the waiting game
look at yourself. which version of you is there?
- the girl who is standing in front of a fire, watching the other witches dance and sing. your hair is long, there is blood on your face from your husband. you cradle your baby close to you as they tell you that you no longer have to fear your husband leaving you. not anymore. he's dead and his head is on a pike before you, his lips in a frozen smile. nathaniel cries at your breast, and you smile at them as the witches feet begin to leave the ground by centimeters and then inches and then feet and then yards. you walk in the same path, seeing the flame grow, seeing it wist and spark and change into a bird. you can see it glint in nathaniel's eye, too, the one he lost. your feet leave the ground by centimeters, and then inches, and then feet and then yards and then you are in the air, free of a man who hated you, keeping the baby who loves you and you are a witch but you are free.
- the girl who is sitting in front of a mirror on her wedding day, looking at the photograph you found of a woman who looks like you in a bikini that you would never wear with hair so long it looks like a tail of fire. the girl with tears down your face because she looks like your twin: a twin you never knew of a twin you never thought existed but she does, she does, and there's a whisper in your ear that if you go through with this, what other horrors are awaiting you? what tricks does he have? what if that twin arrives at your door demanding her life back? what if he has rooms and rooms of girls with red hair and big eyes that look all the same? you think of the tale of bluebeard's bride and that's all you need to lock the doors, strip yourself of your dress and climb down. lights glimmer on the inside; you see a ring of people who look strange, intent, and his back is to you. you hate him and you love him and you run far, far away and never look back even though you're always looking over your shoulder for that twin you never knew, even though you're always dreaming of corpses with red hair piled together in shredded wedding dresses.
- the little girl sitting in her bedroom as her mother argues on the phone. there's a positive pregnancy test in front of you and you know that your life is over. it has to be. you're sixteen and you didn't ask for a child and it's your fault for being a slut, a whore, a piece of shit and now you're going to be stuck with this decision for the rest of your life even though you don't want to be. you want to be free of it, you wish you could miscarry and then that thought makes you sick because it's not the baby's fault — it's not... and then you think that maybe... maybe you can't get rid of it and your stomach falls right out of you. you feel guilt and anger and hatred but not for whoever's beginning to grow inside of you, not for whoever you might bring into this world. it's not their fault that they're going to have a terrible mother, and it's not their fault you aren't going to be good for them but... maybe you can try. maybe you can try hard enough not to be the steely eyed woman who glares down at you and tells you in a voice colder than ice to pack up your things, now.
- the girl who looks up at a man she doesn't know. he stares down at you as you feel more blood seep out of you. you're scared, you're so scared of dying. he goes to his knees and touches your forehead and hair and in your mind, you can hear him comforting you. you don't know this man, you've never known him except you think you have, and you want to say i'm sorry and you don't know for what except the last thing you can do is squeeze his hand as you die at sixteen years old.
- the woman — not a girl — who is looking at a being older than you, older than the whole universe with a critical eye. knowing that she wants something from you that you don't think you can fulfill or give but that she wants so badly. and maybe a part of you wants it to. to have a purpose more than suffering, more than abandonment, more than having to defend your existence to anyone else. but you know that this being, older than you, craftier than you, more patient than you has a pull that is mysterious, that is hard to ignore because you're both daughter and mother and sister and twin to her all at once and you don't know what she has up her sleeve except that you can feel it on the hairs of your neck as you look at her, as you feel that power so close to you that it warms your face in a place where you shouldn't feel anything at all.
- trick question. you're all of them at once. and you know that when you wake up, something will have changed. something that you're not prepared for. that when you see it, it will take your breath how horrible or how good that change is. it sits in your chest as you breathe in and out, as you look at the stars your children placed on the ceiling of your bedroom. you feel as if you're just waiting and waiting for it to punch the air out of you and you're not sure what you'll do except it will happen. and the worst part of any punishment is the wait.