Snow White in the Glass Box
Time is relative here. Sometimes I count out the seconds, but starting from anytime and counting to a hundred, a thousand, as high as I can go without losing track of digits. It just makes the space feel bigger, longer, unfathomable and unending. But it will end. I’m not dead, yet.
I’ve replayed memories in my mind so many times that I’ve started to entertain myself by changing them – the characters, the situations, and me. I’ve imagined this narrator’s voice, and this audience. I’m really just bored by my self.
I keep coming back to the number seven. There were seven little men, I remember that pretty clearly. Seven days in a week. There’s probably some symbolism there, but to me seven seems pretty arbitrary.
Not like three. Three is in everything: my father, my mother, and me. Three drops of blood. Three times my stepmother tried to kill me. That’s how I got here. I don’t remember that clearly at all, but I know it was her. Pfft. Bitch.
Mostly I imagine what I’ll do when I get out of here – assuming there’s a way out that isn’t death or starting over. Maybe forgetting all this would be for the best. I’m tired of keeping my thoughts so orderly.
This place is big. So big I don’t ever see all the rooms. And there are people here I see and never see again. Especially the ones with the desperate faces who come to see my father.
I don’t listen, but I watch them to see if he gives them what they want, or what they need. There’s a real difference. When they get what they want, they leave looking smug – as if they never had to ask someone else to give it to them. When they get what they need, they look disappointed. It’s so annoying.
I want to yell at them and tell them how he has a lot of people to take care of, and he tries to give them all something without losing. That’s why he has the biggest chair – it holds the weight of all those burdens.
I know my father is not just a man. I wonder if I will ever love someone as much as I love him.
I thought beauty was supposed to make people love you. That’s not at all true. Beauty makes people love things, which reflect back on them. Beautiful people just remind you of all the ways you are not beautiful. It’s really just a commodity, I think.
I hope some day someone will look in my eyes and kiss me on the mouth, and it will mean something. Maybe it will mean love, but I really just want to belong to someone. And I want him to be proud because of it, and proud of me for giving myself to him.
The day her voice changed I could hear the hatred growing. Something shifted, and she didn’t want to try to be my mother anymore. That’s when I tried to please her, as if – now that I knew I never could – I could achieve something by it.
It wasn’t about giving me what I needed anymore. It was all about her, and she was so needy.
This place is so small, and everything in it. It feels so much safer, but suddenly I am the mother. The mother of seven little men who have no mother. I do all the things a mother is supposed to do, but I don’t love them.
They don’t need anything from me, and definitely not love. Their brotherhood is enough. It’s like they’re all one person, together.
I get scared when I get to the end of a thought. Like I’ll never think of anything again and just float in this box of air, nothingness, forever. That’s when I count, and eventually I think of something again.
Like two. Two makes me think of the future, out of this box. Someday I will be one of two – an us. A we. Like my mother and father were when they made me.
And two makes me think of her. Number two. The second – the other mother. The one who wanted to get rid of me – number three – so she could be just two with my father.
Two makes me wish for a sister. Or a brother, but a sister would understand when I wanted to hate her but couldn’t. A brother would always have him, and he would always get to leave without asking anybody.
If I ever get out of here, I’d like to have two kids. One for each of us; a girl to stay and love, a boy to leave and protect. And one other for each of them.
When I see him, I’ll know it right away. I wonder if he’ll feel that way, too?
I am flying over a waterfall – a big one that spans half the horizon. I swoop down with the falling water and then I’m just falling. I know I will hit those rocks, and then I don’t.
I run through stone corridors that turn but never end, and then I’m in a vaulted room that feels deep underground. I look around but the edges recede when I try to bring them into focus.
I’m in a crowd, but my father appears and the people part to let him come to me – but he doesn’t. I’m lost in the crush, even though I yell to him over and over. He wasn’t looking for me, even though I’m sure our eyes met.
[To be continued and improved...]
It's such a hubbub, it seems necessary to say something about it. Or, what is it about a decade?
It's been ten years since the World Trade Center towers disappeared in a cloud of smoke and dust, settling over new york and the rest of the country like the pollen in a field of poppies...is this when we lost our way?
I lost my innocence, in a way, that day. But only because I believed in things then that don't seem to matter now; twenty-three has it's own idealism.
Here's what's significant to me, ten years on:
We still don't have a tower there.
We're at war - the war that started moments after - and we're not winning. We may not even be fighting the right battles.
We've become a country divided by political polemics that set past (or maybe, it's today) against future, tradition against progress, emotion against intellect, symbols against symbols.
We still think it's our job to run the world, alone, even though no other country seems to see us that way (anymore). And really, why would we want to?
We still don't know what that act of terrorism meant. Sure, we have our own interpretations, but we have only been able to cast the opposing side as devils, which makes it hard to see it their way...and that makes it impossible to see ourselves from their viewpoint. A most informative perspective, lost.
And this is not to say we should have embraced the terrorists and done what we could to appease them. Absolutely not. Simply that there was careful thought, purpose, and meaning in what they did, and we've given little consideration to what that was.
Who are we in the world that so much time and so many resources went into the planning and execution of such an act against us? I have my own answer.
There has been so little healing accomplished. I lost something intangible, but I was lucky. I know so many who lost so much more, everything, life, and they are haunted. They may be forever, but the contextualizing of this 21st century myth leaves little incentive for those that survived to open their hearts again, in spite of the pain. "Heroism" seems a thin comfort.
Now we are a country of victims - it pervades everything we think and do.
To those born in the 21st century, this event is nothing but the myth it's become.
Someone's tenth birthday is today, and that life matters more than any that were lost. It is a harsh thing to say, but it is true. That living, breathing glance into the future is more important than all of those that were lost, and we are doing little to serve her, to honor her, to smooth her way into the world she will someday rule. We argue over borders, and budgets, and individual rights that were passe in the time of Democritus, while this ten year old learns fear, and hubris, and a deep undercurrent of uncertainty.
Fortunately, she is human, and she may find a new way forward.
Rapunzel! Rapunzel! her mother called from downstairs.
What is it, mother?
Come down and eat your breakfast! Big day ahead, dear.
I’m not coming!
Rapunzel, really! Why must you resist the simplest things?
I told you, mother, I am staying in my room!
Alright, Rapunzel, you win. But I am going to town, and I am not going to tell people you’re sick again. They must think I take such awful care of you when all the while…
Rapunzel turned again towards the window and resumed her combing. She let her mother’s grumbling die into an unintelligible mumble, and began to hum to herself. As she hummed and combed, she admired her long, long, luxurious hair and smiled.
I have the most beautiful hair, she thought. It is golden, with streaks of nearly-white and shadows of almost-brown. And the way it sparkles in the sunlight! She ran her hands through the mass of it, letting each strand fall through the bright light angling in from the window.
She put down the comb and grabbed the ends, searching through each perfect tip for the beginnings of a split end. She gasped. Not one, not two, but three split ends! She reached for her brush and began furiously to brush out the tips of her seemingly endless locks. After she dealt with the splits, she calmed herself and went back to her careful preening.
She sighed. Who was it now?
Rapunzel! I can see the light off your hair, I know you’re up there!
She giggled a bit to herself, and leaned over the sill.
Rapunzel! There you are!
Osgood, what do you want?
I saw your mother and she said you weren’t coming to town today…but you know that today is the dance!
I do. So?
Well, ya see. Well, Rapunzel, I was hoping you’d come with me! To the dance, I mean.
Did I tell you I would go to the dance with you?
Then you can’t be disappointed. Anyway, I’m not coming.
And why not?
I’m washing my hair.
Osgood’s face crumpled into an angry disappointment. Ya know, Rapunzel, with anyone else I’d never believe it, but with you… Well, see ya.
Rapunzel went back to brushing, and passed a pleasant afternoon in her room, admiring herself, and especially her hair. Towards sunset, she heard a hearty laugh and giggle on the path, and leaned over to see Osgood walking home with a bright, amiable girl around her own age.
Hmph! She thought. That girl is no prettier than I am! And look at her short, mousey brown hair. Why, there’s nothing so special about her!
But a twinge of jealousy wrinkled her nose, and made her brush all the harder. It was easy to put Osgood out of her mind – he was so cheerful and good natured, she hardly had the patience – but she did sort of want some young man to admire her, and especially her beautiful hair.
As evening darkened into night, she heard her mother come home and busy herself downstairs. Rapunzel was a bit miffed when, after smells of fresh goose and vegetables began to waft to her window, her mother didn’t call her down to eat. Nor did a plate of food appear at her door as she expected.
Humph! Rapunzel thought, Who cares about that mean old woman and her goose!
And just to spite her mother in case she changed her mind, Rapunzel gathered up the many yards of her hair into braids and hefted herself into bed.
She woke the next morning to the sound of the front door shutting, and heard her mother’s solid footsteps walking away from the house.
Good! she thought, at least she won’t pester me to go to town today!
She spent all that day up in her room, combing and brushing and admiring her lovely locks. But when evening came, there was no sign of her mother. And now she was getting hungry. Frustrated and hungry, she cried herself to sleep.
But when she woke up the next day, still her mother had not returned. And so it was the next day, and the next.
By this time, Rapunzel was hungry and a bit worried. Perhaps her mother had abandoned her, a possibility she was only too ready to accept. As she pondered her next move, she heard horse hooves on the road near her house, and she got to the window as fast as she could, pushing and shoving and lifting the long hanks of hair out of her way.
Mother! Mother! she yelled.
Just then the horse came into view, and riding it, the most elegant and magnificent looking young man Rapunzel had ever seen or imagined.
He waved to her from the horse, and rode a bit closer.
Were you yelling, young lady?
Oh! Yes! I was.
And why, may I ask, were you yelling?
Oh, well…I thought perhaps you were my mother coming home.
He chuckled. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you. When do you expect her?
Oh, I couldn’t be less disappointed, she cooed. But, she added, I don’t know when my mother is coming home! She left some days ago without a word, and I’ve been left here all alone!
My goodness! I’m terribly sorry to hear this. You have no idea where she went?
No, I don’t.
I’d like to help you, but before we set off to find your mother I must ask you for a drink of water for my horse, and perhaps a bite of something for myself.
Oh! she cried. I’d be happy to give you a drink and some food, but, you see, I have had no food or water myself for all these days. So I have nothing to offer you. But please, do come in!
What kind of a girl sits at home in her room without food or drink or a mother for many days and does nothing?
Why, I was busy combing and brushing my hair.
My hair! And she pushed the great mass of hair over the sill and out the window. It fell in great heaps on the grass and rolled in a mass just to the hooves of the young gentleman’s horse, nearly carrying little Rapunzel with it.
Hmmm. I see, he said. This hair has kept you busy for all these days and nights?
Why yes! And for many more than just these past! Isn’t it beautiful?
It is beautiful, but no wonder you’ve been stuck in your room. Even if you had the will to do for yourself, how far could you go carrying such a mass of the stuff?
Well! cried Rapunzel. She could not help but be hurt by this young gentleman’s rude dismissal. After all, she had worked so hard on her beautiful hair hoping that someone just like him would love her.
I’m sorry if I’ve offended you, called the young man, but your hair – however lovely it may be – is long past the point of being beautiful. Now it’s just a heavy inconvenience. And, I might add, it’s done nothing to aid in the development of your personality.
Rapunzel had heard these words before, but coming from her mother they had no effect. But here and now they hit her differently, and she couldn’t stop the tears from falling.
Sniff. That’s just what my mother says, she admitted quietly.
He considered her for a moment. He wondered what she might be like without all that hair, and all that hassle. She was lovely, and she needed his help. And after all, he had come this way seeking adventure.
He unsheathed his sword, and yelled at Rapunzel to hold still.
Oh my! What are you doing? she called, just as he swung his sword through the thick ropes of hair hanging from her window.
I’m saving you! he called. From yourself!
She stood up immediately, feeling a great burden lifted from her shoulders. She ran – for the first time in many years – lightly down the stairs and out the door. As she rushed to him, she could feel the tips of her hair brushing the backs of her heels.
He met her with a laughing embrace, and looked into her eyes. As he held her, he ran his fingers through her golden hair.
Now that’s a beautiful head of hair!
Recently, my aunt forwarded a link to a house he designed in DC that's now for sale, and it got me thinking that I'd really love to see his whole portfolio! But I have no idea how to go about finding it.
Here's the listing:
Nicholas Satterlee was one of the leading mid-century modern architects in Washington. Satterlee had partnerships at various times with Donald Francis Lethbridge, Arthur Keyes and Chloethiel Woodard Smith before striking out on his own in 1963. Satterlee helped Smith with the Redevelopment Plan for Southwest Washington (1953-55) and won, along with Smith, the American Institute of Architects Merit Award for the Capitol Park Apartments, Section I, the first building erected in the redevelopment area. Other work included Holmes Run Acres and Pine Spring in Falls Church, Capitol Park II, Temple Sinai on Military Road and the Chevy Chase (DC) Library (1967) and the adjacent community center on Connecticut Avenue.
Satterlee also designed custom homes in the area, including this 3 bedroom/3 bath flat-roof ranch with pool on 1.5 acres in McLean.
[This is the first draft of a retelling of Beauty & the Beast. Keeping my fingers crossed that mom is gonna take this on as an illustration project.]
Beauty & the Beast
Beauty woke up as usual, tossed on her tunic and took off for the wooded stream beyond the olive trees. The mangy Gaul who ran her father’s slaves watched her go, intending to tell her father should she take longer than expected. Dashing along the foot-worn path warmed her legs and she dripped with morning dewdrops by the time she gained the water. Pausing just long enough to toss her covering cloth, she dove directly in.
Page 2 & 3:
She saw it clearly as she surfaced. A raging pair of eyes and dark white teeth. She stepped onto the sand and the thing shrank into the shadows.
Fear not, said Beauty, as the swaying leaves closed over the space where the beast had been. The suckling spaniel that lived at her heel whimpered in response. Beauty exhaled as she sank into the pool’s depths. She would meet her husband tonight.
Page 4 & 5:
Her father let her pursue her interests from a girl, and her mother had lived only long enough to instill in her all the values that might be fitting in a young woman of privilege. Courting seemed a waste of valuable air and sunlight when the world was open to Beauty. She traveled well and far with her grandmotherly chaperone, and she radiated health in mind and body. When the war stripped her father of cash and chattel, he made for her the first marriage he could find.
Page 6 & 7:
Still, she appeared lucky. Though he was several years her junior, the son of her father’s liege was chosen. Beauty’s handmaids twittered interestedly on her good fortune. Beauty was uncertain.
He was handsome, and well-born, and possessed all the qualities her father could want for her. But though he seemed to admire her, she could not meet his eye, try though she might. She watched their marriage ritual as through a looking glass.
Page 8 & 9:
A moment after their arrival at her husband’s villa, he bid her goodnight and left her standing in the archway. Several days passed before his man came and asked if she was in any way displeased. Having resumed her routine immediately, she asked only for directions to the nearest freshwater pond; she was eager to bathe unobserved. He showed her the path and returned to his master. She ran to the water, shedding clothes as was her custom, and dove in momentarily.
Page 10 & 11:
She floated alone in the pool long after the mood rose. As long as her husband had no need of her, she thought, the nights were her own. She relished this small freedom, but something ate at her – how could he be so cold? To leave her alone in their house without a word of explanation! She resolved then to seek him out, and move to her clothes. It was the beast she had seen before, lurking in the dark, reflecting moon beams from his eyes and teeth.
Page 12 & 13:
Beast! she commanded, and saw it pause for a beat, as if stung, then leap into the underbrush. Hurrying into her clothes, she rushed back to the house to search out her husband, and – without other reason to disturb him – request his protection from the beast.
Coming in view of the house, she saw her husband’s shadow in the doorway, and she hastened to him. As she reached the light, she saw that it was her father standing impatiently with her maids. Perceiving her approach, he dispatched the girls with a short order and met her on the steps. “Your husband has done with you! We depart directly.” She followed him wordlessly into the carriage, and left without looking back.
Her father’s displeasure was unbearable, and she felt it keenly. She was surprised by the thorn of hurt left by her husband’s dismissal. She could see no reason that, without giving her a moment’s recognition, justified such summary judgment. Though she resolved to set it out of her mind, it was difficult, and she spent many hours seeking distraction.
Her old routine seemed unwelcome with her father’s sullen resentment seething in every corner of her childhood house. She walked without destination for hours in a day, often losing herself and her old granny guardian in dense underbrush in the wilderness around her father’s house. She would return to the old lady, napping unmolested in a grove somewhere near the place that her path had gone past the familiar. This reassured her, but each time she ran back near dark imagining bloody scenes featuring the beast. She was most horrified by the beating of her heart when she envisioned the beast’s eyes – bloodshot and feasting on her, specks of her granny’s red flesh in his fur. Beauty shivered with pleasure.
On this particular day, Beauty lost herself more readily and wandered much further than she intended. She was far beyond the boundary of her father’s holdings, and saw nothing she recognized. Suddenly conscious of the sinking sun, she turned towards the way she thought was home. She was running, but was getting no closer to finding a familiar field or forest path. By this time her breathing was hard, and as she slowed she heard heavy panting that was not her own.
She saw the glow of the beast’s eyes between the leaves by her hip. Without thinking but with a hunter’s skill, she sprang on the beast to kill it.
As they battled, she heard gruff laughter, and before she became conscious of the change, she and the beast began to wrestle with no thought of winning or losing. If she stopped long enough to catch her breath, the beast would nip her ear or shoulder, baiting her to continue. They carried on in their mock battle for what felt like an eternity. As they learned each other’s weaknesses, they laughed louder and lunged again to press the advantage – one over the other. Exhausted, finally, to her core, she pushed the beast playfully away and lay in the mossy undergrowth.
Just as her eyes drooped closed, the beast nudged her, but she ignored it and drifted off. She woke with a start – seconds or hours later, she could not be sure – and sat up looking for the beast. She feared it gone, but she found the glowing eyes only a few feet in front of her. She heard the gruff laugh as the beast blinked and turned into the woods.
Beauty ran until her lungs were ragged and her legs moved muddily, tripping over every obstacle, but on she ran. She followed the beast instinctively in the dark, turning when her ears pricked and trusting that the blackness would become darkness only when she could no longer feel his presence.
Light from torches filtered into the trees, and she knew the beast was no longer in the woods. She turned towards the unknown villa, realizing as she trudged through the fields that this was the house of her husband. The house that, for a short time, had been hers as well, but from which she had been so recently dismissed. She loathed the sight but could discover no other means of reaching her father that same night. She continued on, expecting no mercy from this man that was her husband, but hoping she might have the chance to question his harsh treatment of her.
Rage just below the calm surface, she approached the house in shadow. As she marched through the open archway, she was stunned by the sight: the beast lay prostrate on a thickly padded mat, writhing in pain and losing chunks of flesh and fur as he struggled.
She ran to him without thinking and held his dear head in her lap. She stroked and pet him as she watched her beast transform into the person of her husband. Relieved by the apparent cessation of his pain, she bent down to kiss his smooth forehead. Beauty found herself kissing his cheeks and whispering sweet words into his ear. When his breath finally settled, the beast – her husband – held her face in his hands and returned all her kisses with words of love and gratitude.
Dawn found them still in each other’s arms. In the language lovers use alone, he made known to her the reasons for his rough treatment and the ancient and powerful curse that made him take the form of the beast until his true and equal love was found. And with the same meetings of the eyes and lips and fingers, Beauty let it be known how thoroughly she loved and needed him, and that – should he ever turn into the beast again – she knew where in the woods to find him.
With this understanding, and full hearts, they lived happily ever after.
In the past...
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