Sleeping Beauty Speaks Out
by Elizabeth Kate Switaj
Everyone who comes here knows my story. At least they think they do. It reminds me of my childhood, before the great sleep, when I’d tell my father that I had discovered a fairy cottage in the yard and he’d interrupt my story halfway through to tell me that I meant the groundskeeper’s home, or I’d tell him about a room of glistening treasures, and he’d call it an armory without listening to what I’d found.
This is how it goes: the latest lord or lady to join our court asks me what it was like. I start to describe the strange colors, the flights, falls, and monsters of my dreams. They interrupt me: “No, we all have dreams; I mean, what was it like when you woke up?”
I don’t understand it. Everyone wakes up, too. Besides, never before or after my great sleep did I have such vivid—frightening and blissful—dreams. There were colors I’ve never seen, animals at once unicorn and bear and entirely tame. I climbed mountains that turned into enormous doves.
But I’m getting away from the story. I’m sure you don’t care about my dreams, either.
The younger ladies ask me what it was like to miss out on so many years of youth, to sleep from twelve to twenty. I tell them it was peaceful and confusing; they’re never happy with that. They want more details, but how can I give them that when I don’t know what it would be like to live those years awake?
The men always ask about this kiss. I don’t really remember it, but I describe it just like the one that followed at the wedding: wonderful, my lips felt warm and alive.
Some of the older women ask me something a little different: they want to know if it frightened me to wake up with a man I had never seen before leaning over me. I tell them yes, though that isn’t exactly true. I shivered in fear when I woke up, but not because of him: I had seen him in my dreams. What frightened me was the very quaking thing: my body.
You might expect that, sleeping for so long, I would have wasted away. Indeed, my legs and waist had thinned enough that I could feel the difference. (Later I would learn from my mirror that my round cheeks had drawn in too.) That struck me as strange, as did the widening of my hips, but it was the heaviness of my chest that scared me. The little buds of breasts I’d had when I pricked my finger had grown round and womanly. I half expected them to start leaking milk the way I remembered my mother’s doing.
Since she had died during my extended nap, I wouldn’t learn that you had to have kids for that to happen until I actually gave birth. The rumors of the prince impregnating me while I slept are entirely untrue: do you think I would have married someone who did that to me? The twins, in all likelihood, were conceived a couple nights before the wedding, however.
As my belly grew, it came to feel like the only part of my body that belonged to me. The rest seemed as if someone had swapped with me while I was unconscious. It even seemed strange that my father, gray-bearded and bald by then, recognized me. My ankles still feel wobbly when I walk, and I can trip over anything, sometimes nothing at all. Thank goodness I have servants to run after the children.
I spend most of my time reading, trying to catch up on the things I never learned. Sometimes my prince and I read to each other; he’s the one who taught me anyway. Occasionally, I carry out experiments: mixing chemicals or charting generations of plants. This has earned me a reputation as a great scholar, but I am nothing of the sort. It isn’t just my years of sleep I have to make up for: my father raised me in ignorance. I didn’t even know what a spindle was! Just a little bit of education would have saved me from those years of sleep, but if he ever saw me trying to figure out how to read, he’d take the book away and tell me that a proper lady didn’t need to know anything and that no one would want to marry her if she did.
Thank the gods (did you know there’s more than one?) the prince who woke me wasn’t like that. My body will always be strange, but at least I am allowed my mind.More stories like this by topic: Authors with Asperger syndrome, Fairy tales, Women authors