Amalin (ex_monochro174) wrote in poetrusis,

Because lesstraveled inquired, I present what I had of my NaNoWriMo novel before I quit. If you missed my background posts, it's a modern-day version of Hansel and Gretel, in which there are Biblical references, road trips, and forbidden love. Well, okay, not really in the beginning, but there is mild incest.

[ prologue ]

My story has two beginnings. The first beginning is in a garden, when Eve rose from the sinuous curve of Adam's rib and looked into his same-hued eyes; the other is my father's second wedding. The first took place before the first grain of sand fell from the hourglass; the second happened one sultry, sunny May afternoon.

Both, as I see it, spawned the story of Greta and me.

Greta is my Eve; she is my rib bone, my apple, my other half. She's my best friend, my confidante, my world. Sometimes when I watch her sleep, I fancy her dreams tickling my subconscious; sometimes, when she stubs her toe, I wince. When I look at her, I see part of me.

She is my sister.

[ 1 ]

I will assure you that I wasn’t always in love with my sister; I wasn’t the peeping Tom who watched her eagerly pass through pubescence, didn’t fall for the curves of her knees and the way her smile echoed mine. Rather, I drifted through early adolescence mostly absorbed in comic books, to Greta’s amusement and teenage girl scorn. We were still best friends, but at the end of the day I was still the geek and she was the cheerleader, and only if you saw us together did you realize we were siblings.

From the first time I remember her wide blue eyes searching mine, both of us following ants on the hot pavement of summer, I recall loving her; but I was never in love with her. Perhaps it lodged itself, hidden, in the crevices of my brain, as I watched her lick ice cream from her fingers during our vacation to Florida; perhaps it began, unbeknownst to me, when she retreated to the secrecy of her sex and started painting her nails, wearing bras, leaving perfume bottles beside the bathroom sink. Perhaps I’ve always loved her, since her heart beat next to mine in the cradle, since she clung to my waist the day our mother walked out. Perhaps it was when I pressed the curve of my ear to my mother’s belly and listened for Greta’s kicking, her sign to me. Perhaps it was because her first word was “Hansel.”

I’ll never know. Perhaps it was Greta herself: so like me, so different, bewildering and familiar and strange all at once, the impossible allure of her. Perhaps it was the curse of a garden and an apple, the temptation of forbidden truths. All I know is that the day of my father’s second wedding, she smiled and an ocean welled inside me, a tide without ebb that washed away everything but her.


If time were not a continuum and instead an accordion of moments coiled upon itself, at the same time Eve's lips closed around the forbidden temptation of the apple, Greta perched on the kitchen counter in her dress and kicked off her shoes into the sink. When the skin of the apple gave against Eve’s teeth and juice slicked her lips, Greta swung her bared legs against the cabinets, looked up from inspecting her nails, and smiled at me.

Two beginnings. While angels held their breath, I caught mine, and then the world changed.

Outside, our father was making drunken toasts, and Melanie was scolding him through her laughter. Greta tucked her knee to her chin, yanking irritably at the fabric bunched around her legs, and gave them a scornful look over her bare shoulder. “I can’t believe the bitch made it as far as the altar,” she groused, rolling her eyes as my agreement clashed with my automatic wince. “Oh, come on, don’t feel sorry for her. It’s Melanie we’re talking about here.”

“On the bright side, they’ll be gone for two weeks.”

“On the not-so-bright side, they’ll be back.”

“Glad to see your famous optimism.” The curl of her little toe, propped against the edge of the counter, her crimson nail polish chipping. The crook of her elbow, the flush in her cheek, the tanned line of her calf against the white crinoline. All the details I had never noticed flooded over me, making the idea of two weeks in a house with her a suddenly terrifying one.

The kitchen door suddenly creaked open, admitting Melanie. She bustled in with her wedding dress, looking pained. “What are you two doing in here? Ian told me to come find you. You should be out there with us.” She looked about to turn around, then suddenly jerked back towards us. “Greta! What on earth are your shoes doing in the sink? And your beautiful dress, you’ll wrinkle it! Get down from there!”

“Okay, Melanie.” When our step-mother turned her back to exit, Greta flipped her off. Melanie rushed out in a rustle of fabric. “Is she supposed to look like her wedding cake or what? What does Dad see in her?”

“Maybe you should try to get along with her. She will be living with us.”

Greta quirked an eyebrow, giving me an incredulous look. “Whatever. You’re not the one who has to put up with her for another year, Mr. College Bound, so don’t tell me about being nice to her.”

“I’ll be home almost every weekend, you know.”

“To rescue me?” Greta brightened and slipped her arm through mine, leading me barefoot out of the kitchen. “We should run away. That’ll show her. We can drive all the way across the country to California, or New Mexico, and-”

I laughed. “Right, and skip school?”

“Who needs school?” She made a face. “All right, we’d better obey our wicked step-mother and go mingle. Uncle Travis keeps checking me out. Go distract him, will you?” When I only stared at her, she unlinked her arm and gave me a teasing push towards him. “Go on, what are brothers for?”

Obviously not for checking their sisters out. Guilt prickled the bottom of my stomach. Maybe it was normal for a flash of attraction to come and go; adolescent hormones were unpredictable. Maybe that was all it was. Maybe it would fade. All I had to do was ignore it, crush it, pretend it had never existed.

In my search for Uncle Travis, Dad interrupted me to put his arm around my shoulders. “How was it, Hansel? From a budding artist’s point of view?”

Greta would tell him that it was awful. I smiled. “Looked great, Dad. Melanie really made sure of all the details, didn’t she? How are you feeling?”

“Good. I’m feeling good.” He flashed his wedding ring at me. “I have a very good feeling about Melanie. She’ll be great with you kids, and she’s a wonderful woman. Do you know, she even discussed getting me a position at her company. It’d be a jump from where I am now. Isn’t that wonderful? How's your sister holding up?”

That was so like Dad, to discuss business at his own wedding. I had a fleeting thought of admitting my inner turmoil to him, especially when he inquired about Greta, but we had never been close. “Oh, she’s all right. The Melanie thing is just a little weird.”

“I know she asked you to call her Mom. If you’re not comfortable with that, well, I understand. Just make an effort?”

“I am, Dad.”

“Okay, okay. And no wild parties while we’re gone, right?” He gave me his mock-stern smile. “I know you kids’ll be fine.”

“Well, you and Melanie have fun,” I muttered, then paused. “Hey, Dad? Do you, uh. Do you ever think about Mom?”

I didn’t expect him to bristle, but the question clearly affected him. “Hansel,” he said tightly, “your mother left sixteen years ago. Genevieve is not coming back, and I think I’m entitled to a little happiness, don’t you?”

“I didn’t mean-” I began, when Melanie came rushing over with her wine sloshing over the sides of the glass. She has the supernatural ability to hear mention of my mother’s name from twenty feet away, and instantly wrapped her arms around Dad.

“Ian,” she murmured, kissing him sloppily on the cheek. “Hansel, why don’t you go find your cousin Laura? Her fiance is a college professor, you know. I’m sure she can tell you all about college.”

Fortunately, Greta found me first, and we hid out in my room until the last drunken wedding guests stumbled home. When Dad found us, Greta was asleep on my bed, and I was watching television on mute. He tiptoed in, put a finger to his lips, and whispered, “We’re off to the airport. We’ll call you tomorrow.” I nodded. “Oh, and Hansel? Melanie went shopping yesterday, so there should be plenty of food, and if you can, feed the neighbor’s cat until Tuesday-”

“I got it, Dad. You’ll miss your plane.”

He grinned. “See you in two weeks. Tell my little girl I said goodbye.”

I let Greta stay in my room, warm with sleep, her hair a tangled mess of curls from the wedding, and I took the couch downstairs. Rooms away, I had dreams of beachfronts and a mother we couldn’t remember, of curling roads and aisles of palm trees. I think they were Greta’s dreams.

When I woke up, she was reading in the kitchen over her bowl of cereal, and I was still enchanted by the motion of her fingers flicking pages, by the unexpected shift of a smile across her face at something she had read, by her.

Each day I suffered; suddenly I was presented by an agonizing new torment around every corner. I would stumble from my room in the morning, thinking only about pop tarts and Sunny D, when Greta would pass by wrapped in a towel, with her hair sending rivulets of water down the curves of her back. I found myself sketching her eyes, the tips of her fingers, the perfect arch of her feet. Day and night I was submerged in guilt, floundering in a horror of desire, unable to turn off the revelation as absolutely as it had been switched on.

I was positive that she would find out. This, most of all, fueled my panic; the fear of her disgust left me shaking whenever her eyes turned on me. Each lazy smile sent my way, each raised eyebrow, each sarcastic remark: they all left me in a cold sweat.

Looking back, I suppose she must have known. After all, we were more like twins than brother and sister; we shared thoughts, emotions, dreams. It was always hard to tell what was hers and what was mine, where the dividing line existed, and even now, I’m not sure where it began. Did Greta love me first? Was it my passion that she made her own? And sometimes the eternal question rears, bitter-tongued and inevitable: did she love me at all?

The only truth I can give is my own. As much as we overlap, there are spaces between us that I will never breach. There are answers I will never grasp at, moments that are hers alone, and all I can do is offer what I know.

That I loved her. That I love her.

And that will always be true.

[ 2 ]

There are certain days of our lives that each and every one of us looks back upon, day after day, year after year, until they are as worn and polished as a well-rubbed penny. Even decades later, these days stand out. They never let go of us. We look back and second-guess the motions, revive every nuance of conversation, catch every detail to hold prisoner in the glass of time. They change us and keep changing us, through every rehashing, with each recollection.

Even now, I smell the ocean breeze of one day; I can feel the sting of it, the grit of its scent between my teeth. And against this backdrop of gray waves and blue sky, against the busy boardwalk, there is Greta.

She was the one who started it, who jumped on my bed long before the curtains bled sunlight and said, with all the eagerness of a little girl, “Let’s go to the beach today!”

So we went. Sticky with suntan lotion, weighed down with towels and sandwiches, all the windows cranked down in my old ‘88 Oldsmobile, we joined the rest of the anxious motorists on the road to a place where the sun was guaranteed to shine. The hour drive took an extra half an hour on the simmering highway, where heat waves danced on the long stretch of road, but Greta sang along to the radio. I fell in love with her every minute, every mile, and every breath stung with the bite of the salt air.

We yelped our way across the hot sand and stretched out before the water, between a family of five and a slumbering couple with a radio. In front of us, two twins were meticulously constructing a sandcastle.

“You’re so white,” Greta laughed when I pulled off my shirt. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you spend every day playing video games inside like a loser. Oh wait, you do.” When I made a face at her, she shook her head. “C’mere. You’re going to burn like that.”

That was the start of it, Greta rubbing sunscreen in circles on my back, making me coat her own, feeling the hot shift of her shoulderblades underneath my palms. Greta, stretched out on a faded towel, eyes shut against the sun, an Egyptian sculpture bathed in gold. Coaxing me into the water only to shove me under; both of us, a tangle of water and limbs and her hair like wet silk. And worst-or perhaps best-of all, it wasn’t torment; sometimes I forgot myself, forgot who I was, forgot who we were.

Forgot that we weren’t two teenagers, high on sunlight and skin-on-skin, happy and maybe a little bit in love.

Greta, head pillowed on her arms, drowsy in the sun, watching me peel apart the pages of my book. “Hansel, do you think sin can be beautiful?”

In recollection, I like to think I managed not to stutter; in reality, I probably did. “Wh-what?”

“You know, like in Lolita? Don’t you think Nabokov had to see some beauty in it to write about it that way? Don’t you think there was something to Eve taking the apple, if it spawned all of this?”

I’d forgotten who we were. I’d forgotten how well she knew me, instinctively, subconsciously. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I think you’re-” beautiful, and you’re- “right.”

Somewhere, in a folded origami flower of time, bent in on itself, Adam reached out to Eve and believed her when she offered him the fruit.

I don’t think he could help himself.

Somewhere, on a crowded beach, surrounded by laughing children and sunbathing couples, in a moment that tumbles endlessly over itself in my mind, a flipped coin that never lands, Greta reached over and entwined her sandy fingers with mine. The sand burned us, sent fire down our forearms, and I could hear my heart thundering over the ocean’s cries.

“I knew you would,” she said, sleepily smug, and shut her eyes against the prying sun.

We ate hot dogs while we walked on the boardwalk, brushing sand off our arms and feeling it squeak between our teeth, letting twilight drape its shadows around us. She still glowed, face lit faintly by sunset and the neon signs from the nearby restuarant. Exhausted by the sun, we sat on a bench and she put her head on my shoulder, an innocent move, one that set my heart beating double-time again.

“Let’s not be us today,” she yawned, skin still warm against mine, a sleepy bundle of honeyed limbs and sandy hair, tucked into my side.

“Isn’t it a little late for that?” The sky was hazy with evening, and lights were going on all over the boardwalk. A roller-blader shot by us, narrowly missing my toes. I hoped she couldn’t hear my heart.

Greta gave me a small flicker of a smile. “Nope. I’ll be a girl you met at the beach today, and you can fall in love with me and drive me home.”

She knew. Did she? She must. I tried to laugh. “Does that mean you’re ready to go?”

Another yawn, and she shifted to grin up at me. “Please.”

Greta fell asleep on the way home, her cheek resting on the window, and I watched her in the glow of traffic lights while I waited for them to turn green. The night was lit with headlights and neon advertisements, all of them shafting across her skin as the hot air blew through my open window. To my left, a car was blasting an unintelligible rap song, and when the light changed, he floored it.

I drove and pretended that I could love the girl next to me, curled around herself to protect her sandcastle dreams.

She woke as we pulled into our driveway, stretched languidly, and laughed when she saw the sand all over the floormats. “You’re going to be helping me clean the car,” I told her. Greta only laughed.

“Why me? You just met me.”

“Oh, right. Well, is this where you live, mysterious, nameless girl?”

She nodded, pulling thoughtfully at her lip with her teeth. “You can call me Greta. Do you want to come in?”

It was too much, faced with the familiar white curtains blowing out the windows upstairs, staring at the clutter of boxes still sitting unpacked in the garage, all the things of home that accused me. “Greta-”

“All right, all right. Go sit around and read your comic books for the fiftieth time, then.”

I waited at the entrance to the kitchen, holding it open for her as she slammed the car door. The flicker of the fluorescent light as it stuttered on mocked the urgent palpitations of my heart. Does she know? Does she know? “I don’t know why you want-”

“Oh, shut up,” she said, dumping the bundle of towels and clothes and sunscreen bottles on the kitchen floor, and then she was pulling the door shut, too close and too sudden, inches away.


“Beautiful, remember?” And she leaned into my chest, twined her arms around my neck, and kissed me.

I’ve thought of this moment over and over, turned it like the waves tumble seaglass, until it is analyzed from every angle and worn down to clarity; it still is what it is. Two people, never mind what same blood beats in their veins, melting together; a hitch of breath, an uncertain flicker of eyelashes, and then her lips on mine. Or my lips on hers. A beginning, a moment, an apple, a promise.

When you kiss someone, it takes a second to become accustomed to foreign lips, sharing breath; it’s an adaptation, a subtle shift from awkwardness into familiarity. Greta already seemed to know. There was no moment of uncertainty, only salty intoxication.

I knew then that I wouldn’t stop loving her, that ten years later I would still remember the exact curve of her chin, the slow lift of her eyelashes for her eyes to meet mine. There are some things you never forget, never stop wanting. If the phone hadn’t rang, startling us both into red-cheeked guilt, I think I would have kissed her forever in that staining fluorescent light.

It turned out to be Melanie.

“Your father and I are having a wonderful time,” she prattled, while I cradled the phone and thought of Greta tripping backwards over the towels, slipping out of the kitchen while I lunged for the phone. I touched my lips and thought about how badly Adam must have wanted to fall, how much he must have longed for that freefall into life. “Hansel? Hansel, are you listening to me? Our plane is now coming in at-”

I didn’t hear a word she said. Upstairs, I heard the click of Greta’s door closing. “Yeah,” I murmured, absently, quietly, into the crackling receiver. “Beautiful.”

“What?” Melanie squawked. “What are you talking about?”

I hung up on her.

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