012. Rapunzel

by crfricke

*This post is part of A Grimm Project, a series of short fiction pieces using each of the Brothers Grimms’ Nursery and Household Tales as writing prompts. For more information about the project, click here. For more about the story which inspired this freewrite, click here.*

I’d kept in contact with Rosemary’s birth mother for fifteen years—ever since the papers had been signed, and the nurse had placed a red-cheeked, slick-haired infant in my plastic-gloved arms. Every year on Rosemary’s birthday I’d written her a letter and include a recent picture or school snapshot, though in the last two years I’d struggled with how much, exactly, to tell her. Rosemary was willful. Her bedroom window got as much use as our front door, with her coming and going late nights and early mornings. At first she thought I didn’t know. Then, after the first fights and the storming out, she didn’t care that I knew. I smelled cigarette smoke in her hair when she’d come down in the mornings. I saw the rips in her jeans and leggings from the bent nail on the siding under her windowsill. She stopped bringing home report cards, and when I reached out to her teachers, the news was dismal.

I didn’t include any of this in my letters to her birth mother. Instead, I used words like “spirited” and “outgoing.” My letters became shorter and shorter.

And then Rosemary told me she was pregnant.

Well, she didn’t tell me, exactly. I saw it. Used to cleaning out the upstairs bathroom wastebasket, I noticed there hadn’t been any sanitary pads in what seemed like months. And then I saw her curling her hair in front of the bathroom mirror, her arms stretched over her head and her belly, small but round and firm, protruding outwards in a skin-tight baby-pink tank top.

“What are you looking at?” she asked, seeing my stare.

Rosie,” I said. I pointed at her belly. “Oh, Rosie, tell me that’s not true.”

She dropped her arms and released a spiraled curl from the iron. In that moment before she spoke, before she began protesting and then finally crying, I wasn’t thinking about her, or what we’d do with a child in the house. I was thinking of her birth mother. Kimberly Mathisen was her name—she’d be thirty now, maybe thirty-one. Rosie and Kimberly had the same soft, strawberry-blond hair, which Rosie wore loose and curled to her waist. I wondered what I’d say in that year’s letter, how to protect Kimberly, for whom I had once felt such kinship, pity, and gratitude, from the knowledge that her daughter had become just like her. Perhaps, I thought, I won’t write at all. Maybe the time for all that is done. But I felt a terrible pull around my abdomen, as if a long length of rope was tightened around me. Its ends cast out from my useless womb, tethering me to these girls and their strawberry-blond hair throughout time and space, tying me firmly to their woes. I would write. I had promised that I would.

Cate Fricke
January 2014

illustration by Paul O. Zelinsky

illustration by Paul O. Zelinsky