What follows are three out of twelve dancing princesses telling their stories about what happened after they married three of 12 princes, from the book “Sexing the Cherry” by Jeanette Winterson. They are one of the reasons why this book is my favourite.
We all slept in the same room, my sisters and I, and that room was narrower than a new river and longer than the beard of the prophet.
So you see exactly the kind of quarters we had.
We slept in white beds with white sheets and the moon shone through the window and made white shadows on the floor.
From this room, every night, we flew to a silver city where no one ate or drank. The occupation of the people was to dance. We wore out our dresses and slippers dancing, but because we were always sound asleep when our father came to wake us in the morning it was impossible to fathom where we had been or how.
You know that eventually a clever prince caught us flying through the window. We had given him a sleeping draught but he only pretended to drink it. He had eleven brothers and we were all given in marriage, one to each brother, and as it says lived happily ever after. We did, but not with our husbands.
I have always enjoyed swimming, and it was in deep waters one day that I came to a coral cave and saw a mermaid combing her hair. I fell in love with her at once, and after a few months of illicit meetings, my husband complaining all the time that I stank of fish, I ran away and began housekeeping with her in perfect salty bliss.
For some years I did not hear from my sisters, and then, by a strange eventuality, I discovered that we had all, in one way or another, parted from the glorious princes and were living scattered, according to our tastes.
We bought this house and we share it. You will find my sisters as you walk about. As you can see, I live in the well.
You may have heard of Rapunzel.
Against the wishes of her family, who can best be described by their passion for collecting miniature dolls, she went to live in a tower with an older woman.
Her family were so incensed by her refusal to marry the prince next door that they vilified the couple, calling one a witch and the other a little girl. Not content with names, they ceaselessly tried to break into the tower, so much so that the happy pair had to seal up any entrance that was not on a level with the sky. The lover got in by climbing up Rapunzel’s hair, and Rapunzel got in by nailing a wig to the floor and shinning up the tresses flung out of the window. Both of them could have used a ladder, but they were in love.
One day the prince, who had always liked to borrow his mother’s frocks, dressed up as Rapunzel’s lover and dragged himself into the tower. Once inside he tied her up and waited for the wicked witch to arrive. The moment she leaped through the window, bringing their dinner for the evening, the prince hit her over the head and threw her out again. Then he carried Rapunzel down the rope he had brought with him and forced her to watch while he blinded her broken lover in a field of thorns.
After that they lived happily every after, of course.
As for me, my body healed, though my eyes never did, and eventually I was found by my sisters, who had come in their various ways to live on this estate.
My own husband?
Oh well, the first time I kissed him he turned into a frog.
There he is, just by your foot. His name’s Anton.
When my husband had an affair with someone else I watched his eyes glaze over when we ate dinner together and I heard him singing to himself without me, and when he tended the garden it was not for me.
He was courteous and polite; he enjoyed being at home, but in the fantasy of his home I was not the one who sat opposite him and laughed at his jokes. He didn’t want to change anything; he liked his life. The only thing he wanted to change was me.
It would have been better if he had hated me, or if he had abused me, or if he had packed his new suitcases and left.
As it was he continued to put his arm round me and talk about building a new wall to replace the rotten fence that divided our garden from his vegetable patch. I knew he would never leave our house. He had worked for it.
Day by day I felt myself disappearing. For my husband I was no longer a reality, I was one of the things around him. I was the fence which needed to be replaced. I watched myself in the mirror and saw that I was no longer vivid and exciting. I was worn and grey like an old sweater you can’t throw out but won’t put on.
He admitted he was in love with her, but he said he loved me.
Translated, that means, I want everything. Translated, that means, I don’t want to hurt you yet. Translated, that means, I don’t know what to do, give me time.
Why, why should I give you time? What time are you giving me? I am in a cell waiting to be called for execution.
I loved him and I was in love with him. I didn’t use language to make a war-zone of my heart.
‘You’re so simple and good,’ he said, brushing the hair from my face.
He meant, Your emotions are not complex like mine. My dilemma is poetic.
But there was no dilemma. He no longer wanted me, but he wanted our life
Eventually, when he had been away with her for a few days and returned restless and conciliatory, I decided not to wait in my cell any longer. I went to where he was sleeping in another room and I asked him to leave. Very patiently he asked me to remember that the house was his home, that he couldn’t be expected to make himself homeless because he was in love.
‘Medea did,’ I said, ‘and Romeo and Juliet and Cressida, and Ruth in the Bible.’
He asked me to shut up. He wasn’t a hero.
‘Then why should I be a heroine?’
He didn’t answer, he plucked at the blanket.
I considered my choices.
I could stay and be unhappy and humiliated.
I could leave and be unhappy and dignified.
I could beg him to touch me again.
I could live in hope and die of bitterness.
I took some things and left. It wasn’t easy, it was my home too.
I hear he’s replaced the back fence.
Photo: a © signature mmm production
Related: My open letter to Jeanette Winterson
I have never thought to add my photographs to a literary work. I’m glad I did it now for Jeanette and:
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: Half-Light