Once upon a time, there was a young couple named Martha and John. One morning, they were sitting across from each other at the table, quietly eating breakfast. “Oooh, ouch!” Martha suddenly exclaimed, clutching her swollen stomach.
“Darling, are you okay?” John asked. Martha was getting to be quite pregnant, nearly 8 months along, so every little thing she did or said immediately made John pay attention. It was exhausting for the both of them, honestly, this hypervigilance, but it’s not like he could stop worrying about his pregnant wife or impending child.
“Yes dear, I’m fine; she just has a mighty strong kick!” Martha smiled and attempted another bite of eggs. The girl must’ve kicked again, because Martha dropped her fork and clutched her stomach again. “GodDAMMIT, ok, no more eggs, I get it.”
“Martha my dear, you have to eat! What can I fix for you? Toast? A cheese sandwich? Um... you know I’m not a very good cook, but, I can try to make you some soup.”
“No John, I know exactly what I want. The cabbage. From next door. I see it every day from the window; I overlook her garden and I drool. It all looks so luscious and green and healthy and shit, oh wow, I would give anything for a big head of cabbage. Also some Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. But mostly the cabbage.”
“Alright, let me get ready, and I’ll go ask if I can have a head of cabbage…”
Martha squealed. “No, John; you must STEAL IT.”
John balked. “What? Why? I know we all think she’s a witch, but I’m sure if I give her some money, she’ll just sell us some.”
“NO. STEAL IT OR THERE’S NO POINT TO THIS STORY,” Martha screamed.
Staring down over the fence at the garden, John sighs, confused. “Okay, my love, I’ll steal you some cabbage. But it’ll have to be later, when it’s dark, so that witch doesn’t know about it.”
That evening, John snuck down into the garden. Passing blooming gardenia, bright red roses, grapefruits, kumquats, orange blossoms, and rows of herbs and pungent sage, he reached down and stole a head of fresh cabbage. Nearby was wild rapunzel. He considered grabbing some of that, too, but nobody knows what rapunzel is. Returning home, Martha grabbed the cabbage from his hands and finished the whole unwashed head in several gigantic bites, moaning with pleasure the whole time.
“Oh John, thank you; this was exactly what I needed.” She walked back to their bedroom and fell asleep. She slept soundly. Well. as soundly as a person can sleep who’s just eaten a whole, raw cabbage. (Poor John.)
The next morning, the scene repeated: Martha refusing any other food, and John agreeing to steal from the witch’s garden. And this happened the next day. And the one after that. It was nearly a routine for John to sneak into the witch’s garden every night and steal some roughage for his wife to eat. The garden was so vast and seemed to replenish itself instantly, so he didn’t think he was really hurting anyone.
Two weeks went by, and John felt so confident in his theft that he wasn’t really thinking about it anymore. Every night he just swooped in, grabbed some greens, and left. An easy, victimless crime routine that kept his wife and soon-to-be-born child happy; what could be better?
On the third night of the third week of theft, he stepped into the garden and nearly ran into the witch. She smiled at him calmly while he shrieked and jumped back in fright.
“So, dear John the neighbor, you’ve been enjoying the greens from my garden every night for some time now, have you not?”
Looking at her up close, John was stunned. She was maybe in her early forties, did not look at all like a witch, and was in fact quite pretty and regal. Almost like a princess who had spent a significant amount of time asleep in a tower. But there was clearly something ‘off’ about her, as if she’d lived most of her life alone and spent her time reading, making tonics (probably a few with gin), and, tending her garden, and trolling men’s rights activists on the internet. He was quite right about all of this.
“Oh no, I am so sorry, my wife Martha is very pregnant, and all she wants to eat is the greens from your garden; nothing else satisfies her or our unborn child. Please, I am begging you, please do not harm me. I wanted to pay you for the food, but my wife said there’s no story in paying someone for their craft, so I had to steal. Please, please just let me go. I’m just a pawn in this whole story, I don’t know what’s happening!”
She smiled again; but this time it looked more like a sneer. “Oh, you’re going to pay me, alright. You do owe me. That child is mine. You’ve stolen from my garden when you could have paid me; so now, according to law, your babe is mine. Sorry about that.”
All the color drained from John’s face. “Martha will never let you take our child.”
“Oh? Is that so? Tell her she can keep eating all she wants from my garden until she goes into labor; that might help her decide. But there’s really no other option here. The girl is mine. Fairy tale law.”
John, shaking, slowly backed away and ran home. He told Martha what had happened. She stared at him impassively.
“That’s true; fairy tale law does dictate the baby is hers. I’m fine with it. What’d you bring back for me to eat?” she asked, shrugging her shoulders.
John threw the cabbage on the table and went to their bedroom to cry. Then immediately left the room and went outside to cry. Martha had already eaten several raw cabbages that day alone; you could smell it in the air.
He must’ve fallen asleep, because he woke up to Martha screaming in the kitchen. He ran out and found her in labor, being assisted by none other than the witch next door. His screams mingled with Martha’s as she pushed out the child. The witch started laughing with joy, cut the umbilical cord, and started to gently clean the babe. Soothing the little girl in her arms, the witch sang a soft lullaby. She had a beautiful voice, and clearly was ecstatic about having this child to raise as her own.
Martha was nearly passed out on the floor, her flatulence hanging like a cloud above her head, and John fell down next to her, wrapping his arms around her gently as she began to weep.
“Now now, don’t cry. I’m going to take good care of this little girl,” the witch said. She looked directly at John. “This is not your fault, John. Please don’t blame yourself.”
The baby, strangely, had not cried at all. She was calm, and allowed the witch to put a diaper on her and be swaddled up tight.
Shaking her head ruefully at John and Martha and the lingering smells, the witch left with their daughter. John wept openly alongside his wife. Martha looked over at him. “Do we have any cabbage left?”
John looked at her. He knew this was the end of their marriage. A few nights later, he snuck over to the witch’s house to see his daughter and was shocked to see the witch waiting for him. “John, I’m going to do you a favor,” she said. “I know this was not your fault. I’m going to teach you how to read, so you can understand fairy tale law, and not be stuck with that woman forever.”
So, over the next few months, John, his daughter, and the witch got together in the evenings to teach John how to read. (The baby didn’t really help, of course, except by being there and being cute, which is what babies are good for.) John learned to read, and decided to become a fairy tale lawyer. He left Martha and her cabbage stink behind, and went on to become a prominent fairy tale litigator. He spent lots of time with his daughter and the witch, and made sure his little one knew how to read and ask questions before signing a damn contract.
Years passed. The witch had raised a smart, clever girl. She was knowledgeable about herbs, trees, and had a weird interest in swordfighting, which the witch allowed her to learn as she would rather have the girl read about how to be a knight and how to fight than read any stupid romance stories.
When the girl was 10, the witch decided it was time to lock her away, just as she had been locked away most of her life. She’d had a giant glass tower built in the middle of the forest; a truly impressive piece of architecture. The girl, named Rapunzel, was a bit confused as to why she had to be locked away, and why the whole thing was made of glass in the first place.
“It’s for your protection,” her witch-mother told her. “People are awful. I need to keep you safe. Plus, you know I love you. I could’ve named you Cabbage.”
So Rapunzel went up the many, many flights of stairs to the top of the tower, which was filled with books of all sorts, a very comfortable bed, a giant bearskin rug, and many other comforts to make up for the fact that she’d be, you know, locked in here for years with almost no outside contact. Totally normal Tuesday discovery.
And so, Rapunzel stayed locked in her tower for years. Initially, the witch-mother came to visit a few times a week using the stairs and locking the tower shut tight behind her. After many years of no haircuts, Rapunzel’s hair was long enough for her witch-mother to climb it and visit her. Rapunzel didn’t see how this was easier than the stairs, but, whatever.
Whenever she visited, her witch-mother asked if any men had come to visit. And Rapunzel had told her the truth: no men came to visit. Her witch-mother apparently had some lasting PTSD from her own time locked in a tower and a bunch of men invading her life, so she was very cautious that the same thing not happen to Rapunzel.
When her witch-mother wasn’t there, Rapunzel read voraciously. Her favorites were tales of knights and armor and valor and bravery; she identified heavily with the male heroes and wanted to swan into battle proudly and rescue a maiden fair. She did not realize that she herself was supposed to be a maiden fair needing to be rescued. She slowly began to realize that this whole “being a maiden” thing was not who she actually was. Rapunzel started working out daily, and reconfigured her dresses into pants and jumpsuits. As a final act of self-understanding, Rapunzel chopped off her long, long golden locks into a rather fetching short pixie cut.
The next time her witch-mother came to visit, she was taken aback by Rapunzel’s new appearance. She’d climbed up the long rope of hair she knew so well, only to discover the hair tied to a hook inside, and not attached to her daughter’s head. Rapunzel was sitting in a chair, reading, and really rocking that haircut. The witch gasped.
“Darling Rapunzel, what has happened to you?”
“Please do not call me that. It’s been nearly 15 years since you locked me in this tower, and I’ve come to realize that I am not Rapunzel, I am Raphael. Please do use he/his pronouns and call me by my actual name.”
The witch-mother was taken aback, and had to sit down. After a long, thoughtful talk, the witch-mother understood, and realized she could let Raphael back into the world without worry.
“I do have a confession to make, mother,” said Raphael.
“Yes, please do tell me, dearest Raphael,” she answered kindly. What more could be said?
“It’s true that no men have been to see me while I’ve been in this tower. But… I’ve had a fair stream of women through this window since I was about 13. I wasn’t obligated to tell you. Fairy tale law, you know. I’m deeply in love with one woman now. Her name is Mary, and she is wonderful.”
The witch nodded; of course. Raphael had always vehemently denied and seemed disgusted by the idea that a man would visit and try to kiss her… him. Him. Everything made sense. She got up and gave Raphael a kiss on the forehead. “I think the world is ready for you, now.”
They climbed down the hair together, and sweet Mary was waiting at the bottom of the tower. The witch-mother hugged Mary, then Raphael, and wished them a happy life together. Mary and Raphael kissed sweetly and the three of them walked out of the woods together.
Scent notes: white rose, white musk, white thyme, a summer rainstorm, neroli, gardenia, a perfectly ripe grapefruit, kumquat, orange blossom, neroli, red mandarin, fresh dalmatian sage.