By Alison Colwell
Reason Number 1 – You are caught by surprise
When it occurs the move is so unexpected, so sudden, that it takes your brain a few long seconds to catch up with what’s happening. By the time you regained your voice, your new stepmother already pushed your brothers, now swans, out the window. You watch them fly away from the castle in silence.
Reason Number 2 – Who would you tell?
You are alone. You never had friends. But you had brothers. Sure they were annoying. They were brothers after all. They teased you, borrowed money and snuck out the windows late at night and only sometimes took you with them. They were brothers but they were also your best friends and now that they are gone you have no one. There is no one to unburden your heart to.
Reason Number 3 – No one would believe you anyway
Maybe you could tell your father? Maybe he would believe you? Or maybe he’d be mad at you for upsetting the balance of his perfect life and requiring him to take some kind of action. It’s so much easier to dismiss your words as the ramblings of an unhinged girl? That’s easier to believe after all, than believing his gorgeous young wife turned his sons into swans. How likely is that?
Reason Number 4 – Being told to stay silent
“You can’t tell anyone.”
“If you tell anyone, things will get so much worse.”
And you spend your time wondering how much worse things can possibly be because they’re already pretty bad but you never saw this coming. And the truth is that you are used to doing what people tell you. You are used to following instructions, used to listening to authority. So when they say: “don’t tell” and threaten you with worse if you do, then you listen.
So you start gathering nettles in silence, weaving six shirts and your hands burn but they told you to be silent and you are. You keep working through the pain and you never explain and you never ask for help.
Reason Number 5 – Maybe it’s not as bad as you think?
It’s not like you have any frame of reference to compare it to. Maybe you are just whining. Maybe it’s really nothing. Sure, your hands are raw and blistered from harvesting nettles, from stripping them down, breaking them in the thread, spinning and knitting the thread into sweaters. But you have hands! Your brothers only have wings. Maybe you should stop complaining. You don’t have anything to complain about. It’s nothing after all.
Reason Number 6 – Maybe this is normal?
Isn’t this just the price you pay for being young, for being beautiful, for being a woman? Don’t all women silently pay the same price? Isn’t this just what’s normal looks like?
So when the young king falls in love with you and decides he has to possess you, and he takes you home and marries you even though you haven’t said a word, isn’t this just what happens? Don’t kings and princes always get what they want? How can you complain when this happens to every woman? It’s normal.
You carry on, ignoring your circumstances and focus on what matters. You weave the shirts and you ignore The king as much as you can. Splintering the self from the body is normal, isn’t it?
Reason Number 7 – You should’ve known better
You went out at night on your own. You knew it was a stupid thing to do. You knew it was risky and yet you did it anyway. You’d heard the stories, the warnings. You have no one to blame but yourself. If you’d stayed home this would never have happened.
You needed nettles. You were so close to finishing that last shirt but going to the graveyard alone, after dark, just made it so easy for them. You knew the Bishop was looking for a reason to hurt you. It’s like you were asking for it.
Reason Number 8 – Fear
Because as bad as the situation you’re in is, there is always the fear that it can always get worse. Right now you’re coping, even if only barely. Right now you can believe that others will help you if they knew, but how could you live if you reached out and they looked away. Fear of betrayal. Fear of repercussions. Fear of pain. Fear contains us. Fear keeps us silent.
But in the end you are still dragged out to the courtyard, where they’ve built a pyre to burn you. And you realize you’ve reached the end, that your silence has brought you here, you realize that there is nothing else to be lost.
You toss the unfinished shirts to your brothers, watch them transform back into men, open your mouth and speak.
About the author:
Alison Colwell spends her time creating imaginary worlds and fracturing fairy tales. When not writing she can sometimes be found teaching kindergarten kids how to bake bread – a magic all its own. Her fiction can be found in Daily Science Fiction, the Drabble, and Flash Fiction Magazine and her creative non-fiction work in the climate-fiction anthology Rising Tides, The Fieldstone Review and Folklife Magazine. Alison Colwell lives on a very small emerald island in the Salish Sea, with her kids. Facebook: facebook.com/alisoncolwellwriter Twitter: @colwell_alison Website: www.alisoncolwell.com