Rumpelstiltskin in Love

Boy with a torn hatHis love is alchemy; his touch transmutes. I turn to gold at his faintest glance.

“Do I have a mother?” he asks me. He is precocious. Every father thinks his son is special, but I know. His eyelashes are so fine they are almost transparent. His skin is the color of ripe wheat. He is as beautiful as his mother, but more so, because she was so full of fear. She was a creature of shadows, and my boy is all sunlight.

“You did,” I tell him. “But she traded her life for yours.” It is a falsehood, but not quite a lie: technically she traded his life to keep her own, but I cannot tell him this. He has bird bones, a heart like flint. How can I tell my son, Your life was nothing to her, she could not yet imagine you – all she meant to promise was her body. Sell the oil to save the jar, am I right? And she was willing enough to promise something that did not yet exist.

You, my son. My darling boy.

“Was she very beautiful?” he asks, dreamily, always obsessed with appearances. Then as if embarrassed he adds, “Was she kind?”

“She was young,” I tell him. “She was scared. But she loved you.”

“I miss her,” he says, leaning out the window. Outside, the fields roll on forever, acre after acre of fresh-mown hay; even in this sunlight it is impossible to mistake their color for anything but brown.

How can you miss something you have never known? I wonder, but I do know what he means. I missed him before he was born. I missed him before he was a thing to miss. If he wants a mother, I cannot fault him that.

I am sure she misses you, I could say. I don’t. It is not a seed I am prepared to plant in his fertile little mind.

There have been no women in my life. I could have them, I suppose – the kind that love money, which I need have no shortage of. But what sort of woman would love me? A woman could love an ugly man, if he was kind. Not a child-stealer. I have no delusions.

I watch my boy, leaning out the window, longing for a mother that he will never see. I think of all my children, over all the years, and how each one of them felt that something was missing, a little piece that could not be put back. How they longed for what they could never have, and wandered away, one by one, when that emptiness became bigger than their love for me. I wonder how each of them will choose to fill that hole.

This will be the last one, I tell myself. As I do every time.

I murmur, “Come away from the window, my son.”

He does as I ask, and puts his little arms around my waist, his golden head resting against my chest. “I love you, papa,” he says.