I do not see my own face staring back at me. I see his. Mother had always said that I have his features; however, I do not see him in my chin or my eyes or my cheekbones. I see him in the scars that rake down my cheek and across my neck, carving deep gouges in my creased skin. My skin has long ago lost its elasticity, and spots and scars that were not there yesterday are now making themselves pronounced. I see him in these spots and scars. I see him in the silver fur that outlines my jaw and twists from my eyebrows, just unnatural enough for people to notice. I see him in the animalistic curvature of my nose.
I look away from the mirror. If I do not see me, then I do not see him.
There is nowhere to look. I cannot look down at my shuffling feet, moving from my bedroom into the hallway. I do not want to remember that I am not wearing shoes because I ruined them last night, the soles ripping apart as my feet lengthened.
I cannot look at the clock and its slowly-moving hands. I do not want to remember that the day is growing shorter and that shadows are enveloping me in the waning sunlight. And I cannot look at my own hands because although I have done my best to scrub between the cracks in my knuckles, the residue still remains. I am stained with it – and it is stained with me. I can smell it, and I do not want to remember that it is not an it at all, but a person. A woman I have forever damaged. For all I know, she might be dead. Half the time, they do not survive to make the change.
So I close my eyes. But I cannot get away from myself. I cannot get away from him. I take a little bit of solace in the fact that if she is alive, she will not ever be able to get away from me. She will look in the mirror and see my face, as I look in the mirror and see my father’s.
My eyes open again because my body is wary of walking without the guide of sight, and I pass through the hall into the sitting room. I open the front door, which creaks slightly. It is as though the door does not want to open for me, as though the house itself is resisting me. I pretend to not be bothered by this, and that I am too rough around the edges to notice this repugnance I feel emanating from all around.
I am no stranger to repugnance, real or imagined.
One more rolled-up newspaper is resting on the stack of other newspapers. There must be at least a hundred of them, scattered into the bushes outside this little house that once belonged to my parents. The plastic that covers them is brown from earth, the paper inside slowly decomposing with mold and mildew from its many nights of being battered by the rain. I do not tell the owls to stop delivering the Daily Prophet. I do not want them to know that I cannot read. Even if they are just owls, and even more animal than I am. Or less, maybe.
Less animal than I am.
I close the door. There is nothing waiting outside for me. There is nothing waiting inside for me, either. There is nothing inside me for me. I am an animal trapped within a disguise of human flesh, for the time being. This fact never drifts away from the edges of my thoughts; it is all-encompassing. Over the years, it has grown to define me. Now, if my mother were alive, she would not be able to recognize this beast as her son. Then again, if my mother were alive, I might not be this way at all.
Since there is nowhere for me to go, and the beast within me is locked inside a man’s skin, I walk back to my bedroom again. I wonder why I ever bothered getting up in the first place. Sometimes I wonder why I bother waking up at all, and opening my eyes for the first time. And then I remember.
If I do not open my eyes to find the ceiling, then my eyes are still seeing him. And my mother. And everything that has been taken from me.
There are photographs in a small hatbox buried deep in the attic, of this family that was so long ago, it might not have really existed. They were taken before what happened to my father and before what happened to me. Before my mother’s laugh and shining chocolate eyes disappeared into a puff of smoke, curling high into the night air to be silenced forever. I feel my insides smoldering at these thoughts, remembering the brown-and-white pictures and their frayed edges, and my bright smile peering through. The child in the picture does not know that he is looking into the face of his future. Perhaps that is why he is still able to grin and wave his skinny arm at me. If he could recognize himself in me, then certainly he would not be smiling. But there is nothing left of that little boy inside of me for him to recognize.
“You are still beautiful,” I hear my mother’s voice say softly. She is in a portrait, hanging next to my bed. Every day, she tells me that I am beautiful. It is her kindness that prevents my shame from carrying her portrait into the attic and draping a sheet over it.
I glance up at my mother. Her head is tilting sideways, examining me. I know that she sees the remnants of scarlet on my hands, and the heavy guilt in my downcast expression. There is no pity in her eyes. There is only love. But her eyes are painted, and a painted mother is not enough for her love to seep through the room, soaking me with the warmth of a mother – the warmth of protection and forgiveness and empathy and unconditional affection.
She holds out her arms, as though to embrace me. But she cannot embrace me, because her arms are painted. They do not extend farther than the frame she is trapped in. Both of us are concealed in our own prisons.
I see the woman from last night again, and her brown eyes. They are like my mother’s eyes. My eyes are blue, like my father’s. Although they are his, I do not hate them. My grandfather once told me that blue eyes are the most honest eye color, because they make people feel as though they can see straight through you, to your soul. They feel like they can trust you.
My mother sees straight through me now. And yet, she loves me. But her arms are still painted, no matter how much we both wish otherwise. And I place the scarred, silver-haired face that I abhor into my hands and feel the wet warmth trickling into my palms. I smell the salt of my tears mingling with the scent of rust and peppermint perfume on my fingers. The peppermint is what drew me to her initially, and then the eyes. Somewhere inside me, even as a monster, the familiarity of these traits had struck a nerve with me and I was powerless…powerless to stop it. But if I had not been powerless, it still would have happened. Because my mother is painted and she is not.
I smell myself and hate myself and I can feel my reflection in the mirror on the wall, watching me and hating me, too. I wish I was my reflection rather than a physical being, so that I could walk away into the mirror to a land away from here. Maybe I would come out in a beautiful place. My mother – the one who is not painted – must be in a beautiful place. For everything her lovely eyes had had to witness while she was still alive, she certainly deserves to lie in green meadows, a book propped up to guard her gaze from the radiant sunlight. There would be horses there. Mother loved horses. She had cinnamon and white and ebony horses painted on the headboard in her bedroom. When I was small, I traced my fingers over the wooden grooves, outlining them as they galloped in place. I often wondered where they ran to, when the room was dark and no one could see them. Off of the headboard and into the beautiful place where Mother is now, perhaps.
I won’t be going anywhere beautiful when I am no longer on Earth.
The little boy from the photograph in my mind is still smiling. I weep because I am ashamed. I am ashamed that the little boy from my memory will never see beauty again. He will not run into his mother’s open arms in that green meadow, dancing under a never-ending, brilliant blue sky. She will never hold him or read to him. She would never teach him how to read stories for himself. He will never see his mother and her horses. I cannot tell the little boy this. So he stays in the attic.
I look in the mirror again.
I pretend that I am painted, too. When people come into the room, I can walk away. They never have to see me. I will simply step into another portrait somewhere else.
“You are still beautiful,” Mother whispers once more. I do not look at her. I wonder if she told my father that, too. I could ask her, but we do not talk about my father. I do not know if she speaks to him in their painted forms, wherever he may be. She cannot talk to him in her true form, somewhere in her green meadow, because he most certainly is not there. He is the person who awaits me when I am gone from this body. Part of me yearns to see him. Part of me never wants to die because my stomach heaves at the thought of ever being near him again. And to see the faces of the many who have crossed into that world because of me – the accidents, the intended wolves-to-be that didn’t survive the transformation…and the lives I took because I was told to. I was a tool to be molded and manipulated. The tool who cannot read and who is loved by no one but painted figures – a person of minimal worth. But worth, nonetheless, to those who accept the ugly and tainted. Those who need tools like me.
They needed me. It was so startling, to be needed. I never even needed myself. I belonged to a part of something bigger than myself; and it did not matter what it was. I needed the arms of people who were not painted. But even then, their arms were cold.
I feel my mother’s warmth. She is not real, but I feel it inside of me.
My waist is sliced in half – half shadow, half light. My mother’s face is illuminated in the red sun that floods in from the western window, and I see that she is proud. She knows me and all that I am, and she is proud. But I know that she loves me for the sake of what was, rather than what is. She loves the smiling brown-and-white little boy with the conductor’s cap and the messy cowlick. She loves his too-large trousers rolled up at the ankles and bunched together with a thick belt because they were my father’s trousers. She adores his missing two front teeth and the splatter of sun-kissed freckles on his smooth, smooth skin. The skin before the scars. She loves him and she sees him in me.
I do not speak in front of her, so that she does not hear what my voice sounds like now. I want to keep what was, rather than what is, alive for her. If she were to hear the guttural words from my tongue now, her enchanting brown eyes would widen in revolted revelation. And she would know that the boy was gone – lost forever. She would leave me for the family in pictures.
Maybe the boy is in the meadow, after all. He died long ago…
My mother deserves that little boy. I hope he is alive somewhere, still waving his arm and grinning happily. There is an enormous silvery fish in his other hand, and he struggles to hold it up for the camera. It is the largest fish he had ever caught and his father had never been more proud of him in his life. The boy still beams in the attic, smiling at no one, clutching his fish and eternally swollen with joy from the sight of his parents making such adoring expressions at his accomplishment.
Tonight, I will be going somewhere. It has been planned for a year. I will do what I have been told, and may be rewarded. There is no one to fold me into their arms and smile at me, and so I take these other rewards when I can get them. They do not fill me with warmth. But they fill me with a small sense of purpose.
I consider not going. I consider staying here and trailing my hands over the horses on Mother’s headboard. There is a ring on the dusty duvet, from where I sit and do this often. I can see her hands next to mine – both of us pale with the undamaged skin of youth – floating along like shadow puppets as they crept across the span of her headboard. There is a candle burning somewhere behind us, throwing its yellow light onto the wall. I smell Mother’s subtle peppermint and I hear the porch swing banging softly as Father extinguishes his cigar and gets up to come inside. It is a time when none of us are painted or blemished or consumed with bitter emptiness. A time when I can feel two pairs of hands encircling me with acceptance and wondrous, magical love. People who know love for their entire lives do not understand what wondrous magic love is. They take being loved for granted.
I wonder who my father sees when he looks into a mirror, wherever he is.
I stand to my feet. The room is too dark now. People who know how to read would not be able to read in this lighting. I have always preferred the dark because of this – it provides an excuse when I cannot make out words. I remember the letter ‘F’. My mother was teaching me how to spell my name.
There is nothing for me in this room. There is nothing for me in this house. The only thing that waits for me is very far away, and it is my responsibility to be there. I wonder how much scarlet will be hiding in the cracks of my knuckles and forearms tomorrow morning, clinging to the silvery hair follicles. The more there is, the more I will be rewarded. People will not look at me and say, “He can’t read. He’s just a monster.” They will say, “He serves a purpose. He contributes. Without him, we would be just alittle less well off.” I am an asset.
“I am an asset,” I say without thinking.
My gruff voice has permeated the air, and I cannot take it back. I cannot retract the hissing that has escaped my lips. I do not look at my mother, and I do not wonder if she still thinks I am beautiful.
“Ophelia,” someone says.
I swerve toward the familiar sound, knowing in my heart but not believing. I see my father in the painting. I have not seen him painted before. His mustache is longer here than it was in life. But his eyes glint like jewels set deep between rocks in a mine, and they rove greedily over my mother’s face. He is seeing her again at last – what she looked like before she was forever ruined – and he looks as though he could never watch her for long enough. He is drinking her in with his eyes. My eyes drink him in as he does this.
She holds out her hand to him. I know I am supposed to leave to go there tonight…to perform my duties. But now I do not want to. Now, there is something more important. I will stay here forever, watching him watch her.
“Samuel,” she says.
He lifts her to her feet. There is a blush on her cheeks, the flush of a young girl rising within her. She knows what is to come, even if I do not. She has not seen her husband in a very long time. The days have stretched into ages, sinking deep within her like the rings of an old tree in the forest. My mother has many, many rings. I feel them chipping away as she looks at my father, restoring herself to a happier version of Ophelia. She is blossoming backwards into the woman he loved.
“Are you ready?” he asks.
“I have been waiting,” she says. Their fingers intertwine. My mother looks back at me over her shoulder. She offers me a smile. “You are still beautiful,” she tells me in her perpetually sweet tone.
Together, they walk out of the frame. Their figures grow smaller and smaller, travelling down a hallway in a place I cannot be. I am not allowed to join them. My mother is gone. My mother has absconded from her portrait and I am not beautiful anymore; because the only person who ever thought I was has left me, and cannot tell me. I know she has been waiting for him. He cannot be with her in her meadow, but they are together as painted people. I wonder why he had never come for her earlier.
And I know that I will go tonight, to the place I was told to be. And maybe something will happen to me and I will soon be painted, too.
A/N: I haven't written anything in this style before. It's very simple and direct, as I imagine Fenrir to be. I don't see him as someone with exceedingly deep thoughts or actions, since he seems to be driven mostly by greed and primitive desires. Let me know what you think! I can't improve without feedback. ;)