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The Princess Gets to Choose

Jenny Rae Rappaport has been published in Lightspeed Magazine, Escape Pod, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among other magazines. She lives in New Jersey with her family, where she divides her time between writing and herding small children. She can be found online at jennyrae.com and on Twitter at @jennyrae. This is her third publication in Daily Science Fiction.

You first notice the spots when you take off your glasses and stare at your nose closely in the mirror. They're not very big or very dark, but there they are--indisputable proof of the fact that you're aging, and that perhaps you've spent too much time in the sun. If you were an ordinary woman, or belonged to this time, you might acknowledge that aging is supposed to happen. But you're vain and in this strange world, vanity is often the only thing that has kept you alive.
So, you mutter curses under your breath, and book another appointment with your aesthetician. You keep dyeing your hair black as a raven's wing, and if your lips have faded a bit with age, no one else has to know that they're no longer naturally red as a rose. It's only the skin that's the problem, and if it's not quite white as snow, there are creams and lotions that promise to help. And surely, no one can hate you for that.
You never expected to wake up from the glass coffin. Or to wake in this time, so different from your own. To be fair, you never expected to even eat a poison apple in the first place. But you did all those things, and twenty years ago, when you opened your eyes in that suburban bedroom, you were here and now.
No little men. No wicked queen. Nothing but a strange family who stared at you, and asked if you were all right. And then sent you to a psychologist, when what you said didn't match who they thought you were supposed to be.
Here you have three brothers and two living parents. A gaggle of nieces and nephews. An active dating life, if only because you get bored, and often swipe right. A place, because you've made yourself a place.
But you still don't like the spots.
The problem with the end of fairy tales is that they don't always lead to new beginnings. The girl marries the prince and lives happily ever after, locked in the castle bearing all the royal heirs. Or she stays locked in her literal box, displayed in a forest for tiny men to stare at adoringly. Or she wakes in a strange world, and has to learn to answer to a new name, a new way of doing things, a new everything. And if that's any less a prison than the one she has mysteriously left behind, she doesn't know any better.
Because no one has ever taught her any better.
Here is where the story changes though:
You wake in that suburban bedroom, and you're a princess in distress. They send you to the shrink, they medicate you, and in the end, they let you live. You learn to hide in plain sight, which is better than hiding in a forest from a huntsman.
For a long time, you feel safe. You go to college; you study accounting. You earn those glasses on your face, and even the age that makes you develop those spots. And if you don't precisely break out of the box that you've landed in, you do learn to live by its rules.
Until she comes looking for you.
Time has not been kind to her either. There are deep wrinkles on her face, and the skin on her hands is papery. She offers you another apple and you laugh at her, at the audacity of it all. You have no need of a magic mirror; the spots are proof enough that you're no longer the fairest of them all.
"Why are you here?" you ask.
Something in her face makes your gut twist, and it's like looking at a bad reflection: if you had managed to not escape, if you had been queen, a thousand ifs that you've trained yourself not to contemplate. She is just as surely trapped in her box as you have been in yours.
"Mirror, mirror on the wall--" she says, as if it's the only words she has left to speak.
"I'll make you tea," you say, surprising even yourself.
She sits on your leather couch, clutching her mug with arthritic fingers, and listens to you talk. About balance sheets and taxes; about the way that numbers make sense of the world. About all of the things that you are now, and how you can never be that innocent young girl again. You purposefully do not mention her attempts to poison you.
"My kingdom needs a ruler and I am old," she says. She smiles, and her expression makes shivers run down your spine. "Come back, and it will be yours."
The form of her poison apple may have changed, but never the intention. Accepting it would be exchanging one type of box for another, and you've got too much living left to do. This time the princess gets to choose how the fairy tale ends.
"No," you say, and show her the door.
You throw out the creams and lotions, and get rid of your sun hat. You discover that the feel of the sun on your face is magical.
Today, you close your eyes and tip your head up to it, letting the heat of the summer day wash over you. There are birds out and the sky is blue, and life goes on. All the poison apples in the world cannot stop it. All the magic mirrors cannot halt it. All the wishes and boxes and spells cannot prevent it.
When you get home, you cancel your remaining aesthetician appointments. In the mirror, your roots are starting to show, tiny streaks of gray which look light against the darkness of the rest of your hair. There are lines on your forehead and spots on your nose, but you've earned them.
Watch closely now, as the fairy tale ends, as you paint on your red lipstick, because you have things to do and places to be. There's a certain beauty to it all, when you straighten your glasses, pick up your phone, and swipe right.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, June 11th, 2021

Author Comments

I really loved the concept of sticking Snow White in the modern world, and making her a woman in her late 30s, having to confront middle age with the rest of us. And the fact that she doesn't necessarily let it define her, but seizes it and embraces it in her own way.

- Jenny Rae Rappaport
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