Beauty examined her arm closely. The tiniest dent remained. At this rate it would be several years before the limb disappeared altogether. Far away, in a Liverpool suburb, a mother clutched her newborn scrap of infant exclaiming, ‘She’s so beautiful!’ Beauty smiled, taking pleasure in the fact that she could bring happiness.
Today was Beauty’s birthday. She couldn’t be sure of her exact age. She looked about 24, but she could easily be 240 or 2040. She didn’t age, that was the point. She was as old as the hills. God took his eye off the ball when creating the wildebeests; a rogue sunbeam darted off and turned itself into a cluster of blindingly exquisite people. God was so cross the sun had taken matters into its own hands He extinguished them all, but had not noticed Beauty cowering behind a rock. She was left guilt-stricken, both at her existence and her escape.
She had a tendency to keep herself hidden, which was fortunate, because whenever she became too prevalent, a disaster tended to happen. The Trojan War, for example. The face that launched a thousand ships? She had become obsessed with the lovely young nobleman Paris and poured herself into the body of Helen of Troy, wanting to be with him. He couldn’t help himself. No-one could withstand the force of beauty. She was so appalled at the war wreaked in her honour that she withdrew from Helen’s body, slowly and painfully. It took ten years. When the war was over, people looked at Helen and wondered what the fuss was about. The poor woman died an ignoble death.
Beauty learnt from that episode. It was many centuries before she lapsed again. Finding herself in a sunlit glade one day she laughed and frolicked with the woodland creatures, who neither knew nor cared how radiant she was. She did not know she was being observed by a young French writer, near destitute and unpublished. He rushed to his proverbial garret above the local inn and wrote feverishly, not stopping for food or sleep until he had committed to paper his tales. He returned to the woods hoping to see his muse, but the divine creature had gone. He refused to budge, cursing himself for his folly in having left the first time. His body was found three days later by a passing farmer.
Some weeks later the innkeeper noticed there’d been no sound from the writer’s room. Going to investigate, he realised from the maggoty bread and stagnant water that the man had gone. Returning downstairs in high temper at the unpaid rent, he flung the writer’s belongings on the street and sold the stories he’d found on the desk for two livres to an unscrupulous publisher, who subsequently made far more money from them.
The early versions of Sleeping Beauty contained a highly florid paean to the central character. Beauty, happening to pass by an open window one night, heard the story being read to a child and realised with sinking heart that it was about her.
From this point on, she resolved, she must only come out in the dead of night. No-one else was to suffer. Except her, naturally, for escaping the will of God. She didn’t realise what the repercussions would be. The sun began to get ever so slightly colder, the trees decided it was too much effort to bloom, the seas became still, too still. The world needed her. It was dying.
‘What shall I do?’ she cried aloud to the wind.
‘Give yourself away’, answered the rock.
She looked down and saw the rock was formed into a twisted shape, a blind old woman draped in tattered robes. She knelt beside the figure.
‘Who are you?’
The woman turned her sightless eyes to Beauty, who shivered at the new sensation of
her appearance not causing a gape of astonishment.
‘I am Truth.’
‘How shall I give myself?’
The woman wrenched a piece of the rock off and handed it over. Its sharp sides glistened.
‘Carve yourself up, my dear. Give a fragment of yourself to a newborn child until your beauty is gone.’
‘What will become of me? Will I be gone?’ Beauty wondered eagerly. If the world did not suffer, she would gladly be rid of her troublesome self.
The woman paused.
‘That is unclear to me. You must take a risk.’
‘And the world?’ Beauty asked anxiously.
‘You will have given enough to sustain it.’
Beauty turned the primitive dagger in her hand, marvelling at the way it caught the light. She looked over to thank the woman and saw only a rock.
She held the blade to her skin, pressing lightly. Was this possible? She didn’t want to cause any more pain, but could she really cease to be? She remembered the agony of
Helen of Troy. Nothing like that must happen again. She pressed the blade harder, gasping slightly as a shaft of light shot out and disappeared. Far away it was received to a newborn girl in Liverpool, causing the hospital to marvel at the infant’s beauty.
Beauty felt a great bubble of happiness within her. This was the best birthday present
imaginable. Over the next days and months and years she extinguished herself slowly but surely, until nothing remained. Except a consciousness. The consciousness was lonely. If I could just be in the world, as others are, for a short time, it thought.
A door in the house halfway down the road opened cautiously. A figure came out and slowly, hesitantly, walked down the road. It was a fine day and the town was busy with people running errands. The woman weaved between them, nodding hello. Some acknowledged her, most did not. She reached a shop window and stood to observe herself in the mirror. A small woman, unremarkable in appearance, face lined, hair grey, shoulders stooped, in the last stages of life. The woman smiled hugely at her reflection. She felt truly beautiful at last.