BY JAN STINCHCOMB
When Sheila arrived at Langelinie Promenade, her cheekbone was purple and swollen. She was making a pilgrimage to the Little Mermaid statue, where a crowd had already gathered. Sheila pushed forward to see the mermaid, or what was left of her, and heard a woman explaining to a small boy that the statue wasn’t supposed to look like that. Someone had stolen her head. This was not nice. It was, in fact, an act of vandalism. A crime.
Eager to join the voiceless siren, Sheila immersed herself in the cold water of the harbor. As she went under, she heard the words of the man who had struck her, berating her, telling her that she could never think for herself.
Underwater the throbbing pain in her cheek stopped and Sheila could finally see clearly.
A man prepared to cut off his wife’s head and tail to free her from enchantment. This act of violence would transform her and make them one. He would no longer be married to a white cat. No more explaining to neighbors or dinner guests. No more stigma.
They sat before the fireplace at their little table and enjoyed a sumptuous meal. They had discussed her beheading many times before. It was, in fact, her idea. She took a sip of her wine and smiled at him.
“Well, are you going to do it?”
He picked up his sword and grew lightheaded.
“Shall I lie on the bed? Would that make it easier for you?”
He sat down and took three deep breaths.
“Don’t you want to see what I look like as a woman?”
The man stood and beheaded his wife, then turned her body over and cut off her tail. After that he ran from the room.
He did not want to see what he had done. He despised his own magic. In the months that followed, whenever he would encounter the beautiful blonde woman at court or in the marketplace, he could never look her in the eye.
I was the last in a long line of wives, all of them beheaded.
I knew who I was marrying. Everyone had heard the stories of what went on in my lord’s castle. Everyone knew about Blood Hall.
I did what every young woman has done: I somehow convinced myself that the curse did not apply to me.
I even gathered the heads of the previous wives together and made them talk. They warmed up to me. We had tea.
What I learned was that my lord was trying to kill their stories. Every time. He so feared the kingdom of the imagination that he had to separate it from the body. It was, in fact, an act of desperation.
I found a better solution in an ax. I reunited my lord with his wives. He finally understood the true nature of love, its long memory, its transcendence.
I returned home to my parents and nobody ever bothered me again.
Jan Stinchcomb is the author of the novella, Find the Girl (Main Street Rag, 2015). Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Necessary Fiction, Conium Review Online Compendium, A cappella Zoo and Paper Darts, among other places. She reviews fairy tale-inspired works in Notes From Rapunzel’s Tower, her column for Luna Station Quarterly. She lives in Southern California with her husband and daughters. Visit her at http://www.janstinchcomb.com.