December 2007 Volume One Issue Five
Hobgoblin Crush - Maria Deira
For weeks now, the little man has been visiting my sister. She waits for him in the bed next to mine. Her hair is pulled up in a tight ponytail, and gobs of zit cream mark her face like white polka-dots. The little man and my sister think that I'm sleeping, but I see everything. They work together, spinning gold from twine, weaving dreams from the shadows they cast. She never notices that I'm awake, watching; he never notices that I'm alive, breathing.
Every night, I smell the dampness of his dirt-stained skin as he enters the room. He climbs through our bedroom window, carrying with him a miniature spinning wheel that grows when it touches the wooden floor. The cold moonlight guides his way, leading him to her, his inspiration. As they work, he laughs and sings and I think to myself, "If only I could dance along." Instead, I lie in my bed, pretending to sleep.
Tonight, my sister has tricked the little man and hidden all the balls of gold thread inside a tattered blue suitcase. Earlier, following my evening tea, soon after I pulled the covers over my head and feigned sleep, I heard her slide the heavy case under my bed. Now she tells him someone else has stolen the gold, but he doesn't believe her. They argue. They fight. He threatens, he begs. From my bed, I whisper, "I know where they are." He turns to me with his crooked smile, tangled hair, and gnarled fingers. He turns to me and growls, "Show me."
Tonight, my sister sees me as though for the first time. "Don't tell him, Rosita," she says. I hate how she thinks I owe her my loyalty. And I hate how she says my name, like I'm a baby, a child, her precious sister. My name is Rosa and she doesn't love me.
For months now, I have known about the powders she adds to my tea, concoctions meant to make me sleep and forget, poisoned liquid I secretly pour into a potted plant when she isn't looking. The plant, once a vivid green, has become yellow and limp, still alive but slowly withering away. I know she believes I'm nothing but a burden, an orphan dumped on her when our parents died. So she's turned me into a pawn for her own use, attempting to squeeze from me the last precious drops of my energy and youth, of my life. My life, which she mixes into the paste that softens her skin and strengthens her magic. I need to escape her hurtful ways before I fade to nothing or become as hollow and spindly as a dead spider. My only way out of this life is with the help of the little man. That is, if the little man will have me.
"Don't tell him," she says again, but the tremble in her voice betrays her. She's scared. And I see that truly I owe her nothing. Besides, hoarded wealth is not what I'm after. I remove the suitcase from beneath my bed and pop open the lock. I lift the lid with a flourish, revealing the treasure the little man seeks. From the shallow case, he removes gilded sphere after gilded sphere and drops them into a brown burlap bag that hangs from his belt. "Shame on you," he says to my sister. "Shame on you!" he says to me, his polished black eyes glittering.
Tonight, for the first time, I see my sister crying. But she's not weeping for me. Her magic won't work on the little man and I'm no longer under her spell.
Tonight, for the first time, I see defeat in her eyes, and I'm no longer afraid.
The little man spits on her. Then he looks at me and says, "I will eat you alive." And before I can protest, before I can run and hide, the little man taps his fingers together, one-two, one-two, and makes me an even tinier woman.
One-two, one-two, and I'm no bigger than a kernel of corn.
"What?" my sister asks, her face as distant and pitted as the moon's. The little man ignores her, picking me up gently -- oh, so gently! -- and places me inside his mouth. He doesn't consume me, his teeth don't clamp down on my shrunken flesh or crack my matchstick bones. Instead, he lifts his tongue and shields me with it. Curled up under his tongue, my nightgown is soaked, yet I stay warm. Somehow, I know that I'm finally safe.
From within his damp and simmering mouth, I hear the muffled tones of my sister's screams. What he's doing to her, I can't see and nor do I care to know. I think she's calling my name, "Rosita! Rosita!" but I tell myself that's no longer who I am. The little man's mouth is a womb, a cocoon, a place where I can change and develop and become more than the sum of my parts. Where my parts can become more than the sum of me.
Perhaps I'm not so different from my sister after all. No, I'm not afraid. You see, I'm almost exactly where I want to be. Soon, any day now, I'll make my way to the tender gums of a missing molar. In that empty space, I'll take my seat as the hobgoblin's queen. There, I'll wait, practicing and growing, for the day that he needs me. And when that day comes, I will be free and the little man will be mine.
- END -