She was cursed with a fairness that strangled her. Expectations woven into her dark hair, an openness and roundness to her eyes that filled her with horror. They were too pale, too pure, too winsome to protect her. Terrors poured in while tears poured out. Hate and bile ran through her veins, but when her white skin tore prettily, nothing oozed out but healthy scarlet.
“What is your name?” they asked. Townspeople. Sweet old women. Starry-eyed men, lads whose bones were made of milk and oatmeal.
Pestilence. Famine. Hatred. Murder, she answered, but the words changed inside of her mouth, left her soft, dewy lips like starlight.
“My name is Orva. It means ‘golden one’,” she said aloud, and blushed demurely.
She grew up with a boy name Jorge. His last name meant ‘meadow’, and he was just like a meadow himself, with soft and gentle hands. He caught animals in his traps, whispering sweetly in their ears as he twisted their necks or slit their throats. He skinned them, his beautiful hands slick and red, and this is how he helped feed their village.
“This is for you,” he told her once, as tender as new teens, and handed her a stole of rabbit fur. He wrapped it carefully around her shoulders.
“Thank you,” she said, and smiled charmingly, then tried to slash her wrists on the knife at his belt. Her eyes merely flicked toward it, instead.
“I’m sorry that I have to use such a thing,” Jorge said. “I hope it doesn’t disgust you.”
She looked him in the eyes and took his hand. For the first and last time in her life, her lips said exactly what was in her heart.
“Jorge, some things need to be. And you’re so tender with them while you do it. I’ve never seen such kindness.”
She saw the light in his eyes, and knew what it meant. Over the years, she never saw it go out.
Orva tried to shriek for help, to scream in rage, but her voice was so dulcet. So small. It tinkled like bells. Charming. Merry. She ran to the elder in town. Told him what she thought of him, of the oppressive ideals and the spin-and-twirl roll that she played. She told him that his mother was a hag and he himself a goat, and she wished he was dead. That they’d die. That the entire village would burn and be pillaged and everybody, including herself, raped and murdered and scattered about in pieces.
The words escaped her cupid bow lips and turned to honey. She heard herself laughing with pure joy. Praising his robe. Musing about the darling shape of the clouds. He patted her cheek and told her to go gather wildflowers in her skirt. To plait them in her hair, like the good girl her Mama had always wished for.
“Wishes sometimes come true,” the elder said knowingly, and something passed across his eyes like clouds. Stardust and magic.
Orva obediently skipped off, and cried the entire way.
Her tears were pearls, and made the town rich. They were sewn into bridal veils and fine dresses that she refused to wear, except that her sweet mouth could make no such refusal.
So fine. So good, the townspeople said as they dressed her. Isn’t she the most magnificent thing? Thoughtful and cheerful and full of beauty.
The flowers made an exquisite crown for an exquisite beauty. She tried to pierce her eyes with the thorns so she wouldn’t see how people looked through her, but she merely fluttered her lashes instead. She took her tender wrist to her mouth, touched it with strong, straight teeth, imaging how it would feel to cut through to the vein, to release herself and let people see what she really looked like inside. Perhaps they could love her for her own kind of beautiful. Perhaps she could be enough.
Her teeth didn’t tear into her skin. She kissed her own wrist, over and over and over. She screamed, and the sound of her joyful singing echoed over the valley.
Starlight. Moonshine. She had girlish love in her eyes, color in her cheeks. Jorge was no longer a boy. He stole soft kisses from her, breathless, far too in love, dangerous. No, Jorge, she said. I don’t want this. You don’t even know who I am. Take that knife on your belt and use it. Place it to my throat. Let me go.
He reached for something at his waist, and her heart filled. Shone. He raised his hands, ran them over her shoulders. Upward. She closed her eyes, white teeth biting at her lips.
“I have something for you,” he said. Slim fingers on her pale neck. Something cold.
She hoped the pain would be swift. She prayed it would be sure.
A necklace. Made of precious stones and metal and time and desire. He fastened it around her neck, nervously. Tears ran down her cheeks, wetting his fingers.
“I’ll take care of you,” he said. “Love you always. I’ll feed you on milk and pray to always see the moon shine in your eyes. Will you have me? Will you love me?”
No, no, I don’t know how to love. I’ll poison you with my kisses. Kill our children in my womb with bitterness. It will be despair, and you deserve so much better.
“I love you,” she whispered, and fingered the necklace she wore. Kissed his lips shyly. Buried her face in his shoulder. He held her so close that she couldn’t breathe.
She glowed. Smiled. Inside, she turned her face to the wall and died.
∼ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
Her grandfather told April her first lie.
“There is an ancient Japanese art called Kintsugi,” he said. “It is when you take something broken and repair it with gold. This turns it into a beautiful thing of even more value. Pottery has been fixed this way for many generations. People are fixed this way, too. Take the flaw and turn it into something better. Can you imagine that, April? Taking the worst part of yourself and working it into something admirable?”
This made April’s dark eyes shine. She wanted to be loved in all her imperfections. She wanted to stand in the glory of her broken parts. Her mother, ever so strict and exacting, railed against her because she wasn’t smart enough, wasn’t disciplined enough, didn’t have skin that glowed with the luminance of pearls and a voice that commanded the oceans. At first April shrank in fear, but then she remembered the promise of Kintsugi.
“I will let the damage become something better,” she said aloud, and she drew the horse hair of her bow far too loudly against the violin, and drew her eyeliner on with too heavy a hand. She took off her clothes in front of boys and girls and teachers. She traded her school uniform for something that looked nice on the back of a motorcycle or inside a police car.
Crash crash crash. Break break break. She told lies and stories and pressed false charges and faked miscarried babies. She stole wallets, hearts, social security numbers and government secrets. She knew that the more she broke, the more she would shine. She destroyed documents. She sabotaged marriages. She sold her soul and intel and the diamond necklace that had been her only birthright.
Her mother’s tears were made of gold.
There was a bomb, a terrible thing, that had burned the clothing from her grandfather’s back and seared it to his skin. Now there was a new bomb, the ultimate Kintsugi, that would shatter everything apart so it could be mended with so much gold that the mind dazzled.
“I can save all of us, repair mankind completely,” April said, her eyes fiery. Her hand smashed on the bomb’s button. But this is modern-day America, not 15th century Japan, and when you pulverize something as badly as April had done, there are no more parts to gently piece together. You end up with handfuls of rubble. You end up with dust. There’s nothing left to repair, and even if there was, this is the age of disposability. You take that chipped piece of pottery and you toss it in the other teeming piles of refuse, and never think of it again.
∼ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
Jeremy promised he would never leave me. He’d be the only person in my life never to do so. I didn’t know whether I believed him or not, not really, but I liked to think he meant it at the time.
Once he told me he was born with a darkness inside him and didn’t know how to make it go away. He wanted to hurt things. He wanted to squeeze necks and break legs. Slash at throats. He told me how he watched the pulse in my neck and kept time with its beating. After he mentioned this, I noticed his eyes would wander to my throat and his breathing would change. I knew he was waiting for something, for my heart to stop or my blood to coagulate inside my veins, if it didn’t spill out of them first. He wanted to press his thumb down on my artery to see what would happen.
It wasn’t ill-feeling. Not really. It wasn’t that he hated. He just wanted to make everybody sorry.
“Sorry for what?” I asked him once. We were just kids, sitting on the rocks and staring into the ocean. I had my crying doll with me, back before Jeremy pulled off her head to see what kind of sound she made. I was never able to put her back together, but that was all right. I still had Jeremy.
“I don’t know. Just sorry.”
He wasn’t dark all the time, and that’s what made the difference. The shadow would come in waves, nearly crushing him under the weight of despair, and then it would ebb out. He’d be charming and funny. Happy. This was the Jeremy I knew, the one I enjoyed. It didn’t surprise anybody when we grew up and fell in love. Jeremy and Kat. It’s just how it was always meant to be. That, and nobody else on the island would have anything to do with either of us.
We’d sneak up to the old lighthouse some nights, play tricks on the tourists and plan our future. We picked out a day to get married, not too far off but far enough, and made lists of the songs that we wanted to dance to after our wedding.
“Hey, Kat. You know I’ll never leave you, right?”
I didn’t say anything.
“We’ll be together always. I promise.”
I smiled, and I swear, it almost felt natural. “I believe you, Jeremy. Really.”
He knew better than that, I could see it in his eyes. But he also knew I was trying, and that’s what mattered.
“I’ll prove it to you. Just wait and see.”
His smile was a beautiful thing. It filled me with hope. Sometimes with terror, deep down, but mostly something that I think was happiness.
“Jer? I love you. I do.”
“I know you do. I love you, too.”
And then Jeremy went dark. It was worse than usual, worse than I’d ever seen. He wouldn’t talk to me. Wouldn’t let me touch him.
A little boy went missing from town and I was too terrified to ask him about it. Jeremy simply stared at the sea. It lasted for weeks this time.
“Please tell me what’s wrong,” I begged him the last time that I saw him. “Why won’t you let me help you?”
“Nobody can help me,” he said. He wouldn’t even look at me. I pulled my coat closer, the wind grabbing at my hair and trying to push me from the rocks.
“But we’re getting married in eight days,” I said. “Can’t you at least try to act happy? Pretend it matters to you?”
He didn’t answer. I turned and ran, tripping over rocks and shells. He’d already left me, just like I was afraid he would.
This is what true loneliness is.
The Coast Guard found Jeremy’s body wedged underneath rocks not far from shore. He was bloated and discolored but I kissed him anyway. We buried him on what was supposed to be our wedding day. I sat in the church, surrounded by people and flowers, and thought this wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
That night, I went dark as well. The feelings overwhelm me: despair, anger, hatred; and I know they aren’t mine. I’ll see a couple walking together, looking like they belong with each other, and I want to kill them, rend them apart because they’re happy, and I will never be.
Jeremy won’t let me. He follows me everywhere now. He’s always prowling for somebody new to hurt. He smoothes my hair back when I sleep, and threatens everyone around me. My sister came to visit after his death, and he pushed her from the rocks. He appeared once in front of my father and caused him to have a heart attack. I dared to date a man, just once, and my date was killed in a car crash on the way home. Anybody I talk to becomes his victim.
“We’ll be together always. I promise.” Jeremy had said, and I realize now that he truly meant it. He’s cutting me off from everybody that I know, from everybody that can help me. He wants me to jump from the same rocks that he did and join him, and I’m afraid that it won’t be much longer before I do. There’s nothing to stay for.
He promised he would never leave me. I should have believed him. For the first time, I truly wish to be left alone.
~ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.
There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room with her hands folded neatly in her lap.
Peter stood before her with his pockets turned out.
“I don’t have anything to give you,” he said. He spoke very quietly. Shame does that.
She didn’t move, but he thought she shook her head.
“I don’t need anything like that,” she told him. “I do not desire your buttons or baubles, although I am sure that they are quite lovely.”
He thought she smiled, but she did not actually do that, either.
“I don’t understand,” he confessed. He shifted from foot to foot. She really did smile then, but only in her eyes. He bit his lip and continued. “I thought…that you wanted something from me. In exchange for your help.”
“Oh, but I do.” Her skin was white, and her hair even whiter, but only just. When she smiled—if she smiled—her lips were disconcertingly red. The rest of the time they were only the palest of pink. He had the impression that something parasitic sucked the breath from those lips while she slept, but what could he do about it?
“Please tell me what you desire.”
“I want to be happy.”
“Then I will help you.”
She pulled a ceramic jar out of nowhere. It was the color of sky and looked cool to the touch. He flexed his fingers.
“This is the Container of Sorrows, Peter. Do you understand?”
“Yes.” He didn’t.
Her lips barely twitched but it was as if the snow melted and he tasted spring.
“This is how you will be happy. Tell me one of your sorrows. I will keep it here for you, and the burden from that particular sorrow will be no more.”
He felt stupid and stared at his shoes. They had holes in the toes.
“Do you…not wish happiness?”
Her voice was strangely brittle, as if she were trying not to cry. He was hurting her somehow, he decided, but that didn’t make any sense. He took a deep breath.
“I miss my mother,” he said, and the words fell from his mouth like vapor. The girl opened the jar, and the mist zipped inside. She closed the lid with a satisfying click.
“There,” she said, and her smile was real this time, genuine. “Don’t you feel better?”
He thought about his mother. Her warm brown hair, the apron that she used when she baked cupcakes. He thought about her more aggressively. The police telling his father that they had discovered a broken body. The funeral in a town without rain.
“I don’t feel sad,” he said in wonder, and the girl looked pleased. She kissed him, and he woke up.
Peter’s lips burned where she had touched him, and he kept his fingers pressed there for most of the day. When the boys razzed him about his poorly trimmed hair, he didn’t mind so much. When they taunted him about his mother being a whore who got what was coming to her, he was surprised to find that he didn’t care at all. He ate dinner silently and changed into his worn pajamas without being asked. He brushed his teeth and climbed into bed with an eagerness that would have been pitifully endearing if anyone had seen it.
Sleep came instantly, and there she was. She was wearing white flowers in her hair.
“Did you have those flowers yesterday?” he asked her.
Her cheeks flushed delicately. “No.”
Peter didn’t know what to say. “I had a better day at school than usual. Thank you.”
The girl again produced the smooth blue container out of thin air. “Tell me another sorrow, Peter. Tomorrow will be even better.”
“I’m tired of being called poor.”
The mist of words spiraled into the Container of Sorrows. He nodded his head once, and she nodded back in a very serious manner.
And thus it went. His sorrows disappeared. “I hate seeing dead birds. I wish that I had a friend. My father doesn’t notice me.”
The jar devoured his sorrows with an agreeable hunger. The pale girl’s lips turned up all of the time and her eyes began to sparkle. Peter grew more confident at school. He stood up straight. He looked people in the eye. He made friends.
He was almost happy.
On the last night that he went to her, something in the air had shifted. The atmosphere was holding its breath, and it was undeniable.
“Hey,” Peter said, leaning casually on the white desk. “There’s only one sorrow that I have left.”
“Only one?” asked the girl with something that sounded exquisitely close to hope. Her eyes shone. Her white hair and pink lips were glossed with fragile expectation. She produced the Container of Sorrows and carefully removed its lid. Peter’s sorrows ghosted around inside, smelling of lavender and brokenness.
“Natalia Bench never looks at me at school.”
The vaporous sorrow swirled from his lips and settled into the jar. The girl’s white fingers didn’t move, so Peter put the lid back on for her.
He smiled. “Now I’ll be brave enough to talk to her tomorrow. Thank you very much, Girl of Sorrows. I am happy.”
The girl held the jar very close, and she looked up at Peter. Her lips were pale, strawberries buried under layers of ice. He was reminded of that feeling that he had once, long ago, where he thought that something supped from her lips at night. How frightened she must be. How alone.
“Goodbye,” he said, and kissed her cheek. Had her touch once burned? She was ice under his skin. She was a corpse. Peter turned and walked away without looking back.
There was a girl. She sat at a white desk in a white room where she wept, clutching a container full of somebody else’s sorrows.
~ Mercedes M. Yardley
© Copyright 2017 Mercedes M. Yardley. All Rights Reserved.