The Lover, the Trap
By Bridget Brewer
My mother trips the trap, and how dark the woods grow. A mist meets the trees and will not disperse; a damp chill scampers the length of my spine; the black juice of a berry squirts down the throat of a fawn: this has all happened before. She twists on the loam, her eyes gone glassy. I, secret pupil, hide behind fiddleheads. I wait.
The lover is never late. He comes as fox tonight – his eyes black, his tail long and curled, a patch of bald behind his left ear. He clings to the shadows, stepping around the moon’s burning pools. When he opens his jaws, violets fall to her feet. A strand of his saliva strings from leaf to stalk. He gazes at her, and though I can hear the teeth of his trap biting into her bone, her thighs open for him. His nose in loins that look like mine. His claws in flesh I share. Now his hand inside her. Now her body as puppet. Her pale hair caught in the nettles, her fist opening and closing, and me, crushing the infantile fern in my own small hands, eyes ensnared, unable to break.
My mother tells me small love stories. She once hid in a cave; the lover became a newt. She climbed an olive tree; he became a bear. She ran; he became a bull. He has chased her through desert and marsh, the moon snagging the backs of her knees, small fish like stars in the dark water. No matter, what form the lover takes: he always eats her up.
Hiding as foreplay, daughter, my mother says, the scythe swung low through stalks of our harvest. Terror as devotion.
The lover traps my mother as he sees fit. A week passes of his visits, then a month of absence. My mother’s hands braid my hair, braid the bread; labor at the animals, at the loom. She stretches taut my blouse, frowns at my forming chest. Beneath our bed, I find a sack filled with food and money. She weaves me a new cape. Her actions speak of flight. I catch her hand, hold it.
Then a snap. The thunder of hooves.
The lover, shaped as swan, comes to my mother, who flounders in a net in the river. His beak holds a mask. The features look small, familiar. Suddenly, his bird hard eyes find me where I hide inside a grove of birch. I freeze.
You will wear this tonight, he tells us as my mother dons the mask of my face.
All night, she is taken. When he cries out, real birds, shaken from the arboreal rafters, flutter around my head. My ears fill. At last the sun rises, he flies south, and I, sleepy and slumped, watch my mother tend the raw rents of her body.
The lover begins to visit in the day. He comes as man, brings violets. When my mother walks outside to receive them, her dress and her hair seem to swirl towards him. Before he places the flowers in her hands, he plucks a purple bloom. He tucks it behind my ear. When he leaves, my mother grabs my chin, hard.
Stir the lard, she says, but my heart is heaving.
My mother tries to keep me away, but the lover is clever. He knows I like stories. He spins me an island where a man is kept prisoner by a giantess. He tells me his father tried to eat him when he was born, that his wet nurse was a goat. He tells me of goddesses with small ears like mine. He tickles the back of my knee. He nibbles at my neck, as if I were an apple, a treat. My mother becomes the one behind the trees, pretending not to watch, to want.
Metal clamps around my small ankle. Three pearls of blood bud on my skin. I look up, I hold my breath.
A serpent approaches.
My lover is so gentle and tender when afterward he licks clean my back. Snow begins to fall. His black, scaled tail kneads the bud of my breast. We watch our bodies white out.
My mother looks up from the loom, sees the red round my ankle. Though her face twists, she rises and prepares a bath. Her hands cannot keep from shaking as she slips white soap down my body.
I know now: a trap means he cares. A trap means he waits for me there. He makes these traps just for me. It’s better than nothing. And hiding as foreplay. And terror as devotion.
Couldn’t all that be true?
Inside my thigh, a hard knot of muscle becomes a mole. Grows hair, teeth, a spine. It bites my hand when I try to smooth it back down. My mother nods, stirring tallow on the stove.
A daughter, she says.
What can he want with a daughter? I say. He has me.
When my daughter hatches from my leg, she glows like new glass, still hot to the touch. She is small; she could sleep curled in my mouth, on my tongue or tooth. She crawls across the buoyant skin of my wrist: we spend hours playing this way. She grows and grows from my milk.
My lover, a raven, stills, watches.
I rip violets from behind her ears.
Stir the lard, I say, and straighten her braids.
One night I wake with a start. A mosquito sits on my daughter’s nipple, lancing the blushed ring. She sighs, smiling in her sleep.
I vomit in my lap. My mother, from her mat, cups my cheek.
We bury my daughter: there is nothing else to do. She is so obstinate. Mama, she begs through a mouthful of earth, her hand breaking the soil. I beat her with a juniper twig. Stars peel from the sky and fall, one by one, like bright, red scabs. My mother waits behind me.
Bridget Brewer is a visual artist, writer, and performer pursuing an MFA at Brown University, where she also teaches fiction to undergraduate students. Her stories have appeared most recently with Awst Press and Caketrain. Her work can be found at www.bridget-brewer06.com. (Updated September 2015)
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