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The fairy tale about the wild woman that fell in love with a river goddess

Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

She’s been in this room forever. The door has old marks the shape of her nails. The windows won’t open but a few inches.

If she were to escape, she thinks, she would turn into grains of sand. She would lie still on the windowsill to wait for the cold wind to blow her away.

Some bits of her would go north, others would go south. Some would stay on the windowsill, and the thought of that makes her sad.

She’s been here for so long, a bit of her would always remain in that room.

“The day I die,” she mutters to herself, “I will arrive in Heaven missing an arm, or a leg, or maybe a few fingers, if I’m lucky.”

Her voice sounds strange and foreign. She does not talk often.

She has found the quiet creates the illusion of space. Sound can be trapped, but silence expands beyond her four walls, beyond the stained glass of the windows.

The silence of her room can touch the silence of the forest she knows exists somewhere near her prison. She has heard the whisper of leaves on trees. Sometimes she thinks she can still understand what they are saying. There is comfort in thinking she’s more a leaf than a human, more plant than animal.

It was not always like this. An eternity ago, she was a fox, a fawn, a fish. She would hunt and prance and swim and life was a sweet succession of smells and colours.

But her body changed, and so the world around her changed too. They cleaned her muddy knees and covered her naked skin in lace and silk. They put jewels in her hair and called her beautiful. In her memory, she knows she smiled when she first heard it, but she cannot remember why.

It was not until the day the wind called her by her name again, that she realised “beautiful” was a dangerous thing to be. The wind had kissed her face and blown away the jewels from her hair. She smelled the river in the wind’s embrace, and the trees and the earth, and she thought it wouldn’t hurt to run away, if only for a bit.

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

So she ran, in her silks and her lace, leaving behind her a trace of gold rings and gemstones. The wind ran after her, playfully tugging at her clothes, as if saying, “Faster! Faster!”.

When she reached the forest, the trees greeted her and undressed her. Naked under the canopy, she remembered breathing was easier without pearls around her neck. There was no moon in the sky, but the darkness knew her smell and upon finding her, took her hand to guide her through the undergrowth.

As they reached the edge of a clearing, she saw her. It had been such a long time, yet she could still remember her fresh smell and the glow of her skin. Standing before her, the River Goddess smiled at her like years had not passed since the last time.

Like she could still be a fox, a fawn or a fish, or even a woman, if she wanted to.

The darkness bowed to her and retreated back into the shelter of the trees, not daring to go near the luminous goddess, who smiled again and stretched out a hand. “Come with me,” she had said. She really did not need to say more.

That night she followed the River Goddess through the depths of the forest, further than she had ever dared. They were fast, so fast she thought they were flying, and they held each other’s hands as they left hills and valleys behind. When they stopped, the naked woman felt sand under her feet, and she could hear the sound of waves crashing in the distance, before she felt the goddess’ lips on her own.

As she laid her down in the sand and her arms wrapped around her waist, the naked woman had whispered: “Am I beautiful?” The goddess had then looked at her, a serious expression on her face. “You are loved,” she answered.

Those words feel now like they were uttered to a different person. Captive and half dead, the woman repeats, “I am loved” until tears fill her eyes. Remembering is a disease, a curse, a punishment. If they had taken the memories along with her freedom, the woman-shaped wound in her soul would not burn as viciously.

Photo by Diogo Nunes on Unsplash

She remembers waking up at the beach, and the way bliss had turned into dread when she heard voices approaching. Some nights she has nightmares where she can still see the shock in their faces when they found them, where she can feel their cold hands yanking her body from the sand.

In her dreams, she always fights. She kicks and scratches and curses and yells for help as rain drops hit her face. There are nights in which she breaks free. Bloody and beaten, she crawls along the sand until she can taste the salt from the waves and finally, finally she feels soft arms around her, welcoming her home.

But that is not how her story was bound to go. She was a beautiful woman who ran away one night to sleep with another woman. Now she is an old thing, no longer beautiful and too weak to understand the only crime she committed was believing she could ever be truly free.

Beautiful women are not meant for freedom, and their lives aren’t their own. Their lives are for others to live through them, through their beauty, their youth, their bodies.

By denying them this, by turning down the jewels and the gifts, by refusing to spend the rest of her life sleeping next to a faceless man, she had defied forces greater than herself. Isolation was a fitting punishment for those who rebelled, but as much as she has tried, in her heart of hearts she knows her feelings had nothing to do with something as small as rebellion.

“It was so beautiful,” she whispers, sitting by the window, her knees pushed up to her chest. The tears keep falling, but there is a smile on her face. “It was beautiful and it was real and it was just for the two of us.”

Nightfall finds her drifting away in dreams. There is no moon, there is only wind and a wall of silver clouds that moves slowly towards the tower where the captive woman sleeps. The wind, alive and fast as it has not felt in decades, jumps over the clouds and runs and runs and runs until it crashes against the never fully open window, which trembles but does not break.

“Wake up!” the wind howls, slithering inside the room and blowing cold kisses on the woman’s still closed eyelids. “Wake up!”

A dark figure approaches the tower. He is blind and does not speak, but he knows where to go, for he follows the smell of a weakening heart, and there is no window nor lock that can stop him. Lightening scars the sky. Thunder brings in its roar a death omen.

“You have to wake up!” wails the wind once more, shaking the woman’s body. Lightning strikes, thunder follows. The figure is now closer. It starts to rain. The woman opens her eyes.

The first drops hit the glass almost shyly, but soon there is a wall of water on the other side of the window. Finally awake, the woman’s face wrinkles into a smile that is full of anticipation. “It has not rained like this since…” Thunder replies and the wind dances around her, playing with the long grey locks on her head. From her cut lips, laughter and a warcry are born. “It has not rained like this since I lost you!”

The sky then ceases to exist and is replaced by fresh water waves, a river that flows from the night sky and fall with all its strength to smash, for once and for all, the absurd and useless window. The woman has her arms wide open, ready to welcome the wave. “You came for me, my love!”

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