Luna e Talia
Luna sleeps during the day, skin warmed by sun streaming from the lone window, her head on her mother’s chest. When Luna sleeps, she dreams Talia’s dreams, fragmented patchworks of spinsters and spindles, slivers and silver. Somehow, these pieces make up the body of her mother, lying not quite asleep, not quite alive, on a dusty bed in the tower that has become their mausoleum, a monument to an unremembered life.
When Talia was a baby, her mother, the Queen, marveled at her small fingers and button nose, at the wisps of dark hair on her head and her curly eyelashes. If only she could stay this way forever, perfect, like a doll. The Queen watched Talia sleeping, the rise and fall of her moppet’s chest, and feared what she would become. She was afraid of the scrapes and the tears, changing bodies and the changing of the world. As the Queen held Talia’s tiny hand, a wish wrinkled its way through her mind to rest between the baby’s heavy eyes.
Luna’s fantasies are reserved for nighttime, for her waking hours, as she sits at the window, listening to the nightingale’s song. She tears petals off the pale night-blooming roses that reach inside. She looks down, and even in the bright moonlight, she cannot see the ground for the briar that encloses the tower. Luna wonders what she would see if her dreams were her own. She begins to plan.
The fairy came riding the scent of an unmentionable wish. Her eyes were ancient, plucked from the head of a soldier fallen from a tower, casualty of a cycle older than the earth upon which his body bled. The Queen was firm in her resolve. On the eve of Talia’s thirteenth birthday. The Queen would not give her over to the world. Talia would remain her perfect doll-child, immortal and unchanging until the stars winked out of the sky.
Luna grows her hair long, down to her knees. She combs it with a thorny branch she plucks from the climbing roses at the window. She remembers Talia’s dream in which the Queen stood behind her, taming Talia’s wavy locks into submission. Luna’s hair is more unruly, curling around her shoulders like the protective barrier of roses outside.
Dreams of Talia’s childhood: a sunny day spent outside, a ball tossed between friends with featureless faces. A kitten’s gentle nip, the bell-ring of a girl’s laughter. But always the eyes, the dead soldier’s eyes and her mother watching over the wall, around the corner, across the room. A mother’s hand, ready with a parasol to block out the sun, a quick grab if the ball got too close to her face, a bag and a river for the kitten who bit once and whom Talia never held again. An unblemished childhood.
The sun splays on the floor in a window-shaped patch at the foot of Talia’s bed. Luna sleeps next to her mother, dreaming Talia’s dreams. Her hair coils at her feet, rope lowered into a hole of light.
On the eve of Talia’s thirteenth birthday, the Queen entered her bedroom with a vase of unflowered roses plucked from the garden before their time. They are lovely, the Queen said, just like you. Talia ran her small hands over the flowers, fingers hovering above the thorns.
It was quick, quicker than the Queen expected. A squeal of pain, a pearl-drop of blood, and Talia fell back onto the satin pillow, hair haloing her face. Her eyelids fluttered once.
When she leans out the window, the rope of Luna’s hair reaches halfway down the tower, tangling in the briar.
The Queen left long ago, unable to sit by Talia’s bed, watching Talia’s constancy as her own face folded over itself. The citizens who found Talia brought her to the tower as a challenge for the young men who came to the kingdom, risking their eyes and lives for the sleeping girl. A necropolis of bones and briars rose up around the keep.
Luna fashions a blade from briars and bee stingers. She tests it on the posts of Talia’s bed, cleaving the wooden columns that surround her, the forest of preserved wood, resin-covered and unable to breathe.
The soldier kissed Talia’s lips. When she did not wake, he kissed her lips, stealing a rose from between her pale thighs. He scaled down the tower; the walls earned their vengeance. He slipped, a handhold lost, a foothold run away from his boot, and the briars took his eyes. A fitting trade. They would give those eyes, blue like the sea, to the daughter who would come after.
When Luna’s hair has grown past the briars, she plaits it and cuts it off, tying one end around the foot of Talia’s bed. She kisses her mother on the forehead in the same spot where a wish once lingered and climbs out the window, lowering herself down the rope of her hair. When the thorns come, she lets them take her skin. The throng of ghost princes rises up around her, clothing and souls ripped apart by years of haunting the briar. They move to the side, watching with hollow eyes as she passes.
Her feet touch soft earth. With her sword, she cuts a path outward through the briar, ignoring the blood that runs down her legs and pools at her feet. When she reaches the edge of the thicket, she plucks a single rose, unflowered and perfect. She tucks it behind her ear and sets off down the path. She will keep it long after it blooms, opening its petals to meet the sun.
Molly Lazer is a MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Rosemont College. A former editor at Marvel Comics, she now teaches high school, acts, and directs plays outside of Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in The Pennsylvania Gazette, Gingerbread House, and at flashfiction.net.