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It's not just men who break promises not to peek.

It’s not just men who break promises not to peek.

Sagacia studied her friend’s handwriting on the sticky note.

“I think I know what you’re saying,” she told Simplia, “but it’s an analogy, not a ratio. Analogy is to ideas as ratio is to numbers. You have to spell it out.”

“Drat!” said Simplia. “I was hoping to breathe new life into my favorite, neglected punctuation mark. Anyway…faulty notation aside, what do you think of my comparison?”

“It makes sense,” said Sagacia. “So much sense, that I wonder who put that notion in your pretty little head?”

Charles Kiernan. When I went out to sweep the snow off the porch, I found some letters under that brick we use to hold the screen door open.”

Here’s what he wrote concerning the nature of promises made in fairy tales:

I think there is a distinction that can be made in fairy tales where promises are involved. There are promises made out of respect for another’s feelings and promises made because of a SECRET.

We can moralize about breaking a promise that affects another’s perception of themselves, but when the promise is attached to a SECRET—well, that’s a black hole and we have all the resistance of a dandelion puff. Secrets are as safe in fairy tales as we are answering emails from Nigerian bankers.

When we talk about the promise in Clever Manka and the promise made in Blue Beard we talk about two different stories.

Sagacia nodded as she read.

“Yeah. Asking someone to respect your privacy — ‘Please don’t open this door, read this diary, rummage through my purse, hack my email account, make me look like a clown’ — is a far cry from ‘I’m testing your will power, hiding a secret I’ll never be willing to talk about, doubting that your love is strong enough to forgive my hidden flaw, setting you up for retribution.’”

“And,” Simplia continued, “making a promise that’s been extorted is different that making a promise out of a sense of commitment. I mean, could Bluebeard’s wife have said, ‘Uh, no. Not gonna comply with that request’?”

She fitted a cosy over the teapot and brought it over to the table, where Sagacia was reading the other letters that came in response to Languishing in Luxembourg’s question.

 Naomi Baltuck wrote:

It’s all about being human. Sometimes following your instinct is a good thing, for it led to the demise of the evil Bluebeard, and taught Manka’s husband to respect his wife’s wisdom. Sometimes being too bold is also being foolish, but it leads to self-discovery and strength of character, even if making amends for a foolish mistake or a lack of trust comes at a very high price.

Sagacia munched her toast and nodded. But Simplia shook her head in disagreement.

“Do you think Raymond discovered anything about himself when he broke his promise to Melusine? Maybe he didn’t know he had an aversion to reptiles. But I don’t see much redemption in that particular story. Manka … yeah. Redemption. Mrs. Bluebeard … yeah! If she hadn’t acted ‘too’ bold she woulda been totally screwed.”

“Skewered, more likely,” said Sagacia. “But Raymond wasn’t being bold. He was being sneaky. He was craven. He couldn’t just come right out and say, Look, hon, what’s going on? Likewise, Melusine didn’t trust him enough to be up front about her patricide and the resulting curse her mother put her under. Pass the jam, would you?”

Simplia unstuck the jam jar from Tarkabarka’s letter, passed it across the table, and read the following through the sticky purple smears:

I think there are things that always intrigued people about relationships. Just go and ask anyone if they would like to know if their significant other has ever cheated on them. Some will tell you yes, definitely, while others say things like “if it was a one time mistake I would rather not know.” Look at Melusine. Did he REALLY need to know that much what she was doing on Saturdays? Would they have lived happily ever after if he didn’t look? Is this a question of personal space in a relationship, or is this about telling the truth about who you are? Would he have kept living with Melusine if she didn’t leave him?…

“They couldn’t have lived happily ever after,” said Sagacia. “They didn’t trust each other. They had ten sons, each of them in his own unique way a monster. Nobody talked about it. Nobody asked why. Until the royal advisors told Raymond that his sons’ anomalies were obviously not part of his DNA. I don’t believe he was looking for truth when he broke his vow. If he had been, that story might have turned out differently.”

Simplia licked jam off her hand and said, “Yeah. And Melusine…she was just as dishonest. I don’t give her the high ground simply because she took measures to protect her secret before he even suspected she had one.”

The letter chute rattled, and through the door came a postcard from Flossie Squashblossom, addressed to Languishing in Luxembourg, in care of The Simpletons. It posited no answers.

Dear Languishing — You know what they say: A promise is a promise. But is it? Really?