Shattered: Getting Out of the Tower
By Vivien Li
The first chapter to a longer work, “Shattered,” is a reimagining of Rapunzel. It follows Marianne’s journey of finding her place in the world and mustering the confidence to push boundaries.
There was a grandfather clock in the room. Her mother gave it to her as a gift. Marianne had long stopped the pendulum from swinging finding that the ticking made her feel lonelier. From the sweltering heat of summer, which left her languid and unwilling to get off the floor, to the frigid air that drew her closer to the fireplace, and then the musty smell of grass touched by rain, she saw less and less of mother as time went on.
That cold rainy day, when Marianne looked out the window she realized that mother would not come back to find her. The realization crept, inch by inch: sometimes in the darkness of night when she lay in bed counting the tiles on the ceiling or sometimes in the morning over her food.
The food was left every morning by a young maid that scurried away in fear, but a different one every morning. In and out they went, never uttering a word. The one in red with freckles, the old stiff one who carries buckets twice her weight. The maids walked past her, never acknowledging her. Why did it seem like everyone else was walking, while Marianne could barely get on her feet? They were walking ahead without her. They had places to be, no time for her, and their dizzying forwardness left her behind in the dust.
That rainy day, the feeling of being ignored stifled her and threatened to snuff out her breath. Without mother, did she even exist? Hands clenching, she approached the door to her room, waiting.
When it opened, she reached her hand out to grab the first moving thing that came through, pushing the young red-headed girl assigned to place that morning’s basket of food on the floor. The maid shrieked at the sudden attack.
“Speak!” Marianne cried.
The young maid was sprawled on the floor, food all over her clothes, tears streaking down her face, cowering, and her hands above her head, shielding her body.
Marianne softened at the sight.
“I’m sorry,” she said, as she bent down to get a better look at the girl’s face, “Please, I just want to know where mother went.”
The sobbing girl opened her mouth. There was no tongue.
Marianne fell back in shock. Nothing could be heard, except the maid’s sobbing. Silence—cut by the sound of sobbing—holding time still and dragging the moment.
She turned around, stumbling to get out the door. When she finally found her footing she ran out. Out the door. Trying her best to get away from the ghastly sight.
Who did such things to the young girl? Why would they? Tripping on her clothes, she ran down what seemed a dark unbending hallway. The image of the empty mouth haunted her, sending an eerie feeling down her spine, like a stranger was watching her and judging her every move. In an instant, the comfort of her room in the tower felt foreign.
Too wrapped in her thoughts, she was oblivious to the path ahead. Suddenly, she was no longer in the tower and the ceiling opened to the expanse of the sky.
She stopped from exhaustion and fell, breathing heavily. She had never run before in her life, spending all her time in her room in the tower. The air was wet, and she found it hard to breathe with all the humidity. There was a thick fog around her. The lack of vision alarmed Marianne. She was suddenly aware that the tower was nowhere in sight.
Girls Write Now On the Other Side of Everything: The 2023 Anthology
Do you know what it’s like to communicate with your family across a salty ocean’s divide? Do you want the sun and moon to enter your home with stories written in embers? Do you seek voices that will punctuate the darkness? Welcome to the other side of everything. It’s the other side of silence, the other side of childhood, the other side of hate, the other side of indifference, it’s the other side of sides, where the binary breaks down. It’s a new paradigm, a destination, a different perspective, a mindset, a state of openness, the space between the endless folds in your forehead, hopes for tomorrow, and reflections on the past. This anthology of diverse voices is an everything bagel of literary genres and love songs, secrets whispered in the dark of night, conversations held with ancestors under the sea.
She saw ugly trees, not at all like the ones outside her tower window that she painted. These trees were all curled and sharp, peeping out of the fog and slipping back in, as if twisted in agony. She lifted her bare foot off the ground, which was sore and caked with mud. She took a step forward.
Where was the tower? She had only run down the tower. Where else would a hallway from the tower lead?
She tried to look for a way back, but to her dismay, it was as if she never ran through the forest. The ground was untouched, as if she had never existed.
Marianne moved forward, trying to maintain her balance. She tried to keep herself from tilting over by grasping on her dress. She looked down at her pristine white dress, now a light shade of yellow and brown from the stains of plants and dirt. The hem was tattered from being caught on vines and thorns. It was unsightly.
It was unnatural for her to be out and about, something she wasn’t supposed to do. She had overstepped her bounds and gone beyond her abilities.
This had to be the way back. She felt it.
As she melted into the fog, fresh footprints followed Marianne, marking every new step she took. New steps that would never bring her back to the tower again.
This piece was sparked by a character-building activity my mentor and I did together. Playing with different scenes allowed us to land on one that was interesting to us. Through this, we played a lot with Marianne’s character trying to find the best way to explore her and her thoughts.
Vivien Li is a senior from New York who enjoys reading and writing about the emotional experiences. She enjoys stashing art and journaling supplies. During her spare time, she destresses by playing games such as Don’t Starve Together, Minecraft and Stardew Valley with her friends. She hopes to be able to travel to China to learn to read and write Mandarin and spend some time with her extended family.