Saturday 6 June 2020

'Slippers' by Kim Magowan

“At night the king locked and bolted the door./ How could they possibly escape?/ Yet each morning their shoes/ were danced to pieces./ Each was as worn as an old jockstrap.”—Anne Sexton, Transformations

The king had not always been like this—that is, paranoid and controlling. The princesses could remember when he had been kind and flexible, and when his attempts to frighten them had been purely performative, a game. For instance, on Christmas morning he would curl up by the fire and pretend to be a sleeping cat, and they would pretend to be mice, and they would crawl slowly, slowly up to him, and then he would lurch awake, and snatch the nearest princess, wriggling and giggling, in his claws, and pretend to bite off her mouse-head.

But ever since their mother the queen had run off with the knave, taking only her embroidery and her favorite shawl and leaving all her jewels, their father had become wild and misogynistic. He mumbled things about how women could not be trusted, they were wanton, they were liars, they were cruel, frivolous, and too easily charmed, they were low as socks and light as leaves, they plotted to run away, and consequently they had to be secured.

That kind of attitude, predictably, was a self-fulfilling prophecy: how could one respond to mistrust, other than by becoming sly and tricky? Inadvertently, the king groomed his daughters. His mistrust was the trellis they climbed upon, his keys and bolts were at once a dare and provocation. He should have paid more attention to the lesson of his renegade queen.

Her daughters did, at any rate. They’d inherited both the queen’s cleverness and her love of silly puns. They laughed when the king bolted the door. When they laced their dancing slippers, they said, “Why does he think they’re called slippers?” They laughed in the morning, when the king, outraged and baffled, squawking, examined those slippers’ battered, fraying soles.


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