The Stepsister's Story
by Emma Bull
I knew you, dancing.
She said, "Who is that?"
The others said it, too.
But I knew.
I thought the word she would not let me say.
Sister. You danced by so close.
I could have touched the tiny buttons down your back.
I kept your secret, as true sisters do.
You were not more beautiful
Spinning in a cloud of silk,
Laughing in spangle-light,
Than on that cold hearth.
Not more beautiful
Than when my eyes crept secretly toward you
To the line of your bent white neck
And I thought, Sister.
Not more beautiful
Than your fair closed ash-marked face.
Ash-bruised fingers took the poker, made the fire dance
And I thought, I love you.
Who closed the tiny buttons down your back?
I would have done that sister's work.
You would have made the boys who loved you
Dance with me first.
Oh, tomorrow, don't let her see
That fallen sequin, that unguarded smile.
She'll be wild to think that you were happy.
Never be happy out loud
And I'll keep the secret.
The shoe came.
She locked you in the pantry.
She brought it to me, still full of spangle-light
And the chime of your laugh.
I did it to share your laugh and the cloud of silk
For don't true sisters share?
I did it to dance away from fear, from her,
To dance you away in my arms and call you sister.
True sisters ride to rescue, and I would
Only if the shoe fit.
We'll make it fit, she said.
The kitchen knife was not full of spangle-light
And this is not how I meant to share with you.
Light-headed, I rode away,
My arms around the prince's waist,
Blood welling from your shoe
To stain the horse's white flank.
And as the spangles danced before my eyes
I thought I might be you, riding safely away,
That I was the one she'd shut in darkness,
That we'd both slipped from her grasp at last.
I can't dance now.
But I would sit on your hearth
And stir the fire to dancing with a crutch.
Let me sit near your happiness.
Let me warm myself at your laughter.
Let me say at last, where she can't hear,
Sister, sister, sister.