June 15, 2018

SATURDAY TALE - Someone Else's Story by Kiyomi Appleton Gaines

She sometimes thought she could remember. But it felt like someone else's story, like something she had heard again and again, but not something that had happened...
Sometimes she woke and didn't know where she was, stuck in that strange space between dreaming and the rest of her life. The man beside her, wrapped in the rumpled sheets, would seem a stranger, and she would try to piece together just how she had ended up here and who he was. She would either fall back asleep, or struggle to wakefulness, and the familiar would settle over her again.

Day to day passed with little change, but she found she was more or less content. Her home was modest, but clean and orderly. The garden plot was neat, and the animals well cared for. She had a good life. In the distance, on a clear day, she could sometimes see the parapets of the castle, the colored flags unfurled in the wind on their narrow stilts. Sometimes, unaccountably, the sight of them would leave her feeling melancholy, and she would sit inside at her spinning wheel, instead of outside enjoying the good weather.

Strange sensations, like memory, would sometimes come over her when she sat spinning. A room, empty, but for a wheel, and piles of flax. A door barred, walls bare, and only a narrow window, high up, so she could see nothing through it but a sliver of blue sky. The skin of her hands was dry from working the fibrous material. And she despaired of escape.

The man, her husband, knew about nature and humors and the elements that made the world. It was a point of pride for him, but she only felt disgust at the work. Confused, she called it piety. There were some things that it was not for man to know, that were not to be meddled with, she reasoned. It brought in coin, though. They were not wealthy, but they had enough. He reminded her of this, to know her place, that she was no grander than he, and that his work had saved her life.

Yes, that. She did not remember that. Or rather she did, but it was more like a story she had been told than something she truly recalled. Pricking her finger, the infection that followed, a delirious fever, the herbal remedies that cured her. It was all so long ago now. The skin opened up, there must have been blood, and she imagined the long, narrow spindle, stretching up like a stilt overhead as she collapsed to the floor, her dress rumpled beneath her. Yes, that must be what happened. Who had found her? Her father? No, he was long gone. Her mother? Her mother had sent her away... Something nagged at her. Her mother had sent her away. She felt anger at this, mingled with despair.

"I woke you with a kiss," her husband told the story of their betrothal. Her finger pricked on the spindle, the infection, the delirium, then his herbal remedies, and woken with a kiss. Her mother had sent her away to be married, of course. She had heard it so many times. She could sometimes imagine just how it must have been. She sometimes thought she could remember. But it felt like someone else's story, like something she had heard again and again, but not something that had happened. Or at least not something that had happened to her.

Most days she just put it from her mind.

She heated the flattening iron on the hearth. She liked things to be flat, smooth. Rumpled clothing nagged at her, so she ironed everything. This was summer. In the colder months, they would lay down skins, which were warmer, but left her unsettled and distracted in a similar way. Her husband laughed at her, called her a gentle creature. As long as she still prepared his meat for his meals, he said, she could mourn for the pelts.

Once when he was out of the house, she had, on impulse, gathered up all the skins and tried each one on in turn. She was frantic lest she be caught, but nothing happened, which left her feeling disappointed and adrift. He returned as she dropped the last pelt to the floor.
"What are you doing?" he asked, standing still and quiet.
"Trying them on," she said.
Why, indeed? They should have changed her, she thought. Lifted the fog from her mind. If only she could find the right one. But that didn't seem right either. The skins were not her own, they were just animal pelts. That, too, was another story she had heard, someone else's story.
He was quiet, angry, as he returned each one to its place.

In the summertime, the men went out into the marsh to net fish and crabs and other shellfish. Her husband did not join them. She would watch them though. They looked strange, bird-like, walking out around among the reeds and grasses on their wooden stilts. She would buy a bushel of shellfish, and a basket of a certain marsh weed. Alchemy was not the only means of transforming useless things into something desired.

There was something else she sometimes dreamt, a strange conversation, in that same spare room with the flax.
"I'll turn it to gold," the man said, " but in return you will owe me something."
"What do you want?" she asked.
"Oh, nothing much. Something very small. And nothing that matters to you now."
She knew she would die if the gold was not there in the morning. "Very well. What do you want?"
His smile was too wide, and his teeth, slick with saliva, shone in the light filtering down from the small, high window. "Your child."

Of course her child would be his. He was her husband. But still, she dried and mixed her herbs, and the marsh weed assured that a child would never come.
Kiyomi Appleton Gaines is a contributing editor at Enchanted Conversation Magazine who writes stories and articles inspired by folklore and fairy tales. 
Find more of her writing at A Work of Heart
and follow her on Twitter @ThatKiyomi

Cover: Amanda Bergloff 

Thanks for reading this Saturday Tale, and please share your thoughts about Kiyomi's story in the comments section below. We'd love to hear from you!


Guy S. Ricketts said...

I had to set down my iPad after reading this story, digesting the wonderfully nightmarish layers given us by author Kiyomi. Of course, it is based on the story Rumpelstiltskin, but it appears in broken memories of the miller’s daughter, in surreal and horrifying portions. I especially loved how her subconscious was remembering the nasty imp’s name, by way of those “rumpled” shirts, the men on the “stilts”, and those animal “skins”, cruelly hinting at her cruel situation. Very, very nice!

Unknown said...

I thought at first that this story was a version of Sleeping Beauty ("I woke you with a kiss") and was surprised to realize that Rumpelstiltskin is the inspiration.