The house is full of light and mirrors. The mirrors reflect slivers of beauty at concave angles.
Night after night Lucia sits with a soft-bristled brush, caressing her hair in downward strokes. She never looks in the mirror. The mirrors are there for protection. They reflect light, allowing no shadows. She doesn’t need to look. She knows her face instinctively. It is the face of frozen time. It is the face of the poet’s muse. It is the face of decadent sculptures.
Ever since she can remember she has remained indoors. As a child her mother told her incessantly how she must never leave the house. ‘Your beauty will destroy the world’, she said.
In her controlled environment, Lucia is ageless. Not one blemish marks the curve of her cheekbones or her lips. Her eyes remain the vibrant blue-white of a young girl.
The only person who knows her terrible secret is Ellie, a servant who has been around since before her mother died.
The day she watched her mother take her final breath, Lucia promised herself that one day she would venture into the outside world. ‘If it was a curse, maybe my mother’s death broke it. If it was superstition, it isn’t true. What’s the worst that can happen? Surely I can’t kill someone or start a fire just by walking down the road…if I could just open the front gate of my house and take a single step onto the path…that would prove that I’m not dangerous.’ Such reasoning became difficult to push aside as the days, months, years went by. The fear of the unknown that bound her was beginning to weaken.
* * * *
Every Tuesday night at eight o’clock she entertains a rotating schedule of unmemorable admirers. Ellie answers the door when the clock strikes eight. She greets the ghostly men with indifferent politeness, taking their coats and escorting them through to the dining room.
Lucia captivates her frequent guests with falsely humble tales of being admired. She has, after all, nothing else to talk about. Her fleeting acquaintance with nameless men remains the most eventful reality in her life. The men layer rich foods onto their fork and are careful to react accordingly between mouthfuls.
It’s during one of these meals that she finally resolves to embark outside. The man sitting opposite her, separated by a cacophony of crockery and cutlery, is talking about the beauty of nature. His name is George or Jamie, she can’t quite remember. He doesn’t speak like any of the other men. He seems more sensitive, more in-tune to the spiritual needs of the individual. Lucia is impressed by his worldview. His outlook gives her the courage to make concrete plans for the next day. As he is leaving she lets her hand touch his for a fleeting moment. An accidental tear falls down his cheek.
On the day of her adventure, Lucia puts on a special dress. It was the dress she wore to her mother’s funeral. The funeral was held in the house. Not many people came.
The dress is dark grey chiffon. The hem around the skirt is adorned with tiny roses, each one finished with an ivory pearl. It was the only dress from her wardrobe she actually liked. She never got to choose her clothes. Or her life. But life had been good to her; it had given her beauty, at least.
Making sure Ellie wasn’t around, Lucia walked to the front door. The door, she noticed for the first time, had a stained glass window with a scene of a mermaid on land. The mermaid had pain and fear in her eyes.
Turning the doorknob clockwise, she opened the door. She lamented the slant of sunlight enticing her further into the light. She widened the door enough to step through. Holding her breath, she cautiously put her left foot onto the doorstep. Then her right foot. Feeling arrogant in her success, she spread her arms wide as if fighting a circus crowd. To her dismay she knew her mother had been right. Her mother hadn’t meant to keep her locked up. She had just been protecting her. Her face crumpled in despair as she looked at the loose, wrinkled skin on her forearm. Her hands were pathways of veins. Her nails were hard and yellow. She didn’t dare look at her face. The evidence of her decrepit body locked her in a morbid epiphany. She immediately knew the terror of mortality. Her tears tumble over crevices of worn features, unsure how to navigate the terrain of a different face. She remembers fragments of her mother’s advice.
‘You can only be immortal if you don’t live life. Your beauty is forever, but fragile. No one can surpass you in appearance, but you will never be fulfilled in experience.’ As a child, these warnings had seemed like hysterical nonsense, but now they resemble ancient wisdom; unearthly knowledge.
As she steps back into the house, she regains a sense of weary contentment as she notices that her form becomes new again. She finds solace in this. Lucia is used to solitude. She makes peace with her reality and resigns herself to more visits from mysterious gentlemen. As she walks past one of the many mirrors, she glances sideways at her remarkable visage and wipes a desolate tear from her cheek.