Let Down Your Hair
he is a young man, with a young, pregnant wife. they are poor, and can’t afford much, so he sneaks into the witch’s garden at night to steal away the rapunzel lettuce his wife so desperately craves.
when the witch gothel catches, him she demands the child that her garden is feeding as payment.
he agrees, because there’s nothing else he can do.
he and his wife can have more children, but not if they’re dead. they can have more children later, when they have the means to provide for them, when they’re older and more sure of themselves, when the prospect of being responsible for another mouth to feed isn’t quite so terrifying.
his wife is still slick with blood when he wraps their daughter in an old pillowcase and brings her to the stone wall separating their land from the witch’s. “are you going to hurt her?” he asks, clutching his crying daughter to his chest.
gothel raises an eyebrow and says, “what a foolish question.” she pulls away from him and is gone in the next instant.
his arms feel empty, but lighter too. he’ll never say this aloud, but it’s almost a relief to give the child away.
they couldn’t even afford to feed themselves, never mind anyone else.
he wants to be a father. he doesn’t want to be the father of a hungry child.
this is not the first time gothel has bargained a child away from its parents. and so she tucks the squalling little girl in bend of her elbow, and goes where she always goes.
“caroline!” she calls out, “oh mother caroline!”
she stands in front of large house, one that has the general appearance of being many houses stacked up on top of each other, all different colors and sizes and styles. also, from the side, it does not look unlike a rather large shoe.
the door bangs open, and a small wave of children run for her, small sticky hands grasping at her dress and cloak, and gap toothed grins everywhere she turns. “have you brought us another brother?” a girl asks, wrinkling her nose. “i have too many brothers.”
the boys turn to her, glaring, but the girl is unrepentant. she’s the only girl in among the younger kids, and is quite cross about it.
then the older kids surround gothel, the ones that had had the patience not to go chasing after her at a sprint. the teenagers like to pretend like they don’t care, but she has many eager and impatient eyes on her, lots of twitching fingers eager to take the baby away from her. that’s fine by gothel – she’s eager to be rid of the blasted thing.
“that’s enough!” a powerful, creaky voice shouts. “that’s quite enough of that! make room, make room, let me through!”
the crowd of children part for mother caroline. like gothel, caroline has dark skin and black hair, a strong, wide nose and plump lips. but while gothel appears to be a woman in the prime of her youth, caroline is an old woman. her back is straight and strong, and there is strength in the width of her waist. but her dark hair is streaked with silver, and her skin has started to bend to the will of time and gravity, causing delicate wrinkles to frame her face. “little sister,” gothel greets, “you’ve gotten older.”
caroline shoots her an irritated glance, “while you haven’t changed at all.”
“you could have became a witch like me,” gothel says, not for the first time, “you were always quite good with physical magic. then neither of us would age at all!”
“change is inevitable,” caroline says with the type of finality that makes gothel’s skin crawl. “let me see the child.”
the children crowd impossibly closer as gothel hands the baby over, red faced and new. caroline cradles the babe against her chest, then stills, her lips pulling down at the corners. “what’s wrong?” gothel demands, peering down at the baby anxiously.
she looks like any other baby gothel has seen. her face is squished oddly and her eyes are a watery blue. she has ten fingers and ten toes – gothel checked! – and she was crying when her father handed her over, but she’s quiet now.
“i can’t take this child,” caroline says.