Witch's Lullaby / Avra Margariti
Don’t believe a word you hear. Don’t trust what your eyes see. The moment you enter my cottage, you will have to leave everything you think you know at the door. It will go against all of your better instincts, all the knowledge instilled inside you ever since you were a little girl, but you will have to trust me.
I understand your hesitation, I really do. Your hand shakes as you poise your knuckles over my door, and your feet have gained a mind of their own, wanting to run away from my rotten, leaf-choked stoop. Your heart pounds like a drum in the quiet of night; how deafening it must be in your ears.
Little one, shall I tell you my story? Fear comes from being kept in the dark, and I do not enjoy denying anyone the light of day.
You don’t know the number of wolves, huntsmen, and hungry princes I have had to chase away from you. None of the girls seeking me know just how many spears and teeth and swords I took in their stead. The scars on my back and the bloody trophies on my walls are proof of that—and you will want proof, as did the ones before you. I do not grudge you your suspicion, just as I do not demand your loyalty.
After everything they did to us, loyalty does not—should not—come easily.
I have lived this a thousand times: in our first years together, you will try and fail to deny what is true. The accusations will climb hot and fervent up your throat before realization settles in your bones. You will claim that for every thing I did to protect you, I also took something from you in a twisted trade. I marred your lips redder than blood, your skin whiter than snow. I made you hack at your hair blacker than ebony or more golden than wheat. Fed you sweets and hid you away from the world’s cloying praise and admiration.
I will tell you that there are worse things to lose than the approval of princes.
I am the witch. I am every witch in every fairytale and there are so, so many of them. I am the witch because I am bound to no man. They deem me undesirable: too broad of face, too bent of body, too clever a tongue. No prince will comment on the sweetness of my voice or the meekness of my smile; no king will expect fair-haired, blue-eyed sons to spring out of me. And yet, the wolf still comes a-calling.
I am the witch because they made me. I am the witch because I tenderly embraced my role.
Little one, I know what all the stories you grew up with claim about me, the tales warning girls of what happens when they break the rules. I have never lied to you and I don't plan on starting now: you will find some truth in the storytellers' words. A twisted, incomplete smidgen of honesty penned by the ones who have the most to lose if the truth comes out. And oh, how they wear their sheepskin, princely mantle, and tarnished armor. How they hide behind them. Their kind of hurt is glittering glass shards masquerading as crystallized sugar. A sweetly poisoned dart in place of the cauterizing knife that I offer you—and whether you take that knife or not depends solely on you.
I never hated you, little one. I never hated any of you that came to me or that remained forever trapped in glass towers and slippers and dreams. There is no place for grudges in my actions, no malice or dark desire to wield power over you. Accepting my help has to be your choice, maybe the hardest one you will be ever called to make. I get it, daughter. I do. Change is slow and painful. Rebirth even more so.
The truth is, I cannot exist without any of you. You give me purpose, hope furtively burning in my bosom. Even when a little weary voice inside urges me to give up, you make me think that it will all be worth it.
I am the witch because there always has to be a witch. I am the witch because boys will be boys will be men, and I will not be their plaything.
Little one, I know why you came here, why you stand a ways from me and look around at my dried herbs and dusty books, why you watch me out of the corner of your eye. One day you saw your pretty face in the mirror and feared for what your future might hold. You looked in your prince’s eyes and saw his ravenous appetite barely contained. Your hand brushed against another princess’ or handmaid’s, and something stirred inside you. Your mother’s scolding about you being too loud and messy, too unladylike, left you hollow, and you haven’t managed to fill that place inside you no matter how many lessons you took on silence, prudence, and restraint.
And now here you are, bloody and ragged, having run through the forest where you lost your silky slippers, tore your velvet dress, and left your old self snagged on briars along the way. You’ve come to me, to the witch, the hag, the temptress, the one you think you know but you don’t; you’re just now realizing how little you know about anything and how big the world really is. Every waking moment is terrifying when you’re tethered to who you were told to be.
Your eyes finally meet mine. Your lips part, but no sound comes out. It’s alright, little one. Soon, you will find your voice. This is what they kept secret from you: fairy tales are ours to weave. In time, you will learn that, too, as did the ones before you.
But for now, hush, my child. Dry your tears, come sit by the fire. Today, you shall rest, because tomorrow our work begins. You will make up your own spells and potions soon, work on building your gingerbread house and your confidence and your new life.
You should open your heart for when the princesses call out to you—and they will, because for every girl that leaves this cottage, more learn about its existence. You should make haste and hone your sword skills, sharpen your knife for when the angry men come with their fire and brimstone, their teeth and lust.
You will get ready for it all, I will make sure of that.
Little princess, don’t you know? I was a girl like you once.
Avra Margariti is a queer Social Work undergrad from Greece. She enjoys storytelling in all its forms and writes about diverse identities and experiences. Her work has appeared in Wolfpack Press, The Writing District, Dime Show Review, and Page & Spine.