What happens to Rapunzel after she becomes pregnant and the witch sends her away?
|[Author's Note: In the original tale of Rapunzel, the prince gets Rapunzel pregnant, and when the witch finds out, she sends Rapunzel to "the ends of the earth" to live with her twins. The prince, distraught at never getting to see Rapunzel again, throws himself out of the tower so that two thorns prick his eyes and blind him. He spends the next few years travelling the world looking for any trace of Rapunzel, whom he believes dead.]
The only thing of beauty my sister and I knew growing up in the dusty hell hole that was our home was our mother’s singing. She never sang for us, not even as a lullaby, and I’m not sure if she knew that we could hear her when she did. It’d be at odd moments: as she was scrubbing the red dust out of our scratchy clothes, or poking at the miserable, stringy vegetables she was attempting to make into a soup to fill our hungry bellies. She wasn’t singing for anyone, and often her songs were a half-heard string of words tinkling in the awful air like jewels. But once she sent my sister and me to the dirty, sluggish river not far from our home to collect some water, and on our way back we could make out a slow, steady song full of grief. It was about a witch and a boy and a tall tower. At the time, it seemed to me to be the same sort of song the women in the village sang when one of their children or husbands died from disease or lack of food or the filthy water. It was only when I heard her singing her own name did I realize the song was about her. I didn’t know any witches, and I certainly didn’t know what boy she was singing of, but Gergie and I suddenly felt as though we had intruded on something terribly private and shameful, and we made our way back toward the river to give my mother time to mourn her past before we bothered her to boil the water.
* * *
“Mam, do John and I have a father?”
The question must have shocked my mother some, because, as graceful as she was, she stumbled over one of Gergie’s homemade dolls and nearly fell. I rose quickly from the table to make sure she was ok, but she shooed me back to my supper and picked up the doll, staring down at it. “Why do you ask, my sweet?” This was what she called Gergie, always, or else poppet. She had said once that the woman who raised her had called her the same, and it was a force of habit. She had no pet names for me, although I wish she had, for she always said my name so solemnly, like it was painful on her tongue.
“Well,” Gergie said, slowly working the words out from around a piece of yam in her mouth. “I was playing with the other children this morning, and they said that everyone has to have a mam and father. They said nobody had just a mam, unless their father had left or died.”
Mother seemed to consider this for some time before she put the doll down on the bed she and Gergie shared. “You had a father, once,” she said quietly, so that we almost couldn’t hear her. “He never met you. He was killed before you were born.”
“How did he die?” I couldn’t help but ask.
She looked up at me as though she had forgotten I was even in the room. She did this often, and I was used to it by now. “The woman who raised me…she killed him when she found out I was carrying his children.” Before we could say anything further, one of the women of the village was outside our window calling for my mother and she left without a glance back at us.
* * *
It occurred to me that night that our mother had had a whole other life before Gergie and I were even a thought in her head. As I tried to fall asleep, I wondered if she had ever been out of his dusty hell, with the sun always baking everything in sight, and the wind whipping up violent twirls of red dirt. It seemed that a flower as lovely as my mother could not have come from such a place. And at any rate, the women in the village were much different from her. They wrapped their hair in long, dark cloth at all hours of the day and sat with the dust in every crevice of their olive colored skin as eyes the color of that dirty river watched us go by. My mother only wrapped her fair hair when she was out, to keep the dust from settling into it, and her cornflower eyes constantly searched the flat horizon as though she could see something we could not.
The next day, while Gergie was playing with the other children, I found my mother doing her best to mend a hole in an unidentifiable cloth, sitting in the shadow of our tiny home. I sat next to her on the hard ground, poking holes into it with my finger before looking up at her. Her brow was furrowed in concentration and once again, she didn’t seem to know I was there.
“Mother…” I said quietly. When she didn’t tell me to hush up, I continued. “Do you…do you love Gergie more than you love me?”
She looked up from her work immediately, her blue eyes scanning my face carefully. “Oh, John, why ever would you say a thing like that?”
I brought my head back down and watched my finger poking more holes into the dirt. “Well, you’ve got special names for Gergie. Like you call her poppet. And every time you say my name, you make it sound like it’s a bad thing. And when you look at Gergie, you’re fine as can be, but when you look at me, you look like you’re about to cry.”
As though to prove my point, her eyes began to well with tears, but she turned to look out at our scraggly vegetables and did not cry. “I’m sorry. It’s just that John was your father’s name, and to say it reminds me of him.”
“Do I look like him too? Is that why you want to cry when you see me?”
She was quiet for so long I wondered if she had heard me at all, but finally she said, “No, your sister looks like him. Gypsy dark. But sometimes you sound just like him. When you speak, I look up and expect him to be in the room.”
She spoke no more of our father to either of us.
* * *
Years later, it was the height of summer: a miserable time during a drought that was turning our vegetables into even sadder creations than they already were, when I spotted him. Our house sat at the edge of the village and its back faced out onto the never-ending dusty plains at the ends of the earth so that we could see for miles and miles. I can’t remember what I was doing, but when I saw him, I stopped and called to Gergie, who was trying to dress her little doll in a corn husk. “What is it, John?” she asked, annoyed from the heat.
“Look,” I said simply, and pointed a finger up. A dark figure was limping across the dust, his long walking stick trailing in the dirt. As he grew nearer, we could see an empty canteen hanging upside down at his side.
Our mother was out front, washing clothes and singing to herself. Her singing was more coherent than usual, and if the man had not been there, Gergie and I would have probably been trying to sneak a listen. Instead, we watched as the man grew nearer, until he stopped suddenly at the edge of our vegetable patch. The first thing I noticed was that he was blind. Then I quickly noticed that he had the same dark, curly hair as Gergie.
“Rapunzel?” he called, his voice cracked from thirst. “Is that you singing?”
My mother stopped singing and ran to the back of the house, pausing only a moment to take in the sight of the man before she darted gracefully to him. He collapsed just as she reached him, and she rested his head on her lap, stroking the dark curls away from his face. “Yes, John, it’s me,” she said softly, and tears began to roll down her sunken cheeks, falling thickly onto the man’s eyes.
“Is that…” Gergie started to whisper to me, but she didn’t get a chance to finish, as the man began to blink our mother’s tears out of his eyes furiously.
“I can see,” he said simply, and it was then we understood that the man our mother had long believed dead, the ghost she had been watching the horizon for, had finally found her.