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Into Trump’s Woods

The Walters Art Museum

Once upon a time, I lived alone with my father in a cottage at the edge of the wood. My father forbade me from entering the forest for fear I’d encounter Trump, the seething, hump-backed monster who lived there. I obeyed this order despite the lure of the forest’s wildflowers and iridescent songbirds and other feminine thrills because, like all girls, I loathed Trump.

All through my childhood, I dreaded Trump even as I dismissed him. The Apprentice? Didn’t watch it. His hotels, casinos, and golf resorts? Never set foot in them. His pageant full of beauty queens? Nothing but a far-off, foreign land populated by mythical creatures. At home in my cottage I was happy, and safe, and free from Trump’s empty pleasures.

Or at least I was safe until I entered adolescence, when my father began to transform. His skin took on a sickly orange sheen, his hair grew paler, and his body turned flabby and humped. He became irritable and snappish, and his demands on me grew. No more could I spend all day singing or painting or inventing stories; he told me a woman’s work was to cater to men. No more could I go all day without combing my hair or looking in a mirror; he told me it was my duty to be beautiful.

He changed in more menacing ways, too. Under the light of the moon he raged, making noises just like Trump, and I kept my bedroom door barred as I slept. In the mornings I found my father preening in front of the mirror: practicing his puckered mouth, narrowing his hard little eyes. He never caught me watching him, never knew that I saw him for what he was. I made sure of that.

When my father began making plans to sell me off to a husband, I understood I had to leave. I had a destination in mind: a little hamlet on the other side of the forest, a place that was home to a perpetual rainbow. I would be welcomed there. Every new resident, I’d heard, was greeted with a sack of books, a loaf of fresh bread, and a clever black cat. I had only to travel through the forest to get there.

And so I left my father behind. I took off alone into the forest without so much as a picnic basket or a pocketful of bread crumbs. Deeper and deeper I walked into the heart of the wood. My legs shook as I went. I’d heard the woodcutter had taken his children into the woods to starve, that a girl was pursued by a lusty wolf, and that Trump himself lurked in the shadows waiting for young women like me. I was frightened, but I refused to turn back. The sky went black and the moon came out and still I carried on, growing more confident with each step. The forest, as everyone knows, is female.

As I made my solitary progress through the trees, my steps grew nimble and swift. Soon I’d break out of the forest and find my new home, a place where women lived freely. I could read all day, and eat cake for dinner every night if I wished, and feed my smart black cat anchovies straight from the tin. I’d make friends, too, with other women who had left their own fathers, and together we’d paint rocks and build canoes and trade stories against the brightness of bonfire.

I was so distracted by these thoughts that I wandered off the path and into a dense thicket. Before I could correct myself, he materialized before me—Trump himself, standing near a rotting tree trunk. His beady eyes glimmered in his bloated face, and his ego outbloomed even his hair. Insecurity and rage rained from his body like flakes of dead skin.

For a long moment I stood frozen, trying to become still enough to disappear. This had been my survival strategy back home with my father, and the familiarity exhausted me. I’d come so far through the forest—had scratched my legs on thorns and evaded snakes and bats—to escape my father, but I failed. Here was the real thing looming above me, a predator far more treacherous than that from which I’d fled.

My entire body began to tremble. I wondered what Trump would do to me. Grab me between the legs, probably, and twist me to pieces. Cut me with his golden fingernails. Crush my insides piece by piece until I was no longer myself but something flat and wasted, like a paper doll. I stood sinking in a patch of moss and silently called for someone to save me—the wolf, the woodcutter, even the crafty gingerbread witch—but no one came. I was alone.

And yet nothing happened. Miraculously, Trump had not noticed me. Instead, he’d found a pool of water and was bending over it, admiring himself.

I didn’t move. I barely breathed. In the quiet, the forest unfolded into activity. A young girl draped in a red cloak peeked around a tree stump. The gingerbread witch cracked dead leaves under her feet as she edged closer. The woodcutter rested his hatchet against a rock. A tawny wolf rubbed two twigs between his paws, sparking a flame.

Not one of them paid any attention to me. They were fixated on Trump. I tracked the glee in their eyes, the revulsion, the willingness to be dazzled. The wolf was young and hungry and despised Trump, anyone could see that, while the girl delighted in the spectacle without granting it any credibility. The gingerbread witch, a woman who had never lived away from her little house in the woods, watched Trump with a misty-eyed expression that suggested admiration mixed with malice. The woodcutter, meanwhile, peeled off his plaid button-down to reveal a white wifebeater that read Make America Great Again.

My old home was so very far away. My father could not find me. I’d made sure of that. But I’d merely traded one monster for another.

Trump leaned closer to the pond, stretching his lips into a reptilian smile. If he fell in, he wouldn’t drown. He’d float, bobbing at the surface, fouling the water and ruining it for the fish.

I took a step forward. Then another. The girl in the cloak noticed first and ran toward me. She grabbed my wrist and pulled, but I shook her off. The witch flicked her wizened hands in my face as she recited a prayer, but I stepped around her. The wolf showed me his teeth, but I took note of how silky his fur was, how neatly trimmed his claws, and I brushed him aside. The woodcutter came last, wielding his hatchet. He swung haphazardly through the air a few times, but when I did not flinch, he dropped his shoulders and wandered away.

I pressed on. Trump was still gazing into his own reflection. I wondered what he could possibly love about himself. If he was truly like my father: everything.

And he was like my father. They were one and the same, and I knew them both intimately. When I reached the edge of the pond, I saw not Trump’s reflection but the father I’d abandoned. I’d fled that man’s home because crossing a dangerous forest alone at night was better than submitting to him. Being ripped apart by a wolf, or baked in the witch’s oven, or hacked to pieces by the woodcutter were better fates than deferring to a man like that.

At last, Trump noticed me. He looked up with a mildly surprised expression. He was in a generous mood, I could tell. He might be kind to me. He might not touch me. He would leer and smarm and ooze but would not flatten me. Not physically. Not just yet.

I smiled at him. I smiled big, and he smiled back. He thought I was his. Everything was his, in Trump world. Especially a young woman wandering alone in the woods.

Trump crooked his finger at me. Come here, come here. He unhinged his jaw. His tongue, green and covered in boils, panted in his mouth. He was asking, politely, to devour me. I could see the remnants of so many others who’d gone before me stuck between his teeth.

I held his gaze and kept my smile. This was what calmed him, what led him believe I was his. I maintained eye contact even as I leaned forward, far far far, until I was close enough to touch his rippled reflection. He caught on to what I was doing just before I did it. He tried to reach for me, but I was too clever and fast.

I plunged my hand into the water, right through his fat smug face, and shattered his image with a splash.

Trump instantly transformed. His head turned the poisonous color of the wet insides of blood orange. His hair stood on end, moving now under its own power. The loose skin on his neck rippled as fury washed off him as sharp and stinging as salt. He screamed, but it was unintelligible—too much sound forced out through that tiny puckered opening.

I kept my hand in the water. I waved it around, making his features contort, warp, collapse. Trump had no recourse but to stamp his feet, first one and then the other, harder and harder until he started sinking into the mud at the edge of the pond. A fine mist rose around him—steam or smoke or pure rage—and the harder he stomped, the more the mist choked him.

The girl, the wolf, the witch, and the woodcutter eased toward the pond. They stood in a line, solemnly watching Trump destroy himself. Not one attempted to help him.

The reflection in the water was no longer Trump but instead a dark, filmy blur, like the inside of a tornado. I watched, mesmerized, as the blur blackened and shrunk, consuming itself. On the shore, Trump no longer screamed. Instead he began clawing at his own body, grabbing handfuls of clothing and skin as if to say Here, look, look at me, look.

I swirled my hand in the water one more time, and that did it. Trump crossed his arms over his torso, latched on, and pulled hard enough to tear himself into two. He erupted into smoke plumes and dissolved, falling back to the earth in a pile of black sand.

Everything was still. The pond’s surface settled into a glassy, serene state. It reflected the trees and the sky and maybe even me, had I bothered to look for myself.

The girl, the wolf, the witch, and the woodcutter assessed me with piercing eyes. One by one, they knelt to investigate the black sand, which they let flow loosely through their fingers. One by one, they made identical faces of disgust and retreated into the woods.

All except the little girl. She walked to the edge of the pond and disrobed. Under that red cloak she was glorious, a shining, brilliant girl. She shook out her cloak and lowered it carefully onto the surface of the pond.

We had no need for words. We were sated, content, in sync. Together we stood on the shore, watching the red cloak drift over the water like a spreading bloom of blood.