The Sunlight Hours

It was funny being stuck in a tower. I’d been outside before, but not without mother. The people would just stare at us, wide-eyed and mouths agape. I always wondered what was so strange. I couldn’t face them without her. She said if I ever left she would stop loving me. I never quite understood how she could do that – stop loving me, because i could never stop loving her, but I didn’t want to find out. Looking back on it all, I’m pretty sure she was lying.

I don’t think she ever loved me. I don’t think she knew how.
This became clear to me after The Boy. He was the first person to ever speak to me. He bumped into me on Market Day and apologized. I don’t think Mother thought anything of him then, but I don’t think that she realized he was the first.

It’s weird now to think how normal it might seem to Mother for people to talk to her, but how for 16 years the only words I heard were hers or mine. It just goes to show how much she really kept from me. Who knows why she even let me out of the tower, except only to show me that I wasn’t missing much.

But we all know I was missing everything.

The next time I saw the boy he was picking berries outside the tower. I didn’t say anything to him, but he set down his basket and stretched at some point. That’s when he spotted me. We said nothing to each other, but it was the longest I’d held contact with another person before – including Mother.

His eyes were little pinpricks of icy blue. Absolutely fascinating little things. I couldn’t get them out of my head; they were burned forever into my sight.

He left at some point, but I would come out to the window to look at the empty space he left. His gaze remained. Mother, when she would notice me, didn’t seem to notice how I would gaze out the window for endless hours.

A week later, he was back. This time he checked for me first. He smiled at me, and I didn’t know what to do, so I hid. When I came back, he was gone.

I regretted it, and so for a week I continued to look out the window for him. At the end of the week, he was there again, this time with a rucksack.

“Hail!” he shouted. “Don’t you disappear on me this time.”

I was frozen. My instinct was to run and I didn’t know the words necessary to go further in the conversation.

“Don’t you speak? Hello?” he continued.

“Hello,” I whispered back. I don’t think he heard me, but he could tell I had said something.

“Is there a way up there?” he called, walking around the tower and out of my sight. When he came back, he continued “might make conversation a little easier to carry on.”

Of course there was a way out. He must have seen me and Mother in town before.

Of course, I was standing at the only way out.

He continued to talk at me for a little bit, but then it started raining and he left. Next week he came back, and he spoke a lot and I spoke very little and thus things went on for what I imagine were months and months.

The next time that mother took me out for Market Day, things were different. People still stared at us and people still parted for us to cross, but there was a very distinct difference.

They were not silent.

For the first time in my life I could hear a murmur. I had never heard it before, and it was both exhilarating and terrifying. The truly frightening thing, though, was Mother’s demeanor. I’d never seen her so on edge. We didn’t spend much time in the market that day. Mother practically turned tail and ran after all the chittering.

That was the last day we ever went to Market Day. New rules were instigated in the tower. I was only allowed window privileges for an hour a day. I saw Mother much more often this way – twice a day instead of her irregular visits. I’m not sure it improved our relationship – especially since she was never the same after the last Market Day.

But the first hour spent in the sunlight of my new life, The Boy was there, waiting. I motioned for him to be silent, and after a good long time had passed and I could be sure Mother was somewhere else, we spoke. We spoke for the first time, really, because as I said before, he mostly just spoke at me before, but this time we conversed.

I told him about the Sunlight Hours I had in store for the rest of my life. He promised to be there every day. He swore on Market Day he’d slip me away from Mother and we’d have an adventure. It would be my first adventure.

So the year passed, and when Market Day came again, he did not. Three Sunlight Hours passed and finally on the fourth after Market Day I heard a call.

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your long hair.”

I stuck my head further out the window, so I could see The Boy, perched just at the edge of the tower. I don’t think I’d ever smiled so big in my life.

And I don’t think he ever looked so sad. Perhaps I should have noted that on Market Day, Mother and I had a bit of a spat when I realized she had no intention of letting me outside again.

Because when I stuck my head out the window, it was covered in a short rat’s nest of ripped apart hair. Mother had shorn my locks in her rage. They were our way in and out before, but on Market Day, she banished the world from us.

“Oh,” he gulped, lost at what to say, “I wasn’t quite expecting that.”

I think tears built up in my eyes at this point, because a minute later he asked me if it had started raining, which at least made me laugh. I suddenly felt worthless when he looked at me, though. We spoke very little, and suddenly we were at the beginning of our friendship – staring blankly at each other with no knowledge of how to continue further.

And then he was gone. I stopped eating as much. I stopped even coming to the window for my Sunlight Hour. Mother might have shown concern for the first time in my life, but I couldn’t notice. I slept a lot. I felt worse than I had ever before meeting The Boy.

He had a name, too, but I couldn’t bear to give it to him. He didn’t deserve a name if he was going to abandon me like this after years of dedicated friendship.

I began to go insane. Everything around me was darkness and sadness and loneliness and bitterness and I became consumed by the slight warmth of my bed and the small comforts found in my blankets. I often considered just walking out the window, but that took effort.

Then one day I awoke and it was Sunlight Hour. Yet there was no light – something was blocking it. I stumbled towards the window to remove the obstruction and found my hands held down by the hands of another.

“Rapunzel,” came a voice, low, gravely, and on the cusp of familiarity.

“Rapunzel,” soothed the voice, as the grip loosened on my hands.

“Rapunzel,” it chanted again, and suddenly lips grazed my knuckles.

And when I realized it was The Boy, when the silhouette took form and my eyes adjusted to the harshness of the light, I lost and found myself all at once. The empty creature who had been me suddenly had no reason to it, and the hopeful me, the one I like to believe was the real me, didn’t know how to support herself alone and I fainted.

I woke up in his arms. I felt the touch of another for the first time in my life, and every moment of it was ecstatic bliss. We explored each other thoroughly, and I felt for the first time odd sensations of heat and a strange, overwhelming rush and none of these feelings seemed to want to cooperate with each other.

But I won’t bore you with something I’m sure every other person in this world must have experienced already. We woke up at the next Sunlight Hour to the sounds of Mother shrieking and throwing things. The Boy tried to fight back, and I think if Mother wasn’t who she was, he might have stood a chance. He forgot where he was, too, and Mother sent him out the window. I heard his yell as he fell. I heard it every night for two years.

Mother screamed and shouted and threw things and hit me for several days. When she wasn’t around I tore the bed The Boy and I once shared apart and did my best to weave together an escape route. The bed was already ruined thanks to Mother, so it wasn’t much of a travesty. I wish I had known how The Boy found his way up the tower, but he was… gone… dead? He was not going to tell me.

I was sick, too, and couldn’t stand the monstrous beast Mother had become on top of the overwhelming nausea I was beginning to suffer.

The escape route worked. I had to work my way around the thorns that pillowed the bottom of the tower, but I made it out. I knew my way around that bit, even if it had been quite a while since my last outing. I tried to find the way to the Market Square and I might have done well for a while, but I got lost. It’s unsurprising, considering I could count with all my fingers and toes how many times I’d been outside in my life.

For the first time in my life, I had to scavenge for food. I found berries and took my chances eating a few bugs. I got sick often, and yet somehow managed to put on weight. I fought with an animal at some point and had to eat the meat raw. I made tools, I improved my tactics. I survived.

As I traveled, it began to get colder, and I had to fashion ways to get warm. I don’t know what kept me going, except the rush of freedom and the memories of touch so fresh in my mind. Winter passed and I learned how to shape and manage snow. I lost feeling in one of my toes and never got it back. I learned how to take care of myself. It was a terribly lonely crash course in survival but the feel of sun on my skin every day in any weather with the feel of something other than stone under my feet kept me on.

And I got heavier. And heavier. I assumed I was getting healthier, because when I was sick before, I would get smaller and more wilted, and each day I grew and glowed. I must have also eaten some especially strong-willed creature because sometimes I would put my hand to my belly and there was movement.

And by this time you must be thinking what a fool I am, but there are plenty of things you don’t know when you grow up in a tower.

Eventually I pissed myself, I thought, and these awful cramps took over and I wretched and twisted and soon enough between my legs were two screaming creatures. I’d never eaten anything that looked like them, though they looked perhaps like a small pig mixed with a small human. I found a stream and washed them off and at some point we developed an accord of some sort. They found the milk in my teat and sucked at it as I had seen young of other animals do. And so I continued to survive, not just for me, but for us three. We wandered.

Somehow in all this time I never found my way to the Market Square. I have to wonder if it was intentional or not, because I wandered that forest until I found its edge and discovered new terrains to explore.

In the final days, I found myself in a desert. It was not a wise choice, but to someone who had never seen a desert before, the endless horizon was enchanting. The sand whipped our eyes and skin and the heat seared through us, surely cooking us for some lucky predator.

On our fourth day there, we were the lucky predators. We heard a shrill shriek and found two animals at war. One of them was certainly human in physique, but swung himself around without the finesse of mankind. The other some beast I’d never seen before, and after that day, never wanted to again. The human was close to victory as he was to defeat, and I saw the opening the beast was waiting for. It tore down the human, and so I set down my babes and joined the fray. With two of us fighting, the battle was easily one and the beast was felled.

The fellow turned his ears towards me, one at a time, his eyes closed. I said nothing to him, and we sat there in the comfortable silence of our heavy breathing. I collected my babes and we rejoined the man, who seemed to be preparing the meat of the beast. He did so with the oddest of movements, and I did not realize why for some time. His eyes were horribly scarred, and for him to see properly would be a miracle. I helped him prepare the beast for meal, and the little ones fell over themselves trying to help as well until I gave them their poppets and they kept to themselves.

Night began its descent very quickly after we had prepared the beast for some meals, and the man built a fire. That was new to me, and I think would have made the nights so much better had I known how.

“Would you like the first pick?” he asked.

In the years that The Boy and I grew to know each other, I had heard every facet of his voice. And here it was again, though hoarse and raspy with the strains of this half-life he now lived. He was certainly unrecognizable – I knew nothing better than I knew his beautiful blue eyes, and those were practically gone. His skin was reddened and battered by the sand. Everything about him was so much more coarse.

But it was him.

I could not manage a smile. He wouldn’t see it anyways. I could not manage words. For a few moments I was truly frozen, but my limbs thawed quicker than my mind and we soon found ourselves in an embrace that I must have instigated. Tears leaked through me and a wetness coated us as I covered him in kisses.

The most astonishing thing happened – perhaps it was the dryness of the desert that stole his vision – perhaps the wetness of my tears restored him – suddenly his eyes shone back at me – certainly not the full glory of how I remembered them, yet somehow greater and more alive than before because here they were in front of me when I was convinced I would never see them again.

“Rapunzel,” he cried, “Rapunzel, let down off my knee. Who are these two I see before me?”

There’s more to it, of course, but that’s where this story ends.

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