might cost the witch something to linger like that.
“I know it’s small…” Rapunzel says when the witch steps through the window. She has nothing to follow this up with. She knows the tower is small. That’s the whole sentence.
The witch says something noncommittal, walks around the space like this moment’s not momentous.
“What do you want from me?” The words burst from Rapunzel loud and angry and shocking.
When the witch leaves that time, she stays away so long that Rapunzel worries she may never return.
Rapunzel paces the tower.
She blasts her music.
She picks fights with her husband.
There is a tap on the window. Weeks later, her husband lying next to her, naked and snoring. Rapunzel dares hope. She tiptoes across the room.
“I can’t tell you what it feels like,” the witch says. “Flying feels like flying.”
Rapunzel reaches out. The night air is crisp and cold against her skin. The hairs of her arm stand on end.
“Ask me again,” she says.
Phoebe Cramer is a queer writer and performer based in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her on twitter @PhoebeLCramer. Image: Young Witch Flying with a Rope, Francisco Goya, c. 1824