Carved Innocence

“Carve my face just like it is, okay?” Juliet turned to see how her hair would look piled up on top of her head in a messy knot. The result was unappealing so she let her long, dark locks tumble back down to cover her back.

When she took her eyes off the riveting image of herself, she was almost surprised by the other presence in the room. She was so used to speaking to herself, that it was hard to remember how to act when she did have company.

“Of course, my lady. I would dare not insult you by creating a lesser image than the one you see before you in the glass.” This courtly nonsense was exactly what any poor artist who lived on the whims of the rich was supposed to say.

Juliet didn’t smile. She wouldn’t smile unless absolutely delighted. The uncles that raised her had taught her that facial expressions could cause lines in older age, and they strictly forbade them. Juliet was their prize, their secret weapon, growing into womanhood in relative secrecy and almost absolute privacy in order to be unleashed upon the world at precisely the right moment. Until she was out of their hands – and, if they had their way, she never would be, not entirely – she would do as they said and would be rewarded and punished accordingly.

The artist was one of her rewards. Juliet knew that she was beautiful. But her uncles didn’t know that she was growing shrewd, locked as she was inside the walls of the estate they’d allocated to her. She asked questions of the servants and bribed or charmed them to answer her despite their fears. She discovered how she could get what she wanted. In time, her intelligence might prove dangerous to her kin, and she might become a force to be reckoned with in quite a different way than her uncles had planned for.

But now, having just celebrated her fourteenth birthday, Juliet was getting a statue carved of her. Her uncles had been surprised. “Not a portrait?” they’d asked. “No,” she’d answered. “A statue. Of me in robes. Like a wise woman of the old days.” When they’d begun to complain about the cost of such an endeavor, she’d pouted, frowned, and wrinkled her brow. They had become alarmed, remembering the tantrums she’d had as a little girl and had quickly agreed. “Alright then,” they’d said. “As a birthday gift. How’s that?” She had let her face slacken, thanked them politely, and had walked away softly, demonstrating her perfect posture and the pleasing way her hair swayed back and forth lightly with every step.

Now the artist was taking some sketches of her. Juliet had been worried, at first, that her uncles had gotten confused or had tried to foist a portrait on her after all, but the artist had reassured her. “Ah, no, fair lady, I need the sketches in order to be able to work even when I am not in your presence. Have you not heard about artists and their muses? We do not always work at the most convenient of times.”

Juliet had spent her morning doing what she always did. She read poetry aloud in front of the mirror, listening to the resonance of her voice and practicing to make the tones more pleasing. She sat at the harp and played it for a while, eyes wide open, not getting lost in the music as she’d read in books that some people did. She couldn’t get lost in anything, not because the artist was there, but because she’d been raised to be aware of herself at every moment. She always thought of the way she held herself, moved, expressed her physicality in all its aspects.

The only time she could get lost was when she gazed in the mirror. Only when she saw that she was doing everything correctly and that there would be no lashes, no punishments, no chastising and shaming words from her masters – only then was she able to relax into herself.

It was when Juliet was gazing in the mirror and the weight came off her shoulders that the artist saw the human being in her. Before that, she had seemed like an automaton, a puppet being moved on strings. The artist began to sketch furiously, terrified of losing the one glimpse of this girl whose innocence was never allowed to flourish.

Next moment, Juliet heard the call from one of her masters and the weight of her uncles, their friends and their enemies seemed to sit back on her so that her posture became once more an act of will.

Remember Where You Came From…

Pat clutched the phone and slammed it into her ear with her long fingers. “Hello?” she barked.

“Pat? Patty?” The voice on the other end was more than a whisper, but barely. It was hard to distinguish whether the speaker was male or female, such was the rasping quality of the words.

“Yes?” Pat drew a long drag of her cigarette into her mouth. She watched herself in the mirror, and couldn’t help admiring her own red lips curling around the end of the thin white cylinder that was held in her talons, the nails of which were painted ruby to match. “Hello?” she added, annoyed, distracted from her own wonderful image.

“Remember where you come from, Pat.”

The line went dead. Pat took the phone away from her ear and looked at it for a moment, as if it would reveal who the caller was and what he or she had meant. Slowly she returned the pink receiver to its cradle. She blew smoke out of her mouth slowly, watching the dramatic effect of her open mouth filling with blue-gray tendrils. Remember where I come from… she thought.

The mirror seemed to shift and waver in front of her, and she was confronted by an image that it took her a moment to recognize. The girl across from Pat was was about fifteen, wore a sweater that was clearly knit by hand and fit rather badly, had too much bright pink lipstick smeared on her mouth (and some on her teeth) and had more acne than seemed possible. Pat stared in horror and clutched at her own face; the image disappeared and she saw only herself as she was now, fifteen years later, smooth-skinned, fashionable, beautiful.

Jumping to her feet, she hurried to her address book and flipped through it quickly until she found the correct page. She opened up her laptop and began frantically typing an e-mail to her youngest sister, a girl who was, as Pat always moaned to their mother, a completely hopeless case and who would end up a spinster working in back-rooms so that no one could see her.

Her life was different after that day. She remembered that she’d had flaws once too, found a therapist, and began to work on what everyone around her knew to be her painfully inflated ego. It took her many years, but she became less judgmental, more accepting, and happier for it. She spent less time staring at the mirror and actually lived her life. She often wondered, and spent many fruitless hours with her therapist obsessing over the matter, who had called her with such a poignant message that day.

It was probably better that she didn’t know who the mysterious caller was. She would have probably been frightfully disappointed if she’d discovered that seven other people got the same mysterious phone call that day, and that twenty-two others got a similar call with the message “Seven days…” and another thirty-four were told that “I’ll always know what you did last summer…” Pat really wouldn’t have appreciated the two fourteen-year old boys who’d spent a lonely, boring afternoon ringing up their parents’ phone bills.

Mirror

Look in the mirror.

Who do you see?

Do you see yourself?

Do you see your parents?

Your brother or sister?

Do you see your friends, standing around you?

Or do you just see yourself?

I used to see myself.

I used to look in the mirror,

and see the truth.

Not good or bad,

just true.

I saw, plain as day,

the length of my hair falling over my shoulders

and the green of my eyes, lost sometimes in the gray.

I saw my mouth and my nose and my chin,

and my face as a whole.

Not good or bad,

just true.

I saw the length of my neck

and the breadth of my shoulders,

the collarbone always pronounced.

I saw the swell of my breasts

and my wide ribs that moved when I breathed

and my stomach rounding down

with the bellybutton right in the middle.

I saw the curve of hips and my thighs,

the length of my legs

with the knees looking funny

as they always do,

and feet with nice toes that weren’t too big.

Not good or bad,

just true.

Today,

I don’t see myself in the mirror anymore.

I see everything that isn’t there,

or the things that are there but too much.

I don’t notice my hair or my eyes,

except when I’m in a really good mood.

I don’t remember the good things behind the facade,

I obsess over details.

Not good,

Bad,

and true.

Only not really true.

But it’s hard to disbelieve an irrational truth.

I try not to look at mirrors much, anymore.

Beast

Surrounded by mirrors
You cannot escape.
You surround yourself.
Stare and gape
Wide eyed
At the truths you uncover.

Screaming at yourself,
Hitting,
Scratching,
Biting,
Self-loathing,
Covered in blood.
You pause and see yourself-
An animal.
A primitive being
Unable to control itself.

Rage, anger, hurt,
All forgotten
In the shock of discovery.

Through it all,
A small light in the corner of your mind.
It leads you back into yourself.
It makes you believe that perhaps,
Just perhaps,
The mirrors deceive you.
Someone loves you.

Another Excerpt

Here is another scene in the story I’m working on. It is the beginning of the first chapter, and follows a prologue, which I may or may not post here eventually. For those who may not have realized it yet, I wanted to explain the nature of this story. It’s a fantasy story, based in a kingdom where class and nobility matter.

__________________________________________

At fourteen, when everything changed for me, I was a beautiful girl. I had been a beautiful child as well. I knew this. I was the noble daughter of Duke Pietro der-Milt and his Lady Dermira. How ever could I not be beautiful? I was taught that the noble houses held the most beautiful people in the land, the most gifted thinkers, the greatest of artists and the kindest of spirits. So my governess told me during my childhood, using my parents as the best examples.
“Look at your pretty mother, little Miya! see what a beauty she is?” Pirima would say. She’d point at my mother, sitting in our great drawing room or in my father’s study or in the corner of my nursery. She was a beauty indeed. My mother always knew how to look beautiful and delicate. She could embroider, read, write letters, instruct servants, talk with my father, survey the accounts – all while looking as pretty as a picture, without a hair out of place or wrinkle in her dress. Pirima often whispered to me that she wished she could look like my mother, and her lips would twist in a sad little frown. I didn’t understand the nature of jealousy or envy when I was young; I merely thought it natural that everyone would want to look like Mama, who was, I was sure, the most beautiful woman in the world.
There were plenty of mirrors in our home, so I learned early on that I was a beautiful child. My skin was smooth and healthy, a few shades darker than my mother’s milky-white complexion. My hair, which was black as coal, thick and wavy, hung down my back when I was a little girl, kept away from my face by a neat little bow which Pirima would tie into it every morning. My eyes were grey, and Pirima always said they reminded her of the stormy sea because when I was angry or sad they turned dark blue. My black eyebrows were delicate and thin, and my nose was small and rather flat, accentuating the fullness of my red lips. My body was that of a healthy little girl – rounded with the healthy fat that children possess, my limbs strong with activity.
One day, when I was about six or seven, I stood looking into the tall, gilded mirror that stood in one of the corridors. As I stood there, admiring myself, I watched my mother come up behind me. She laid one white hand on my shoulder and smiled at me in the mirror. My eyes widened.
“I look like you, Mama!” I cried with delight.
“You do, my dove. You look like your papa as well. You have his hair and his nose,” she touched my hair and my nose as she said this, then knelt down behind me in a rare motherly gesture and hugged me tight, arms encircling my stomach. She usually didn’t touch me much. My joy at seeing we were alike, though, seemed to make her emotional. I had no cynicism at that age, and I didn’t see her emotion for what it was – a kind of vanity. I was happy to be in her arms, happy that she smiled at me, happy that I looked like her and like Papa.
“Now, Miyara, let’s go visit your papa in his study, hmm?” she took me by the hand and we spent a quiet afternoon in the study with Papa, who was in a good mood as well. I remember that day as one of the happiest of my childhood. It wasn’t often that my parents made any effort to spend time with me. We usually met only during meals. The rest of the time I spent with Pirima, who was my only other company for a long time.

Boots [Part II]

Part I

Sandy wasn’t sure what to say, so instead of responding, she looked around the shop. It was like she expected it would be. The shop was only sparsely lit, the clothing racks were mostly full of black garments, with the occasional shocking pink or electric blue peeking through. A television that was hung on the wall was showing an old horror film with the sound muted. Sandy gulped, eyes fixed on the fake blood spraying from a man’s stomach.

She tore her gaze away from the gruesome image, worked up her courage, and spoke.

“Um, can I see what boots you sell, please?”

“Sure thing,” the red-haired woman chirped. “Size seven-and-a-half?”

“Yeah, how could you tell?” Sandy was so surprised at the lucky guess that she looked up into the red-haired woman’s face and met her eyes.

“I know about boots. ‘Cause of that, I know about feet. Anyway, I’m the same size, so I know what seven-and-a-half looks like,” she winked at Sandy, and disappeared into a back room.

A half hour later, Sandy had tried on three pairs of boots and hadn’t liked the look of any – either they had too many laces and complicated bits of string, or the buckles were too big or they didn’t cling right to her calves.

“Maybe I should just forget it,” she moaned.

“Oh, Honey, don’t think like that – we’ll find the perfect ones for you.” The red haired woman was packing the discarded boots back into their large boxes, folding the tops meticulously over the gigantic heels. Sandy cast a sideways look at the curtain that hid the store-front window from the interior of the shop. As the woman finished replacing the last pair of boots, she said shyly “What about the ones in the window? You know,” she paused, received an encouraging smile from the red-haired woman, continued. “The ones I was looking at last week.”

The red-haired woman smacked her forehead, an act which Sandy thought should have left marks there because of the amount of heavy and spiky silver rings were on the woman’s hand. “I should have brought those out first thing!” The woman exclaimed. She smiled apologetically and bustled out of sight into the back room again, yelling over her shoulder. “They’re an older model, you see, which is why I didn’t think of them straight off!”

Within a trice, she had Sandy’s feet in her lap, the boots from the window on and clasped. Sandy found herself lifted to her feet and steered towards a full length mirror at the back of the shop. She looked at herself- light blue dress, brown hair cut in a simple, good-girl style, arms and legs tanned from the sun, and there, at the bottom of the image in the mirror, the boots. They clung to her legs, the buckles glinting faintly in the feeble light, deadly and beautiful and cool.

“They look… I look…” Sandy was lost for words. The red-haired woman laughed a throaty, deep voiced laugh.

“The word you’re looking for is awesome,” she said.