A fairy tale is a story told with great care, to safeguard that which is precious to us, and nothing is more precious to me than you are, Evelyn.
Yours is a life of confrontations, seemingly endless, with the evils that dwell in the night, and often the night itself. These lives have often been short, as well as violent, and I find myself struggling to find a voice loud enough to drown out the noises of the screeching animals, for you to hear me. I might be made of that struggle, to shout your name with a perfect decibel level, in perfect conjunction to my own, to tell you all you might need to know, to keep you safe.
I would say there is caution inherent in the structure of this tale, penned here again for you to find the lessons I know you seek in the hollow places of your bones which convince me of your avian ancestry, your animal instinct to understand the unknown of this world, intrinsically wild. The two of us have told our story many times before, but never so literally as this. So, Evelyn, I would like to write this for you, to read someday, and know that I am with you always.
In the firelight, your eyes look often afraid. I’ve seen the reflections of them in the lights of fires the world over, since time began, and they have always looked afraid until I find something within this wooden heart that would calm that fear and explain to you why we are this way. I think in all our lifetimes, this is the question you’ve asked me the most, and with the most insistence.
“Why are things this way?”
Well, Evelyn, I will explain the best I can, before your quick frame can vanish from the threshold of my door, and you run from me, how you always have. The most audacious acts capable among men are reserved for girls who believe in fate or destiny. This tale is all I have to warn you of all that’s come before, and all that will come again.
Who we are, you and I, belies a certain curse. The first incarnation of our story, in fact perhaps the first fairy tale told, was produced from the torn denim pocket of your first pair of jeans, when we were children; a cut across the palms of our virgin hands, trading something time would come to identify as an apple, sticking in the throats of all sleeping girls, subsequently buried before their time. You were sentenced to die by an act of treason we have never understood. I wish I could tell you why it began. I wish I could tell you what judgment existed where this consequence has never faded or erased long past the lifetimes of wear that shredded us both like the cuffs of those Levi’s, but I can tell you only this: we were children once, and the first fable we wrote told us that our sins incurred the wrath of a vengeful God.
At night, I dream the same things, again and again. We rise up to the height of each knoll of trees, over the high mounds of snow, the dusk running rapid as milk down a drain. We are children in summer denims that match the hues of summer skies and your ill-fitting nylons mimicking your skin. I follow you in the dark, testing the limits that all girls have to test, in the darkening woods, where the sounds of metal bending pop in the cold as it settles for a night we don't understand. I follow you far past my willingness to explore for myself, far past the markers I’ve made, far past what I’ve ever known before, because to follow you is what I was born to do. I imagine your voice.
“Was that the sound of rain, on the roof?”
No. Maybe just the price of all things.
What is the rate of exchange for a night spent unafraid of predators? What is the cost of your girlhood, and how much would you be charged for the eager forgetting of it, despite its necessity? You want to grow up. You want to grow up in the most violent of ways, you want your childhood forced from you with every snapping branch underfoot of the man who follows you. All things have a price, and this might be the highest. A girl goes into the woods brave enough to pay for what she is: a virgin. This is where all fairy tales begin, tumbling after one another into the dense and inescapable wilderness of that which we are unprepared to face, and choose to face regardless.
You’re a girl, and it makes you merciless to the protection of yourself, in your eager assignations of body and soul. What makes you stop being a girl, what makes you grow up, what makes you lose your maidenhead, is it’s theft, and the resulting bloody deficit, from which something might be allowed to grow. I know the holes inside you, which fill with that which escapes reason long enough to fill them. I know them because I follow you.
The night becomes velvet in the gathering dark, the snow crusting to the edges of a soft world like sugar to damp fingers, and I follow you with high steps and murmured laughter, follow you as you run ahead of me, pressing to my pounding chest the thrill of being alone on a winter evening with a girl so much more audacious than myself. I can smell ice and woodsmoke, the rotting foliage beneath the frost, and the bleached sweat smell that traps in cold denim.
Giddy in teenage glee, and shivering hard against gooseflesh, I track socks the color of South American tree frogs, calves bare and white, thighs thin and unshaven and you laugh. Your hair is blonde. You laugh because I make you laugh. Evelyn, I've never been in love like this, and so I follow the fate of you long into the woods at night thinking you must be a blessing and not a curse. I am so accepting of blessings, and so refusing of curses, when being led to my fate.
We seep into a sudden cabin, you and I, the wooden walls shutting out chill and light, the darkness full and round like a held and golden note. How often do you intrude in places you don't belong?
The brutish and dark-haired man we find within the cabin teaches fables to young girls, makes morals of them, while I watch, and suddenly things change. Your denim bleeds red in the warm light, and we are lost in time to the dinner table of a fur-trapper, and I see you in the timelessness of all eternity as your costume changes.
The source of soiled fabrics, stretched and torn, are the folds inside your riding coat; fur stuck with the starvation of your mare, where I can tell - I can tell, Evelyn - you crawled within her to keep warm, slick and winter-bellied and it's... well, the reason for the smell.
The blonde curtain of your hair is even, straight, solid, I'm envious of your hair. I watch it move with the rustic sensibility of a sheet on the line. He'll wash your hair, if not the whole of you. I know that; the man will wash your hair, loving in his application, even if he uses objects and parts of his body to stretch every hole you have to tearing. It's the hair, you see. It's your lovely, blonde, and slowly-swinging hair.
I used to think of curses as a change in our fate. Something that diverted you from the life you were supposed to lead. I don’t know when I stopped believing that, but I know it was in a different life, and a very long time ago. Now, I can see that a curse is simply a condition in which the cursed is always aware of what their fate is and will be. I’m cursed, and I know that my fate is to watch you be killed. I’ve always known it, and I’ve always known there’s nothing I can do to change it. Curses break with time, and that magical fucking confluence of the perfect storm of events. Curses are broken in the slow fires of the formation of miracles, which I can’t make on my own. Not myself, and certainly not here.
The face of you, doll-like in apathy, is the most frightening thing. Are you dead already? No, because... because you don't open the gates for strange men. You don't wander small and reckless the streets of the city at night. I know you more than I know myself, and what I am is waiting always, for this smell of blood and steaming breath tracked by the woman in the red coat.
You might have been a queen of Egypt. You might have been a concubine favored among all others in the harem of a sultan. You might have been killed for lust or beauty, but you’re this, instead. The rough skeleton of their beautiful refinements, this animal, crouching on the floor…
Evelyn... You’re the skeleton inside every girl; what means they all secretly want to die.
The man works a knife from his pocket, dull and dirty, and carves a piece of you away like a chicken on the table. The meat of you splits at a grain, fibrous and white, steaming hot, the skin toasted to a tight and dark crispness.
"Have some?" he asks me, and I take it, take it grateful as communion but half the sense of wonder. Can you believe he knows how you would taste? Surely only a wolf…