Little Robber Maidens
by Elizabeth Kerper

“I always sleep with the knife,” said the little robber maiden. “There is no knowing what may happen.”
—Hans Christian Andersen, “The Snow Queen”

Little robber maidens sleep with knives in hand
and make friends by force. Little robber maidens
are not lonely. The little robber maiden is my sister,
walking to the El from a midnight showing
of the Rocky Horror Picture Show—my little sister,
five-inch heels dangling from her index fingers,
fallen leaves plastering the sidewalk like open palms,
two drunk guys on the corner reaching out, asking
what party she’s going to, if they can take her home after.
The little robber maiden is my sister when she answers
Invite-only, boys, laughs, thinks, I could break your nose
with the sole of this shoe and not even feel bad.
Little robber maidens are not lonely.

Little robber maidens do not know how to be lonely,
only headstrong and fierce like the Lapland winter,
like the Chicago November when my sister is born.
The little robber maiden is me, three and half years old,
waiting until the babysitting aunts and grandmothers
are distracted before I poke my scrunched bundle of a sister hard
through the bars of the hospital basinet. She cries out, once, twice,
sharp as a shard of mirror splintering from its frame.
The little robber maiden is me, laying my hand flat
on my sister’s newborn stomach until she is calm again, palm
rising and falling with her beginner’s breaths. Little robber maidens
sleep in robber castle courtyards with laths of pigeons
overhead. Little robber maidens are not lonely.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I recently reread “The Snow Queen,” and I was struck by how much agency and personality the little robber maiden has for a character who plays a fairly minor part in the overall story. She feels like a character who continues having her own adventures even after the protagonist has moved on and taken the story with her—and possibly better adventures, too.

IMAGE: “Girl with Red Shawl” by Giovanni Boldini (1842-1931).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Elizabeth Kerper lives in Chicago and recently graduated from DePaul University with a BA in English literature. Her work has appeared in Eclectica, NEAT, and N/A Literary Magazine, where she is a contributing editor. She can generally be found sitting quietly in the corner with her nose stuck in a book.