Scientists say the human heart beats 42,075,904 times in a year. They also say the gastric muscles secrete two gallons of juice in a week, and hair grows at a consistent average rate of 0.017336 inches per day. Since Rapunzel married the Prince, her blood has circulated 420,759,040 times and she could have flooded a moat from her belly, the acids eroding stone palace walls to crumbs. Her hair has always grown faster than usual, dragging a foot behind her like a bridal veil.
Scientists say that every hour one billion cells in the body must be replaced. Right now, as she bangs her legs against the furniture, there go 50,000. Rapunzel can’t count high enough to tally how many cells she’s sloughed off on the edges of the magnate furnishings: fripperies, mallard ducks, Queen Anne sectionals, and regimental tartans, all chosen by the royal decorator. Rapunzel can never navigate the obstacles safely in the dark. The street lights cast a path of light across the living room to the picture window and she sets down each foot carefully as if the floor might cave in.
Rapunzel cracks open the window, bracing the jam against sound. The Prince is a light sleeper, a snorer with apnea and night blindness, and acutely sensitive to noise. She often comes to the this window when she wants to shout in the dark, when the rages and the nightmares threaten to gobble her up, shove her into a blistering oven and snap shut the door. Rapunzel lights a cigarette, watches two tomcats below snarl and hiss, their paws drumming on a dumpster as they sight over a hoagie wrapper. Scientists say most people blink about 25 times a minute, and Rapunzel watches the cats for approximately 87 blinks before she hears the bedsprings as the Prince shifts position.
“Hey,” he calls, blind, into the blackness. “Where are you?” Although they say nerve impulses travel to and from the brain at 170 miles an hour, he asks again before she can respond.
Rapunzel drops the cigarette out the window and into the alley. The cats stop wrestling and watch it fall like a tiny meteor, plopping and fizzing out before they continue. “I’m in here,” she says. “Getting a glass of water.”
“Come back,” the Prince says, and pats her side of the bed, cold now. He lets the covers fall off his chest and folds his hands behind his head. “Come give me an heir.”
Rapunzel doesn’t answer. She looks again into the alley, as one tomcat finally wrests the wrapper away, runs into the night on his back legs with his prize. She thinks of the Prince lying there—delicately-boned and fragile as a fish. In her dreams, she fantasizes about different men, rectangular and firm, smelling of tannin and musk. Other men. The remaining tomcat looks up at Rapunzel in the picture window. He is black, long and elegant. She shrugs at him, as if saying what can you do?
“Come on,” the Prince calls. “Let’s fill the nursery”.
Rapunzel hates that particular room, magnate furnishings all chosen by the same royal decorator: wrought iron rocking crib, dead-eyed rocking horse, screaming mobiles casting sinister shadows onto the wallpaper. Sometimes she wanders into the nursery, but only in daylight, and then only to fold and refold the teeny cashmere socks and pima cotton onesies, dust off the menageries of stuffed animals because she doesn’t know what else to do. She drops things in that room; everything feels peculiar and doesn’t fit in her hands.
Scientists say that neurotransmitters are responsible for the instinct to propagate the species. They also say that the flooding of hormones governs the desire for motherhood, to love the young.
Rapunzel hears the prince sit up, hold his hands out to find her in the darkness. Rapunzel fumbles back to bed, unwrapping her hair; if there were moonlight, the Prince would watch as if this were foreplay.
Scientists say that while an average woman possesses over 1 million primary oocytes at birth, only 300 ever reach maturity, and even fewer are ever dropped from the ovary. Men, however, continue to manufacture sperm their entire life and release over 66 million in each and every milliliter of ejaculate.
Rapunzel massages her scalp, the weight and position of the braids leaving the skin tender under her fingertips. Her hair is still damp from her morning shower and it slaps down her back like a curtain. The Prince reaches out, loops it around his fist several times and pulls.
Even though it only takes approximately 5 days for a zygote, scientists say, to trek down a Fallopian tube into the uterus, the blastocyst leeching to the thick lining, home pregnancy tests can only accurately determine pregnancy 12 – 15 days post-conception. The instructions say to insert the testing stick into a continuous stream of urine. Rapunzel holds it between her legs in the dark; she pees a little onto it, but also onto her hand and the floor trying not to wake the prince.
The instructions say to lay the testing stick horizontally onto a flat surface. Moving or agitating the stick affects the accuracy of the results. She places it down on the counter, and then paces across the living room, trying to waste the three minutes until the indicator changes color.
She whacks her shoulder on the open door of the mahogany entertainment center—there go 50,000 cells. She opens the picture window, lights a cigarette, and then drops it out into the alley. She watches it fall, plopping into a puddle and fizzing out.
Down the street, a long shape comes into sight, just slightly blacker than the night—in the light now, the black tomcat. Rapunzel steps back into the room but watches as he opens the dumpster, strain, push, bracing it against sound, and begins rummaging through the refuse.
He has no luck; trash gets collected every other day in Rapunzel’s neighborhood—one of the benefits of her tax bracket, she is told. He shakes out a few empty cans, then looks up at Rapunzel’s open picture window, motions with a paw, meows something. She steps forward into pool of streetlight, and looks down at him. He meows, motions with his front paws, up, up towards Rapunzel.
She unwraps her hair and it slaps down her back like a curtain. She gathers it, twisting like rope, lowering it to the ground. The tomcat flexes his front claws, tugs it, and then scampers up.
“We have to be quiet,” she says to him as he drops to the floor with a doubled thump. Scientists say that the volume of a human snore can reach up to 90 decibels, twice as loud as a pneumatic drill. The Prince never quite reaches that level, but the cat nods at the sound, more just a jerk of his pointy chin, and she motions for him to follow her to the kitchen.
The pantry is well stocked, although Rapunzel herself has never gone grocery shopping. If she had, she’d choose different things than the Queen’s servants bring—cans of bouillabaisse, jars of caviar in red and black, potted cassoulet, stone-ground whole-wheat flatbread. She wants to explain this to the cat, who sniffs each thing through his mouth, grimacing, ears flat to his head. She wonders if he smells her hands. “There has to be something,” she whispers to him. “Not tuna, but something.” She pulls a can from the top shelf, squints at it. “Pâté terrine?” she asks, and offers it to him. “It’s goose. Or duck.”
He takes the can in his front paws and rubs it against his cheek.
“Oh,” she says. “And milk. I know we have milk.” Or is it cats can’t have milk? She tries to remember. Scientists say that the average human can retain up to 4 tetrabytes of information, assuming the mind operates like a computer. She loads his long arms with pâté and milk. He moves to the window and Rapunzel watches him drop the food down the alley, Then she hears the bedsprings as the Prince shifts position.
“Hey,” the Prince calls, blind, into the blackness. “Who are you talking to?”
The cat scampers up her shoulder, nearly knocking her over into the Louis XV style extension dining table.
“Honey?” The Prince asks. “You OK?”
The cat’s claws prick into her as he kneads her shoulder. His heart flutters and she wants desperately to pet him, scritch his tiny head, but instinctively knows he would find that undignified. “I’m in here,” Rapunzel says to the Prince. “Getting a glass of water.”
“Who are you talking to?” the Prince asks again.
“No one,” she answers. “I was singing to myself.”
“Come back to bed,” the Prince says, and pats her side, cold now.
Rapunzel releases her hair back down the window, and the cat inches to the ground. The cat family all gather up their food and supplies. The cat looks up at Rapunzel, and she could swear she sees him wave before he disappears, dragging his prizes behind them.
“I’ll be there soon,” she calls to the Prince. “I’m going to the bathroom.” She stays perfectly still for about 7 minutes, about how long it takes, according to scientists, for the brain to alpha wave into sleep. She listens for the snoring before she closes the bathroom door, bracing the jam against sound.
Rapunzel looks at herself in the mirror. She pulls a scissors out from a bathroom drawer, holds up a hank of her hair, as far as her arm can stretch. She wills herself to cut, but she can’t do it.
The Prince snores.
Rapunzel puts the scissors away, closes the drawer. She picks up the pregnancy test, shakes it like a thermometer and squints.
Scientists say the average human heart circulates 4000 gallons of blood each day, the stomach produces a new layer of mucus every two weeks, and the scalp drops over 2000 hairs per month. Since Rapunzel took the pregnancy test, she has circulated 56,000 gallons of blood and she could have flooded a moat from her belly, the acids eroding stone palace walls to crumbs. Her hair has always grown faster than usual, helixes clogging the bathtub drain.
Scientists say that every hour humans shed about 600,000 particles of skin. Right now, as she bangs her legs against the furniture, she sloughs off 50,000. Rapunzel can never navigate the obstacles safely in the dark. The street lights cast a path of light to the picture window and she sets down each foot carefully as if the floor might cave in.
Rapunzel cracks open the window, bracing the jam against sound. Rapunzel lights a cigarette, sees one small form emerge, darker than the darkness. Scientists say women blink twice as often as men, and Rapunzel blinks 12 times at the tomcat standing on the dumpster.. She tosses her cigarette; it falls into a puddle and fizzes out.
The tomcat holds bunch of wilted wildflowers in his front paws. He has a scraggly tie around his neck.
She leans out the window. “Hello,” she whispers down to him.
He motions to her. Down, down. He holds the flowers and waits like they have a date.
Rapunzel unwraps her hair and it slaps down her back like a curtain. She gathers it, twisting like rope, lowering it to the ground. This time he doesn’t scamper up. He, bats at her hair with his free paw as she swings it around. He shakes his head.
She doesn’t hear the bedsprings as the Prince shifts position.
“Hey,” the Prince calls, blind, into the blackness. “Where are you?”
“I’m here,” she says. “I’ll be right there.”
She looks behind her at the magnate furnishings. She hears her husband snore. She feels her way to the bathroom and grabs the scissors.
Scientists say each human hair can support three kilograms of weight. Rapunzel twists her hair into a rope. She tucks the scissors under her arm and ties the ends in an overhand knot over the window’s ornamental scrollwork. She hoists herself, bottom first, out the window. She rappels like a climber. The pain threatens to tear her apart, her hands want to let her fall. Scientists call this an acute general discharge of the sympathetic nervous system. She pushes this out of her head. She fights basic biology. She concentrates on her breathing until she drops onto the dumpster with a doubled thump.
The tomcat watches as Rapunzel takes the scissors and saws at her hair. She feels cold air on her neck as he hands her the flowers. She doesn’t know what he has planned. It doesn’t matter. “We have to be really quiet,” she says to him. She takes his paw. It fits perfectly in her hands.
Caren Gussoff graduated Clarion West in ’08 as an Octavia E. Butler scholar, is a co-editor of Brain Harvest: an Almanac of Bad-Ass Speculative Fiction, and has a website at www.spitkitten.com. She also has recent work in M-BRANE, Birkensnake, and Thaumatrope.
Image: Tabulae Anatomicae, Odoardo Fialetti, 1627.