Radaba, Radaba, though you let down your hair, yet I shall venture ever near.
It was deep darkness of a soft summer night when first I heard the song of longing that lured me to the walled garden. Again and again I returned, till one night a voice, kind but resolute, checked the plaintive melody.
“My beloved child, you are a danger to all who draw near, and death to the suitor who woos you. This you know.”
“I beg you, Father, deny me not. Let me pass through the castle untrammeled or set me free to wander the wilderness.”
But the heavy footsteps receded, and the soulful lament resumed, its notes fraught with yearning. Seized by pity and more, I grasped a trailing vine, scaled the rough stones, and waited behind the bougainvillea. I waited till the sun struck the surface of a limpid pool, spraying the floating frangipani with fragments of blinding color. I waited till a morning bird echoed the maiden’s sobs, rousing her from the lush grass where she lay supine, her cheeks bedewed with tears. Only then did I reveal myself.
Startled by my presence she drew away, but I espied welcome in her eyes and begged her name.
“Radaba,” she replied, “accursed daughter of Rapunzel. Come no closer.”
“How accursed, fair one?”
“A spell weaver avenged herself on my sire for breaching her tower with Rapunzel’s hair as his stair.” Compelled by memory, she reprised the speech of the foul enchantress: “Radaba’s hair shall grow long like her mother’s of old. But like a flame, the longer it grows, the hotter it shall burn. No shears, however sharp, shall shorten those locks. No lover, however brave, shall escape the ashes of their fire.”
Desperate with desire, I determined to defy the curse. I was beguiled by Radaba’s yellow hair, sparking gold at the touch, tapering at the shoulders, hot on my cheek. We learned to love in the summer garden, ablaze with the golden sunflower and crimson amaryllis, the blue hibiscus and orange narcissus, their heady perfumes intoxicating my senses. Hand in glove, I stroked her head. I raised the yellow ringlets, kissed the wispy nape of her neck, my lips crackling at the contact.
Later I began to fear the power of our love. I fled from her heat to the cool Alps, to the icy turrets of Mont Blanc, the white heights of Switzerland, the sparkling lakes of Lombardy. In visions I saw Radaba pining, isolate in her garden, bereft at my desertion. She wept tears that boiled to froth as she wiped them with her curls, her skin, fair like her mother’s, unharmed by the heat. “Caspar, Caspar, my Prince!” she cried in my dreams. “I cannot live without my soul.”
I could not rest. I returned from Spain with a mantilla to screen Radaba’s sunburst. Foolishness! I saw at once the delicate cover would not do. The earth had rotated round a lesser light too many times since last I saw her. When I draped the lace over her head, escaping sparks burnt my fingers, hurt my eyes.
The days passed, the hair grew ever downward, the heat ever fiercer. Every hour I larded my face and hands against the lengthening flames. Every night I lay in icy baths to quell the fever.
The weeks went by, Radaba’s hair swept her waist. When she turned her head, the gold caught russet rays, shimmering first yellow auburn, then lambent copper, then flaming vermilion. The beauty! The beauty!
I shaded my eyes with smoked glasses to deflect the fiery rays. If I could not touch, still I would see Radaba’s sun-charged radiance.
In time the waves coursed down her back and past her thighs in a flaming rivulet. The flowers withered in her heat — the golden sunflower and crimson amaryllis, the blue hibiscus and orange narcissus — their brown petals dropping into the sere grass. Under the glasses my vision blurred, my eyes watered.
“Don’t leave me, Caspar, my love,” she cried, her arms outstretched. “I am alone too long. Despair awaits me without you.”
“Have no fear, my treasure. I cannot survive without your light.”
To conserve my vision, I wore a patch, sheltering the sight in one eye, then the other. But the lids seared shut, each eye failing me in turn.
I could not see, I could not touch, but yet I could smell the incense of those smoldering tresses. I drew close, too close. A wayward strand strayed across my cheek and the odor of charred flesh reached my nostrils.
I could not stay away.
Wretched, we conspired to break the spell: I would subdue the enemy of our love. With shears in hand, I bent to gather the hair, now forming a wake behind and beyond her feet. My purpose faltered. One last time, I thought, one last time, let me immerse myself in the ineffable beauty. The shears fell from my hand. I buried my face in the molten mass. I inhaled, my breath blistering my throat. I exhaled, my breath spewing fire.
At once I was flesh made flame! My fire sprang to her fire, and in a flash a single conflagration rose from the ashes and raged in commingled perfection. A wind set us aswirl in a ball of fire and spun us upward to ignite the night and light the darkness and delight despairing lovers with the dazzling brilliance of our consummated bliss.
The curse in place, yet we prevail: Each morn we burn. Each night we rise from ashes to light the sky.
Marie Bacigalupo studied creative writing at New York University, the New School, the Writers Studio, and, most recently, the Center for Fiction under Gordon Lish. Her work has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Journal of Microliterature, REDzine, and The Examined Life Journal. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.