Dancing Princesses

It looks like a door, but it isn’t. It just wears the shape of it, like a wolf greasing itself in sheep fat. Here is what it isn’t—an ending or beginning, a snail of a fist or a palm-up platform waiting for a virgin’s deer-quick heart, a spindle upon which to spin out the yarn of a tale or a wheel upon which to wear your innocence down to a nub.
I can’t tell you what it is, I can only tell you what it is when you look at it sideways.
Sideways, it is a beat.
A paring of music, a sliver of song.

She found it in the attic where she hides from the sticky glance of a man who doesn’t like being called “Dad” until after midnight. The door looks like invisibility. Real invisibility has nothing to do with looking and everything to do with melting. She wants to melt into this door, smear her life on it so that it can never be chiseled out of this rhythm.

Everyone in her world is beautiful. Everyone is a seraph so bright that the sun pinches itself just staring at them. Everyone cuts a figure so glorious that the air sucks in its belly, spreads rumors about possible ugliness and sulks at the back of the world. To her, the door is a mirror where no one is in it but her.

She picks up the shrapnel, scrapes off the blood, and hangs it in the winter bones of a tree. The tree is needy and thin, half-dead, but when she crowns it with metal, it looks like the cousin of beauty and the girl can pretend. Almost. The door opens beneath her feet, untouched by war. The door looks like flowers she saw in a faded picture book. It looks like paper and petals.

She tears the door into the world. She sharpened her voice with fury, forged it with distrust, and even hammered tiny nails of cruelty onto the blade so that the door runs to her when she asks. It slinks and cowers and whimpers, promising that it will open for her.

She doesn’t know why people say they “fall in love” when in truth, it feels a lot like being eaten. “Fall in hunger” doesn’t sound right. After love, she’s just girl gristle. She’s surprised to see how much of her is tough and inedible.
When the door comes, it is iron-clad and strapping.
It smells like musk and marrow, and promises her someone’s heart—an elf prince that will die five times for her, a pirate that pulls off guyliner, a notorious rake that smirks just enough—so that she can do some eating too.

The door is getting better at this. It tries for younger girls, girls whose calluses come from tree-climbing and sullen cello practice, girls with too much magic and not enough sleep. Girls who think a glass slipper doesn’t sound uncomfortable at all. It becomes a door with paisleys and loving scratches from a cat that never was.

Nothing is home, but this door has the heft of it—a heaviness like a story that holds itself together and has no plot holes to speak of.
She sees it for what it is and she loves it anyway.
(The door loves her best.)

It watched her break a bird’s bones and smile too slowly and lure a cat down a well and watch the other children not with want, but hunger.
The door does not wait for her to brush her stained fingers against it. It doesn’t want to be touched by her. It only wants to close itself up and over her, zip it shut and throw it elsewhere.
She tastes like cold and rasping and an idea of evil.
The door belches and shudders.
Some children are better off missing.

She wants love the way people want a puppy.
She wants the velvet and the wet kiss, the soft ear and liquid eyes.
The door is a pelt of fur, purring and assuring.

This is the girl who can’t catch the word “No” even though she lays out bowls of sweet cream and twines her hair into inviting half-braids. She is no one’s friend but everyone smiles, she says “because reasons” because the real answer will break your heart, she’ll snort a line but never shoot it up, she calls herself a slut before anyone else can and no one disagrees because she smiles like someone who fits around the dark of your thoughts like a glove.
The door is a piece of sky she can jump through.

Wants someone to look for her. Just once. Just, please.
The door is a piece of glass and an alley dressed in all its glitter and garbage and foreboding texts and no pin on her location so, no, you can’t skewer her to that piece of cement with a red balloon and why don’t you just back the fuck off.

She already wore the world like a crown, why not another one?
The door genuflects. She steps on it, not through, and she still finds herself
where she wants to be.

All the girls take their need to escape and tie them to the trees along with their stilettos, their Converses, their platforms, and off-season mule heels. The symphony is nothing but their name shooting a hook into their navels. No princes shepherd them across a lake full of bones. There is nothing but the music cracking open its jaws, laying out its tongue like a floor and its pulse like a rhythm and the twelve princesses wrap themselves in it like it’s ermine fur and spun glass and oh, girl, watch them dance.

(Editors’ Note: “Dancing Princesses” is read by Erika Ensign on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 16A.)


Roshani Chokshi

Roshani Chokshi is the author of commercial and critically acclaimed books for middle grade and young adult readers that draws on world mythology and folklore. Her work has been nominated for the Locus and Nebula awards, and has frequently appeared on Best of The Year lists from Barnes and Noble, Forbes, Buzzfeed and more. Her New York Times bestselling series includes The Star-Touched Queen duology, The Gilded Wolves, and Aru Shah and The End of Time, which was recently optioned for film by Paramount Pictures.

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