“Mother?” I try to phrase my words as carefully as possible.
“Yes, Rapunzel?” Mother eyes me over her soup, deftly spooning a spoon into her mouth. The soup is my speciality, however dull cabbage soup appears.
“If-if I told you something, a secret…would you promise not to be cross with me?”
Swallowing, I push the completely full bowl of soup away from me. The smell of boiled vegetables reaches my nose, and I wrinkle it in disgust. Wringing my hands together under the table and trying to ignore the looks of concern Mother gives me.
“Today…there was someone outside. I felt as if he was in danger,” Kicking myself inside, I take the easy way out and concoct a lie. Mother remains silent, her eyes lowered to her soup. Her expression is unreadable. “I talked to him, from within the tower. And-and he told me something tha-“
Mother draws her hand back, and then rears forward and slaps my face with all the force she can muster. The slap echoes around the tower, and I touch my stinging cheek in disbelief.
Mother has never harmed me. Not ever. She’s never laid a finger on me, even when I painted the table a dark green when I was younger. The shock hurts more than the actual slap.
“How dare you go against me, and talk to someone outside? I warned you of the dangers!” Mother fumes, her eyes glittering with anger. When I remain silent, she stands up and forcefully pushes her chair into the table so it rattles. Still bound silent, I feel the prick of hot tears.
“I-I’m sorry.” The first tear betrays me and slips out, leaving a grimy mark down my face. My cheek still stings, and when I try to put one cool finger against it the pain makes me wince.
“Well, you’d better be. I’ve tried, oh, how I’ve tried to keep you away from the dangers of the outside world. And how do you repay me? This insolence is stupid even for you, Rapunzel. That man could have been a murderer. I warned you about the dangers. What did he tell you? Oh, I presume it’ll be something ridiculous. Out with it!”
While Mother is like this, she truly frightens me. Her anger has never reached this height before, but her fury is short-lived and very fearsome.
“Nothing.” I choke out, “He told me nothing.” My voice shakes with fear.
“Why should I believe you, hmm?” Mother’s anger seemed to have past, and sighing she sits back down, putting her head in her hands. The silence lingers, and I break it once more.
“I really am sorry…it will never happen again. Shall we forget?”
Mother’s face is hidden behind her curly black locks, but I imagine her expression as stony but less fearsome than before.
“How can I forget?” Mother sighs.
“I don’t want to hear your apology, Rapunzel,” Mother snaps her head back up. I notice her eyes glitter: not with anger, but she’s…crying. “I protect you because I love you. The world is dangerous, and if strange men come to the tower I thought you would be sensible enough to turn them away!” Her voice shakes with betrayal: and I feel intense guilt. I did not want Mother to cry.
I remain mute; regarding Mother carefully as though she were an injured animal. Mother sighs and shakes her head, sniffing.
“I may have over-reacted.” Mother laughs strangely, a stiff laugh. “I’m sorry for hitting you.”
Mother stands up and opens her arms out. Without question, I push my chair aside and run into her arms. I’m a little child, happy about being forgiven. Mother embraces me quickly, but then holds me at arms-length. She looks me up and down, and her eyes seem to darken a bit.
“Do not ever betray me again, Rapunzel.” Mother lets go of me so suddenly I fall back. Tears spring to my eyes, but I swallow them back. I take heed to the warning. It was a slap this time in way of punishment-but next time it could be much worse.