The Process: A Short Story by Taylor Nieuwdorp

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
Prioritizing beauty can get in the way of what you know is really important in life.

Submitted: August 16, 2012

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Submitted: August 16, 2012

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-Prioritizing beauty can get in the way of what is you know is actually important in life-

The Process

By Taylor Nieuwdorp

You never hear stories about ugly girls. You only hear fairy tales about beautiful women, going on adventures, and finding their true loves. I can assure you, my story is much more believable.

I went my whole life believing that I was beautiful. My father, Clarence Friedman, often told me that I was. I loved my father dearly, and he meant the world to me. Every night before bed, he would gently brush my hair and softly sing me to sleep. He even wrote a song for me. The words had made me feel exceptional, blissful, and magnificent.

Mona, Mona, pretty as a rose.

Pretty from her head,

Pretty to her toes.

Mona, Mona, shining star,

Mona, Mona, pretty, you are.

He told me that I was his perfect little angel, and I believed him, I was so trusting of him. He raised me all by himself in our home. I had a pretty typical childhood; I was curious, innocent, and willing to learn. I had my share of temper tantrums and crying fits, but my father raised me well, teaching me all the necessary things I needed to know to help me live a meaningful life. He taught me how to judge right from wrong, how to treat people well, and how to believe in myself. Apart from my seemingly average childhood, there was one thing that set mine apart from the others; I was not allowed to leave the house under any circumstances. At such a young age, I didn’t think much of it, but I still hoped of one day exploring the great, unknown planet, or at least my back yard. Our house had one window, which resided in my bedroom. It showed me a wonderful view of our huge property. There was not a house in sight, not a road, not a pathway, just a mixture of grass, a few trees and a small pond, all of which were just out of reach from my tiny grasp. For the longest time, I thought it was normal for children to be barricaded in their own houses. I was raised to understand that the world was dangerous, and that it was no place for a child. But eventually I became frustrated. I wanted to see other children, people I could relate to. But when I confronted my father and demanded to see someone—anyone from the outside world, he just shook his head and said, “This is all part of The Process.” I heard that phrase many times throughout my childhood, like when I wanted to go to school instead of being homeschooled, or when I wanted to hear about the story of my mother who I had never met, or when I wanted a television, some sort of glimpse of the outside world. All of these things resulted in a lecture about the mysterious ‘process’ that my father was so obsessed with.

Aside from not being able to leave the house, there were many strange restrictions on what I could, and couldn’t do. These restrictions haunted my soul. I was not allowed to view my own reflection; there wasn’t a mirror in sight, not even a reflective surface in which I could catch a glimpse of myself. Every wall, floor, and ceiling tile, was adorned in rough dull stone. Every item of furniture was made of wood, or some kind of fabric. Even my schooling had peculiar restrictions. In my studies, I had taken history, but I was never allowed to see a picture of another person. The only other human face I was allowed to see was my father’s. Although I had never seen another person before, I could tell that he was quite a handsome man, the signs of aging somehow worked on him. A streak of silver hair and tiny laugh lines made him look charming. Even books I had about human anatomy, and books about society, were defaced so that every face was unrecognizable behind the scribbles and scratch marks. But perhaps the most daunting restriction of all was the attic, which I was strictly forbidden to enter. What made it so fascinating was that my father would go up there for hours at a time and return as if nothing had happened. He would bring food up there and return with an empty plate, even though he had already had his dinner. At first, he told me the attic was haunted, but I never believed him. I was smart enough to know that a wise man like my father wouldn’t willingly go into a haunted attic for hours at a time. Some days I would sit and imagine what kind of astounding things lurked up there. My guess had been that he was an international spy and the attic was his secret spy lair. But my father was too practical, and too quiet to be a good spy. My second guess had been that he was a mad scientist; hoarding jars of brains and spleens up there. But my father couldn’t be a mad scientist; he was a well rounded man, and far from mad. Every time I asked my father what resided in the attic he would say, “I can’t tell you Mona. It’s all part of The Process.”

A few years passed, and I grew tired of my monotonous life. The attic still remained a mystery, and my daily routine was starting to be a bore. I had already read every book in my father’s personal collection, some even twice. I knew many things, from the structure of the human brain, to making the perfect garden. I longed for variety in my life. I learned Spanish, French, German, and even Latin in just a few short weeks out of desire for something to do. Worst of all, I was developing into a young lady. Hormones took over, and the fairytale books that I read as a child became painful reminders of how lonely I really was. There was no Prince Charming waiting outside of my prison prepared to fight off a hideous beast. For all I knew, no one, aside from my father, even knew I existed. My father was no help in my journey to womanhood, even though he tried, he could never truly relate to what I was going through. Becoming a woman was hard without a motherly figure in my life. My mother was a mystery; I never heard a word about her from my father. I wanted to know how they met, if they were in love, and if they were married. But my father acted as if she had never existed in the first place. My father told me that there were many things in my life that I was not aware of, and that, until the right moment arrived, I would not discover them.

I had always been content with my window, even though it was just a frame with a wooden lattice covering, allowing me to see through it. But the view had grown old; the grassy field no longer satisfied my desire to glimpse the outside world. I was more frustrated than ever. I decided that it was once again time to confront my father. I explained to him that I was no longer a little girl, and that I had the right to know about my life. This time, instead of shaking his head, a look of understanding crossed his face. He furrowed his brow and asked me if I really want to learn the truth. I responded with an exuberant yes. He guided me to the attic. My whole body shook with fear and excitement as we walked up the creaky wooden stairs, I had a sudden urge to turn back to the safety of my bedroom, but I was ready to know the truth. The attic came into view and my heart sank. There was no spy equipment, no brains, no jars, and no secret lair. My childhood dreams were crushed. Everything I saw before me, like my life, was boring. There was a dusty armoire, an old toilet, a sofa with gaping holes, and an empty picture frame. Everything was dark and bare.

I saw slight movement out of the corner of my eye. I could feel my heart pounding in my throat, fast and persistent. I saw something that would change my life forever. Feet. Human feet. Nothing special, ten toes, ten toenails. But even more fascinating, was what was attached to those feet. Legs. And attached to those legs, a torso, then a neck, and then a head, with a couple arms thrown in there. I held on to my father, strong and rigid as I called out into the darkness, a feeble “Hello” barely escaping my lips. The figure emerged from the shadows.

A gasping noise sounded from my throat. I was looking at a young lady. Her skin shone, not an imperfection in sight, her hair cascaded down her back in soft waves. Her hair was the same color as mine. Every feature on her face was perfectly symmetrical. When I gazed upon her, I couldn’t take my eyes away. I figured that this must be what beauty looked like. Words couldn’t describe her beauty. Not winsome, divine, striking, captivating, or enchanting could compare with her. Aside from her angelic appearance, something was wrong. I searched her face, looking for what was off. That’s when I realized that her pretty face was twisted into a tortured gaze of horror and confusion as she looked back at me. I tore my gaze from her picturesque appearance, and brought my attention back to my father. I said nothing, shaking my head in wonder and confusion. He smiled at me and told me, “She is your twin sister.” My mouth almost hit the floor. I looked at her in amazement. Not only did I find out that I had a sister, but finally, I had an idea of what I looked like. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I wrapped my head around the idea. I brought my hand to my face and felt my facial features; I tried to imagine what other people saw of me. I had a slightly muddled idea of what I looked like, but it wasn’t until that moment that I had finally understood. I was beautiful. I looked to my sister but she didn’t seem glad or amazed at the idea of having me as a sibling. In fact, she looked more frightened than ever.

A few weeks had passed since I had first seen my sister, who was now living in the main part of the house with us. She spent most of her time by the window, as I did when I was a child. I couldn’t blame her, for she had been locked away in the attic all her life. I wondered why I was privileged enough to have grown up in the main part of the house and not the attic. On many occasions, I would try to talk with her. But whenever I attempted, she would shut me out and avert her eyes. I finally decided that I would get a word out of her. One day, I marched up to her, stepped in front of her, blocking her view from the window, and I asked her one simple question: “What is your name?”

“Claire.” She said quietly. I could hardly hear her. She looked like she was about to throw up. I finally began to understand why my father kept me locked inside the house. People were terrible. I couldn’t understand how someone could be so negative and rude on an everyday basis. I developed an intense hatred for my new sister Claire. I would spend my days and nights avoiding her. She would always be at the window in my room but there was nothing I could do about it. As much as I despised her, I knew that she longed to leave and touch the earth, just as much as I did. One day, I was walking past my room when I heard my father’s voice. He was speaking with a very harsh tone, but it sounded like he was trying to keep his voice down. I peeked through the door, keeping as quiet as I could. Sure enough, it was my father. He was speaking to Claire, who was once again at the window. The words I heard coming out of his mouth shocked me.

Claire, Claire, everyone knows,

She’s ugly from her head,

She’s ugly to her toes.

Claire, Claire, you’re so bizarre,

Claire, Claire, so ugly, you are.

I saw Claire’s eyes fill with tears, tiny sobs leaked from her mouth. I ran to the bathroom. I had never cried so hard in my life. I had never had a reason to before. I felt bile accumulating in my throat. The man I looked up to, the only person I could rely on, was a cruel, insensitive monster. When I was sure my father was gone, I quietly slunk into my room. Claire was still at the window. Sadness, anger, longing, and frustration marked her perfect face. I said nothing as I sat down beside her. I didn’t hesitate as I placed my hand on hers. She flinched at the contact, but didn’t pull away. Her lip trembled as she quietly asked me, “Did you hear?” Once again, I said nothing. She turned to face me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. For a moment, I thought she would slap me for intruding on her personal life. Instead, she wrapped her arms around me in a tight embrace and sobbed softly. The shock caused by the gesture didn’t last long, and I returned the hug, comforting my new companion.

From that moment on, Claire and I were inseparable. She no longer gave me strange expressions while looking at me, and she started keeping eye contact during our conversations. We talked about everything. Our childhood, our dreams, and most of all, we talked about our father’s mysterious ‘Process.’ It turned out that Claire had nearly the exact childhood that I had. No contact with the outside world, a lifetime of books, and a unwavering desire to travel out of our tiny restricted world. The only difference was instead of just being banned from leaving the house, Claire was forbidden to even leave that dingy attic. She wasn’t allowed to make noise or cause a scene. If she had a tantrum as a child, she would get punished. Claire never had a good relationship with our father Clarence. He would not call her beautiful or sing lullabies to her. Instead, he would insult her and taunt her. He called her ugly and he wanted nothing to do with her. I assured her that she was beautiful, but she didn’t believe me. She wanted proof, but I guess we both did. We were twin sisters but she didn’t jump for joy at the thought of looking like me. I often wondered if there was something wrong with me. I wanted more than anything to view my own reflection.

My relationship with my father had begun to deteriorate. When he tried to sing me to sleep with the song he wrote for me, I would complain of a headache. I couldn’t bear listening to the song, when I had heard another version with a different meaning. He would no longer read stories to me at nighttime, and I talked to him less and less. I couldn’t talk to the man I once loved with all my heart, when he had been mistreating my best friend and sister for all of her life. I often asked my father when Claire and I could leave. He would only ever say one thing: “It’s all part of Th—.”

“The Process. Yeah, I know.” I would interrupt him.

Claire and I discussed our mother often. We would sit and daydream about what she looked like. In our fantasies, she would have beautiful brown hair, and a pretty smile. She would sew on Tuesday nights, and she would smell like lavender. Of course, neither of us knew anything about our mother, or why she wasn’t around. But we liked to imagine that she loved us, and that she had a very good reason for being away from us. Just like me, Claire was lonely. We were less lonely with each other, but we both yearned for something more. In my dreams, I was a princess, locked away in a tower for my own protection, and a handsome Prince Charming would come whisk me away, and we would ride off in the sunset on his noble steed. Claire, on the other hand, had a different fantasy. She would imagine that she was an ordinary girl, being held captive by a bad guy, and that a man with incredible power would use his super strength to break her out of the villains’ lair and fly her away in his arms. I had always thought that her version was a little dramatic. Every night I would dream of what a young handsome man would look like, fantasize about spending all day and all night with him. But I cried every night as well, knowing that I would probably never feel true love. My father sensed my discomfort and promised that on the night of our seventeenth birthday, Claire and I would be able to live out our dreams. When I asked him why he would give us such a great present, he just smiled and said, “Don’t mention it, its just part of The Process.”

April 19th took forever to arrive. Having the patience to wait until the day of our birthday was torturing Claire and I. When the day finally came, we waited anxiously in the living room to hear from our father. When Clarence walked into the room, I nearly jumped for joy. Claire’s body tensed slightly, but a look of excitement crossed her face. He said nothing as he placed a small gold envelope on the table. Claire and I exchanged glances as I slowly picked up the envelope and opened it. Written in fine calligraphy were the most amazing words I could ever imagine.

Mona and Claire Friedman are cordially invited

To attend the 21st annual Cunningham Masquerade

Dance Extravaganza.

Formal wear, and masks are mandatory

Sincerely,

William Cunningham, and Family.

Claire gasped. I said nothing. After a moment of silence, the excitement almost erupted from us. We jumped and screamed for joy as we ran around the house in a commotion. I ran for my father, pulling Claire behind me, grins plastered on our faces, tears streaming down our cheeks. We found our father in the dining room. We ran to him, our words scrambling together in a string of thank you’s and compliments. He smiled and held up a finger. We became silent. His eyes sparkled as he whispered, “That’s not all.” Claire and I gazed at each other in amazement at the thought of there being more to our already wonderful surprise. In our wave of excitement we hadn’t noticed two large boxes on the table. He gestured for us to open them. We ripped the boxes open and tears welled up in our eyes as we saw what was inside of them. In my box, was a beautiful gold dress, Silver diamonds adorned the neckline, and the dress cascaded gently in satin folds. In Claire’s box, was a pink dress, a silk ribbon tied at the waist, ruffles covering every inch. Even more astonishing was what lay on top of the dresses, beautiful full-face masks. The masks showed the face of a beautiful woman, unrealistically proportionate, with porcelain skin and long painted eyelashes, full lips, and rosy cheeks. I couldn’t wait to wear it.

It was a long car ride to get to the ball, a full hour and a half. I had never been in a car before. I watched in amazement as the word flashed by in a burry mess. I saw trees, grass, street signs, sidewalks, and other amazing things. But most amazing of all, were the people. I saw dozens on the way there, all different shapes and sizes. I saw men, women, and children. I also saw animals; I saw dogs, birds, and squirrels. All the things I thought I would never get to see. All the things I had only read and dreamed about. The only part of the car ride I didn’t enjoy was my father. On the way there he gave Claire and I strict orders that we were not to take off our masks under any circumstances. Nobody was allowed to see our faces. We were allowed to do anything we wanted, as long as we met with our father at the front entrance at midnight. We only had a few hours of freedom, but it was all worth it.

My mask was already sticking to my face with perspiration as I walked into the grand ballroom. The large room was finely decorated, the tall ceiling lined with rows of twinkling lights, and the walls lined with mirrors. Claire and I both swiftly made our way to one of the mirrors, seeing our own reflections for the first time. It was strange to see ourselves, the way we moved, and the way we showed excitement with our bodies. We admired our own reflections, our dresses shone under the lights. There was one thing that stood out when I gazed back at my own self. The eyes—my eyes. They were the most beautiful things I had ever seen in my whole life. Next to my eyes, Claire and Clarence’s eyes were dim and cloudy. My eyes shone like sunlight hitting an ocean wave. I longed to remove my mask and look at the other features of my face. Clarence wouldn’t know if I snuck a look. But deep down, I knew he would somehow find out. I left the mask alone.

It was impossible to know where to start, what to do first. I saw a giant crowd of people dancing and twirling in the centre of the room to an unknown tune. I had never had the chance to speak with another human being before, other than my father and my sister, so I had no idea how to start a conversation with anyone. I turned to Claire and saw that panic had flooded her eyes. Suddenly, she ran to a nearby chair and sat down. She took panicked breaths while clutching her stomach. I couldn’t blame her, this was all so new and everything was so chaotic. I sat down beside her and slowly rubbed her back. After a few minutes, I started to get impatient. Although I felt sorry for her, I was in a rush to find some sort of adventure. We only had four hours to live out our dreams and she was wasting those precious moments in a panicked state of fear. I needed her to calm down. I turned to her and whispered, “Claire, you need to get a hold of yourself. Don’t you want to get out on that dance floor and fall in love with a handsome young man? That will never happen if you sit here like this.”

She took a deep breath and replied, “I do. I just need some time. You go out there and enjoy yourself.” I hesitated. She looked up at me with a pleading expression.

“Okay.” I whispered. I hugged her and headed towards the dance floor.

I stood awkwardly at the edge of the crowd, trying to keep my hopes up. I had a slight desire to go home. At home it was much less humiliating and I would be able to read a book instead of waiting for someone to ask me to dance. I was about to give up when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around. Expecting to see Claire, I was shocked to see a young man. He wore a black mask that covered the right half of his face. The other half was smiling. I was slightly shocked by seeing the face of another person up close. For a few moments I studied his features, his blue eyes, his dark hair, and the slight stubble on his chin. His smile grew even larger. That’s when I realized I had been staring at him not saying a word. “Yes?” I asked, my voice was almost a full octave higher than normal.

“That’s quite the mask you’re wearing.” he chuckled. I stared back at him, not sure what to say. “Forgive me, I’m being impolite.” he bowed and continued, “My name is William. Who might you be?” My heart was pounding.

“Mona.” I replied. “Mona Friedman.” I curtsied.

“That’s a beautiful name.” He said. He flashed me another one of his charming smiles and my heart melted. I felt blood rush to my cheeks.

“Thank you very much.” I replied, as calmly as I could manage, articulating every sound, making sure my brain and my mouth were on the same page.

“Well Mona,” he continued. My heart raced at the sound of my name coming from his lips. “Would you like to dance?”

He held out his hand. I went to put my hand in his but I hesitated and pulled back. He looked slightly hurt, but he nodded. “That’s perfectly alright. Have a nice evening.” He turned to leave.

“Wait!” I called. He turned back. “It’s just…I don’t know how to dance.” I thought I sounded like a complete bumbling fool. I thought he would mock me.

Instead, he chuckled lightly and held out his hand once more. This time, I took his offer. My heart skipped a beat as my hand slid into his. The contact from a new person, especially by someone as charming as William, excited me. He guided me to the center of the dance floor. We awkwardly shuffled to the music. He twirled me around, and my heart soared. We looked like complete fools, but that didn’t matter to me. “See?” he said. “You’re a great dancer, Mona.” We laughed and danced until our feet were blistered and sore.

About an hour later, William and I were still dancing; I was starting to get the hang of it, our moves were getting more and more complicated. William’s body was moving in harmony with mine as we became more intuitive about each other’s movements. We laughed and talked and danced until an announcement sounded. A man’s voice silenced the crowd. “This song goes out to my man, William Cunningham and the lucky girl he’s been dancing with all night.” A new song began; this one was much slower than the other ones. The crowd broke off into pairs and the dancing became much more intimate than before. I mimicked what the other couples were doing. I shyly put my hands on William’s shoulders and he put his hands on my waist. I could feel the blush return to my cheeks. There was something intimate about being touched at the waist, almost like there was an unspoken connection. I was lost in the sea of my emotions when the announcer’s words finally hit me. The song was dedicated to William and I, which meant William was William Cunningham. This was his party, and his home. I could hardly contain my emotions… shock, excitement, pride, fear… and anger at myself for being so daft. It was all too much for me to handle. I released myself from William’s grasp and ran for the door. As I made my way quickly to the exit, I vaguely saw Claire still sitting were she was earlier. No longer clutching her stomach, a look of loneliness on her face. I ran straight past her and out the front entrance. I took a right once I got outside of the building and I found myself in a garden. I stopped.

“Mona!” I heard William call as he ran up behind me, breathing heavily. “Are you okay?” He caught up to me. “What did I do?”

“You’re William Cunningham! This is your party! Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded.

He looked down in shame. “I didn’t want to tell you Mona. I want you to like me for who I am, not for my money or my social status. I really like you Mona. I should have told you sooner. I’m sorry.”

My mouth opened in shock and I blushed at his confession. “That’s okay William, I forgive you.” I said looking down at my feet.

“Something’s wrong.” he noticed. “What is it?”

“It’s just…our lives are so different.” I swallowed, “I really like you. But I don’t know how this would work.” I felt tears come to my eyes, partly because of my confession, and partly because I knew that it didn’t make a difference.

He came to me and held my hand in his. “We can try.”

We sat in the garden, talking about everything possible. I told him everything about my life. I told him about my childhood and the strange restrictions I had on my life. He told me of his life as well. The way he was never good enough for his parents and how he lived in the shadow of his older sister. We talked the night away. I told him about Claire, about how my father said she was my twin sister. I told him that I was worried I wasn’t as beautiful as her.

“Mona.” he said. “I wouldn’t care if you were the ugliest girl on the planet.” I blushed. He reached his hand to my mask and slowly started to remove it from my face.

Before he could remove my mask, I heard Claire call out from the darkness, “Mona!” I saw her running towards me. “Mona, it’s midnight. We have to go. Now!” I could hardly believe my ears. How could my fairytale night be over so soon? She took a hold of my hand and started to pull me away.

“Wait!” William said, grabbing my other hand. “You’re leaving so soon?” He looked hurt. “Can’t you stay a little longer?”

“I’m afraid I can’t.” I said, on the verge of crying.

“When can I see you again?” He said, his voice strained, holding back his own tears. I began to cry, for I knew the answer. As soon as I would arrive home, I would be locked away inside until I became an adult.

“Mona! We have to go!” Claire screamed. She grabbed my hand and started to pull me away again.

“A year from today, I will be 18 years old. Then my father wont be able to keep me locked up anymore. When the time comes, come find me!” I yelled as Claire pulled me farther away. “I live about an hour and a half drive from here. There is a small pond out back, and there are lots of trees. I think my house is yellow. I know that’s not much to go on, but please! Come find me! ” I shouted after him.

“I’ll find you! I promise! I’ll wait for you Mona Friedman! As long as it takes!” These were the last words I head from him as Claire pulled me away.

We ran to the front entrance where Clarence said he would meet us. He was waiting for us when we got there. “You’re two minutes late.” he said, and walked briskly to the car. He helped us in the vehicle and got into the driver’s seat. The drive home was slow and full of longing. None of us said a word.

The next year went by sluggishly. I would dream every night of William. I wondered if he would actually wait for me or if he would forget about me completely. I had nightmares as well, about him and other women falling in love. This was my biggest fear. William was the only thing that kept me going through the days. Claire and I were both affected by our night of freedom. For me, it caused an intense longing for the man I loved, and a deep depression and loneliness. For Claire, it had affected her on a much deeper level. Our relationship was falling to pieces. We hardly talked. She had spent the whole night alone, wishing someone would come and ask her to dance. She sat in the chair of self-pity for hours, watching me dance with William. She understood my situation, but she couldn’t help but hate me for leaving her at the dance. Ever since we had arrived back home, she had become a different person. She would cry every night, for reasons I couldn’t fully explain. She would brush her hair every night, 50 brush strokes on each side. She would sleep all day long, and in the middle of the night I would hear her pacing down the hallway, quietly chanting:

Claire, Claire, everyone knows,

She’s ugly from her head,

She’s ugly to her toes.

Claire, Claire, you’re so bizarre,

Claire, Claire, so ugly, you are.

My life became a living hell. Barely getting through the day just so that I could see William in my dreams, but being kept up late at night by my lunatic sister and her creepy chanting. I usually spent my days with my father. We would play games all day long, like monopoly and yahtzee. My eighteenth birthday couldn’t come sooner.

The day before my eighteenth birthday arrived. It started out like any other day, but little did I know, it would be the worst day of my life. I woke up from having a wonderful dream. In my dream, William and I were together. He whisked me off to Paris and we ate baguettes and cheese under the full moon. I was refreshed and happy when I woke up, but a little discouraged that the dream had ended. I wanted it to be real. I climbed out of my bed and slowly made my way downstairs for breakfast, my hand lazily trailing down the wooden railing. I entered the dining room. Claire and my father were already sitting at the table. This wasn’t normal. At this time, Claire would normally still be in bed, sleeping away her days. My father turned to me. “Good morning Mona. Did you sleep well?”

“Yes, father.” I mumbled, still groggy from waking.

“As you know,” he said. “Tomorrow is your eighteenth birthday. I have decided that you and Claire will both be receiving two gifts. Once your eighteenth birthday arrives, I will no longer have custody of you girls and you will be free to come and go whenever you please. Your second gift…” he paused. “I’m giving you today.” My face lit up. Claire’s ever-saddened expression became slightly less dim. My father gestured to two large boxes on the table. “In those boxes are mirrors. I am allowing you girls to see your reflections.”

Out of respect, I didn’t lunge for it in that very moment, but every bone in my body was urging me to open the box. “You may look at your reflection on one condition.” He continued.

He looked at Claire. “Claire must go first.”

I felt my heart break inside, how would I ever be able to bear watching Claire see her reflection when I couldn’t yet see my own? Claire gingerly stood from her chair and made her way to the box. She didn’t seem very excited, as if she already knew what she would see; she looked as if she didn’t want to see at all. She hesitated, but lifted the lid of the box and leaned her head over to see the mirror inside. She let out a quiet gasp and lifted her fingers to her cheek. A smile crept to her face. She laughed slightly as she played with her hair, jumping up and down in joy, a large grin on her face.

“Oh Mona!” she burst. “It’s wonderful, I never knew looking at ones own face would be so invigorating!” I had hope. Maybe she had been worried that she didn’t actually look like me, being called ugly her whole life. Maybe, she had been jealous of me ever since she met me, and she wouldn’t believe that she was beautiful until she had proof.

I wasn’t too worried to see myself in the mirror because I already knew what to expect. I expected to see a face similar to my sister’s, only with a few differences. I was excited beyond belief. Finally, I would be able to get what I had been dreaming about my whole life. Even though I was so eager to see the mirror, I froze. I looked to my father. “Well, go on!” he exclaimed. I grinned. My hands swiftly found the lid of the box. I paused, and took a deep breath as I opened the lid. Closing my eyes, I leaned my head over to where the mirror lay. After another deep breath I opened my eyes. I was thunderstruck.

I was looking at the face of a monster.

Her face was deformed in a way that was only slightly human. Although she had all the necessary parts to make up a face, each piece was wrong, like a child who tried to fit puzzle pieces together that were never meant to fit. Her nose was oddly misshapen, her nostrils uneven in size, and the whole thing jutted out of her face like a branch off of a tree. Her lips were thin as black ice and the teeth that lay behind them were yellow and crooked. Her cheekbones seemed almost non-existent under her pale splotchy skin. The only redeeming physical quality in sight, were her eyes, blue like the sea and as bright as the sun. From her beautiful eyes, leaked a small tear. That’s when I felt something wet drip down the side of my face. My hand flung to the moisture to wipe it away and the figure in the mirror did the same. I took a step back. That’s when I realized that the face in the mirror…was my face. The hideous beast from my nightmares had been me all along. Those bloody crying eyes of mine had tricked me into believing the rest of my face had been beautiful. Those eyes had tricked me into an arrogant confidence that was now crumbling into a pitiful dust.

Claire watched in horror as I flung my mirror and the box from the table. It crashed to the floor, breaking into pieces. I ran to where Claire’s mirror sat on the table and looked into it. Once again, the disgusting girl stared back at me. I screamed and ran to the attic, locking the door behind me. I cried in the darkness. Who could love a face like mine? What would William think when he came to get me? Thousands of questions flung through my head. I began tearing open boxes. Precious antiques and delicate sculptures were strewn across the floor. I tore open another box, reached in, and grabbed something frilly. I pulled it out. It was the dress I had worn to the party—William’s party. With a fearsome scream, I ripped the dress in half. Tears ran down my face in frustration as I reached into the box again. I was about to throw the object that was in my hand when I realized what it was. It was a beautiful mask, with the face of a woman who was breathtakingly gorgeous. It was the mask I had worn when I met William. A small defeated sob escaped from my lips. My arms wrapped around my stomach and the mask slipped from my fingertips. I could feel a gaping hole in the pit of my stomach and an unexplainable longing. I felt so helpless and pathetic. My life was over. I would never be beautiful. No wonder Claire had cringed at the thought of being my twin sister. I took three calming breaths, stopped my tears.

“Get a hold of yourself Mona.” I whispered to myself. My eyes found the mask once again, laying face up, mocking me. I reached for it and slowly put it up to my face. I felt beautiful again. The mask was my shield; the mask had become a part of me. I needed to see my new reflection. I had to see the beauty of my new face. I snuck out of the attic, making sure nobody would see me. I could hear Claire and Clearance in the living room. I then slunk to the dining room. I stepped over piles of broken glass, feeling the pain of my own destruction on my bare feet. I saw Claire’s box. Inside was her mirror, still perfectly intact. My hands found the golden framing, and I took off like a rocket back to the attic. Back in the safety of my hideout, I propped the mirror up against the wall and soaked in the beauty of my appearance. The mask hid the imperfect skin, the crooked nose, and the thin lips. I stared into my beautiful eyes. My eyes hadn’t just tricked me into thinking I was attractive; they had fooled William as well. I was certain William couldn’t love me with my real face. His expectations of me would be destroyed with one look at me. I realized why William had asked me to dance. His first impression of me wasn’t my personality, an awkward girl standing at the edge of the dance floor. He asked me because of how lovely I looked that night. I soaked in the beauty her reflection—my reflection, the Mona that William had fallen for.

I sat in front of the mirror, running my fingertips through my hair. “Mona, you’re so beautiful.” I said to my reflection. I heard a gasp from behind me.

That’s when I realized; I hadn’t locked the door. I whipped around to see the face of my sister; her jaw fell open when she saw the mask. She ran to me and we struggled as she tried to grab the mask off of my face. She succeeded and I lunged at her. But before I could take the mask back, she threw it full force at the mirror. She threw it so hard, that both the mask and the mirror fell to the floor, and lay before us in jagged shards.

“No!” I screamed. “Get out! You’re not my sister anymore. I hate you!” Claire turned around and ran from the attic, crying. Her feet stomping down the stairs. I fell asleep in a heap of glass and tears.

I woke up in confusion, not finding myself in my comfortable bed. I was about to stand up and jump for joy as I realized that I was free to leave I was eighteen finally! But then I remembered my terrible ordeal from the night before. Where could an ugly girl go? I decided I would stay in the safety of my house for the rest of my life. I shifted my weight and felt sharp pieces of glass piercing the palms of my hands. I looked down and saw my precious mask laying in pieces. I started to cry and wail at the sight of it. Hearing my cries, my father came up to the attic. I tried to grasp the remaining pieces and cut my hands open even more. My father cleaned up the mess as I once again soaked the floor in tears. The minutes turned to hours. I could hardly take care of myself. I was so depressed that I couldn’t function properly. I vaguely remember my father spoon-feeding me yogurt. He gave me a small warm blanket to cover my shaking body, but I wasn’t cold…just devastated.

I sat in my depressed state for what seemed like days. When my father climbed the attic’s stairs once more, I finally spoke. “Father, how long have I been up here like this?”

“Four hours. It’s 2:30 pm dear.” he replied. I took a big gulp of air.

“Thanks. I really appreciate everything you’re doing for me. But I would like to be left alone for now.” I sobbed. My father nodded and left.

A few hours later, I heard a strange sound, a series of chimes and bells. It reverberated through the house. That must be the doorbell, I thought. I had never heard the doorbell before. I heard my father open the door. That’s when I heard a terrifying sound. I heard the voice of a man, a familiar voice—William’s voice. I gasped, I had the urge to leap up and run down the stairs and into his arms. I stopped and brought my hand to my face. I felt my nose, my lips, and my skin. I looked around and found a jagged shard of glass. I picked it up and looked at myself. The hideous face I feared was still there, and it wasn’t going to go away. I felt nauseous, and I tore my eyes away from the glass and hid the shard behind a box, scared I would accidentally look at it. I couldn’t let William see me like this. I heard the stairs creak. Someone was coming up to the attic. I flung myself into the corner and quickly turned off the dusty lamp that was lighting the room. I was in complete darkness.

“Mona? Are you here? I searched for you for the past year. I’m here now. We can be together!” William’s voice rang as he said my name. A part of me was relieved that he never forgot me, and he spent his time searching for me, but another part of me felt bad for him, searching a whole year for someone as ugly as me. I wished I could see his face one last time. Tears filled my eyes as I realized what had to be said.

“Go away William!” I said weakly, trying to sound assertive. “I don’t want you anymore.” Tears rolled down my cheeks.

“But Mona!” he protested. “Mona, where are you? Can we talk about this?”

“Go!” I screamed. I heard his footsteps stomp down the stairs. A few seconds later, I heard the front door slam.

The next couple of weeks were torture. All I would do was cry and sleep. The only time I saw my father was when he brought me my meals. Day in and day out, I would dream about William and what our life would be like if I was beautiful. I thought of Claire, and how her life was. I thought by now, she would probably be a wealthy model with a handsome boyfriend. Her life was probably magical.

One day I was lying in a corner, crying, as I usually did, when I realized how unbearably hungry I was. In my depressed state, I hadn’t noticed that my father never brought me any food. I sighed; I would have to do it myself. I tried to hold out for a little bit longer but I gave into my hunger. I meandered down the stairs and into the kitchen. I grabbed an apple, took a large bite, and rejoiced at its delicious taste.

“Mona.” my father moaned from the next room. Confused, I walked into the living room. The apple dropped from my grasp and to the floor as I ran to my father. He was lying on the couch in obvious pain. He cast me a tortured gaze.

“Dad! What’s wrong?” I cried. He just shook his head.

“I’ve been sick for a long time Mona.” he whispered. A small tear started leaking down his cheek. “I’ve been able to hide it for a long time now, but it’s been getting worse. I think.” He took a deep breath. “I think my time is coming.”

“Oh dad.” I whimpered, taking his hand in mine. He managed to give me a weak smile.

“Mona, sweetheart.” he said, voice breaking. “I love you with all my heart and soul. There are a few things I need to tell you. You have asked me many questions over the years, and I have not been kind enough to answer them. Would you like to ask me those questions again? I promise, this time I will be honest with you.”

My heart was breaking, but I managed to say a feeble “Yes.” I took a few calming breaths. “Dad, I don’t know where to start. I want to know why I look this way; I want to know why I was never allowed to leave the house. I have so many questions! Why did you call Claire ugly and me beautiful, when it was clearly the other way around? I want to know about my mother. Was she beautiful? Or…like me? I just want to know why my life has been this way.”

He sighed, and with a pained groan, he lifted himself up to a sitting position. I reached out to assist him, but he shoved my hand away. “It may be easier if I just explain everything at once.” I looked up at him in anticipation. “It hurts me to say this Mona, but…I used you—you and your sister both.” I gave him a confused look, urging him to continue. “This world is obsessed with things that are not very important. I always taught you girls the real important things in life. I taught you how to treat others well, and how to respect your elders. But most importantly Mona, I taught you to believe in yourself.” He stroked my face with his hand. I realized how withered and grey they were.

“It makes me terribly sad that this world puts so much emphasis on beauty. In today’s world, people are led to believe that you will never accomplish anything if you are not perfect looking. Beautiful people are treated with respect, and they are loved and envied by those who are less fortunate. I wanted to prove to the world that a beautiful girl can be sad and lonely, and that a girl who is said to be ugly can have self-confidence, and live her life just as well or even better than any beautiful person.” He looked down.

“Oh dad!” I said, hugging him gently. “You are such a wise man. But, what does this have to do with me?”

He inhaled and closed his eyes, preparing himself for what he was about to say. “As I said Mona, I used you girls. I raised you your whole life telling you that you were beautiful, and I raised Claire to believe she was ugly. That’s why you were never meant to leave the house. There was no other way to do it. You looked at Claire, thinking you looked like her, and vise versa. So you believed you were beautiful, and she believed she was ugly. That was ‘The Process’” he said as he looked down in shame.

I felt a pain in my chest; the words that came out of my father’s mouth sickened me. How could he have done that to me, I thought? Through the pain, there was an immense relief though. Knowing the truth somehow set me free from some of the longing in my heart. I wanted to know more. “Dad, why did you let Claire and I go to that ball?” I asked.

He stuttered slightly. “Everybody needs a break once in a while.”

I looked him in the eye. “Dad, I want to know the truth.”

He sighed. “It was a test Mona, a test to prove to me that my theory was working. For example Mona, you found yourself a handsome young man, and you had the night of your life. But Claire wasn’t confident in herself, and she spent the whole night alone, afraid to take a chance. That night proved me right. You don’t have to be beautiful to have fun, or to be successful. You just need to have confidence in yourself.”

A tear fell down my cheek. The truth stung, but it also set me free. My father was a lot smarter than I had given him credit for. Through my lingering sadness there was a spark of hope. I had always been ugly, but I had been able to have the night of my life and have adventures. It made me realize that I could do anything my heart desired, regardless of how I looked. “I just have one more question Dad. What was my mother like?”

He paused. “I’m sorry Mona.” he said. “I never had a relationship with your mother.”

I was confused. “How is that possible?” I asked.

“You were not conceived like a normal child.” he said. “I created you and your sister artificially through science, and you grew and developed in your mother’s womb. She was a woman I had hired for the job. She was a beautiful lady who needed the money to start a bakery business. I don’t know where she is now. I know it sounds crazy Mona. And I apologize, but that was the only way I could make two sisters who looked completely different.”

I sat there, frozen, shocked by the words I had just heard. “So…I’m a freak?” I asked.

“No Mona! You are not a freak! You are unique!” he almost yelled. “Oh!” he groaned, clutching his hand to his chest.

“Dad!” I shouted, “Are you okay? I’ll call 911.”

“No Mona! Don’t call 911.” he wheezed. “Listen to me. This may be the last thing you hear from me, so I’ll make it count. There’s something I want you to do for me” Tears were streamed down my face. He grabbed a hold of my hands, his grip weak but full of purpose.

“Anything dad.” I cried.

“Go out into the world and prove to everyone that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from or what you look like. As long as you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. I want you to have the best possible life you can live. I want you to not only think you are beautiful…but also know that you are. As for that William boy, you follow your heart sweetheart. If he is the one, then he’ll love you for who you are. I know this is all so scary, but I believe in you.” he struggled.

“Dad…I’m not ready to let you go.” I whimpered. His grip loosened on my hands as he said his final words to me.

Mona, Mona, pretty as a rose.

Pretty from her head,

Pretty to her toes.

Mona, Mona, shining star,

Mona, Mona, beautiful, you are.

I kissed my father on the forehead. As I stood up, I noticed a small slip of paper in my hand. My father must have slipped it into my hand during our conversation. I looked over to where he lay and I gasped. My father was no longer dead on the couch. He was gone. I looked around the room. There was no sign of him anywhere. I opened the crumpled piece of paper he had given me and read it. Written in childish block print was something wonderful.

Dear Mona,

I will always be watching over you.

Love Dad.

Ps. 443 Oakville Boulevard

I wiped away silent tears from my cheek. I studied the address for a while, wondering what it meant. That’s when I realized; my father had given me the address to William’s house.

I looked down at my wet tear-stained shirt. I ran to my room, put on a fresh pair of clothes and brushed my teeth. Halfway through brushing my hair, I stopped. Who cared what I looked like? William would either accept me, or not.

I shuffled through the drawers in the kitchen until I found a wad of cash. I opened the phone book and looked up a local cab company. I twiddled my thumbs, waiting anxiously for the cab driver to arrive. When he finally did show up, I flung into the back seat and yelled “443 Oakville Boulevard! Please hurry!” The cab sped off. It was a long ride, but it was worth it to see the giant house come into view.

As soon as we came to a stop, I jumped out of the cab. “Hey!” he yelled. “You owe me—.” I ran back to the cab and threw the wad of cash through the open window.

“Keep the change!” I shouted, running towards the gate. I reached the gate, and I pounded on the bars. “Hello?” I hollered. “Is anyone there?”

“Hello?” a lady’s voice sounded. “Welcome to the Cunningham residence. Do you have an appointment?”

I looked around for the mysterious voice. I responded to the air. “No.” I said “But I just came here to see—.”

“No visits without an appointment.” the woman cut me off in mid sentence. I heard a click.

I shouted as loud as I could. “Please! Let me in! I’m an old friend of William’s; I want to surprise him. I don’t want him to know I’m coming! Is he here? Please! Let me in! My name is Mona! Hello?” I slumped to the ground, defeated, about to cry.

“Your name is Mona?” the lady said, less forcefully.

“Y-yes.” I stuttered. I stood up as the gates opened.

“I wont tell him you’re coming. Please, come in. Enjoy your stay at the Cunningham residence Miss Friedman.” her voice rang in excitement.

I was confused, anxious, and excited as I ran through the gates and up to the front entrance. As I ran, I thought of turning back and running home. I fought that urge and carried on. I opened the giant doors. There were many people gathered in the big open ballroom, none of them were looking at me. I saw William, facing away from me at the other end of the room.

I held my head up high as I made my way through the crowd. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see myself walking in the mirrors. I had never seen a more confident girl in my life. I tried not to stay too distracted as my eyes bore into William’s back. I couldn’t believe my courage. As I made my way down to the end of the room, confused and anxious whispers started to build as people noticed me. Words like ‘ugly,’ and ‘disgusting’ on their lips. Nobody raised their voice past a whisper, for my confident stride silenced them all. I walked all the way up to William and announced myself. “This is me William. Take me or leave me.”

“Mona?” he said, joyfully, turning around. “Is that yo—.” He paused when he saw my face. I saw him studying my face. That’s when I noticed his face. The left half of his face was severely scarred and deformed. I remembered the mask he had worn to the party had covered the right half of his face. I didn’t care. He was still handsome to me.

“I’ll take you for you…if you take me for Me.” he said, touching his face. He looked saddened, as if I would leave him. I wrapped my arms around him, taking him all in, every part of him; the way he felt, the way he smelled. I looked up at his terribly deformed face and smiled. Every part of him belonged to my heart. I loved every part of him…every beautiful, ugly detail.

Five years have since passed and my life is amazing. I put my ugliness behind me and became a beautiful person on the inside. William and I got married, and we now live in a house of our own with our three beautiful children, Betty, Martha, and Clarence. I have an amazing job, traveling all around the country, teaching kids about the value of inner beauty. Claire has moved back to our old house. She lives alone. Ever since she turned eighteen, she prioritized beauty over other things in her life. She had a successful career as a model, but her drive for perfection landed her with a serious eating disorder. She tried dating throughout the years, but nothing ever worked out. She only dated men for their looks, and she never found a real connection with anybody. William and I are raising our children to believe that it’s what’s on the inside that really matters. I hope they grow up to challenge the world, just like I have.

Now you have heard a story about an ugly girl, who went on an adventure and found the love of her life. The story may not be pretty, and it has its share of ugliness, but it’s a story about me, Mona Cunningham, and it is beautiful.


© Copyright 2017 TaylorNieuwdorp. All rights reserved.

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