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A Fairy Tale
If someone had stumbled upon her that day, curled into herself and hiding from reality, that person might have noticed that Charlotte cried like a grown-up. Her head rested on her knee, soaking a faded blue skirt, but her face was smooth and composed. As tears made silent rivers on her cheeks, she did not sob or tremble. It was a heavy, resigned sort of weeping, the sadness of one who has grown accustomed to pain. And mostly, they were tears of regret. Not regret for the past, but for the inevitability of the future.
If someone had stumbled upon her that day, in the dusty corner of an old and empty house, that person might have noticed that, although she cried like an grown-up, Charlotte was still just a child.
The attic was where she came to be alone. It always had been, since she was small and impressionable, in the days when her grandmother had told the most beautiful, fantastical lies. Tucked in the deep, cushioned arms of the reading chair by the fire, and drowsy with the sitting-room smell of rose potpourri, candle wax, and velvet, nothing had seemed impossible.
“The attic, my dear Charlotte”, the old woman had whispered, “is not like the rest of the house. There are secrets to be found there… secrets and magic”.
“But how can I find them?” Charlotte had asked, breathless with youthful impatience.
And the soft, silver voice had laughed, the sad kind of laughter that hints at things long ago lost. “They have always been there, child, waiting for someone who knows how to open her eyes”.
And Charlotte’s eyes had been wide, filled only with wonder and with innocence, as she climbed the splintered stairs and breathed in the dust of forgotten memories. Awaiting her was a vast kingdom, as perfect as only a childhood fantasy could be. Squares of dingy sunlight, filtered through grime coated windows, made mermaid pools of liquid gold on the floor, and endless piles of artifacts formed enchanted fortresses, secret castles. The boxes of thick, musty fabrics (emerald velvet curtains, surely fit for any palace, and ruffled dresses, trimmed in yellowing lace) and stacks of soft, leather bound books - even the cobwebs stretched across each empty corner seemed alive and somehow radiant. How could it not be so? When everything in sight smelled sweet and heavy of her grandmother’s perfume, and the very walls breathed stories of a beautiful, unknown woman?
No, Charlotte had never doubted her grandmother, not in any regard.
But now, hardly a child anymore, she sat weeping in the dimness of her own sanctuary. A graveyard, it had become, of fragmented memories and lifeless portraits of people she would never know. Through the bitter squint of her newly adult eyes, the attic was cramped and dirty. I have outgrown those silly childhood stories, she said to herself.
The fairy-dust suspended in the air was stale and gray. It suffocated her.
She reached for the top of the nearest stack of books, heaving to her lap an extraordinarily fat volume with a deep purple cover and peeling script reading: ‘A Collection of Fairy Tales’. Inside were thousands of words which Charlotte could have recited by heart. She opened the front cover gently and ran her finger over the faded, blue ink at the bottom of the title page.
Property of Alice A. Everson
Alice A. Everson. It was a sparkling, effervescent name, to be whispered like the words of a magic spell, or a curse. Charlotte felt it on her tongue like melting sugar, much too sweet to last. Alice A. Everson was destined to live forever in Charlotte’s imagination, recreated in alternating visions of ethereal perfection - because a mother is always imagined like an angel, more lovely than reality could live up to, when her child has never known her.
But today, Alice seemed to be only an impossibly distant point of light, elusive and ephemeral as childhood itself. Charlotte squeezed her eyes shut, searching for a face, a voice, or just the warm feeling of arms around her, a feeling of security. She couldn’t even conjure an invented memory. All that came to her, filling her up and leaving no room for anything else, was the scent of her grandmother’s skin, before Charlotte realized it was only the attic she smelled, a sad recreation of the past. She couldn’t help but feel like she was loosing something that was never hers to have.
Charlotte flipped through pages of the book at random, savoring the feel of the smooth cream-colored paper beneath her fingertips. Phrases played like a recording in her mind: “the curse was lifted”, “they found true love”, and “everyone lived happily ever after”. They’re mocking me, she thought. Nobody lives happily ever after, not in real life.
The world, Charlotte knew, was too complicated for that, too cruel. Things had a way of spiraling out of control, tragedy always seeming to follow tragedy, and all you could do was stand back and watch your life play out before you.
Oh, but hadn’t she learned? Nothing beautiful could be real, not for long. Not these treasured fairy tales, not the loving mother she imagined, and certainly not the magic of this dirty old attic. Finally, Charlotte dropped the heavy book into her lap and lay her cheek upon its open pages, letting her tears stain and blur the hollow words.