Locked In

Every morning when Rose opened her eyes, Aunt Milly was the first thing she saw. Aunt Milly’s face was round and plump, framed by cascades of honey curls; her breath was soft, almost feathery against Rose’s cheek.

Aunt Milly whispered to Rose, sang to her, murmured stories into her ear. She bathed her, changed her clothes, wiped the sweat that trickled from her brow. Why Rose’s stomach was always full, she did not know (it was probably the magic) but her other bodily functions—the movements of her bowels, her monthly bloods—were all dutifully and painstakingly cleaned.

Despite her great powers, Aunt Milly was no mind reader, so they had developed a system. Rose had only to wink her right eye and Milly would wet her lips; wink her left, and Milly would scratch Rose’s nose; blink both eyes three times and Milly would drop half a teaspoon of sweet cherry jam onto Rose’s tongue.

Could any prince care for me as she does? Rose wondered. Would he know me so well, know that I loved him without a single utterance, with just a flutter of an eyelid?

While she lay there, locked in her body, locked in her bed, locked in a tower, the rest of the castle slept. Only Milly moved, leaving Rose alone while she dusted off a servant or wiped an end table.

Were it not for Aunt Milly, the wait would be unendurable.

Once in a great while, a prince would arrive, tall and proud on a white stallion—Milly always described a white stallion—but they never got far. Some men got tangled in the thorn forest and were ripped to shreds; others fell into the deep pits and were skewered on the rocks; while the rest succumbed to the dragon and were charred by her breath.

Aunt Milly always came back to report when it was all over, her cheeks flushed, her breathing labored with excitement. Not a detail was left out: every injury, every drop of blood accounted for.

But Rose never found out what happened to the horses. And she couldn’t figure out how to ask.

Rose’s days blurred together. Hours turned to days turned to years. If Aunt Milly grew tired or lonely, she never showed it to Rose. She was ever attentive, ever patient, ever thoughtful.

I hope he never comes, Rose often thought. Until he does, at least I have Milly.