The woman sits at the kitchen table and rolls a wand between her hands. Her husband comes home after the sun has set. He sits down and begins to speak of mundane things, of his day at work, his drive home. The woman wants to grab his hands and say let’s change again,let’s become leaves shivering in the wind, let’s be two termites under the floorboards, just for tonight, but her husband gets to his feet and announces he’s going to shower. When she hears him enter the bathroom, she warms the water with a flick of the wand. She goes back to rolling it between her fingers. She itches for change even though she changed yesterday, and the day before. She had flown over the neighborhood as a single lovebird that morning, but it hadn’t been enough. She wonders if the man she calls her husband is the same man that ran away with her all those years ago. As she listens to him hum in the shower she decides he isn’t. The two of them wear the same faces they wore back then, but between then and now he has been a musician, a duck, a murderer and a million other things. She doesn’t like their current forms, but sometimes change is necessary, or at least, that is what she tells herself when she wakes from nightmares about her past selves. The worst nightmares are the ones where she is being drunk alive, the pond that is her body slurped into her stepmother’s thirsty mouth. When she wakes covered in sweat, she runs her hands down her husband’s back, where feathers used to be, and he always, no matter what life they are living, tells her that it’s okay. The two of them lay together in the dark and he reminds her that no one, not even her stepmother, could ever consume her entirely. The woman used to think that was a good thing until her husband’s eyes began to lose their hunger, until he begged her to let the two of them change back to their natural forms, telling her he’d had enough of running. She has started to think he has drunk his fill of her, but she is far from being consumed. When he comes down the stairs, she raises the wand and tells him to hold still. I don’t feel like it, he says. I just want to be us for tonight, okay? She relents and puts down the wand. He wraps her in his arms as they sit on the couch. I saw my mother today, he says. She didn’t recognize me. He used to have to hide his identity every time he visited but it has been so many years that old eyes and an old mind do the wand’s work now. Well, you don’t want her to, do you, the woman asks sensibly although she knows it doesn’t matter, that the police gave up looking for them ages ago. That’s why she agreed to turn them back to their original selves. Your stepmother always recognized us, her husband says. No matter how we changed. She knew me better than my mother. My stepmother was a hunter, the woman says. She entwines her fingers in his. She, too, has always been able to recognize him, no matter what form he is in. I am not a hunter, she tells herself, but the wand on the table begs to differ. Why don’t you want to change? She asks. Her husband sighs, stretches. Don’t you want to rest? Now that we’re us, we can stay that way. There’s beauty in permanence, honey. You and me, ever after. She falls quiet. She does want permanence, one day, but this is not what she envisioned when she stole a magic wand and ran away, leaving a dead stepsister and a murderous stepmother in her wake. Only now does she realize that what she’d really wanted was for her husband to drink her dry, until she drained away and he popped, but she understands now that he’s not interested in bursting. I should’ve known, she thinks, but she hadn’t realized he would tire of running with her the same way he had tired of running from her stepmother. Her husband gets to his feet. I’m going to bed. He says. She stays silent until he reaches the top of the stairs, then she asks him how it felt to kill her stepmother. He turns back, shocked, says, I didn’t enjoy it. I had to. She murdered your stepsister. We set ourselves free. He smiles hesitantly and disappears into the bedroom. The woman changes herself into a lizard and runs up and down the walls and then to a moth and bumps against the windows. When she is sure her husband isn’t coming back down, she changes herself into her stepmother and looks into the mirror. She studies her lined face, black eyes and yellow teeth. The woman stares at the mirror long and hard. She thinks of all the changes she has made, none of them good enough. She thinks of the peace in her husband’s eyes, the blood on his hands as her stepmother danced to her death in a field of thorns. The wand turns into a knife, just as it once was an axe, just as it once was a murderous flute. She walks up the stairs. She thinks of all the forms she could take after killing and knows she will stay the way she is, with blood on her hands, the way her stepmother did, the way her husband wants to. She enters the bedroom. Her husband is sleeping, his breathing heavy. She wonders if he knows, and when she leans over to inspect him she realizes she has forgotten what he looks like. She brings the knife down on his neck, lets the blood spatter on the floor. She reacquaints herself with her dead husband’s face in the soft moonlight, lets the blood seep into the floorboards. The wand drops from her hand and rolls under the bed. The woman throws herself beside her husband, exhausted, wraps herself in their shared blanket and falls asleep. The next morning, she wakes to her husband’s blood whispering. It calls to her from the white sheets, from the tip of her nose, from his upper lip, quiet at first, but then louder. There is beauty in permanence, honey, it says, and she knows she has chosen the right ever after.
Noa Covo's work has been published in Jellyfish Review, Hayden's Ferry Review Online and trampset. Her microchapbook, Bouquet of Fears, was published by Nightingale and Sparrow Press. She can be found on Twitter @covo_noa.