That first day she kept me inside the house, and after all that had oc-curred, who could blame her? I stuck closer than her own shadow, studying intently, learning better how to be her son, as she dusted and swept, washed the dishes, and changed the babies diapers. The house felt safer than the for-est, but strange and alien. Small surprises lurked. Daylight angled through the curtained windows, ran along the walls, and cast its patterns across the carpets in an entirely different geometry than beneath the canopy of leaves. Of par-ticular interest were the small universes comprised of specks of dust that make themselves visible only through sunbeams. In contrast to the blaze of sunlight outside, the inner light had a soporific effect, especially on the twins. They tired shortly after lunch—another fete in my honor—and napped in the early afternoon.
My mother tiptoed from their room to find me patiently waiting in the same spot she had left me, standing like a sentinel in the hallway. I was he witched by an electrical outlet that screamed out to me to stick in my little finger. Although their door was closed, the twins rhythmic breathing sounded like a storm rushing through the trees, for I had not yet trained myself not to listen. Mom took me by the hand, and her soft grasp filled me with an abiding empathy. The woman created a deep peace within me with her very touch. I remembered the books on Henrys washstand and asked her if she would read me a story.
We went to my room and clambered into bed together. For the past century, adults had been total strangers, and life among the changelings had distorted my perspective. More than twice my size, she seemed too solid and stout to be real, especially when compared to the skinny body of the boy I had assumed. My situation seemed fragile and capricious. If she rolled over, she could snap me like a bundle of twigs. Yet her sheer size created a bunker against the outer world. She would protect me against all my foes. As the twins slept, she read to me from the Brothers Grimm—"The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was," "The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids," "Hansel and Gretel," "The Singing Bone," "The Girl Without Hands," and many others, rare or familiar. My favorites were "Cinderella" and "Little Red Riding Hood," which she read with beautiful expression in her mezzo timbre, a singsong much too cheerful for those awful fables. In the music of her voice, an echo sounded from long ago, and as I rested by her side, the decades dissolved.
I had heard these tales before, long ago, but in German, from my real mother (yes, I, too, had a mother, once upon a time), who introduced me to Ashenputtel and Rotk?ppchen from the Kinder- und Hausm?rchen. I wanted to forget, thought I was forgetting, but could hear quite clearly her voice in my head.
"Es war einmal im tiefen, tiefen Wald."
Although I quit the society of the changelings long ago, I have remained, in a sense, in those dark woods, hiding my true identity from those I love. Only now, after the strange events of this past year, do I have the courage to tell the story. This is my confession, too long delayed, which I have been afraid to make and only now reveal because of the passing dangers to my own son. We change. I have changed.