RAPUNZEL'S TOWERS, A short story

by Ivanka Mogilska; translated from the Bulgarian by Olga Nikolova

A text by the 2015 Sozopol Fiction Seminars fellow Ivanka Mogilska

Every morning, between six and seven thirty, thousands of gray-haired Rapunzels rise, gently toss their blankets aside and make their way to the kitchen. Some make breakfast for their grandchildren. Others leave bread crumbs for the pigeons on the balcony. They put coffee-makers or teapots on the stove. Some even turn on the radio. Inside, there's a slight draft. So they wrap their cardigans more tightly around their bodies, and clasp the cup of coffee or tea with lots of sugar with both hands. They feel chilly, they always do, but what else could they close in order to stop the draft? They have locked up their memories, they have shut the doors of hope, there is nothing else to latch that might make the place warmer, and allow them to relax and let their bodies fill with the glow that exists when everything is possible, because everything is yet to come.

When their grandchildren need to get up early for class, they wake them. They put the breakfast on the table, help them dress. They sit for a moment. Then the granddads get ready and walk the children to school. If the pigeons need some quiet, the gray-haired Rapunzels hide behind the kitchen curtains and wait – until the little creatures get their fill.

When the house is empty, when only traces of the pigeons remain on the sill, their time has come. They take their combs – made of wood or plastic – and step out onto the balcony. They do not exactly step out, because the balconies have had windows installed – there's hardly ever enough room in this life; wherever you try to hide, you always feel cramped. They open the windows, lean their heads out, and begin to comb their hair.

They pass the comb through their hair once – to make a path for the prince, who always gets lost somewhere between the office and the coffee shop, who comes home late and, afraid he might wake up the neighbors, never climbs his wife's braids, but instead takes the elevator.

They pass the comb through for a second time. To arrange the sun-drenched rooms where they have labored in the hope of becoming the most courageous, the most talented, the most honest of women, whose deeds the world would admire.

They pass the comb through for a third time. So that the paths their children trod might be straight and smooth, so that these paths might show them the right way and not lead them into error. The gray hairs fall and fall to the ground. The wind scatters them, the rain carries them, the sun weaves them into its rays.

There is no need for a fourth time through with the comb. The paths have been traveled, their hair has become thinner; those who have managed to climb up have already done so and have then left home through the door. Those who arrive late are forever late.

They freeze for a moment in their window-frames, these thousands of gray-haired Rapunzels. They listen to the sound of passing cars and the singing of birds. They open their nostrils wide to take in the day's aroma – who knows, someone might need a waft of it later. Then they pull their cardigans closer to their bodies and return to the kitchen. Just in time to grab the bag of groceries from their hunchbacked princes. The place needs tidying up, lunch is waiting to be made.

They drop their combs into crystal bowls, gifts from their mothers or in-laws never used for any other purpose, and lose themselves in their chores.

Swallows twitter outside and, in between bits of straw, they gather gray hairs, to make nests on the tops of towers.

Ivanka Mogilska has published four books: the novels Hideaways (Janet 45, 2007) and Sudden Streets (Janet 45, 2013) – excerpts from which have been translated into English, French and Hungarian, and two collections of poetry: DNA (Janet 45, 2004), winner of the Yuzhna Prolet National Award for debut writers in 2005, and Otherwise (Janet 45, 2010), winner of the Vladimir Bashev National Literary Award in 2012. She lives in Sofia, where she works as a freelance copywriter but, most of all, she writes and travels.



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