A little girl sits alone in her room at night, reading. The lights are on. The curtains are open. She feels safe inside her room, inside her book. She knows what lies outside in the dark. She doesn’t even have to look. Just below her window, a hedgerow of purple-berried bushes. If she eats the berries, she will get sick and probably die, says her mother. The bluejays eat them though. Sometimes the little girl watches them, so greedy they drop most of their harvest on the ground. The sidewalk is stained with splatters of red juice. Beyond the bushes and the sidewalk is the street. Across the street, a street lamp glows.
When she looks up from her reading, she does not see the bushes, the spattered sidewalk, the street, the lamp, the neighbors’ houses. She sees herself, her body bright and transparent over the night’s silhouettes. It is time for bed. She undresses in front of the window and stops to stare at her naked reflection. Her body stares back with its own face: two dark nipples for eyes, a belly button nose, the smiling V of her crotch, a mouth. The walls of her room blur behind her in the glass, floating but still secure. She has no sense of danger. She does not believe there might be eyes out there feeding on her innocence and delight.
Her mother knows. She rushes into the room to yank the curtains shut. “People can see you,” she says. Metal grinds against metal.
The really old stories, the fairy tales, start with a mother’s craving. She is expecting her firstborn. Her belly swells with potential. She strains from the weight of her own unknown, much-wished-for creation.
Except now, suddenly, she wants something else. Something forbidden, inaccessible, problematic. She makes her husband scale the garden wall to steal the lettuce growing on the other side. She is overwhelmed by her appetite. And that is her undoing.
By the time the baby is born, the mother sees her desire as a blunder, not to be repeated. She hides her daughter in the tower. Or keeps her son simple-minded, always close to her side. Or orders all the spinning wheels in the kingdom burned.
After, she comes to hate the innocence of children’s questions, that constant, gnawing curiosity. She already knows what lies over the garden wall. She still aches for the harsh taste of that alluring green, but she’s worked to hide her pangs. She can’t imagine she ever succumbed so readily. She always rushes now, busy closing, shutting, locking up, locking in.
Ann de Forest’s short stories have been published in The Journal, Hotel Amerika, Timber Creek Review, and PIF as well as performed onstage at InterAct Theatre’s “Writing Aloud” series. As a journalist and design critic, she has contributed to the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as the late lamented ID, Navigator, and Attaché magazines. She is currently writing a time travel trilogy for middle grade readers, teaching creative writing to kids ages 8-13 and adults over 70, and exploring her fascination with waning technologies in her blog.
Photo credit: Coopzzz on Flickr