Once upon a time, a boy fell in love with a girl, and vice versa. They got married, and in a good amount of time, the girl got pregnant.
One day, the girl – Cindy – was travelling to work on the train. She’d managed to get a seat, and was enjoying the rare privilege. Suddenly, her attention was dragged away from her book with a loud AHEM! Standing in front of her was the oldest, ugliest woman that she had ever seen. It wasn’t so much the woman’s features that were ugly, though – it was the clear evidence that she’d spent the last 80 years scowling at the world. Her mouth was turned down, with so many frown lines that she couldn’t have smiled even if she’d changed her ways and wanted to. Her forehead was creased into a permanent glower. Crow’s feet? Not for this charming old soul. You had to smile occasionally to get crow’s feet.
“This generation are so RUDE!” exclaimed the old woman loudly. Everyone not listening to their mp3 players turned to look. “LOOK at this girl,” she continued, “won’t even get up to give a poor old woman her seat!”
“ummm…” said Cindy, embarrassed.
“And she doesn’t care a BIT that I could fall and fracture my hip, and die in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, without my loved ones around me to soften my last minutes!” the ugly old woman yelled, sobbing realistically. People who HAD been listening to mp3 players took off their headphones to see what was going on. Almost everyone shot dirty, disgusted glances at Cindy. Strangely, though, none of the other seated passengers offered their own seat instead.
“I’m pregnant and my back hurts” Cindy whispered.
“Oh, stop making excuses!” the old woman screamed into her face. “You’re just a selfish little bitch! Aren’t you?”
“NO!” Cindy yelled, finally snapping. “I’m pregnant, you old harpy, and my back hurts, and I’m sick, and I’m emotional, and I don’t need some stupid miserable hag making my life hell because she can’t find happiness in anything decent! Go annoy someone else, and leave me the hell alone!” But the unusual emotion and exertion upset her stomach just that little more than usual, and Cindy threw up all over the old hag’s shoes.
The hag straightened, grew to twice her height, turned purple (not an attractive shade of purple, of course) and SCREAMED.
“HOWWWW DARE YOOOOOU!!!!!!” she thundered. “A witch’s anger you earned – a witch’s curse you reap! A girl you bear, a beauty she would be – but ugly and fat forever see! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, you stuck-up snip!”
POOF! She vanished in a cloud of bad-smelling smoke, setting off the smoke detectors.
Cindy – wet, cold and very upset – sat at her workdesk talking to her husband.
“But George, she cursed me!” she explained for the tenth time.
“Sweetie, she was just a nutty old lady with a mean streak a mile wide… call the police, report her, and forget about it” George advised for the fifth time.
“But… she rhymed!” Cindy wept. “Normal nutty people don’t rhyme. People with weird powers rhyme!”
George sighed. This was one ‘discussion’ he could tell he wasn’t going to win.
The baby was born 26 weeks later. She was beautiful – well, as beautiful as babies get. She was a little squashed-looking, and bright red, and bald… but the nurses assured Cindy that it would definitely pass. Cindy wasn’t so sure. She knew babies didn’t look like that for long. But her baby was cursed, and she didn’t know what to do.
15 years later
Little Rachel was a stunning teenager. And not in a bad way. Her hair was dark brown and glossy, and curled gently around her ears. Her eyes were bright and brown. Her face was sort of triangle-shaped, with a not-too-pointy chin which stuck out when she felt stubborn. She was beautiful inside and out.
Cindy was perplexed. She knew that witch had had power. She knew that Rachel had been cursed. So… what had happened? Had something intervened? Carefully, she watched her little girl. She made her wear a hat. She made sure she didn’t eat too much junk. Ballet and aerobics provided her exercise – she didn’t want a car accident or something nasty to fulfil the curse all of a sudden. Wrap her in cotton wool? Well, maybe, but at least her daughter was safe!
But the old witch was just more wily than she seemed. Instead of making the little girl look ugly to everyone else, she made her look ugly only to herself.
Rachel, on the other hand, felt lost. No – what she mostly felt was fat. And ugly. Every time she looked in the mirror, she saw a short, fat, spotty, green, ugly toad-like creature. Little did she know that it was a trollette spending some time in the mirror world as a favour to the old crone – not her true reflection at all.
So Rachel dieted. She slathered on facial treatments. She ‘borrowed’ her mother’s makeup. Nothing seemed to make a bit of difference. Every morning, her grotesque reflection stared back at her. Cover-up makeup just accentuated the zits and craters and miscellaneous marks. Push-up bras looked lumpy. Everything bulged in all the wrong places, no matter how well it was tailored. And no-one else would ever admit to a thing being wrong – because of course, they saw the REAL Rachel. Rachel, however, didn’t see it that way. Everyone around her was lying to make her feel better. If only someone would have the guts to tell her the TRUTH!
Still, it was a surprise to her parents when they finally realised that their beautiful girl was starving herself to get thinner. She was already slim, even the scales agreed… but the mirror told her she was fat, fat, fat! So she dieted. She alloted a piece of fruit and a carrot to each day, eating slowly and carefully. If her willpower failed, she purged. Her parents watched the kilograms slip off and worried. Finally, they sat down with her for a ‘talk’.
Rachel sighed. She didn’t see the issue. She was fat and ugly – she was dieting so that she could at least be thin and not-quite-so-ugly. She explained this, calmly and logically. Suddenly, a light switched on in Cindy’s head.
“The curse!” she exclaimed.
“No, I haven’t had my period for a while” said Rachel, baffled.
“No no no!” Cindy shook her head, “a witch cursed you when I was pregnant with you! I TOLD you!” (this last directed at George) “I thought… when you grew up so beautiful and nice… that your dad was right, and she was just an old woman with a few screws loose who thought she was a witch! But I understand now… she’s let you grow up as you should have, except she’s changed how you see yourself. And I’ve made things worse by cossetting you… oh I’ve been so STUPID! Why didn’t I see?”
Rachel looked at her, speechless.
“Ummmm…” she managed. Then she shook herself, and got back in control. “You mean… you honestly don’t think I’m ugly? Or fat? Or stupid?”
“Oh, darling!” Cindy sobbed, “I’m not that dumb! But I just don’t know how to convince you!”
Six months later, Rachel was working with a counter-witch-doctor who specialised in these sort of curses. Slowly, she was learning to check the features she saw in the mirror against reality. Her nose – green, warty and dripping? When she ran her fingers over its length, she discovered that it was actually straight, smooth and dry.
“Your fingers must be your new eyes!” explained the counter-witch-doctor. “They don’t lie to you.”
“It’s a hard road,” he’d explained to Cindy and George, “but she’s got you two for support, and I think she’ll be OK.”
Rachel sighed. This was hard work, and the progress was slow.
“Why does this take so long?” she complained, “That stupid witch cursed me in a couple of minutes, and probably went home and forgot all about it… why do I have to suffer for her bad temper?”
“It’s a mystery,” agreed the counter-witch-doctor, “but I guess that if we couldn’t do anything nasty to anyone, we wouldn’t have any free will at all. And you know… you’re kind of lucky”
“LUCKY????” Rachel yelled.
“Yup, lucky,” the counter-witch-doctor nodded. “You know, you have two parents who love you and watch over you carefully, and support you in everything. Most kids I see have actually been cursed by their parents, over and over, every day of their lives.”
Rachel thought about that a bit.
“Hmmm, you could be right…” she said reluctantly, “I just want to finally see the real me..”
The counter-witch-doctor rolled his eyes sympathetically, “Oh, join the club, Rachel!” he said. “I’ve been trying to see the real me for decades! You’ll get closer, though, I promise you that!”