I will tie you tight, my love.
Did you know it was me, when I knocked on your door? I think you must have. You wouldn’t have invited any woman in off of the road, would you? You stood in the doorway, skin soft and white as cotton, and said, “What beautiful wares you have. Please, come in. Let me look at them more closely.”
That look you gave me, heavy lidded and lips parted in a permanent sigh, you wouldn’t have given that to any crone with a ribbon. I looked for a spark of recognition in your eyes. I found none, but you’ve always been so good at keeping secrets. You knew it was me, and that this was a game we were playing. You led me in, hips swaying so subtly beneath your skirts. You sat me down by the fire and leaned over me to look at my basket. The tips of your breasts brushed my shoulder and oh, my love, you are getting wicked out here in the forest.
“They’re all so lovely,” you said. “I can’t pick. Will you choose for me?”
You thought I would choose red, like your lips, or blue, like your eyes, but I chose a deep green. This color would be our secret now. When you look down at the grass beneath your feet or gaze up at the leaves over your head, you will think back to this day, you and me in this cottage alone.
Your eyes lit up when I showed you my choice, and you sounded so coy when you asked, “Please, won’t you lace my bodice for me? There are no other women in my house, and it can be so hard to do it myself. Men, you know, never do these things properly.”
And you knew it was me, of course you did! You draped your hair over your shoulder and turned your back to me, inviting me to unlace you and then bind you back up. The ribbon you were wearing was old and worn, the one you wore when you left. I remembered it, as you knew I would. I pulled that old ribbon out slowly, leaving it in a heap on the floor by our feet.
“You are much too beautiful to be wearing such an old scrap,” I said. You shivered to feel my breath on your neck, and I so nearly leaned in to press my lips to your gooseflesh.
“I had to leave in a hurry,” you said. “I couldn’t take any more with me. Times have been hard. It is nice to have something new and beautiful again.”
You didn’t turn to look at me, but I could hear it in your voice, the hidden message just for us. I took the new ribbon and started lacing you up from the bottom, my gnarled fingers so light and swift on your back that you must have known them for a younger woman’s hands.
And when I reached the top, I pulled tighter and tighter, and I heard you gasp, and I had not heard that sound in so long. With every tug your breath came faster, and I did not stop. You dropped to your knees and still I pulled the laces and you choked out my name and see, you did know me, I knew you knew! And I pulled and I pulled and then –
Shaun Byron Fitzpatrick lives in Philadelphia with her husband and black cat. Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Maudlin House, Bustle, and the Barnes & Noble Book Blog, among others. You can find her on Instagram at @shaunyfitz.