Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Savage Writing: Fairest

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The topic for this week was “twisted fairy tales”.
___

My first wrinkles have come. They sit on my lower lids, creasing deeper when I smile (and this is why I try to not smile). Fledgeling crow’s feet. I’d cut them out with a knife if I could, and he knows that. That is why he gave me the mirror.

‘It will always see you as I do,’ he said, the day he pulled down the curtain. ‘The most beautiful woman in the world.’

When I laugh, my cheeks crease. I cannot blame it on dimples any longer. If I raise my eyebrows I make furrows like the fields in autumn. Of course I am still young, he says. Still young enough, still beautiful enough. But each month fades in, and out, and my thighs clot with blood, and when he hears his eyes shade, and I can see his thoughts written in each dignified line of his forehead, cheek, eyes. “Of all the beautiful girls, I had to take the empty one. Should have known her beauty would come with a cost.”

If I lose my beauty now, will nature return life to my organs? Lose one part womanliness, gain the fundamental?

If I lose my beauty now, how long will he stand me by his side?

.

My day contains rituals of rigour far beyond yearly fasting and occasional penance. Sleep well, is the first. A morning bath – scented, but not too strong. He likes rosewater, I prefer lavender. Wash face with boiled nettles, then douse with milk. Almond oil to my treacherous eyelids. Pinch cheeks to give colour. Brush golden hair a dozen, a hundred times, and pray that today my curls and waves will sit in a beautiful manner instead of a windswept one. If they refuse, bend them and pin them. Tight undergarments. Bust raised. Only the best silken cloths for the queen. Eat little. Pray loudly every day for his health. Pray secretly but screaming in my mind: keep me beautiful. Give me a child. Dearest Lord, keep me beautiful. Don’t render my daily trouble worthless. Don’t take away the only strength I have.

.

I remember that day with the same clarity I remember every wound. I requested that no party be made, no ball thrown, but still he made an occasion of it. Poisoned words tossed carelessly from his lips: twenty-five! Twenty-five! I cringed under each onslaught. Every scene before my eyes was filled with ladies of twenty, eighteen, fifteen, smiling and congratulating me, praising my beauty and the virtue that must have spawned it. I gripped the handle of my dinner knife until I shook, wishing I could kill them all. Wishing I could stop the appreciative eyes of the lords dancing over their short heights and tiny frames, naïve smiles and innocent words. Beautiful ignorant daisies, soft and helpless as kittens in your hands.

The older ladies understood. They gossiped of those who stepped too close to scandal, and planned the next move of courtly chess, using the sprightly baubles currently flirting in the hall. They whispered of my barrenness in corners.

Twenty-five. I considered slitting my own throat. I am half-crone already. Age is poisoning me.

.

The princess gave me a bracelet of rubies that year. She was still girl enough to be harmless then. But everyone who saw her spoke of her growth, and how pretty she was becoming. Once upon a time, they said such things to me. But I was never blessed by birth. I had pimples and unsightly weight at that age. I grew into beauty and I clutch it with every finger taut. For her, it is as much a part of her as her soul. As birds must fly, so she must be beautiful, without any intention or effort, so at every age she has expelled constant, constant fairness. Not of colour – her raven hair never curls – but in everything else.

The mirror speaks otherwise. My husband said it reflects the truth. It tells me I am the fairest. But once it is silent, I again see my wrinkles. Twenty-five was years ago. Still each month I bleed like clockwork. His own routine is to visit my bed: perfunctory. Joyless. Hopeless. My soul shrinks with every passing morning as time strips me away. It gives to her: a glowing dawn, a bursting frame, flawless milk-white skin.

.

Her birthday is in winter.

The mirror speaks that morning, as if it has only been waiting for the turn of the year to speak the truth, only waiting for the calendar to agree to her womanhood:

She is the fairest of them all.

I hit my fist against the pane. It stands firm. I am the weaker. Fragile bone, helpless crone.

She. She. She.

Ten years I have had to prepare for this blow. Still it guts me, hollows me. Empties me.

.

His majesty no longer visits me at night. He rarely asks how I am; he turns from me when we sit beside one another. He smiles when he looks upon his daughter, as does the court, as does the world. I am invisible. Hollow queen. Useless woman. A thousand upstarts have taken my place, pasted with cannibalised ordure remnants of what age slices from me – and she, she is the queen of them all, goddess and angels, fairest, fairest, fairest.

I wither with the year. I shrivel with the plants. My wrinkles deepen with the dark nights. Black words call to me, circle me, enchant me. Worthless old woman. Barren old hag. She was blessed from birth. How could you and your mortality compete?

One frosted night my emptiness breaks. A voice screams at the mirror:

Blessed from birth? Let’s see if she is as blessed in death!

Summer needs winter and dawn needs dusk and her raven locks will see my golden curls twine around her throat and squeeze every drop of blood from her lips until her skin is the paleness of bone. Blood and bone and the black of the grave – that shall be your blessing, fairest!

.

In spring I am reborn. No words or actions or lack of them can harm me, for I have made a revenge against time itself and the grief they will feel shall comfort my own.

She is radiant; I am husk. She is maiden; I am crone.

I see my huntsman on his horse.

She is dead.

I am alive.

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Written by G.J.

15/10/2014 at 11:44 pm

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