Red Shoes


This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 


I’ve come to tell you bees, your God is dead—
no check or rein to stop you now.
A carnival, a glut awaits us all.

No hands
to empty the dripping combs
and set you to regathering.

No smoke
to calm the moiling nerves
and still the nuptial flights,

to split
and make two hives where there was one.

I should be dancing this,
feet and hips waggling
as I make a wide circle with my arms.
I peer into the future with my right hand over my eyes.

You might rejoice—
to you more heat is better.

But everything races faster and faster,
you work harder, wearier,

as if the pollen
gathered in bundles on your legs
were red shoes,
and though you try
you cannot stop dancing.


Roberta Feins’ poems have appeared in Antioch Review and The Gettysburg Review, among others. Her second chapbook Herald won the 2016 Coal Hill Review Chapbook Contest, and was published by Autumn House Press in 2017.

Eleven Times Elisa


This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 


Since she and her brothers were left (see neglect) to the care of a hateful, envious stepmother (see abuse), Elisa has stepped into the realm of the unspeakable (a quality of experience incompatible with life, thus non expressible).

Survival is dependent on her capacity of neither speaking nor laughing (one word, one giggle, and all will be lost). She needs to give up her mouth.

Not unheard of. It has happened to girls throughout history, has it? Give up their tongue. Cut it, or else sew it to the palate. Seal their lips, wherever located.

Not unheard of.

 

Sewing. She has hands. Hands are powerful. So is the mind when connected to a pair of hands, even in absence of a mouth/tongue. Without needle or thread, Elisa needs to sew a shirt of nettles for each of her brothers.

Think of nettles against her palms—the sting suggests a flayed body’s vulnerability. Clearly, she needs sewing her brothers’ skin—and her own simultaneously. A membrane, a barrier, a form of defense, apt to shield a child from adult envy and meanness. It was not built in proper time, because mothering didn’t happen—Elisa and company were orphaned. She’ll mother her brothers, then, secrete their skin cells from her own. Bleed her substance into theirs.

 

Right now, Elisa’s siblings have a double identity. Swans during the day, at night they depose their feathers and become human. Clandestine. Irregular aliens—the shirts will give them papers, provide them with a lawful status.

Of course there is a catch. The apparel needs to be ready on a deadline. She’s got one year per shirt. Does it mean the girl is sewing time? Clearly. She is sewing days, weeks, months, reconnecting past, present, future. Mending whatever loss has torn, repairing a fractured cycle. She isn’t scared of the task, but she can’t waste a minute, she can’t postpone.

She needs to be tireless. Listen up: resistance, full focus, ability to ignore all kind of distraction or superfluity. Well, Elisa is anorexic. No kidding.

 

Author Cristina Campo defines beauty as “silence, duration, wait.” The same triad defines art. Besides being a mother, Eli is an artist, of course.

Her task also needs secrecy, invisibility. It’s the trick of alchemy, applicable to anything in need of metamorphosis. The athanor can’t be opened. The seed germinates under the soil’s surface. Even a rising loaf, a cake in the oven, asks for privacy. It will flop under curious eyes.

Nettles have to be gathered at night, in the place where they grow thicker—the graveyard. Is she meddling with tombs, corpses, bones? That’s calling for trouble. But she has lost her mother… to elaborate grief, to mourn, literally means to go back and recover lingering pieces of self, still attached to the dead. Also sever chunks of the dead, still glued to her body and soul, bury them at last. She needs to detach, de-fuse, arrange, store. Only thus she can put ghosts to sleep, stop them from eating the living, restore integrity.

 

Here’s another catch. To do what must be done, the girl has to risk her life. If she’s found in the graveyard at night, messing with herbs, she will be called a witch.

And she is caught, and she can’t justify herself, because she can’t speak. If she doesn’t talk she is lost. If she talks all is lost. Her truth can’t be unfolded until the shirts are. If she gets done, though, besides saving her brothers she’ll be rescued as well. Individual versus collective, oh dear… She’s a seamstress. She will hold it together, hold tight. She will not unloop herself.

In her prison cell Elisa keeps her mouth shut. She keeps sewing. Hope doesn’t give up as long as her hands are moving. She doesn’t betray her secret, witch or not. Eli is Joan of Arc, in case you still doubted it.

 

The execution is scheduled for the very day when delivery must occur. About that? But the sleeve of the youngest brother’s shirt isn’t freaking finished. Smallest shirt, smallest sleeve. The hard work has tapered down, gotten thinner and thinner. Elisa is anorexic, we said.

Didn’t say suicidal. She never wanted to die. Her goal wasn’t annihilation, folks, it was life. LIFE. Then the hell with perfection—it wasn’t the deal. Not perfection, but transformation. It is done, give or take a cuff. A small one.

 

Eli throws the eleven shirts in the air from the pyre where she has been enthroned. The green coats fall on a flock of swans, which immediately land—the weight anchoring them. Gravity makes them human.

On that very second, she screams. Or she is screamed. Her mouth has come back. Her lungs have started functioning. It’s the scream of a baby at the end of the uterine channel, when she first meets with oxygen. She was meant to deliver the boys, but she is actually born.

I am innocent. I had a reason for doing what I did. I had a reason for breaking the law. I am not crazy, not evil, not ill. All right, unchain her. Let her come down. She must be dead tired. And she isn’t a child anymore, admitted she ever was. She has gotten her period. She could marry and have kids of her own. Admitted she’d want to.

 

Now, Elisa, about that unfinished sleeve. What did your youngest bro say?

It’s called memory, she answers. It’s called a memento. Or it’s called non-conformity. Its called diversity. It is called “a beautiful scar.”

Then, tell you the truth—if you haven’t figured it out—the eleventh brother is a sister. It is me.


Toti O’Brien’s work has most recently appeared in Masque & Spectacle, Feminine Inquiry, Indiana Voices, and Italian Americana.

Cut Down the Tall Poppies


This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 


The world envied my tail—
elephant tusk, tiger’s pelt.
Green and heavy
and lush with sparkle.

It was the worst thing about me.
I believed them.
A documented federal disability.
Didn’t I want that green growth removed?

They made me weep
because I could not walk
when they were the ones
longing to glide through blue.


Samantha Stiers has published work in Conjunctions, DIAGRAM, and other magazines.

A Child For Twelve Shillings


This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 


People sometimes called her a fairy, when they were trying to be nice, but she was a witch. She preferred accuracy to flattery.

Many people came to her door. The latest customer was a familiar type: broken down, carrying her sorrows with her everywhere. She was good at hiding it. She was well-dressed and well-spoken and you could only tell by a slight stoop to her shoulders and a single tear that hid in the corner of her eye—all the other tears had dried up.

She asked meekly how she could get a child of her own. She was, she said, prepared to pay.

The witch knew a few secrets. She did not sell children (people tended to get tetchy about that kind of thing) but she knew of a dragon that one could slay, and when you devoured its heart—

“I don’t know anything about slaying dragons,” said the woman, with a crease between her eyebrows.

There were other options. She had half a magic apple, but you never wanted to go halves with magic. The other piece of the apple had been eaten by a chicken which went on to produce half an egg—

“I think we’re getting off-topic,” said the woman.

The witch thought about turning her into a toad and decided not to. That kind of thing was bad for business. Instead, she went to the pantry and fetched a jar containing a single barleycorn.

“Do I need to eat it?” said the woman.

“No. Plant it and water it and tend it. Twelve shillings, please.” She added quickly, “No refunds.”

The woman came back some days later, and the witch sighed when she saw her through the window. But when she met her at the door, she saw that the woman was happy. She stood straighter and moved with a purpose and a care, protecting something in her pocket.

“Is she supposed to be this small?” The woman held out something in her hand. The witch looked at it, and then she went and looked at the jar, and went through her books trying to figure out where she’d gotten the jar.

The woman’s barleycorn was now a tiny girl, one inch high. Not even as tall as her thumb. It was like interacting with a flea. The woman hugged her daughter with the crook of a finger. The inch-girl was quite happy to ride in her hand. She seemed too solid to be a fairy, which tended to be ghostly and cold. She danced and gamboled naked, because the woman was still working on clothes for her. The inch-girl would need gossamer-thin material, with stitches smaller than an ant’s head. She could slide her slender hand straight through the stitches of normal fabric.

The original barleycorn had belonged to the witch’s predecessor, and she sorely regretted now that she had never asked about it or studied it. Perhaps its husk had always cradled a fetus the size of a mosquito. Now she’d never know.

“I was wondering if she’d grow,” said the woman.

The witch looked at the inch-girl and said, “Maybe?”

From that point on, the woman and her miniature daughter visited nearly every day. The witch dove into her grimoire, searching for more information, and when that failed her she turned to books of children’s fairy tales. She looked with new eyes at her stale shelves of ingredients. She might have anything in her sea of newts’ eyes and toads’ tails.

But even more than the new draw to her collection, she found herself looking forward to the visits. People usually only came to buy something, or to attempt burning her at the stake. The woman and her daughter came mostly so the woman could sit in the rocking chair and talk, while her daughter played in the field of her lap. The witch held the inch-girl a few times, but it made her nervous. She seemed so fragile, and she never did grow.

And then one day the woman missed a visit. When she did come, the witch could tell immediately that something was wrong. The last tear was missing from the woman’s eye. She’d shed them all and her face was a desert of want.

They looked for the inch-girl. The witch used her scrying-bowl and they scoured the woman’s house and tromped around in her yard, but there was always the fear that their great feet would land in the wrong place, or their booming voices would frighten the inch-girl away. Time went on, but the woman insisted that the inch-girl was still out there—somewhere. The witch had theories. She could have been snapped up by an owl or stolen away for a freak show. Or maybe the fairies had taken her, and she had forgotten living with humans. That happened to people who were fairy-stolen. Even if you got their bodies back, you might not get their minds.

A year passed. The inch-girl had loved flowers, so the woman planted all kinds and the witch did too. All around their houses, marking them out, in case she ever came back and needed a sign. Every morning they sat on a bench in the misty twilight, as the dawn came and the buds opened into an explosion of color.

“She’ll be grown up soon,” the woman said.

“Yes.”

“What do you think she’ll look like?”

“A fairy queen,” said the witch, “made of spun glass, with wings like a fly’s and a train of courtiers dressed like flowers. Or maybe,” she said, “maybe, she’ll come back riding on a swallow, with her skin burned brown, and a cloak of feathers, and a story for us. Such a story as you never heard.”

“I like that one,” said the woman, and they sat and they waited together as the sun burned off the fog.


Sarah Allison is a writer in Florida, currently working on a Masters in Library Science. She enjoys fairy tales and tracking down the origins of folklore. Her short fiction has appeared in Liguorian Magazine.

The Tin Platoon


This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 


Where his number had once been five and twenty, the soldier now awoke to find the spot beside him empty, and his rank now the lowest among his brethren.

As all were in their box when the unipedal soldier first went missing, they initially believed the snuffbox goblin’s story that it must have been the wind that moved him to the windowsill, and onward to further misadventures. Adventures unknown to the soldiers until their wounded comrade returned days later, smelling of the sea and carried by the flustered house cook.

The little boy whose birthday had brought the soldiers to their current station had left them out on the table the night before their compatriot returned, finally giving them a chance to play along with the other toys. The chime of midnight again caused the snuffbox to pop open, and gave the twenty-fourth soldier his first view of the goblin. There was something he didn’t like in the way the goblin stared at the pretty paper castle, or the dainty dancer inside it.

While all the other toys frolicked and enjoyed the wee hours, the twenty-fourth soldier stood silent guard, keeping his eye on the suspicious jack in the box. And when the twenty-fifth member of the platoon returned, and the soldier saw the way his comrade admired the ballerina, he began to suspect that the wind had been a mere excuse.

The goblin’s next move happened too quickly for the soldier to react. The neighbor boy tossed the one-legged figure into the furnace in a fraction of a second, the paper dancer blew in after, and the fire made short work of both. Frozen in place with fear, the soldier could swear he heard manic laughter coming from inside the snuffbox.

None of the other three and twenty had seen the incident, but the soldier knew he would never forget it. When the platoon was put away in its box for the night, he could focus only on the now-permanent empty slot to his left.

Any doubts his fellow troops might have had were erased the following day, when they saw what the maid found in the ashes. Any doubts of his own as to the guilty party fled when he saw the wry smile on the face of the goblin, who pushed up the top of the snuffbox with his head to steal a glance. Nobody else saw it-—they were too busy lamenting the sight of the little tin heart and the seared tinsel rose—but the twenty-fourth soldier noticed.

That night, once he was certain no one would hear, he told the other tin soldiers what he had seen. Their fraternal bond worthy of the St. Crispin’s Day speech, they listened solemnly to the plan he was beginning to hatch…

When the chime struck midnight the next evening, the snuffbox didn’t open. The goblin banged against it as hard as he could, but the jack-in-the-box crank didn’t move, and he found the latch atop the container equally stuck.

Though the goblin tried to command them through the walls of his snuffbox, none of the toys would help him, as the soldiers had spread word of his misdeeds. They simply stood steadfast as the tin platoon avenged its fallen member.

Four and twenty soldiers had carefully wrapped the tinsel ribbon around the crank, over and over, pulling it taut until it secured the gear in place. When done, they lifted the twenty-fourth soldier to the top of the snuffbox, where his two good legs wedged the little tin heart into the gap of the latch.

In the last step of its justice, the platoon pushed the box to a small hiding place in a dark corner of the nursery, where none of the children would find and open it. There it remained until the goblin gave up, and spent the rest of his days in silence, while the tin heart and the tinsel rose stood firm as ever.


Jeff Fleischer’s fiction has appeared in the Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, Shenandoah, the Saturday Evening Post, So It Goes by the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, Deep South Magazine, East Bay Review, and Steam Ticket.

Snow Queen


This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 


1.
What should stay buried in times like these?
My skin is creased in the new mirror.
I have been kissed to death by too many.
Great and good, small and ugly, wicked and bad.

Snow melts. Steady drip, drip, drip
all day through the heat and light.

2.
Watch how I smooth the boy’s hair,
tender him with tales as if they might
undress his innocence.

My mother did the same.
Dug for something hidden
under the new skin of her young.
An empty chair sits by the window.

Through the little hole, I see him watching.
Snowflakes grow larger and larger.
The moon is lit white gauze.
Soon we will guess at shapes under snow:
the rounded mound of a ball, a garden tool left out.

3.
My father went north looking for someone.
Strangers spoke in soft voices, invited him in.
He ate Kroppkakor on tablecloths
painted with red flowers.
More cold than he ever dreamed.

When he was a boy,
his mother named him
after the girl who died at birth before him.
He tried to reach the high notes just for her.

The thicker the snow, the sharper the squint.
Something struck my eye, I cannot see you.
Glass fell out of the sky of his mother’s eyes,
cloudy full moons. He led her around
on his arm. She sparkled
while her son-daughter
sang the way forward.
Linked together, glittering ice.

 

The past with its dank nest.
My father saved us gifts from the war.
His skin, with its snow and grit,
Sleeping bags full of must.
A small grain of glass in his heart,
A gun.


Tina Carlson has published poems in Dark Mountain Review, Black Lawrence Press, bosque(the magazine), and Blue Mesa Review, among others, and is the author of Ground, Wind, this Body, published March 2017 by UNM Press.

Rekindling


This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 


I knew the little girl selling
matchbooks, watched her
curl up in a doorway as her light
went out. She smiled at the night,
at the stars, at the fizzled
matches at her feet.

I stole the little match girl’s
body, trundled it away.
She, cold and small in my arms,
like the stiff bodies of crows
I find sometimes on my doorstep

landed in hopes of reanimation,
in hopes that some witch’s errand
could keep their wings beating. I use them
gladly. Bird-spirits prove always
the hardiest, the slowest to die.

At my hearth, I set the anchor:
the little girl-body, wrapped in red
and crowned with a circlet of amaranth.
The crows hiss and shuffle, impatient,
ready for the hounding and herding

of a rosy soul. When they return
in their flurry of black, I will soothe the little
match girl, show her the fragile thing
she was—brittle, sweet—

and teach her the rancorous fire
that she will become.


Kelsey Dean’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in a variety of literary publications, such as Liminal, concis, Cicada, and Spark Anthology. Her YA story “Starfishing” is available on audible.com.

The Shoes


This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 


Ruby shoes dance; red
ribbons lace them up. Inside?
Blood laces ribboned flesh.

The shoes cost my mother a month’s wages, but she was so proud to give them to me. And to show the neighbors that, whether or not her husband had run off with another woman, she could afford to dress her daughter well. No second-hand shoes with holes in the soles for me, and no patches on my dresses, either. Well, not visible ones. My mother’s needle was so clever that the mending never showed. But she couldn’t mend shoes. Hence, the red ones.

I didn’t dare get them dirty; she’d have wept if I ruined that shiny leather with mud, or leached the dye from them with ditch-water. She gave me a loaf of bread, however, and told me to take it to my grandmother’s house—right along the mud-slick road through the woods.

The bread cost a day’s wages. The shoes had cost a month of my mother’s life. I teetered at the edge of a bog, not knowing what to do. I couldn’t go back, having failed to follow her directions. I couldn’t go forward and ruin those shoes.

A crow on a tree branch croaked advice: “Tear off pieces of the bread, throw them in the mud, and walk on them.”

A nightingale, not that I’d asked her advice, chirped, “Oh, but that would be wicked, wasting food so.”

The crow cawed in laughter. “It wouldn’t be wasted, Sister Nightingale. We birds would feast.”

“Surely,” a robin commented, preening, “you must be a very vain girl, to worry about something as meaningless as your clothing.”

“You’re one to talk, Robin,” I told him boldly. “Your feathers are just as red as my shoes, and aren’t you proud of them?”

The other birds tittered in laughter. The robin trilled in annoyance. “My beauty is natural. Your feathers are artificial. You should accept being the drab little wren that you are.”

All these woodland creatures seemed to think they knew a lot about me. Yet they didn’t mention how my mother stayed up late every night, taking in extra sewing and mending to give me these nice clothes, so that we could go to church and hold our heads up, in spite of the neighbors’ whispers. So I found a log and sat on it, careful not to ruin my mother’s careful sewing, and took off those fabulous shoes. I tied their laces in a knot, put them around my neck, and then started to set off down that muddy path. “What about your stockings?” a squirrel chittered. “Won’t you ruin them on the mud and the rocks, too?”

This presented another quandary. Decent women didn’t go around without shoes, and they most certainly didn’t go around without stockings. But I took them off too, draping them around my neck. “Don’t ruin your petticoats,” a fox sniggered from behind a rock. “Lift them up. Who will see your legs but we forest creatures and the trees?”

“Sensible advice,” I told him. I didn’t like the glitter in his eyes, but dragging my mother’s work along the forest floor would snag the cloth on branches and drag it in the mud. I hiked my skirts up (the fox howled) and tucked them through my girdle.

“Immodesty to go with the vanity!” the robin shrilled. “Going about with your bare legs showing! You’ll be set on and attacked, and have only yourself to blame.”

“With all of you around to protect me?” I asked, feeling beset on all sides.

Suddenly, not a one of them found words to speak. “Ah, I didn’t think so. You’re quite free with criticism and complaint, but not a shred of help. Are you perhaps our neighbors in disguise?”

Still not a peep from the branches, and I walked and squelched through the mud, carrying my basket of bread. Wondering if my red shoes, like another girl’s red cape, might attract a wolf. What would a wolf say? Would he berate me for my lack of shoes and stockings? Or would he say “My, what long legs you have, my dear?” and eat me up? Perhaps it might not be so bad to be eaten. I certainly wouldn’t have to listen to the neighbors—or the birds—ever again.

Consumed with these intemperate thoughts, I plodded on. After a mile, my feet, unused to rocks and stones, were raw. And by the time I reached my grandmother’s house, my shoes still around my neck, my feet left bloody tracks on the green of her grass.

It wasn’t a wolf who waited on the porch with my grandmother, but a man, whose mouth fell open at the sight of me. He actually blushed—him, a man grown!—and turned his face aside violently, choking out, “Cover yourself!”

My legs were filthy to the knee. “If I let down my skirts, I’ll get my dress covered in this muck, sir. Grandmother, may I clean myself at the pump?”

She creaked to her feet. “Go ahead, my dear, but don’t set foot back on the dirt before I’ve bandaged you.” She opened the door to go fetch strips of linen, and added, smiling, “This nice young man is writing down all my stories. Isn’t that an amazing thing?”

I sat on the edge of the pump’s station, hiking my skirts up further, to keep the cloth from getting wet, the basket of bread beside me as I cleansed myself, hissing a little as the water hit my blistered, cut feet. And as my grandmother bandaged my cuts, she scolded me all the while, “Girl, shoes are made to protect your feet. Protecting the shoes doesn’t do any good.”

I heard her nice young man call from the porch, never stepping down onto the dirt of the yard with us, “She must be a vain and prideful child, putting her clothes first.”

He sounds just like the robin. Fussing and fretting. “It’s a pity you’re not a wolf,” I told him, while my grandmother frantically tried to shush me, and apologized for my bad manners in a rush and tumble of words. “A wolf would have been more interesting. And I think you must never have been poor. Otherwise, you’d know how important clothes are. Poor children get clods of dirt thrown at them on the way to school. Children who go to school dirty get mocked. Pride isn’t a sin, when it’s the only thing that keeps you going.”

“Pride and vanity! You should teach her better, madam! You should beat the seven deadly sins out of her, before their taint ruins her completely.” He still wouldn’t look at me, his cheeks red as a robin’s breast in his indignation. Which is why I laughed at him, dithering and fussing and twittering as he was.

In response, he glared and scribbled in his book.

When I was older, and read what he’d written, I saw that I must have really bothered him that day. Perhaps a little bit of wolf rose up in his heart, and made his palms sweat at the sight of me with my skirts raised up. In his story, he made it so my red shoes danced, and forced me to cut off my own feet to keep myself from dying of exhaustion. An apt punishment for vanity and pride, I suppose, but an entirely fictitious one. I’m only surprised that he didn’t have me cut out my own tongue at the same time, since surely it was my tongue that offended him, as much as my pride. But then, I learned how not to embrace poverty and shame from my mother.

So what really happened to me? I wore red shoes to my graduation from school. I found myself a wolf who walked as a woodsman by day, and who didn’t expect me to act like a wren.

And at our wedding? I danced all night.


Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, but she received her MA in English from Penn State. She currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son. For more about her work, please see www.edda-earth.com.

Sea Legs


This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 


The worst part is the thirst, a crashing wave of it every few hours. Thank Poseidon for the fleur de sel they keep on hand to top the fancy caramel lattes. When she’s homesick, she eats it by the handful. Between customers, she touches the tender places where her gills used to be, stares blankly around at her new life. Her girlfriends come in for iced mochas, teetering confidently on their new legs. Some of them are trying out high heels or the strange sight of toes in flip flops. Come on, they say, we’re going out to get some boyfriends. She smiles. She guesses they all got what they wanted—a little house by the shore, a little sun on skin. A new way to breathe. And her job? Really, she’s lucky.

Still, everyone asks so much of her. It’s hard to get used to the deep fried smells from the Shrimp Shack next door. At closing she stops herself from taking a swim in the mop bucket. She can never go back there, not even under the guise of a scuba trip. None of them can, that was the deal. Sometimes she thinks the sea-witch appears to her on the ceiling of her room, though it might be a trick played by early morning ocean light. The witch’s deep voice curls out of the pink conch shell the mermaid keeps on her bedside table. She says, by the way, being human means washing the same dishes every day. Did I forget to tell you that?


Milo Gallagher’s poems appear or will soon appear in The Kenyon Review, The Grief Diaries, The Fem, Crab Fat Magazine, Potluck Magazine, and Anomaly. He is an MFA candidate at Mills College. You can follow him on twitter @miloemilyg.

Dear H.C. Andersen


This selection is part of Nonbinary Review Issue #14: The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen. Get NonBinary Review #14 from the Zoetic Press website. 


The sun is shining gloriously, the roosters are crowing, and the answers are flowing freely today! Please pen any and all queries about life, love, and everything between and direct to the attention of H.C. Andersen, advice-giver.

Dear H.C.,
The love of my life is a ball, but I am only a whipping top, sadly spinning day after day in hopes she might notice me. But how can she notice me when I know she loves the swallow in the tree outside? How does one compete with a swallow? Yesterday, we were outdoors with the children and she suddenly sprang high into the air. She has not returned! I fear she has left to marry the swallow without saying good bye, and now I have lost my chance forever. What turn can I take?
Pointless

Dear Pointless,
Fear not, for with the sorry tidings, I bring you good news as well. It does sound as though your ball loves the swallow and not yourself, and it is likely she has gone to join him. Know though that swallows are capricious things, and like the wind, hard to predict. It could be that they are married now, a loving pair. However, it could also be that the wind has blown your lovely ball into the gutter, where she will lay, dirty and discarded, soaked with rain, for the rest of her life and yours. Now, don’t you think you can do better than a filthy used up ball lying in a gutter? I think so too.
H.C.

*   *   *

Dear H.C.,
I just can’t stand it anymore! My brothers and sisters are all beautiful, but next to them, I look big, gray, and ugly. They peck at me and mock me, and tell me they wish the cat would drag me away! My own mother used to defend me, to tell them I was a good swimmer and not all that hideous, but even she sometimes seems to wish I’d never been born. To make matters worse, everyone else I encounter seems to laugh at me just the same. How can I get them to look past my ugly facade and respect the real me?
Ugly Duckling

Dear Ugly Duckling,
Good news – you don’t have to! While your brothers and sisters might be fine ducklings indeed, I suspect you are not. I suspect you are something better. Have you ever seen the swans swim by, with their long, graceful necks? How fine looking, how aristocratic they are! However, they are big, lumpy, and gray as cygnets, hardly the most beautiful of birds. Bide your time until the spring, young one, and you might be the most beautiful of all. That will show them, won’t it?
H.C.

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Dear H.C.,
I write with the most dramatic of problems. I have seen the man of my dreams from afar and watched to ensure he is a fine and handsome prince. I also once saved his life, when he was thrown from his ship and nearly drowned! Perhaps I have stalked him just a little, but if you could understand – I am a mermaid, cursed to live in the sea with a fin instead of strong legs I could use to run to him…among other things. I have learned of the existence of a sea witch who will help me, but for a price. Is love worth the price I might pay?
Sick of Swimming

Dear Sick,
My dear, love is always worth it! The sea witch might be a conniving, well, witch indeed. She might give you legs that pain you with every step. She might take your voice that you can no longer sing sweetly, or even tell your prince who you are, leaving you with nothing but your beautiful form, graceful walk, and expressive eyes to sway his favor. She might doom you to spend an eternity as sea foam if you cannot win him, never again to return to your family in the sea. And yet, my dumb child, would it not be worthwhile, even then, to have had the chance to look upon his face in true, mutual love? I think so.
H.C.

That concludes our yarns for this day, lords and ladies! Return again another day for new quandaries and new solutions.


Heather Talty is a speculative fiction writer who has been featured in Curiosity Quills anthologies Gears of Brass and Cast No Shadows, as well as in Enchanted Conversation. She is the managing editor of Newtown Literary.