by Katherine Xiao
Art by Grace Chu
Issue: Serein (Summer 2016)
Everyone’s first impression of her was that she was beautiful. Breathtaking. One sideway glance in her direction and you would be fixated on her for what you wished was all eternity: to gaze upon smooth hair that drifted behind her, and to let yourself be captivated by the way she seemed to glide across, feet barely touching the floor. But it was that cold mist that emanated from her that kept you from staring for so long. It was a piercing sort of aura, one that made drizzles feel like hail and sunshine smell like burnt coal. She was beautiful, and she hurt..
My first impression of her was that she was trapped. Lost? Confused, I think, but she didn’t know that she was confused. I wasn’t there when it happened, but her mother mutters the story under her breath from time to time, and the photos tucked deep in the cracks and corners of the house—too atrocious to be seen but too precious to be burned—whisper it at night. Before the stories became twisted by age and inflated by exaggeration, it was a very simple one: once upon a time, on one fateful night, the ugly duckling became a swan by the wishing of a mother and a fluttering of a fairy’s wings.
That was when I was born, a crimson hue of petals that swirled together who protected itself with thorn and was trapped by a glass vase. I’ve sat on this shelf for the past 16 years, always watching her and being watched by her. She wasn’t allowed to touch me, and at first it wasn’t a problem because she was too small to reach me. She’d tried, though, shifting her weight to the very tip of her tippy toes, but her mother scolded her severely when she saw her attempting so, and the volume and intensity in her mother’s voice startled her from ever attempting so again. I wanted desperately to protect her, but I knew that were she to touch me, the very tip of her fingers would be pierced, and her blood, the same color as my petals, would flow. So I stayed there, fixed on the spot.
But she never stopped staring at me, and I think the reason why I never viewed her to be so cold was because of the light that seemed to gleam in the very corner of her eyes when she looked at me. It was a light of curiosity and of longing and the only times when palpable rays of heat radiated from her. When she looked at me, her crimson lips, which were usually pressed into a thin line, parted a bit, and her eyes were like emeralds within pearls, Sometimes I wondered if that is what my dew-covered leaves looked like to her. I didn’t know why she was so fixated by me, but as the days went past and her head ascended closer and closer to me, the stares grew more frequent and more desperate. What did she want? What do you want? I wanted to ask her, but I was nothing but a blood-red rose with green leaves trapped within a glass vase, so I simply stared back.
The day of her 16th birthday went by peacefully until night fell. Night typically descends as shadows looms over the windows and moonlight spills into the room, but that day, it was different. Moonlight loomed and night spilled over, but I still sat there, red and green and clear. Then I heard the footsteps coming over. They were very light ones, and, had I not been around them for the past 16 years, probably would not have heard them either, but I had, so I tilted my petals in her direction. These days, as her mother’s spell seemed to fade, she approached closer and closer, taking one more step than she had the previous day. I was weary of her, to be sure, but I was curious, too, to see her up close. The closer she was, the more I could see of her, and the more I could tell that we were different and yet so eerily similar. Red, green, white. Cold, lonely, but living. She was much more intimidating and much more fragile, with no thorns to protect her. But just like me, she was trapped.
Her eyes remained fixed on me, although as her footsteps drew closer and with each step, there emerged a growing certainty. She had always walked around aimlessly, with no purpose, no direction, and no will. She was ice filled with emptiness, but today she was different. There seemed to be an infinitesimal flare within her that expanded with every inch she drew closer. Until finally she was right before me, staring at me with those emerald eyes. Broken eyes. Shattered gaze.
Then she reached up and touched me.
pricked her with my thorns, and her crimson blood spilled out, reflected in her emerald eyes.
And that was when I felt her, and I felt myself.
I was her, and she was me.
The night she was born and her mother wished upon a fairy, she had lost me to a swishing of a wand, trapping me, who was her, in this broken vase, becoming nothing but an empty shell. Beautiful, but empty. Forever cursed to be lost and broken. Lost and broken, but beautiful.
And when my thorn cracked her fragile skin, I felt her piercing coldness, which had so desperately longed for warmth, draw me towards her. I pitied her. I wanted to help her, but I feared how consuming she had become. That one touch of warmth had made her ravenous and desperate, and having lived with a hollow heart and hollow dreams, this glimpse into these feelings she had never felt made her greedy for more. She wanted to feel, to understand, to love, and to truly hurt.
So she reached up again, and knocked my vase over the edge of the shelf which I had lived on the past 16 years. For the first time in my life, I was falling. And as I fell, it was as if I was watching time reverse itself. Gravity was pushing me down, and I stared as she appeared farther and farther and farther away. Who knew that falling could feel like forever and that there would be only one thought that went through your mind, looping over and over again?
What do you want?
But in that instant my glass vase pricked the ground and shattered, a splash of solid encountering solid. And in that instant, the pieces of her that had barely held together shattered, and the air became a whirlwind of glass and broken hearts, rising higher and higher until all of a sudden, they were gone, leaving behind only a wisp of warm air. Was she content for that one instance? Did she feel the warmth of hurt and feeling, or was she forever cold and broken and lost?
I lay on the ground, my petals scattered and my thorns broken, and I was empty once more.