Here is part two of “Wisteria or The Ugliest of Them All.” Read part one here.
I sweep the crone’s floors, tend her garden, and clip her yellowed toenails after her bath. She teaches me how to make potions to cure or to poison. She’s taught me her spells, and how to watch the world in a bowl of rainwater set beneath moonlight.
At first I don’t want to look into that bowl. My own horrid reflection startles me and makes me weep.
“Silly girl,” the crone says. “I am also ugly, and I don’t cry about it.”
“You are not as ugly as me,” I say.
She snorts. “I am just older. Ugliness is better suited to the elderly. Less is expected from an old face.”
Then she transforms into a beautiful young woman with creamy skin and sunshine hair.
“Show me how!” I have never wanted anything so badly.
So, I learn how to shrink my ears, straighten my teeth, and deepen my hair to the shade of a sunset. Instead of the ugliest girl, I am a willowy sorceress with sparkling eyes, dainty ankles and silken hair that ripples past my waist.
“Why be ugly when you can be the fairest of them?” I ask her.
She cackles. “Ugliness had its own power.”
In the moonlit water I watch my village: the old classmates that taunted me, my stepmother and my father. In the water, I visit my mother’s grave, a small bleached marker, already tilted. I like to believe that she would love me if I were alive, that I do indeed have “a face only a mother can love.” But, I do not remember any particular affection from her, only averted eyes and endless chores.
Nobody seems to miss me or even remember me. I could forget them too; instead I become obsessed with watching them in the water, going about their mundane tasks. Hatred wraps around my heart.
Seven years pass. The debt I was to repay is forgotten. Then one day, unexpectedly, the crone tosses me against the chimney with a gust of wind. I crumple to the floor, hurt and confused.
“Rise up, ugly one! Fight back, young hag with the face that makes me lose my supper!” She hurls fire at me.
This time, I defend myself with a wall of water.
For the next two days, we battle each other, upsetting the cottage and then tearing through the forest, causing the deer to flee and the small animals to hide and tremble. I even hear Bear whimpering for his mama.
The old crone catches me by the ankles and hangs me upside down under a rushing waterfall until my face turns blue. “Think I can wash away some of the ugliness?”
“I do not want to fight you, old hag!” I cry tears of anger and frustration.
She drops me into the river below and summons hungry piranhas to attack me. I scramble to the shore, trailing blood in the water. I send swarms of wasps to chase her through the brambleberry bushes, stinging her withered behind. She retaliates with a flock of angry jays that swoop and peck at my head.
Finally, a bolt of my lightning strikes the old crone in the chest. She topples and does not rise. I drop to her side.
“Well done,” she grins, black smoke escaping her shriveled lips. She is gone.
I bury her under the lilac bushes at the edge of her garden…my garden. My cottage, wrapped in wisteria vines. My forest.
… I’ll post the final part tomorrow.