Crow-Skin by Peta Jinnath Andersen

He thinks I am my mother. I hear it in his voice. I feel it in the way he fingers my hair. Her hair.

I know I look like her. We have the same blue eyes, the same thick flaxen hair. It was comforting, after she died. Looking in the mirror was almost like looking at her.

Now, I hate it. I hate the way his eyes follow me, undress me. I hate the quaver in his councilors voices, insistent, but not insistent enough.

At first, I tried to hide it, tucking it beneath silken nets and coarse kerchiefs alike. But even the best-placed pins—and my maid Hannah’s are the best—can fail.

After that, I tried shaving it. It was wonderful.  I’d thought it would hurt, losing the hair I’d grown up with, the thing that I shared most with my dead mother, but it didn’t. My head was cool, and my neck and back were straight, unencumbered by the weight of thick, Rapunzel-like braids.

A week later, it was back. Because I am cursed. “You’re not cursed, not at all,” Hannah says, her voice touched with the sing-song lilt of the forest dwellers.

Sometimes—last night—my windows rattle in the night, and my door creaks with age and winter winds.   I shake my head. “It’s unnatural, Hannah. No father—not even a king—looks at his daughter…” I let the sentence trail away. I can’t say it, even to Hannah.

Hannah’s hair is a light brown, the color of a forest deer, or a cup of milky tea. It’s neither grand nor alluring, but it suits her. People talk to Hannah. People talk at me.

Looking down, she plays with the ring on her middle finger, a small copper thing, warm to the touch.

“It was my mother’s,” she tells me, her eyes still on the ground.

At a glance, I know it’s not worth even the thread on my gowns, but I’m jealous all the same.

“It’s your hair, isn’t it? The goldenness? That’s why you hide it and shave it.”

I nod.

“And if it was, well, different, then he’d forget about you?”

She turns the ring on her finger once, twice, thrice. “There’s a woman, in the forest, Jenny. She’s good with plants and dyes. I could fetch her for you. If it would help.”

_____

Jenny is young.

Her skin is taut, but not stretched, and her eyes have just enough lines to suggest laughter, but not enough to suggest sorrow. Her hair is a respectable nut-brown, respectably tied back with a bit of leather. On her shoulder she wears a crocheted bag, cheaply made but sturdy. Perhaps I simply need cheaper pins, I think. No, that’s not fair. All things—all pins—fail sometime.

From her bag she takes a lizard, long and green. From her belt, she takes a small dagger. From the lizard, she takes the head.

Laying the dagger aside, she bleeds the lizard into a stone bowl, then waves me over to the table. “Wash your hair.”

My breath catches in my throat, but I do as I am told. The lizard would have died anyway, I tell myself.

The blood is thick and dark; I pretend it is clotted cream touched with chocolate. But chocolate is not so acridly scented, nor so dark as crow skin. Chocolate does not make my eyes water.

“Enough.” Jenny wraps a towel about my shoulders, then another about my head. Hannah takes the bowl; dried blood flakes on to her fingers. I swallow the urge to retch. Hannah does not. The room is soon filled with the scent of her vomit. It is comforting, in a way—the vomit is a natural, bodily smell, and it covers the stench of lizard blood.

_____

My windows continue to rattle in the night, and my door creaks with age and winter winds.

—-

About the author:

Peta Jinnath Andersen works as a freelance thesis editor and English tutor. She’s served as assistant and international editor for a number of small publications, and is now editor of the online fairy tale magazine Les Bonnes Fees.

1 Comment

  1. Theresa Abdul

    This young lady has a very good but unusual style.
    I would definitely like to see more of her work
    Theresa A

    Reply

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