Beth O’Brien – A view from the tower
They are so quick to judge. High walls compiled of small stones construct my piecemeal approach to isolation until the windows, left open, provide a view of autumn forest and lilac sunsets. They don’t understand why there is no door. Just wall, and wall and wall. I plant poison ivy around the base of my tower and let her hug the stones, climb wherever she pleases, accepting her protection, her camouflage, and I think I have made my point clear. But they come through the forest with the talk of witches on their tongues, the bile in their stomachs churning from the red berries they ate because they looked like they were made to be eaten. Swords are less use than they hope, and brains appear forgotten. They squint upwards to my window, their racket silencing the birdsong and they damage the ivy by their climb. But they fall, eventually, and she will regrow. I cannot withdraw much more than this and I wish to show them I am not their challenge. Then I wish I didn’t have to.
I divide my hair into three strands, trying to make the segments even, but I never seem to manage it. Somehow, they always weigh differently. I know I over-wash it, but the luxury of feeling clean, of hot water on my neck and the smell of soap that lasts longer than the shower, well, they’re important. Rumour has it that my hair is gold, but that is because they see me by sunset. I come to the window then. I look out over the trees because their browns and reds become burnt, and I have always believed that clouds move faster if you watch them. This is when I plait my hair, to have something to do with my hands. They think its length must have a purpose and I decide to let them wonder.
When my fingers ache, I pause, hold the hair in place but stop the intertwining. A hawk takes flight, circles my tower, disappearing behind me to my right and reappearing on my left. She thinks if she does this enough, I’ll grow to trust what I cannot see. But still, it grows longer, they call it magic, I call it hair and the fear of someone standing behind me. She nestles back in her tree and I know she is looking, so I keep my breathing steady and call this progress.
The stories of enchantment, entrapment, and hair rope-ladders entertain me, but if I am honest, I have no magical powers. I just, for a while, wish to be alone.
Beth O’Brien is a writer, editor and reviewer. She is the author of Light Perception (Wild Pressed Books, 2019), I Left the Room Burning (Wild Pressed Books, 2021), The Earth is a Bookcase (Black Pear Press, 2021), Catching Sight (Blanket Sea Press, 2021) and I Chase Lightning (Black Pear Press, 2022). She is a children’s fiction ghost-writer, and also writes graded reader books for children learning English as a foreign or additional language. Having been born visually impaired and with an upper limb difference, Beth has a long-standing interest in the representation of disability in literature. She is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing funded by Midlands4Cities, researching the (mis)representation of disability in contemporary fairy tale retellings. In February 2022, Beth launched a website, Disabled Tales, as a space for disabled people to discuss their personal connections and pet-peeves about disability in fairy tales and folklore.
Artwork: The Dark Tower by Helen Gwyn Jones
Helen Gwyn Jones started recording her world at the age of 8 when she bought a Brownie camera from her sister, something which has become a lifelong passion. A collector of the past (hers and other people’s) she likes nothing better than muted images of imperfection. May be found poring over Welsh grammar books when not photographing drains or going into raptures over rust. Recently published at Acropolis, Paddler Press, Pareidolia Literary, Blink Ink, Hecate, Moss Puppy, The Levatio, Camas, Storyteller’s Refrain, Full House Literary, Subliminal. Can be found online @helengwynjones