When I was a kid, I became enchanted with Cinderella stories, but my versions never had princesses. They had houses and they had witches. It was the house and the witch who would be transformed and made beautiful. Homes should always be sweet; women should always be gorgeous. I must have thought this as a kid and clearly popular society is still largely convinced its true.
My favorite place to draw was the dining room because there was no place else to spread out the typing paper I took from my mother’s desk and the assortment of random colored pencils that hadn’t gone missing yet. There were corner windows in that room, looking out over a pasture and a scrap of back yard. When the chickens were out, they littered the grass like folds of white towels – the crowns each a smear of blood. Sometimes when I looked up through the smudged glass I saw my mother coming back from the barn. Her plaid jacket was frayed at the cuffs and her hair was ruffled messily by the work. She always seemed tired.
The first iteration.
I would draw a house and a woman softly, the pencil whispering on the page and leaving only the vaguest impression. The woman would have worried bags under her eyes and a ragged gown. The house would have loose shudders and a shaggy lawn. It had to be drawn lightly so that I could cover it over with the magical transformation. I thought it was cheating to erase the lines, so instead I would add more pigment on top, burying the first and deliciously tragic version under the adorable cheer to follow.
With bold strokes of my pencil the house would be reimagined with pristine woodwork and flowering shrubbery. Birds would appear in the formerly barren skies, a few limp letters ‘m’ that are somehow sparrows or larks in flight. Even to grownups one never need explain that these are birds.
A sun with lines of radiant warmth appeared over the trees.
With greater care still the burdened witch became a mighty queen, her eyes ringed with such lashes that the dimly drawn wrinkles were all but undetectable. With my pencil I sketched over her dismal schmatta, layering on top a diaphanous skirt with hundreds of folds. Messy hair vanished under a mantle of exuberant curls; the bitter mouth fold budded into a hopeful rose. If I could find the crayon called peach, I’d bring the blood to her cheeks.
I made the messy and neglected into something ordered, manicured, and styled. If it failed to convince me, I added flowers and more eyelashes. I might have flourished in marketing.
In truth I was playing at something adults rarely learn to examine, whether or not the picturesque is superior to the authentic. There is a reason that we have apps to place crowns of flowers on our Snapchat photos; a glow to our Instagram selfie to blur away the pores; the framework of Facebook to describe the perfect weekend, leaving out the parts where we quarreled over which credit cards to use. We are terrified of loose ends, of things and people gone ragged. Perhaps the animal in us knows how quickly we can be toppled, the way a rabbit knows that once the fox has them in its jaws, there are only seconds before the end.
The blood widens a pink circle in the snow as the black eyes of the rabbit reflect a cloudless blue sky. Burying its nose in the warmth of the rabbits breast, the fox eats quickly amid the smell of iron and meat and frosty grasses. His breath rises up around them, a fog veil to soften the truth that this is how the circle goes unbroken.
If we are to survive on the terms that make us human, cooperation within the growing village of humanity, without losing our grip on the one power that helps us maintain our place, a self-convincing sense of contentment, we must embroider reality, making over everything that we find dim with bright colors. If our grip on the story loosens and we are forced to see how quickly our shutters rot, perhaps the entire fabric of our narrative will spill out of control. Grass that needs our hands to chase away the chicory and pokeberry might return to wilderness.
We may go wild ourselves.