the woman who cursed the beast.
the emerald witch. they put your face in their stained-glass windows to remind the sun to fear you.
the roses you tend yell. you put a spell on an eleven-year-old boy. how dare you! for what, for not taking your rose? and to curse the servants as well - what had they done. who were you to decide to undo them? you hush them.
the woman he will love has a fondness for stories and a kindness that you lack. a sense of self-sacrifice.
like your mother. she had gentle eyes and good hands. her back hurt all the time. when you picture her, you see her hunched. sad. she looked so old, sometimes, for someone who was young. she worked so that you may play, you blissful and full of chatter, not seeing how frail she became. france was never known for feeding the people, not then, not in this time. your mother’s magic was earth magic. the only thing she could call her own was her patch of roses. beautiful and soft and the only color in her life, besides you. or at least, that’s what she told you.
every day her joints swelled. one night she stays late into a storm, begs for shelter, finds none. when she came back to you, you had nightmares about monsters. great wracking coughs like roars. her face ashy, brown with dirt. her hair matted, her knobby hands - those hands that raised you - bloody and gnarled and curled into claws. you told yourself you could not fear her. but you hid nonetheless.
when she died, you still believed in king and in country. you went to beg for a tombstone from them. it was the first you’d seen of the castle. so wide and full of things you’d never explored. for the first time in your life, you felt poor. you learned, in that moment, that you were starving. before, it had just been the way things were.
you couldn’t find the courage to face the royal family. you joined the staff. every day, you handled things that could have bought her a better life. a single spoon would have saved her; paid not for her grave but instead for the care she had required. it could have fixed her back and undone her bad bones. you gain a reputation for being soft in the head, staring at things long and hard, thinking about what you could have done with them. you watch servants in their own petty cruelness. a spot in the castle was worth fighting over. they framed theft, started rumors, purposefully injured each other.
when you first meet the boy, you think - he is not much younger than me. and he has lost his parents too, hasn’t he? maybe - if you are good and kind like your mother, he will see. you only want her name to last permanently. to be a stone, to be back to the earth like her magic was. the boy who does not know hungry is spoiled, you think. you see him crying over his choice in toys and think of what those toys could have bought another family.
resentment grows in you the way ache grew in your mother’s body. it starts somewhere ugly and spreads in thorns along your heartstrings. every early morning, every late ball, every pointless expense, every moment you are demeaned and insulted and humiliated. every tiny payment, barely enough to make your rent, every day after putting food you’ll never taste into hands that don’t care if you disappeared forever. it sits in you and you nurse it, let it grow in ivy vines between your teeth, let it in. every time the other servants are cruel, you stare at them, map their features in your head, calculate exactly what would be the best for them.
you go to the boy on the night your mother died. it is dark and there is nothing but lightning. you feel her, somehow, and that is why you wear her old clothes and crook your back and you give him - for her, and only for her - one chance to prove that this castle of taking isn’t all of sin. for a moment, you wear your mother’s skin. the way you remember her. old and gentle, carrying a single red rose she grew with tired hands.
you knock on the door, and try not to think how many homes could have used the wood it was carved in. the servants are asleep, and the boy you have enchanted: he glints one eye out into the darkness. and you, as your mother, you offer him a rose. for one night in the castle. you offer him: if he had known her, would he have accepted her? taken her under his wing? saved her from what would happen? you offer him one starving single mother, only asking for a little bit of rest, to be paid for with the most precious thing in her life, the effort of her every breath.
he laughs at you. a rose? he asks, when i have hundreds?
sire, you say, you so have hundreds of rooms, too.
and he laughs more. and closes the door. you hear at once the sound of her closing coffin.
you stand there, and if it is the magic of your mother, of her rose, of the black soil, for once in your life you are powerful. the castle opens itself to you, and at once, like a map of blackness, you find every corner and expose it for the ugliness inside. for the sharp man who beats you every time he perceives you being slow: a clock, so he can feel the time strike him. for the pretty ladies who are constantly using their looks to hide how cruel they are to each other: a duster, so they can settle in their own dirt. and for the leery man who touches you - day after day after day - his hands will be fire, so he never stops burning. even the stones turn dark, the corners full of gargoyles, the eves covered in spiderwebs. every place a shadowed hell. the way it’s always been.
and for the boy? the boy who would have let your mother die in the night? for him you give him exactly what he turned away; the beast from your childhood dreams. does the boy scream, when you turn him into who your mother became? his clawed hands and bent back and growl of a voice? this question haunts you still. did he scream? you heard nothing but the echo of his voice, laughing.
you stood there. ivy around you in a dress. your mother’s earth magic maybe holding you back from changing even yourself. it was too late. you were already something different now, made cruel by a cruel place, made ancient by long hurts. you were panting, maybe crying. the air smelled of roses.
his way out. to find love. that’s all. just to teach him the value of a single human life before his own. so that he may know what it is to love and to have that love one day be gone.
you were fair. you were beyond fair. you just did what had to be done.