The Handkerchief

The Handkerchief by A. A. Balaskovits

For weeks the only thought in her head was, why couldn’t I have been the damn candlestick?

Even the teapot was considerably more ambulatory, what with her ability to bounce, tinkling her ceramic cap as she chirped out orders to pretend nothing changed. They had work to do, after all. The complete transmutation of their bodies into household objects was not a reason to slack. The master still needed them. What was a man without his staff? Such a man was a beast. 

Beyond the very obvious fact that he was a beast, now, as the curse touched him as well as everything else in the castle, the clock rushed about telling everyone to keep hush. Let us pretend the claws were Master’s hands, his cloven hoofs merely feet, and his horns a very fashionable hat. Buried in the command was a warning not to mention their own bodies aloud, too, which the handkerchief would have objected to, but she had no mouth. 

After a few meager attempts at moving, she discovered handkerchiefs were not nearly as bouncy as cups nor as limber as dusters. She could bend her silk body in half, but when she edged forward she flattened out, having made no movement forward or back. The most she could do was fold herself into four, and unfold herself, which she took to doing for hours. The clock berated her for not working when he caught her scrunched in a miserable pile on the floor. 

If she had been the candlestick, she would have burned the whole place to the ground. 

It was dumb luck, several years into her folding-unfolding nightmare, when the scissors accidentally stabbed her as he waddled across the floor. “Forgive me,” he cried in a silver voice, opening and closing his legs to make the sound. “The girl in the castle! She wants to give herself bangs. I am needed!”

He ripped her lining as he wobbled himself out of her body. She felt no pain, but the shock of being ripped apart caused all her loose strings to jut out at once. With great pleasure, she found that strings were just like fingers, and once they were loose, she could loosen more. 

With great effort, she pulled her silk body by her strings across the floor, delighting as she picked up every bit of mud along the way. The master would have been enraged to see something of his so dirty, but what was once his was now hers, and she could mess it up all she liked. 

The sour face of the clock as he berated her only made her wiggle harder into the floor.

She also discovered that the embroidery on her body, a rose, was loosened as well, and through it she could write her thoughts. When the candlestick dipped his head to ask her if she had seen the girl come by this way, she thought about exactly where he could go, but because she was French the flower twisted itself into the words, ta gueule. The candlestick laughed and flounced away. Busy with work, he was. 

Once she started unraveling, she found she rather liked it, and did not stop. Scrunching her body against the stone floor knocked even more threads loose, until she was ratted at every corner. She composed poems with four letter words at her edges, and showed everyone just how much dirt fine silk could hold. 

The master found her soiled new body in the corner of the kitchen. He was able to pause the water rolling down his face to comment on how dirty she was, before lifting her body to his nose with an indelicate claw. He blew until she was full of pale snot. 

“She’s never coming back,” he moaned. “I know it.”

The silk handkerchief took malicious joy when she saw the mud left on his nostrils, but when he raised her to his face again, she rethreaded to tell him exactly what he ought to do to himself. Va te faire foutre. 

These words made him sob harder, but it served him right considering he dropped her to the floor, as if she was not a someone inside all those loose strings. 

When she made her way to the great ballroom, there was a great cacophony, enough to pause even the prissy teapot from pouring out her watery insides into waiting, titling cups. Everyone in the castle was alight with excitement. The girl had returned. 

“Who?” she wanted to ask, having paid little attention to anything other than her own unraveling. She was almost finished with her craft, her strange body little more than a web of tangled string, which she was twisting into a series of limericks for the toilet, who did not share her newfound joy. After all, he was nailed to the wall. He had little choice but to perform. 

Still thinking of a rhyme for connasse, the castle itself inhaled a deep breath. “She’s going to kiss him!” someone said, but before the handkerchief could wonder who, she changed. Or, rather, she changed back. 

Magic is a funny thing, and curses even more curious. The inhabitants of the castle popped back into human shape next to the objects they once were, with two legs, two arms, and a nose below a pair of eyes. The toilet came back moaning and holding his head, but he was in a room by himself, and easily ignored over everyone’s joy. It was harder to ignore the stain in the middle of the ballroom, almost person-shaped, but as if a person had been pulled apart vein by vein. It was as deep red as a rose, and no amount of scrubbing got it out. It remained, like the pickling of a memory. Eventually they put a rug over it. A handkerchief, too, was missing, but the master, with human hands and a human wife, easily replaced it when he went to town.

A. A. Balaskovitsis the author of Strange Folk You'll Never Meet and Magic for Unlucky Girls. Winner of the Santa Fe Writer's Project's Literary Awards grand prize, her work has been featured in Kenyon Review Online, Best Small Fictions, Indiana Review and others. On twitter @aabalaskovits