The Beholder

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

It's about a girl who is told all her life by her mother that she is ugly.
I remembered playing out a story like this with my sister and cousin and I didn't remember the ending of it, if it even had one, so I wrote it :)
The title is from the saying, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
So, this is a quick short story to improve my writing and get experience. Critiques are always appreciated.

“No one will ever love you.”

“I know, Mother.”

I continued to wash the dishes as Mother scolded me once again. The hot water scalded my soap-covered fingers.

“Your teeth are crooked, your stomach sticks out, and your posture is so horrid you look like a hunchback,” she said, as she leaned against the doorframe to the kitchen. I knew that she was beautiful and wished I had inherited this from her. Her black hair framed her long face, her eyes always seemed seductive, and she was much taller than me.

I wished she would stop reminding me of my terrible appearances. I simply nodded to her comment.

“What man would marry you?” she said again.

I rolled my eyes. How often would she repeat herself? “May I wash these dishes in peace?”

She didn’t answer but strolled out of the kitchen. I hummed to myself quietly.

She broke the silence. “By the time I was your age, I had already received at least ten proposals,” she said loudly from the sitting room next door.

“I’m only eighteen,” I replied, setting the last dish into the bin and drying my wet hands on the side of my dark dress. I walked into the sitting rooms. She was on the velvet couch, absent-mindedly twirling her fingers in her hair.

She looked at me coldly. “Do you expect to get any?”

I reddened. “I suppose not.”

She nodded agreeably. “Me neither.” She took out her golden pocket watch and flipped open the clock. “Go prepare yourself to bed.”

I slightly bowed and walked to my room with as straight a back I could manage. She didn’t notice. Once there, I slipped into comfortable sleeping clothes and glanced in the mirror, and immediately afterwards regretted it. Shrugging it off, I shouted, “Good night!”

“Sleep well, sweetie,” Mother answered.

I fell into my bed. It was then that I replayed Mother’s words in my head. They were certainly not atypical, but they somehow dug deeper than they had before. Surely, although my beauty was lacking, someone with as much luck in the area as me might value my personality, or my intelligence, or my talent. I had never received a proposal, because I had simply never met a man.

These thoughts churned in my head until darkness had settled and Mother had fallen into sleep. I was not beautiful, but I was not an awful person.

My feet clambered onto the floor and I stood up out of bed. I changed into a daytime dress, pulled on comfortable, flat shoes, and draped a cloak around me, with a hood that covered my face. I hadn’t entirely planned my actions, but I had already decided.

I crept my way to the front of the house and departed out the door. I looked all ways and then set off for town, which was a mere mile away.

The dusty road was dark, but the sky was clear and faint light from the moon guided my path. I began to contemplate my sudden excursion. I peeked behind my shoulder at my house, which was unchanged and convinced myself of the need for an adventure. I would return before Mother woke; she would never know.

In the distance, I could see a lighted house made of a dark ebony wood. As I neared, I could hear a dull noise. The closer I came, the louder it became until I stood nervously in front of it and could hear shouts and laughter from the interior. I looked the building up and down as doubts began to filter through my optimism. I took a deep breath and walked up the stairs. I made certain my cloak covered me completely; I didn’t want to shame myself with my appearance. I opened the door.

My eyes adjusted to the light from the bright lanterns scattered around the room. It was a tavern. There was a long bar on the other side of where I stood and booths filled the room, at which merry people sat around drinking. The scene was lively.

I meandered over to the bar and sat down on a chair in the corner. A petite bartender noticed me anyway. “What do you want?” she asked, not convincing me that she actually cared what I wanted.

I looked down and answered with a question. “What’s the weakest drink you have?”

“Shandy, I’d say.”

I didn’t know what it was, but not wishing to be complicated, I said, “I’ll have that.”

I watched her mix what seemed to be lemonade and beer. When she finished, she set a full glass in front of me and said, “Five seventy five.”

I was thankful I had that much in my pocket and set it before her. She inspected the coins for a moment and strode off to another customer. I sipped my drink. It was pleasantly refreshing, lemony but strong. I then opened my ears to the conversations around me. I concentrated on different dialogues, often hearing recitations of humorous events, and they made me grin.

I heard footsteps behind me and then a voice. “And who might this be?”

My heart beat quicker but I said coolly, “Who asks?”

He spun my chair around to face him and looked into my face. I stubbornly looked down. “I’m Bicio. Your turn,” he said.

“Why is it your concern?” I asked, taking another sip of my drink.

He took a seat in the chair next to me as I turned my chair back around to the bar. “Are you from around here?” he asked. “I’ve never seen a cloaked woman in here.”

“Probably because I’ve never been here before.”

“Are you from around here?” he pressed.

“Yes. Why should it matter?”

He took him time in answering, first ordering a whiskey from the same petite bartender, who winked at him familiarly. “Because I know everyone who comes to this bar and I’m fairly certain I know most people in this town. But I’m sure I don’t know you, which is strange. And I’d like to see that face you’re hiding.”

“I’m afraid you won’t have the opportunity to see my face.” I wouldn’t burden him with the form of it or embarrass myself in front of him.

“What’s your name?” He paid for his drink and began to sip it.

“Ember,” I said truthfully.

“Who are your parents?” he then asked.

“Who are yours?” I countered.

“Jeras and Cera,” he said.

I knew them to be farmers on the other side of town, who had three sons. I sneaked a glance at him and was surprised. He seemed to be my age, perhaps slightly older. His hair was a light brown that reminded me of the potatoes that he surely grew on his farm and he had an open, friendly face.

“Who are yours?” he repeated.

“I’m tiring of the interrogation.”

“I don’t recognize your name.”

“Then I suppose you don’t know everyone in the town as you thought.” I was surprised at myself for holding a conversation so long with a man and quietly congratulated myself.

He seemed to think on that for a while. Then he asked, “What is your age?”

“Eighteen. Yours?”

He looked at me doubtfully. “I’m twenty. I thought for sure I would know everyone my age, at least. Especially women.”

“Why? Do all the women fall in love with you?” I teased.

He grinned. “Some do.”

I had no reply to this and settled for drinking. He filled in the silence. “I’d very much like to see your face, Ember. If that is truly your name.”

“It is my name and you cannot see it.”

“Why? Are you a criminal?”

“No.”

“It doesn’t seem like it’d be too much trouble to push the hood off your head.”

I was instantly worried and leaned away from him. “That would not be very kind. It would ruin your challenge to find my identity.”

“I will not push it down if you will be honest,” he said sportingly.

“I have been honest. My name is Ember and I am eighteen.”

He nodded. “Alright.” He took a swig of his drink. “What do you look like?”

“Isn’t that the same concept as seeing what I look like?”

He grumbled and thought of another question. “Who are your siblings?”

“I have none.”

He threw up his hands in submission. “I think I will just knock on every door in town tomorrow and demand to see an Ember.”

I realized that he could and then maybe he would see me. I was frightened. “I will be sure to stay in hiding tomorrow.”

He grinned again, but it was accompanied by thoughtfulness. “Would you like a scotch? It’s on me.”

“Is your strategy to get me drunk?”

“Yes,” he said truthfully.

I found myself smiling at this man, whose words ringed true and playful and eager to understand. “No thanks.”

He took another swig of his drink. I took the opportunity to prove that I really was from the town. “You live on a farm, don’t you?”

He set down his drink and reluctantly nodded.

“And you have two brothers.” I twirled my hair in my finger abstractedly.

He nodded again. “So you know the town. You must have lived here for a while.”

“My whole life.”

“That’ll narrow it down a bit, I suppose,” he said. I bit my lip to keep myself from laughing at him, but a small giggle escaped.

“What?” he demanded.

“Nothing.” He glared at me, so I answered his question truthfully. “You’re face is focused, like you’re concentrating really hard. It’s just funny.”

“You’re a puzzle.”

I considered this. “You’re puzzling too. Why do you care who I am?”

He shrugged and turned to look at me, obviously trying to glimpse my face. I blushed and stared at my feet. He followed my gaze and smiled. “You’re wearing shoes.”

“So?”

“They’re clean.”

“So?” I repeated. I didn’t follow.

“It means you are at least middle class and you don’t labor.” He lifted up his shoes. “See, mine are filthy.” They were.

“Congratulations,” I said grumpily.

He was pleased with himself. “Your name is Ember, you are eighteen, you are an only child, and you are not poor.”

I pulled out my watch and flummoxed at the time. Almost four. “I must be going, Bicio.” I chugged the rest of my shandy.

“I’ll walk you home,” he said cheerfully.

“No.”

He finished his drink and stood up. “Let’s go.”

I reluctantly stood and followed him out of the tavern. It was pitch-black outside. I let my eyes adjust to where I could see Bicio’s form. He was turned towards me. I told him, “I’m not leaving until you leave.”

“Maybe we are going the same direction. I’m going right,” he said, gesturing down the road with his hand.

“I’m going left.”

“You can’t go alone.”

I ignored him. “It was nice to meet you, Bicio.”

He sighed. “I’ll find you.”

“Good bye.”

“Bye, Ember.” He turned around and began to walk to his farm.

When the darkness swallowed him, I went the opposite way towards home. I constantly turned around and listened for any sign of Bicio following. Once my house was in sight, I tiptoed in, went to my room, fell on my bed, and went to sleep.

----------

The next day, I was cleaning the house in Mother’s absence while she was at the schoolhouse. I had just finished dusting when there was a loud, deliberate knock on the door. I froze.

“Ms. Marisa?” a voice called out. A chill ran up my spine. It was Bicio calling for my mother.

I did not set down my rag. I did not gasp. I hardly breathed.

He hesitated, then said, “Ember?” My silence seemed to encourage him. “Ember, I know you are there. I’ve found you; now please reward me with the satisfaction of seeing you.”

I slowly backed up. He could not see me, in my cleaning clothes, looking even more horrid than I usually did, if that was possible.

He continued. “Listen. Your mother had you illegitimately, didn’t she? I asked around. When she first came here as a teenager, there was a rumor that she was pregnant. The rumor faded, but it was true. She was ashamed to have a baby as a teenager, so she kept it a secret. Then she became the school teacher, and parents trusted her with their children. She knew she could not lose their trust or she would lose her job. And now that she’s been part of the town for eighteen years and has been the town teacher, it would be worse, because everyone would know how long she’s lied to them.”

I told myself it wasn’t true.

“Has your mother ordered you to never leave the house? Or maybe she always gave excuses or persuaded you that you shouldn’t. ”

Mother always told me I was ugly. But it wasn’t a lie or an excuse; it was truthfully said.

“Tell me what your mother has said to you. Help me solve this puzzle. Please, Ember.”

Mother knew I was ugly, so I could not shame myself if people saw me, which was why I did not leave. But then, why did she not talk about me? Why did no one know about me? I quietly walked next to the door and put my ear to it. I could hear Bicio sighing.

“She never told me who my father is,” I said loudly.

He heard me through the door. “Ember,” he said happily.

“If I asked, she would act offended and she would ask me why I wanted to know. She’d start crying and ask why she wasn’t good enough for me and why I would need a father. So I stopped asking.”

“Open this door and we can talk better,” he said.

“No.”

“Why not?” he asked patiently.

“Mother never ordered me to stay in the house. She would tell me all the time, of course, but never as an order. More of a suggestion, I suppose.”

“Why?”

“She said I would shame her and myself if anyone saw me.”

“And how would you shame her?”

I took a deep breath. “Because I am repulsive.”

“She convinced you to stay inside for the rest of your life because you are ugly?” He was incredulous.

My face warmed. “She said it was disgraceful.”

“Ember, open the door.”

“No.”

“You cannot stay inside here for the rest of your life with your lying mother and act like everything is okay.”

I didn’t answer.

“Open the door, Ember. Please.”

Nobody had ever seen me except my mother. Maybe she had lied my entire life to keep me inside. Maybe I wasn’t as hideous as she said. My hopes grew.

“Ember.”

I was shaking as I turned the knob. My heart sped as the door opened to reveal Bicio watching patiently. And then he took in what he saw. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped as he stood there in terrible shock. All at once, my heart slowed, and then it broke. My eyes watered and I turned away from him. Mother hadn’t lied.

“I’m sorry,” I said, my voice breaking. “Please don’t tell anyone.”

He didn’t say anything.

“You’ll never have to see me again, I promise.” I thought to close the door, but then I would have to turn around to him again and show myself. I decided that he could do it.

“Ember,” he finally got out. “Wait. You…you’re beautiful.”

I replayed his words and made sure I heard right. I couldn’t believe he could be so cruel as to taunt me, to make me hope that I was worth something. “Asshole.” A tear slid down my cheek.

I turned around, not caring anymore, and began to close the door. He stopped the door with his hands. “Ember. I’m serious. Haven’t you ever looked in a mirror?” He looked at me in the eyes and said, “You’re crying.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, trying to control myself.

He took a step into my house. “Your mother called you ugly so many times, you believed her. But she lied, Ember. You’re beautiful, truly.”

I couldn’t control myself any longer. I let the tears freely fall. All my life, I had accustomed myself to unhappiness, never hoping that life could get any better. I had decided that no one could ever love me, especially myself. I had thought myself unworthy of it, but it was Mother who wasn’t worthy of my love. I had always thought she was trying to protect me from shame, but it was her own selfishness that had caused me unhappiness. And here was a man, the first to give me a compliment, the first to tell me that I was worth something, standing in my doorway, looking at me with concern and sympathy.

I smiled at him through my tears. He dried my cheeks with his partially dirty hands. “Thank you, Bicio,” I said quietly.

He waved his hand as if it were not worth thanking for. He was looking at me with something sweet and playful in his eyes. He took another step towards me and our faces were inches apart. I realized what he was going to do, and I smiled broadly, because I knew I wanted it. And he leaned in and kissed me. His lips were gentle, as if he were afraid of breaking me, and his hands reached around me and softly caressed my backside. It wasn’t long before he pulled away. By his face, I could tell he had enjoyed it and I had enjoyed it too.

“What are you going to do, Ember?” he asked me, still smiling.

I was pulled back into the realistic world and thought about his question. I had nowhere to go. But I did know one thing. “I’ll leave. I can’t stay with my mother.”

He nodded. “Stay with my family as long as you need.”

I took his offer and stayed with his family, helping them with their farm, and feeling love for the first time.

The day that Bicio had told me of my beauty was the most wonderful day ever. Every day since has been wonderful as well, but none have surpassed the day that my life began.


Submitted: November 05, 2012

© Copyright 2020 fishyceleste. All rights reserved.

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Comments

John Highland

wow! this one was even better. you REALLY should turn this one into a novel.

you really have some talent!

the scene where they met, in the tavern was perfect.

I read it three times. I really am impressed!

with such beautiful words, you must be quite a person to be around.

keep it up!

Thu, November 8th, 2012 3:08pm

Author
Reply

Thank you so much! :)

Thu, November 8th, 2012 3:19pm

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