Shadow Puppet Girl flies in through my open window and kneels by my bedside. She shakes me awake and says she’s here for a visit and doesn’t stop poking at my ribs until I finally get out of bed. She smells like spring flowers dying slowly. It’s dark in my bedroom but I can still see her so distinctly from everything else. She is one color only, the color of shadow. I ask her who she is and where she comes from, and she tells me she is the shadow of my past. Of every memory and heartache and wound. I ask her why she is only one color then, and shouldn’t she also be red? The color of heartbreak and blood and rage? Shadow Puppet Girl points a blaming finger straight at me. Tells me that all my wounds cast the same dark shadow on the wall of the world, and that she can only be what I project. I feel bad about this so I get dressed. Put on a pair of overalls, braid my hair, and ask Shadow Puppet Girl to take me back to my childhood. We travel back to the age when I had the most stuffed animals, and together we rip out the hearts of every single one of them and I make Shadow Puppet Girl a dress from the soft red threads of my childhood. I ask her if she’ll leave me alone now, if she’ll let me sleep in peace. But Shadow Puppet Girl is too busy twirling around and around in her new pretty red dress and doesn’t hear a word I say.
Little Red Riding Hood walks through the forest because she is bored. She wants the wolf to find her. She buys the brightest red cloak she can afford and turns into a lighthouse. She stands at the highest point in the forest and lets her red light shine until the wolves come home. There are many of them. Some want to eat her, others want to play. Some want to lead her back to the safety of her village. But there is one wolf she is waiting for, the one that will ask her to stay and live among them. She waits the longest for him, in the wind and the rain and the scorching heat. She waits through every season and every phase of the moon. She waits day in and day out and sees every color there is to see in the sky. She watches flowers bloom and die at her feet, befriends baby animals who grow and age and say goodbye. She learns about the darkness and its army of shadows. She meets Dusk and Dawn, and they become her king and queen. She stands and waits as grass grows around her, each blade a story to tell of the waiting game she plays. And even the trees begin to whisper, their crisp leafy voices carrying words of courage, doubt, insanity and love throughout the forest. Some even reach the ears of the villagers, but Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t budge. Not even when her grandmother’s plea is carried back to her on the wind. “Don’t you remember? Don’t you remember what they did to me?” But Little Red Riding Hood doesn’t care. Little Red Riding Hood grows sick with waiting. She turns into a volcano and when she erupts she becomes a red firework in the sky, and instead of howling at the moon, the wolves now howl at her.
Time wore a green cloak that shimmered like the sea, like the sun losing and finding itself between the trees and their leaves. One day Time came to a place where a certain girl lived; he sat down at her table and said, “I’d like to begin.”
So she first poured him a cup of tea and then one for herself. And this time—instead of everything happening all at once or not at all—everything happened slowly; one sip after the other as Time settled back with a sigh.
“You’re going to have to learn to be patient now,” he said to her. “You’ll have to let your tea cool before drinking it.”
She stared down at her cup and saw that it was steaming, but Time was drinking his like he needed no time at all for things to cool down, or come together, or mend. Time was immune to time. To wanting and waiting. He didn’t need to wait for the right moment, his pockets were full of all the moments in the world, bottomless and sparkling.
“But what about love?” the girl asked. Time leaned forward, the corners of his mouth perking up in an almost-smile, the way the moon can be almost full in the sky—but isn’t.
“You’ll have to wait for that too,” he answered with a twinkle of eternity in his eye. A twinkle that she could have sworn was love.
From that day on Time had a place at her table, and a cup with his name on it. Nobody else was allowed to drink from Time’s cup. It sat there hot and steaming, fresh and ready, waiting for just the right moment in time. The girl never knew exactly when or if he’d show up, some days he did and some days he didn’t. But in the end he always did and they’d chat and whisper about this and that, and she gradually learned to sip her tea with patience. He’d tell her jokes about Time walking into bars and brothels, churches and monasteries, about blondes and donkeys and elephants. His pockets were endlessly full of punchlines, and he was never full but never hungry. He was as content with one bite to eat as he was with many. But still he came again and again, and drank and ate and made her choke with laughter.
This went on for quite some time, and eventually, one sunny spring morning, the girl realized that she was in love with Time. Could a person do such a thing? Could a girl really fall in love with Time? Would the universe ever permit such a thing? Was it a crime? The girl kept this secret to herself, daring only to take it from its hiding place in the dead of night when she knew everyone would be fast asleep and Time would not be coming for tea until at least the following day.
But one day, one week, Time stopped showing up. Time just wasn’t there anymore. The girl kept his cup at his place at the table in hopes that he would come. That he had just been delayed or maybe there had been some emergency at the center of the cosmos in need of immediate attention. But the more she hoped and prayed, the more futile her silent begging became, until one night she did not beg at all. She just went as quiet as the dead, and the sound of her heart breaking was deafening.
Then, suddenly, one day out of the blue Time showed up! Time showed up out of nowhere and she was so relieved and excited and bewildered, and her heart soared and plummeted in her chest like a bird trying to dive for both a pearl and a star simultaneously.
“Where have you been! Where have you been, Time? I thought I’d never see you again!” She wanted so badly to rush into his arms.
Time—not needing time at all to learn and know all there is to be known, knowing exactly how she felt about him—raised a gentle hand to silence her chatter and stop her dead in her tracks. “You can’t fall in love with an illusion.” He said it so matter-of-factly, so much like an adult lecturing a child on the ways of the world for the very first time, that it almost cut through her bones and crushed her.
“But…” She went into a mute kind of panic. Her eyes darting back and forth like a mouse with no escape. She knew he was right, she had never really thought about it before—probably because she didn’t want to. “There must be a way!”
Time just bowed his head. “There isn’t.”
The girl looked at him then, really looked at him and studied him. His heart was breaking too. “But you’re Time! You can have anything you want without waiting! Why can’t you then have me?”
Time sighed. “Because,” he said, “the same rules don’t apply for you. If it was just me in my own world that would be one thing. But this is me, in your world, and I must abide by your rules.”
“So take me to your world then!” The girl insisted. She insisted so loudly and stomped her foot so hard that the earth shook.
“I can’t,” said Time. “You are far too real of a thing to live in a world of illusions.”
“But the tea!” She pointed out. “Why could you drink the tea without waiting? The tea is in my world too!”
“The tea is not a real thing. The tea doesn’t have a heart… a heart that loves me.” He sighed. “There are rules. It would take far too long to explain everything to you, and it would only break your heart further.”
The girl tried to be brave. She tried hard to hold back her tears, to stand tall and strong like an oak but then, as Time bid her farewell, she crumbled.
She was devastated. She thought she had finally found the love of her life, but it had been just a dirty trick and there was nothing she could do about it. But then one day, the girl learned of a witch that lived deep in the forest. This was not a good witch. She was a sneaky witch with selfish intentions up her sleeve, but the girl was desperate. So she went to her, begging her for a bit of magic that would allow her and Time to be together. The witch, being evil and having a black heart, and always looking for a chance to deceive, immediately jumped at the opportunity to help the poor girl. For whenever a spell of hers was cast, it kept her alive that much longer, and she wanted to live forever. So she gave the girl a spell to cast, told her to whisper it under the light of the next full moon and her and Time would be together. The girl, being foolish and much too in love, didn’t bother to ask questions. She simply took the scroll and ran, and waited very impatiently for the night of the full moon to arrive. And when it finally did, she ran out into the night and cast her spell.
The following morning she awoke as always to the sound of the grandfather clock ticking away by the fireplace, but today it sounded different. A little funny. A little deranged, a little mournful. The ticks were no longer strong and steady, but now frantic and sad. She went over to the clock to investigate, confused and wondering, studied its face and noticed how the hands of time were shaking.
“Why?” said a voice. “Why did you do it?”
The girl jumped. That voice. It was him! It was Time! It was coming from… the clock. Oh god! the girl thought. Oh no oh no oh no! “I- I- I didn’t know!” she cried.
“You didn’t ask! You didn’t think! I told you to have patience, that love would find you with patience! But you couldn’t wait, could you? I told you we couldn’t be together. And now…” The clock sagged with a heavy sigh of regret, “I knew I should have stayed away from you, but I couldn’t. I tried… and now… I’m trapped in here forever.”
The girl fell to her knees, sobbing and pleading for Time’s forgiveness, wanting nothing more than to undo what she had done. But Time said nothing. Time was now just a grandfather clock in the house of a girl who had loved him too much and too foolishly, and the evil witch, deep in the forest with her black heart still beating, got to live another day.
There was once a girl who loved abandoned places and finding flowers growing in the most inhospitable environments. One of her favorite things in the world to see was a roller coaster eaten up by creeping vines of green. Whenever she would get sad or lonely, she would run away to some abandoned locale where she would befriend all the memories of a past long gone. She would weave them between her fingers like a spider weaving a web of the present from moments of the past. She would take in all the sounds of children laughing, music playing and adults bickering, and she would gather them up like daisies and weave new chains that she would then drape around the necks of lamp posts, door handles, rusty gates and tree branches.
She loved these places because they were full of emptiness. Because they were a gateway from one world to another. They were her playground and just in case there were no flowers yet growing, she would always don a floral printed dress, and if she ever came across a stranger with abandonment in their eyes and a pocketful of despair, she would pluck a flower from the skirt of her dress and tuck it behind their ear.
When she stepped foot into these places she found herself growing young again. She found herself shedding all of what humanity had pinned to her breast like a curse. Every banal and concrete affair of human existence would slither away like the ghost of a snake and she would feel lighter, less like a fleshy bag of blood and bones. Like she could knock on the door of any realm and enter free of admission.
One night—a particularly lonesome night—she packed a bag and hopped on The Abandoned Express. This train never stopped running and it had just one rule: only three people were permitted to get off at any particular stop—if you let too many people into an abandoned place, it would no longer be abandoned, and that simply wasn’t allowed. So they played it safe with this one and only rule. The point was that there should always be more memories and ghosts than living souls. So one night, she got on the train, took it to the seventh stop and got off.
This was her favorite place. This was the abandoned theme park with the roller coaster, the Ferris wheel whose seats had turned into giant flower pots, the funhouse that was now a birdhouse, and the merry-go-round full of rusty horses who seemed to watch you wherever you went. She loved the horses because she knew that she could trust them, tell them anything and that her secrets would always be safe. And tonight—on this very lonesome night—she had a lot to tell them. But when she got there she spotted a figure sitting atop one of the horses. He seemed as lifeless as the horses themselves, but as she approached him she realized that he was just like her. Very much alive and very much human. But she noticed something else too; there were vines creeping up his legs and arms, tying him down and intertwining his limbs with those of the horse.
“What’s happening to you?” she asked, her eyes wide with concern.
The stranger looked down at her, abandonment in his eyes and his pockets full of despair. “I was the fourth one to get off at this stop, I broke the rule. I didn’t listen. And now I’m going to die here.”
The girl, deeply saddened by this news, reached down her dress, plucked a white flower from the skirt, and tucked it behind his ear. And that’s when she realized why she loved abandoned places so much, because she could always leave. Because they were her playground and not her grave.
once upon a time
a girl was built inside a factory
situated on the edge of a cliff
overlooking the sea
she was made from the finest materials
by a man who cared very much
but knew almost nothing about being a little girl
so he made her ears too big
her face a bit too funny
and her body more like a boy’s than a girl’s should be
but he built her with infinite worlds
fastened them to her insides so that she would always have
a galaxy full of spinning globes
to run away to and play in
and he promised her that
whenever she found herself lost in this world
that she had instant access
to a funhouse
a hall of mirrors
a merry-go-round that never stops spinning
the way infinite worlds spin inside
like a self-fulfilling prophecy
where spring blossoms inside of spring
and the horses never stop running
when we were very young—
i was a monster
and you were a monster
and together we picked flowers
and we didn’t know that monsters
weren’t allowed in the gardens
when we first became monsters
we celebrated with balloons
but now i wonder if the balloons
were begging to be let go of
and if maybe they found a better home
in the sky than in our hands
and after a while
once we’d gotten used to being monsters
we folded paper into birds and named each one
after all the reasons why we weren’t monsters
but then all the reasons why we were
after a while
trying no longer feels
like the new black
so you fade off
into a distance whose color
you won’t recognize
until you get there
and along the way
you play a guessing game
where you place the cool side
of blue rain
and red poppies
to the flat of your palm
and then you press that
to your heart
and you wait until
lights up inside you
like christmas lights