I’ve never been one to sugarcoat the facts. I’m a realist.
Until that damned mirror showed up.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning – I’ll let you be the judge.
The truth is I was born under an errant star. My course from the beginning was in direct opposition to that of the rest of the family.
The Charming family.
That was my maiden name – Charming. You’ve probably heard of my brother, the Prince. You think he was handsome? Full of light? Mr. Perfect? He was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to the Charming family.
My family was renowned for its graciousness, its ability to always know just the right thing to say. If my father hadn’t already been king of the realm, he would have had no difficulty in securing the position. He was that glib, that… perfect. And that well loved by his fellow man.
My mother was the same. She was a stunning woman. She had long, lovely red hair that glowed like molten lava when haloed in the light filtering through palace windows. Mother inspired awe in the eyes of all who gazed upon her. Her hair seemed to move of its own volition, a lovely, living thing. Her startling green eyes caught the fancy of every young man in the kingdom.
My father was not impervious to her charm. She was queen of the realm – and of his heart.
When my much older brothers were born, the kingdom greeted their births with great joy and celebration, and the bells rang joyfully throughout the realm. They were the fair-haired, blue-eyed princes – golden in both aspect and mien. In short, they were everything princes should be, and more.
My own birth, when my mother was near forty, did not meet with such celebration. I was an afterthought. A mistake. My birth robbed my mother of her beauty, and she slowly traveled the subsequent road to old age and apathy.
You know the story of the younger of my two brothers. He was a man for whom all the stars had moved into alignment. At least, it seemed so at first. Betrothed from birth to the breathtaking blonde from a neighboring kingdom, he soon discovered that even Charming men had their challenges. The beauty was lazy, spoiled – and not a little stupid, running around the forest, singing songs to birds and fairies. Stories started filtering into our kingdom of her erratic behavior. More disturbing, so did the stories of her bouts of narcolepsy.
It didn’t matter. My brother’s destiny had been decided at birth. The two kingdoms had signed treaties based on the proposed union, and there was a fragile peace to keep. And so it was that my graceful, golden brother unhappily set off to waken the beauty with a kiss. And then another. And another. For the rest of his life, he was stuck with a snoring blonde who only awakened long enough to twitter with the birds and rabbits.
To say he led an unfulfilled life is putting it mildly.
But this is not a story about my brother’s domestic difficulties, but mine. Thus, I’ll move on, leaving further tales of my brother and his occasionally somnambulant wife to future chroniclers.
My family’s exalted status and the honeyed beauty in which they walked caused my parents to view me with disdain. They took one look at me at birth and sighed with disappointment. I was dark-haired, olive-skinned, and my eyes were almost jet black. My appearance puzzled them. Whose child was I, they wondered in dismay. I looked nothing like the rest of them.
In truth, I was nothing like them – in appearance or personality. My moods were as dark as my hair. My feelings as unreadable to others as the opaque blackness of my eyes. They could not understand me. I, on the other hand, understood them all too well. They considered me the Charming best at mediocre if the least in excellence and grace, and eyed me with suspicion, even while I was yet a small child.
Have you any understanding what it’s like to grow up in a family blessed with grace and star quality? To have others look askance at your dusky looks, to know your own mother viewed you with misgiving? On one occasion, I stood outside my parents’ bedroom and overheard my father confide to my mother that when he looked into my coal-black eyes, it was like looking into mass darkness, a darkness he feared would swallow him whole.
Is it any wonder I have ‘daddy issues’ to this day?
Frankly, I think sweetness and light are overrated. Pastels are for the cowardly. After being viewed as the tart apple in a dessert oasis of juicy peaches, sugared plums and sweet cherries, it is any wonder that my disposition turned as black as my inky tresses?
Apples, tart or otherwise… we’ll come back to those. Suffice it to say I was the loner, who stood out as the unwanted misfit amongst a family of Charmings.
It did not matter that as I obtained womanhood, I carried with assurance my own perfect, imposing dark beauty. No, I was considered a freak – and for that reason alone I was married off to a doddering old king from a lesser kingdom.
He had outlived three wives already – I was determined not to be the fourth! And so I sweetly began my campaign of carefully seeing to his health and well-being. He soon depended on me solely, and trusted me completely. He gave me the keys to his kingdom, and I ruled it with an iron fist, delighting in my first real taste of power.
He adored me. He found my dark beauty enchanting and because he did, so did his subjects. The poets wrote odes to me, proclaiming me ‘the fairest in the land.’
How oddly amusing to hear one so dark hailed as ‘fairest.’ But I kept my dark amusement to myself, reveling in the first affirmation I’d received in my lifetime. I wasn’t a freak. I was beautiful.
The fairest in the land.
Take that, Daddy!
I began to spend hours in front of my mirror, examining my unblemished skin for any hints of imperfection or the creeping effects of age. My mirror, enchanted with my beauty, began to take on a life of its own. Like my husband, it adored me. In the privacy of my bedroom, it began to converse with me.
Yes, that does sound slightly insane, does it not? Those who keep me locked in this dungeon blamed my subsequent actions on insanity. After all, a talking mirror? Who but an insane woman would make the claim?
But I am moving too quickly ahead of the story…
Each evening in the sheltered darkness of my dressing room, I’d gaze into the mirror.
Mirror, Mirror on the wall…
Tell me now…
Who is the fairest of them all?
Each evening without fail, the mirror would embrace my beauty, offering it back to me in all its perfection.
You, my Lady, are the fairest of them all!
I grew secure in my vanity, and so it continued for year after year. Safe. Loved. Contented by the reflection I saw in my beloved mirror.
But one day…
One day the first crow’s-feet appeared beneath my eyes. Strands of silver competed for dominance with ebony locks.
I was growing old.
Worse, there was a contender for my title in the land. One memorable day, whilst riding in the royal carriage, my husband’s brat sitting on cushions next to mine, I heard the voice of some serf cry out.
“Look, everyone! T’is the Princess Snow White! Truly she is the fairest in all the land!”
Sudden rage engulfed me.
That insignificant brat, the only issue from the union of my husband and the wife who had preceded me?
My husband had always doted on her. She was forever underfoot, like a gangly puppy with awkward legs, falling all over itself in need and adoration. When I first came to the kingdom, Snow White was a squalling, motherless infant. She was now fifteen, and the ramblings of a country bumpkin forced me to re-evaluate the girl.
Aye, she was a beauty! Honesty compelled me to admit it. Clouds of soft, silky black hair, cherry red lips, eyes the color of blue skies – and cheeks as luscious as ripe, smooth peaches.
I hated her then.
Until that moment, she had lived life beneath my notice. But now! Now I was confronted with a beauty fully realized. How had I missed it? It had been growing outside my dressing room those many years, waiting for the opportunity to take my place in the hearts of all in the kingdom.
Yes, I hated her, and something of it must have shown in my eyes because I watched the girl draw back as she noticed something amiss.
She was as smart as she was beautiful. She stayed out of my way after that, always seated near her father, forever hiding behind the safety of his presence.
Her father! I grew tired of his tiresome old ways and his simple-minded affection for the girl. That is when I began to play with his diet, offering him strawberries dipped in chocolate and more interesting fare coated with dangerous but tasteless ingredients. He soon grew ill, enfeebled, fevered. He died.
And I grew in desperation!
What had been a nightly ritual soon became an hourly practice. I’d run to my dressing room, shut the door, and shroud myself in darkness. Then I’d light two candles on either side of my beloved mirror, and begin the practiced dance of coquetry.
Mirror, Mirror on the wall…
Tell me now…
Who is the fairest of them all?
And I’d gaze at my image, now seeing evidence of more than tiny crow’s-feet. There were now deep furrows running down either side of my nostrils to my chin. My formerly smooth skin was coarse and had thickened.
Suddenly, the voice of the mirror cruelly announced:
I cannot lie!
Snow White is the fairest of them all!
Enraged, I picked up the bowl of fruit on my dressing table and threw it at the mirror, smashing the unfaithful glass to bits once and for all.
No more looking glasses for me.
But if there were to be no looking glasses for me, there would also be none for Snow White. My eye spied the apples scattered across the floor, and an idea began to take form in my brain.
Daddy had been right all along. I was a mass of darkness.
Remembering the ingredients I’d used for the king’s delicacies, I went to the kitchen, and shooed the servants away. And there I found the sequestered ingredients, and lightly smeared them over the apple. Once the ingredients were absorbed into its skin, I polished the fruit’s surface to brilliant luster, and placed it on the Princess’s meal tray.
At supper, I watched her reach for the apple, silently willing her to bring it to her lips. Just as she was about to bite into it, she paused, looked at me – and smiled.
Not a pretty smile, either. She snapped her fingers, and the guards went into action, pinning my arms to my sides.
“Do you think I’m unaware that you are responsible for my father’s death, you old hag? Why don’t YOU eat this apple?”
I think I’ve already said she was not only beautiful. She was smart.
I refused to bite the apple, but I did lick its skin when it was forced to my lips. And violently threw up.
Well, that’s that.
That is why I’m stuck in this dungeon until I die. Snow White, now the Fair Queen of the land, has me on a diet of stewed apples, applesauce and apple pie.
I hate apples.
Snow White is not only beautiful. She’s a bitch.
The only time I ever catch my reflection now is in the scarred, battered tins on which my meals of apples rest.
I try not to look too closely at my pitted reflection.
My vanity engineered my downfall. I continue to search the engine of my defeat, trying to understand its source.
In the end, it all comes down to this: I was born under an errant star.
1st Photo Credit: Samantha Wolov
2nd Photo Credit: Lloyd N. Phillips Photography
Author’s Note: This story is written in response to a challenge to write a tale of indeterminate length based on phrases that are part of this week’s ‘Inspiration Monday’ from the blog BeKindrewrite. The phrases used are: errant star; mass darkness; best at mediocre; dessert oasis; and search engine. I played slightly with search engine, but think I still kept close to the suggested prompt. Thanks to BeKindRewrite for the inspiration prompts this week!