Once upon a time…a great amount of time had passed. And the Beauty who was cursed by a forgotten fairy to sleep until a kiss awoke her is now cursed by a wakefulness that never allows sleep.
Gone is He who bestowed the kiss and woke her from her slumber and carried her to her happily ever after. Gone are the fruits of their union, dispersed to their own stories and kingdoms. Gone are the parents that ruled and then relinquished power.
Now she is governed by an endocrine system in rebellion, glands that will not cease sending their midnight messengers with an endless scroll of demands and questions, whispering…
“Don’t forget to..”
“I thought I left the key in the…”
“Where did He go?”
…until the first rays of sunlight pierce her bedroom windows.
Despite the melatonin infused teas, the Sleep Stories told by a sonorous teller, the deep breathing techniques taught to her by the Local Crone, the no-liquids-after-6pm policy, still she lies awake, faced with herself and her choices - both those of her own making and those that were made for her.
Some nights her mind spins endless tales of wolves and witches, pursuit and submission, castles and cravings, lilacs and loss.
It tells her a story of children abandoned in the woods forever as their mother sleeps the sleep of the dead, surrounded by strange little men eating candy and apples and candied apples.
It weaves a yarn of a hungry wolf, lurking behind the ballroom pillar as the orchestra plays, waiting to dance her to death in her cracked glass slippers.
It tells her of the mother who bargains away her own daughter for a salad, a roomful of gold, a crust of bread.
She wishes these were dreams for that would mean she sleeps, but no, she knows what sleep feels like, she wrote the book, she is the book.
The Local Crone suggests exercise. Perhaps she shouldn’t trust the Local Crone. After all this whole business began with an angry witch.
But if she really thinks about it, her curiosity is what started it all. The closed door at the end of the stairs with the very large and heavy lock - what sort of Awful Thing lived there? What could possibly be so dark and dangerous that it caused an underlying river of fear to course through her parents, her childhood, an entire kingdom? And yet it was allowed to live amongst them in a tiny tower at the top of the castle. What does it eat?
And while we’re asking questions:
Why do the sheep sometimes have wool and sometimes do not?
Do we import our clothes and blankets?
Does the Awful Thing eat the sheep?
She remembers the day the curiosity consumed her to the point where she could no longer stop herself from climbing those stairs, hairpin in hand, determined to face this fearsome thing that shadowed their home. Plus her parents were away for the day. For the first time. Ever.
She remembers how the disappointment turned to wonder when she saw the old woman and the strange wheel that floated as it spun, with the sharp, glittering spindle that seemed to whisper to her “touch me.” So she did. And then all was darkness.
A young girls’ curiosity is a dangerous thing.
And so she walks the woods at a vigorous pace, hoping to exhaust herself into repose. She thinks about her walks in the woods with Him. How he gently eased her back into a world that had spun 100 times around the sun as she slept. She fell asleep reading the Bible and Aesops fables and woke to Shakespeare and DaVinci, Copernicus and Kepler. A world awakened, a world reborn through science and art and the printing press.
His name for her was Beauty. Everyone else called her Rosamund. Even as the alchemy of age and gravity transformed her from forehead to foot, he called her Beauty. While the other ladies of the court sought out the latest poultices and herbs and employed muscular young men to tighten their corset strings, she reasoned that since she had spent 100 years as an 18 year old, she should graciously accept these changes as long overdue. Even if she was asleep the whole time.
Now she lies anxiously in the dark, the clock keeping its merciless time - don’t sleep…can’t sleep…won’t sleep…shan’t sleep… so she focuses on the rhythm of her own beating heart. But that only conjures Him, his sweet face as he slowly slipped into his own endless sleep, her kisses powerless, leaving her alone and tired and feeling more cursed than ever.
The lack of sleep bends her towards forgetfulness. Little things, mostly, such as…
-I’m sure I left my knitting in the…
-Why have I walked into the Great Hall?
-What was the name of my tutor when I was twelve? Albert? Alphonse? Al-something.
These are small annoyances, mostly. Yet she wonders what else will slip from her grasp as insomnia digs deeper into her mind. Her sanity, perhaps. What was that story about the princess who couldn’t sleep? The one who had to prove herself royal by sleeping on top of twenty mattresses and twenty downy quilts and one tiny pea. Didn’t she go mad? Or did she just get mad? Insanity or rage, either would be justified given the circumstances. She wishes she could remember both the details and the truth of the story.
With the recession of repose, she finds her own anger surfacing at unexpected moments. Sometimes she resents Him leaving her all alone. The Local Crone has offered her matchmaking services. Yet they both know finding an eligible royal at her age would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Just thinking about the few widowed men of rank that are available - gout-ridden, toothless, flatulent - makes her want to stab her finger on a spindle again, retreat into sleep once more. Which, as she thinks about it, might be the only way to get a decent night’s rest, the only way to escape the shadow of grief that looms over her day after day, night after endless night.
And so she climbs the stairs, hairpin in hand once again, hoping some residue of dark magic remains on the spinning wheel.
by Christine Stevens