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It’s dark.

Still too dark to be anywhere near the dawn, yet I’m laying here awake once again.

I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I shouldn’t feel this way at all; yet how can one possibly turn off their feelings of eighteen years?

I’ve tried to start anew, wipe the past clean, but it’s not an easy task.

I have everything that I always dreamed of: a mother and father who adore me, a fiancée who would give his life for me and more, and the most precious gift of all; my freedom.
I dreamt of it for years, from a small child to the woman I am now, but still everything is so new, so different, so totally overwhelming. There is no way I can talk to my mother and father about this – or even to Eugene – they would all think I’m completely insane.

I turn over in the dark once again, burying my head in the downy pillow so that no-one should hear my sudden sobs.
Gothel was an evil, selfish woman who cared for no-one but herself and ensuring that she had eternal youth. She was everything that she had taught me was wrong with the world outside.

But she was my mother.

For eighteen long years, she was my mother, the one I loved best of all, the only other living human I had ever had contact with. I had loved her so completely, trusted her with all my being.


Was it...was it all for nothing?


Did she feel nothing at all for me?


Or was it really just my hair she wanted above all else? There are so many things I want to ask her; but I will never be able to do so now. I lie here and think of all the times we said those words...I love you...I love you more...I love you most... The kingdom has celebrated my return with abundant parties; they have been going on for almost a week now and are only just showing signs of winding down – some people of the kingdom continue to party all night, every night (or so it seems) though I don’t know how they manage to keep it up. I can forget everything that has been and gone during the day but at night Gothel makes me remember.


Sleep comes quickly when the parties are over: the ongoing food and easy flow of the wine of which I am unused to see to that; but whenever I start to drift and dream I see Moth-Gothel – trip and fall backwards from the tower window. I still blame myself for it, despite the fact that she would have died anyway; the power from my hair was the only thing that gave her that youthful appearance; in reality I don’t even know how old she really was. From the rapid way she aged when my hair was severed, I can only guess that she’d been around for centuries.


I clasp the pillow, still unaccustomed to my new elfin haircut. It’s so strange not to feel the warm weight around my shoulders. The room becomes dark as uneasy sleep claims me once again...

I’m very small, unused to these strange new surroundings. I’m afraid, lying in a makeshift cradle, seeking comfort and warmth that I’m sure had enveloped me until this moment. Hands pluck me from the place where I lay – not unkindly – and I’m cradled close to someone’s breast; this is not the person I have been accustomed to up till now, I know it in my heart, this person is darker, somewhat older, but I am too small to comprehend such things. It makes sense in my infant mind that this presence must be my mother; though the voice is older, deeper, not the same one I have known since my existence began. Despite my anxieties, a more basic need is becoming prominent; I am hungry, and I begin crying fitfully for my feed. The unknown hands rock me gently, a voice singing softly in a language I don’t yet understand, but the voice is soft and calming, and I drift away into a world of golden slumbers...

 

...Older now, I’m running around this tower where I live with Mother on my short legs, exploring every nook and cranny, my excitement piqued by anything and everything. A brightly coloured butterfly flutters in through the open shutters, and I take off after it, focusing only on the prettiness of it’s vibrant wings, fascinated by it’s freedom and ease of movement. I’m still so young that I can be led anywhere by imagination, and I forget that I am not the butterfly, I cannot glide through the air with grace. The fluttering, almost floating insect sails back out through the window, but I am still laughing, still flying with him through the dappled sunshine that peeks into my tower through the windows and shutters. I’m not paying enough attention to my surroundings, Mother collecting water at the well just outside, and I’m still frolicking with my butterfly as my foot gets caught in my already unending locks of hair, and I topple hard down the last ten or twelve steps on the spiral staircase that leads to the upper part of the tower. I put my arms out to save myself, and this stops me from getting hurt too badly, but the falls frightens me and I start crying loudly, lying in a dazed heap by the bottom step. I lie still, not quite comprehending what has happened. The door to the room opens, the one that is usually locked without question, the one only Mother has the key to in case of some dire emergency. She has heard my scared cries from outside, the sound travelling on the wind through the open shutters, and come running to my rescue. The bucket hits the polished floor, it’s contents spilling across the doorway, as Mother hops over it to where I am still crumpled in a heap on the floor. She picks me up, the arms no longer strange or alien to me, a look of true concern on her face that cannot be faked or imitated; her eyes are alight with worry as she tries to soothe me, checking to see that nothing is broken, that there are no truly serious injuries other than cuts and bruises. She pulls me into her lap and I sob into her shoulder as she sings that song of my infanthood, the gentle lilting melody about stars and moonbeams and golden slumbers. She doesn’t look at my hair at all; it’s an unusual occurrence, but just sometimes, I recall, she did seem to forget about it...

 

...Mother is not here at the moment, for the last few days she’s been secretive, in a better mood than usual, spending more time with me, playing silly games, mentioning my upcoming birthday on a regular basis, though I don’t even notice that she’s dropping hints, trying to get me to guess about my presents. The day comes and Mother lets me sleep later than usual, so that I don’t stir until after eight o’clock. I sleepily lift my head from the pillow, not remembering what day it is for a split second. When my sleep addled mind suddenly remembers, I bolt upright in my bed, looking around me in anticipation. There’s a feeling of anxiety in my chest, because one time, maybe two or three birthdays ago, Mother had been in one of her strange moods because I’d been acting up about one of those silly things that seem to mean so much when you’re tiny, and when I’d woken on my birthday the tower had been silent. There had been no presents, no call of “Many Happy Returns, dear”, and, maybe worst of all in my young mind, no Mother. I’d wandered around our living space, peering in every corner, trying to stop the tears trickling down my face because Mother doesn’t always comfort me when I cry, at times it even seems to infuriate her...

 


I shake my head to try and forget the memory, that birthday is over and done with, and it wasn’t like Mother hadn’t come back a very short time later (though it had felt like forever to me), arms laden with gifts and a bucket of fresh water on her arm, telling me I was silly, she’d just gone to fetch some water and my presents, though deep down I knew she’d been teaching me a lesson to do as I was told...


This birthday is much better as I come back to reality on my comfortable bed. There are lots of brightly wrapped packages by my little dressing table, tied with vibrant multi-coloured string. Automatically I dive across my bed and reach for one – before stopping myself with some serious self-restraint. It’s always best to wait for Mother before I touch anything; I never know where her moods are going to take her; she might come in and laugh at me, tickle me with her long thin fingers and call me an impatient little miss; or she might come in and see me unwrapping the presents without her, and her attractive face will cloud over and make her look dangerous, nothing like the Mother I usually know, while she makes comments about my impatience in a very different tone of voice, a tone that makes me afraid, want to cower under my bedclothes.
My dilemma is solved when Mother comes in with my breakfast set out lovingly on a tray, a sprig of the first spring flowers arranged in a little crooked pottery vase that I had proudly fashioned under Mother’s instruction when I was barely five years old. A small tin cup next to it held a drink of weak, sweet cider, Mother’s special brew just for me because I’m still too young to drink wine, even if it is watered down to almost nothing. One of the best plates is set out with my birthday breakfast, a roll of brown bread that Mother has baked especially, so soft that it crumbles if I try and pick it up whole, so I break off tiny pieces and eat slowly, relishing the taste. Mother watches appreciatively, patting my head as she tidies bits and pieces from around the room. After I have drained the last drops of sweet cider from my cup, Mother smiles at my hopeful face and gesticulates towards the pile of packages on the floor. I don’t need asking twice as I catapult headlong out the bed and take care to select the smallest package first, remembering that Mother had taught me to show gratitude even for the smallest gift and not greed by choosing the largest first. My fingers fiddle with the string, pulling it undone from it’s tidy bow, paper slipping off and revealing a selection of coloured ribbons and a tortoiseshell comb. My hair is my crowning glory and I can never have it cut, and Mother spends hours and hours making it look lovelier than ever. Mother prefers practical gifts to toys and nonsense, so I’m not too surprised when my other presents are shown to be a hand carved mirror and brush set, and a brand new dress made of a lovely material Mother found at the market. I feel a little tearful, because although sometimes Mother scares me she’s tried so hard with these presents. The dress must have taken her hours to craft and yet I hadn’t suspected, and on closer inspection she’s sewn delicate pearl buttons onto the back and embroidered various talismans for luck onto the bodice; clover leaves, a lucky rabbit’s foot...my vision blurs slightly and Mother suddenly presses the last gift into my small hands, her face almost filled with more anticipation and excitement than mine. It’s the largest one, it has to be the one that Mother has been hinting at over the last several days, the one she is waiting to see my reaction to.

 

I carefully tear the paper with trembling fingers, noting how she’d decorated it with hand-drawn stars and moons, and let the soft object fall into my lap.
A lovingly hand-crafted face smiles back up at me. I pick it up, my hands quivering as I handle the soft rag-doll as if it were made of the most valuable cloth ever possessed by man. I’d always wanted a doll, but Mother had called them a waste of space, asking why one would possibly become attached to what was nothing more than a lump of cloth stuffed with sawdust. Yet although I very much doubted her views had changed, here she had made me a doll of my very own, as if she suddenly realized that it was the loneliness of being locked in a tower that had made me long for a companion, a friend, even if only imaginary. I buried my face in the doll’s cloth hair, holding my breath to stop myself crying. I carefully put her down and run to Mother, my arms round her neck, thanking her over and over as she smiles a true smile down at me...

 

...About ten years old now, we’re playing a game together, though Mother’s games are sometimes a bit scary, but she insists that’s half the fun. It’s hide-and-seek, I think, because I’ve finished counting and started looking all over our bright living-space for Mother. She is always good at this game, no matter how often we have played it over the years, she always seems to find somewhere new, somewhere I don’t think of looking. I don’t always like it because I feel so deserted and alone, but Mother laughs and calls me silly, because I know she only ever hides inside the tower and would never really leave me there searching all day...


I look everywhere I can think of before I call out, “Give up!” but there is no reply to my words.


“Mother?”


I call out for her again and again, wishing she wouldn’t do this to me, even though I’m ten now and not a baby anymore. Can’t she see I still don’t like it, that I’m still frightened, scared of the prospect of being all alone in this horrible, dangerous world that Mother has taught me must be avoided? I’m getting agitated now, running round the tower room rather than walking, my fear clearly showing as my voice rises with the panic of knowing I’m abandoned, lost on this scary plane of life...


Mother bobs up from behind a wooden chest in the corner, laughing at me, at my foolishness.


“Oh Rapunzel, my dear! Your face was such a picture!”


I’m angry all of a sudden. How dare Mother laugh when I was so afraid, so worried...all common sense thrown to the wind, I run at her, trying to hit out at her, like a two-year-old in a tantrum. She grabs hold of my wrists to block the blows, as weak and feeble as they are, her voice stern as she commands me to stop, though it seems like she is still laughing at me.


“It’s not funny, Mother!” I sob, “I thought that you had left me alone in this world where it’s so dangerous! I can’t stay here alone without you!”
Mother has stopped berating me now, an entirely different look on her face. It’s a smile, at first glance gentle and understanding, though at second glance and seeing it through older eyes, it’s a smile of one who has got her own way, has got exactly what she wants, exactly where she wants it...

 

She’s betrayed me in the worst possible way, twice in less than twenty-four hours. My whole life had been a lie, a lie used to cover her own selfish intentions, yet it paled in comparison to this. She should have been happy that I’d found a true love, a man whom I feel I can trust, despite my misguided fear of the world around me, yet her eyes had flashed with unmitigated fury and venom as she’d thrust the dagger into his side, a look of triumph on her face. It changes to one of complete horror as Eugene slices through my hair with one swoop, turning it brown and powerless within a matter of seconds. Mother gathers the severed hair into her arms, shouting like a mad woman as it’s power wanes and she begins to turn into what she truly is without the magic to give her eternal youth – a human who should have been dead and buried long ago, a pile of bones turned to dust.


Time seems to slow down for me as she staggered backwards round the tower, only the lower half of her face visible from under the hood of her cape. As she stumbles backwards towards the window, I can see what’s coming, I open my mouth to scream a warning against my better judgement, but despite the fact it’s my quickest reaction it’s already too late. My arms reach out of their own accord as she trips, a silent scream on my lips, the horror of everything crashing down on me. I see her face one last time, her hood lifted by the breeze of her sheer movement. Everything is going so quickly, yet so slowly, and I see her mouth moving as she trips, her now-terrifying almost dead eyes looking straight at me. She says it again, slowly, and this time I can read her lips fully before she suddenly topples backwards and out the tower window into the darkness and is gone forever...

 

“Sorry..."