- Lydia Fu
This story will end with a woman swallowing the world, as all true stories must.
Before that happens, we must ready the woman to be seen. We must prepare her to be spotted by the prince. We must turn her into a fair maiden, for no matter how they end, this is how stories begin, with a glimpse of a maiden.
So, here goes. Turn the woman into a maiden. Pull her limbs until they are lean. Lengthen the legs. Soften the arms. Hack off the claws. Stop up the gills. Scrape off the scales. The tail . . . the tail is impossible. We will have to coil it tightly around her waist and hope the borrowed skin holds it in place.
The borrowed skin must be supple and pale and unmarked. It must fit closely, and if the woman finds this suffocating . . . well, that can't be helped. Cinch it tightly. Smooth out any bulges. Now, look at her. Is she ready to be seen? Will she catch the prince's eye? Let us hope so, for if she doesn't, this story is going nowhere, this story will never reach its promised end.
There. Set her down in that pretty vale. Sink her waist-deep in that sacred spring. Wait for the prince to happen by. Wait for the prince to glimpse the maiden, fresh and apparently scaleless.
The prince pulls the maiden from the water. He forgets, or pretends not to know, that a girl is a box that holds a monster.
He makes the requisite promise.
He places his promise on her tongue in the shape of a golden key.
A castle erupts from the ground at the maiden's feet. In this castle are bulging storerooms and fur-laden bedchambers, the prince's reward for making his promise, for doing as the story demands. There is also one room in the castle the prince may not enter, a room he has promised not to enter. This room contains a bath, large enough to douse a dragon.
The golden key lies heavy on the maiden's tongue. It is the weight of this key that prevents the woman inside the borrowed skin from breathing holocausts and screaming hurricanes. The prince forgets or pretends not to know this.
The only time the maiden removes the golden key from her tongue is to enter the room. The only time the woman removes the maiden's skin is to enter the bath. Perhaps there are times when this feels like a meager reward.
In stories, of course, maidens who question the proportions of their rewards do not fare well. Neither do princes, but this does not prevent them from stewing over the things they do not have, the rooms they may not enter.
One day, the prince steals the golden key from his beloved's tongue.
And you already know how this story ends. v