she knows what it looks like, what it looks like to them, the watchers, the hangers on, those quick to judge, quick to point, quick to make assumptions.
She knows what it looks like, the fading beauty, still vain, but with less and less reason, standing for hours on end in front of her mirror, that mirror, the magic mirror.
They think she’s shallow, self obsessed, no-body sees the pain , no, not pain, the mounting terror as her reflection stares back at her and the question, always the question, but these days it sticks in her throat, takes longer and longer each day to say out loud the words that used to trip so easily out of her mouth
“mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”
The mirror has a brooding quality, it seems to hunch against the wall, sucking up the air in the room, a dark presence.
She can remember other days, other times, when, her feet light on the stairs, out of breath from the games of chase with the young, widowed king, her husband, her lover, she would rush to the mirror and it seemed to glow with all the sunlight from all those summer days.
Then, she could throw out the question, carelessly, sure of the answer, already alight with love and desire.
Of course, she knew about the child, the little baby.
Sometimes, when, she remembered, she would pick it up, coo at it, it seemed plain enough, just a bundle of fabric and wriggling limbs and a pink rosebud mouth, often, she forgot about it for days on end.
Time passed, her philandering husband, whose passion had so delighted her, didnt change.
She caught glances at table, other hands in his when the household went to walk, a slither of silk moving quickly down a corridor when she visited her bed chamber.
She was realistic, shrugged, found her own entertainment.
Sometimes, she heard the child, babbling, laughing, tottering around the knot garden.
She overheard conversations in corners, knew that she was meant to overhear
“The child is becoming a beauty”
“The child looks like her dear mother”
“The child has the eyes of a saint”
She went to look and took action.
Told the household that she would take more interest in the little girl, that she would be like a mother to her, would cleave to her.
She cut the childs’ hair herself, hacked off the long black curls, made sure the fringe was uneven, lop sided.
She choose clothes for the child, over -sized, over patterned, in colours most guaranteed to to clash againts the milky skin, the deep red mouth, the violet eyes.
The mirror is still there, still re-assuring, just part of the ritual.
She takes longer now, eyes travel over every part of the body, re-assseing, looking for change.
She runs her fingers over her collar bones, her ribs, her breast bone, takes comfort in what she feels.
She is still beautiful.
The child is bigger, goes through an awkward stage.
Legs and arms too long
Carrying a little extra weight
Nose too big for the face.
The queen is attentive, quick to offer sweetmeats, the juiciest cut of meat, cakes decorated with rose petals.
Drops sweet raisins into the rose bud mouth
She watches the flesh gather on the childs’ belly and thighs and takes delight in this.
She has become fixated by the mirror, visits daily and then twice a day and then 3, 4 times.
Each time, she stares more intently, more carefully.
She eats less and less, intent on keeping those bones visible, cutting through her white skin, a skeleton of perfection.
The child grows taller, the additional flesh falls off, she becomes wilowly, drifts around the building, hair grown out, clothes outgrown and still, even when she should look ridiculous, even clown like, she is beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful.
The woman broods, watches the child from behind corners, sees how others watch her, they way that they used to look at her.
She sets the child heavy outdoor tasks so that her hands become rough, reddened, her face sun burnt, but the childs’ beauty is simpy enhanced and the exercise tones her body, gives her curves, planes of desire.
And then one day, it happens, as she knew it would.
It is dusk, she finds now that she prefers to use the mirror in gentle light and she asks the question and receives her answer.
The mirror looms above her and she swears that the glass has darkened, mottled.
From her deepest despair, she hears that voice, that hated voice, raised in laughter in the gardens and holding onto the walls to steady herself, she moves slowly, suddenly feeling so, so old and looks out of the window.
The girl is in the garden, leaning into the pond, looking at her own reflection on the still water and laughing with the joy of her own beauty.
The woman pauses, looks down and wonders where exactly this will end.