Tarantella della Petrosinella / Jessie Lynn McMains


I sleep with my hair dangling from the tower window, and in the first light it glistens with dew, like raindrops caught in a spider’s web flash when sun-struck. I hear his leather boots, crunching quiet across the O Horizon, long before his handsome countenance emerges from the thick gloom of the forest. My bridegroom. I am silent, still, waiting to feel the tug that means he has arrived. Waiting to hear him call up to me: Bella Petrosinella! He has never looked upon me before, but the legend of my beauty has traveled far, across all the kingdoms of the realm. And if some of the stories come with a whisper of warning, well. My bridegroom is not the type to heed warnings. He’s a prince. Blithe boy, brave boy. He’s here to make me his. I have already chosen him for mine. And here he is, at last, calling for his Petrosinella; here he is, climbing up up up. My hair, gossamer-fine, yet strong enough to bear his weight. I feel him, a tiny flame in each nerve, can almost taste him as he pulls himself hand over hand to the window’s edge.

When he is safe inside, I invite him to sit at my table and dine.

You must be starving after your long journey, my love.

I serve Coppia Ferrarese, Bastardo del Grappa, Bresaola—all the things my keeper sends through my window to keep me sated. I do not eat. I watch his hands move in and out of shadow, watch his jaw work as he chews.

It is early, yet, and my room remains dim until the full light of day breaks through the single window. Shall we light candles, he asks, so I may gaze upon you?

There is time enough for that, my love.

Aren’t you hungry, he asks, wouldn’t you like to dine with me?

I’m ravenous, but—there is time enough for that, my love.

For now, I watch. His cheekbones are as finely wrought as a silver goblet. The apple-knot in his throat bobs as he swallows.

Why do they call you Petrosinella? he asks.

I am named for the parsley my mother swallowed by the bushel, to try and flush her womb of me. I was not so easily got rid of. When I turned eight she gave me to an ogress, who locked me in this tower. So that I can’t—oh, never you mind cruel mothers or evil ogresses, sweet boy. You have found me, and we will be together forever.

Yes, forever, he murmurs. I will take you away from here.

Time enough for that, my love. For now—

I pour him a goblet of my best wine, the deep red of rubies and of blood. Drink, I say, and he does. The wine is parsley-bitter on the tongue and sweet trickling down the throat. The wine is good. My prince begins to drowse.

To bed? he asks.

First, a dance, my love.

I hum a gentle tune and we begin our tarantella. The room brightens as the sun climbs the sky, and I see my prince more clearly. He is so lovely. His eyes shine with wine and desire; his neck is long and ivory-pale. By now the sun has reached its full height; light touches every surface in the tower, illuminates what was once hidden in shadow. I watch my bridegroom’s eyes widen as he looks around my room, sees the piles of lovely boy-bones, the dessicated corpses propped against the curved walls, still dressed in their gold-threaded finery. My bridegrooms, here to stay with their bella Petrosinella for all time. My new love sputters, uncomprehending. He moves faster, trying to escape, to break the spell, to shake the wine from his head. His tarantella no longer an elegant dance of courtship but the frantic ecstasy of one bitten by a spider. He leaps and screams, convulses. He does not notice that with each movement he becomes more tangled in my hair. My hair, a golden web, snarls around him, holds him fast.

After hours, or minutes, there is no fight left in his beautiful body. He stops thrashing and swoons, rests his full weight in my arms. My poor bridegroom has exhausted himself.

And now to bed, my love, I whisper into the pink whorls of his princely ear.

I have never been hungrier in my life.


Jessie Lynn McMains is a poet, writer, and publisher. They were the 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Racine, WI, and currently write a reoccuring music column for Pussy Magic. They are the author of multiple chapbooks, most recently The Girl With The Most Cake and forget the fuck away from me. You can find their personal website at recklesschants.net, or follow them on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie.