|Fanta-twee, or, why you probably shouldn't ask me to tell your little'un a bedtime story
||[Apr. 3rd, 2012|04:41 pm]
|||||Tom Waits - Tell It To Me||]|
Okay, then, Jackanory time.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin...
Once, there was a princess. Her father the King had received a prophecy telling him that all the flax in the land was poison, & the merest touch might kill a person. So, being a bit of a totalitarian autocrat, he ordered that no-one in his domain should spin with flax. Jute or hemp, cool. But flax? No way. Not on his watch.
The princess, being a princess & therefore somewhat willful & probably just to piss off Daddy, decided to get out her spinning wheel & start merrily spinning away. With the flax. Gawd, these modern girls, eh?
As you can probably imagine, the princess finds a splinter after about two seconds of spinning, & swoons all over her spinning wheel. After her retainers cut her out of the wreckage (princess/spinning wheel interactions can get a bit messy, those things spin at some rpms, I tell you), the King (being a nutter as well as an autocratic dictator who didn't even trust his own subjects not to poison themselves stupid) decides that she should be laid upon a velvet-covered catafalque in the darkest part of the forest.
Like you do.
Some time later, a rich nobleman (which, if you think about feudalism, probably means he was related to the King, which is going to make this next bit (even) nastier) was riding through the forest. & he spies Sleeping Beauty, immobile, cold as stone, soft as death. He stops his horse. No-one about. Beautiful girl. Velvet bier. Possibly some dry ice. Imagine a Nick Cave video from the early 90s. Anyway. He kisses her. & she doesn't awake. & there's no-one about but the squirrels & pine martens & I'm far too much of a city boy to accurately portray the fauna of a forest but I'm sure you can extrapolate appropriate local colour from that, right? Right.
So, being unobserved apart from by aforementioned local wildlife, the nobleman... There's not a delicate way to put this. The bastard rapes her. Sleeping? Dead? Immobile? Cold as death? Cold as stone? Birds nesting in her hair? Worms crawling over exposed marbled flesh? Doesn't matter. He takes her, zips back up & rides off, whistling like the utter git he is.
But this is a forest. & a fairytale.
By some strange enchantment, two babes, perfect twins, grow in the navel of Sleeping Beauty. But she doesn't stir. The months roll on. The seasons change. Sleeping Beauty gives birth. She doesn't awaken at the breaking of her waters, nor at the rending of herself as new life clawed its way free of the old. She is a closed state, but out of her comes life, the sun, the moon. It's probably quite spectacular & all the deers & badgers & shit are standing around to watch. But still, she doesn't wake up.
The crying babes drag themselves up her body --left conveniently naked by our aristocratic rapist--to suckle & feed & something strange happens. Some say their questing mouths, searching for a nipple, drew a poison splinter from her breast; others, that as the umbilical cords stretched & tore it drew something from her, & the enchantment of the forest rushed to fill it. Others say that she was just a heavy sleeper, & that perhaps she should leave off smoking the flax before bedtime.
But however it happens, Sleeping Beauty awakes.
So, the scene changes once again. Shimmer. Dissolve. It's spring. The sap is rising. Flowers burst forth in a riot of colour. The forest hums with life. Through it (hopefully sneezing & allergy-ridden) rides the aristocratic rapist. Now the nights are getting shorter he's feeling frisky again, & returns (scoundrel) to the scene of his despicable crime. Pulse pounding, nerves twitching, the maddening itch of the season taking root somewhere between the base of his spine & his forebrain, he forces his horse forward through the newly-grown undergrowth; soft fronds caress his face, thorns claw at his neck, streaking it like the tracks of a lover's nails. The trees shake as if frightened by his passage, & as his pony picks its way along the now-overgrown path blossom falls, terribly slowly, careening end-over-end to the silent forest floor. It settles on his shoulders like a cloak.
& once again he's here. The weeds have grown up, thick & rank over the clearing; a riot of gladioli, bluebells bobbing their heads like penitents. Amidst this riot of new growth, nearly buried in the midst of a tangle of thorns & ferns, the bier. & its occupant...
Something's changed. He stops his horse, slides numbly from the saddle. Where the object of his vile affections should lie, sprawled as he left her, deshabillé to the world, a healthier, more tanned & far more awake young woman lies. At each breast, she suckles a babe, dandling them on her lap. For a second, he casts about, wondering what could have wrought such a change. But then he looks into her eyes...
He crosses the clearing, kicking his way through the bluebells, trampling the blowsy anemones (swine. I like anemones). Fetches up by her side. She can't take her eyes off him, something like the ghost of a memory flickers its fingers up & down her spine, closes up inside her stomach like a fist. She wants to run, to take her babies & throw herself into the forest, hide.
Gently, he touches her face, then the heads of her children. & she looks at him, terror filling her throat, & she gazes into his eyes. Her heart sinks, because staring back at her from this strange man's face are her children's eyes. That's all it takes; all at once, she knows. Don't ask me how, & I know this isn't the place to drop in some terrible fucking patronising male idealisation of female intuition, so all I'll say in answer to the question "How does she know?" is that it's a bloody fairy story, & that she knew her children's eyes like all mothers know their children, & leave it at that.
Right, where was I? Oh yeah...
Ambivalence rages in the heart of our rapist. He's come all this way, waited so long to get what he wants, & now he's found it & he's suddenly assailed by the awful feeling that whatever he's wanted has changed. She's moving, for a start, & looking at him with a strange mix of terror & hate & an awful kind of recognition, which is putting him right off. & there's the kids...
Being a bastard, he doesn't say a word. Not even a "Sorry" or a "What did you decide to call them?" He swings back up into the saddle, turns his horse around & rides away. Sleeping Beauty watches him for a moment, then rises from the bier & follows his retreating form, back through the trees, back to the path, out of the forest, a babe under each of her arms.
The rapist rides the long lonely road back to his castle. Once there, he tries to forget the woman in the woods, tries to bury the ache within himself with ideas of duty & fidelity, turns his attentions once more to his long-suffering wife. Probably raises taxes, on a whim. Cuts the local serfs' poor fund or closes a library (he's a Tory, natch).
But guess who turns up at the castle's back door one day, bedraggled & somewhat the worse for wear, hair as wild as the forest she crawled out of, a mewling infant clasped in the crook of each arm? The nobleman's wife opens the dread portal, sees the girl standing there. She glances down at the burdens Sleeping Beauty carries. She smiles a cold, tight smile, beckons the young girl inside...
She's a put-upon woman, is the rich man's wife. Imagine: empty evenings in the echoing castle, nothing to do but embroider bloody tapestries & stare longingly from the windows at the darkening forest, waiting for the return of a man she knows doesn't love her. A person could grow bitter, waiting like this, take each one of those lonely evenings where her lord rides abroad, each one of those nights facing a cold empty bed & the misery of each vacant dawn, & compress it into hate for everything that walks or crawls under the sky. This is of course not the only reaction to the terrible stimulus of her faithless husband's treachery. She could grow kind; pain turned inwards & reflected back at the world as beauty, altruism springing back, pushing its head up through life's bare & stony soil like weeds left untended.
She could. But she hasn't. She's gone stark staring mad with ideas of revenge.
& so, she smiles at this little slut on her doorstep (do castles have doorsteps? Fuck knows), she smiles at the bedraggled beauty yawning with the brats clutched to her, she smiles & smiles & is a villain, so she takes her inside & she sits her down near the fire & she calls the guards & Sleeping Beauty gets chained in a downstairs room & the rich man's wife takes her babies, her beautiful babes, & turns to the cook.
"Tonight," she says, "When my husband returns, you'll cook him something special. A particularly piquant dish."
The cook looks hard at his mistress; she stares back at him. Hate comes off her like radiation, like the smell of sweat or sex. He looks at the children. His eyes drop to the floor. He nods, & opens his arms to take the babies from her.
Later. The nobleman has returned once again, his sick & twisted passions sated for the moment by the ravaging some poor farmer's daughter (after first knocking her unconscious with the pommel of his sword; his MO's tragically predictable, his kink so formulaic, his fetish has replaced every natural reaction to the extent that I like to think that since that evening in the forest a year ago, he can't even get hard unless his lover's sprawled cold & immobile beneath him, dead to the world...). After a hard day's rapine there's nothing he likes better than an enormous meal, taken alone in a corner of the great hall, brooding in silence & his ancestral crimes while the shadows lengthen & the damp stone-smelling air cools...
So he slumps in his chair, & the cook brings forth the evening's meal. If there's a cringe in the lackey's step, the rapist doesn't notice; if there's a flicker of a tear in the corner of his eye, his lord would not even care. So the nobleman quaffs his wine, tears at the succulent young flesh spiced upon his plate...
& his crazed, grief-stricken wife (avatar of every wronged woman in the world, revenging Fury & avenging angel) leaps from an alcove on the wall, where she's been hiding & watching as the rapist chows down on his grisly meal, & she shrieks in a voice made of malice & madness that comes tearing out of the shattered remains of her many-times broken heart:
"Oh my lord, you eat what is your own!"
Events collide in her husband's forebrain. He looks down at the tender meat on his plate, the rich sauce. It tastes, he decides, a bit like chicken. He's swallowing some more wine, staring & staring at his mad & hysterically laughing wife, who's clawing at her own hands with tears streaming down her cheeks, & a horrible feeling of unease sweeps across him. Then it hits him, a notion with the terrible weight & heft of an awful idea that's actually true, a blow to the chest. He puts down his knife & fork, rises from the table. It's not out of love & it certainly isn't out of fear that his adultery has been discovered, it isn't out of pity for the children he's eaten, it's rather that he's an unreconstructed utter bastard & he's been made a fool of, he's Zeus raging at Tantalus, he's shamed at being caught & he's shaken down somewhere in his overwhelming ego about being tricked, so he takes his sword & he runs his poor wife through, & she bleeds out her last on the cold stone floor, blood pooling blackish & shining in the guttering candlelight.
The cook, who's been watching from another alcove (these old buildings are riddled with them), chooses that moment to step forward. Actually sir, he explains, mumbling & wringing his apron hem in his fat hands, actually sir, your missus -- er, your ex-missus -- told me to cook these children up sir, but I couldn't do it, I couldn't, so I swapped out some free range chicken & hid the kids & Oh sir I'm sorry...
The rapist is confused, yet relieved on some level. He's finally got up the gumption to leave his wife, better, he's gone & killed her stone dead. No more nagging; no more sad eyes, the bitter sharp lash of her sorrow & longing each time she looks at him, each time he returns with the smell of another upon his fingers, upon his breath. He feels great. Stammering still, the cook mentions that the kids are still alive. Oh, & their mother's downstairs...
I'm running out of room. Shall we give it a happy ending? The fairytale ends with Sleeping Beauty & her rapist raising the children together in the castle. Can't see it myself, but I really have to go & get my shit together, so all I can say is that they lived. Whether it was happily ever after or not, I shall leave up to you.