Here it the final part of the fairy tale. Read part one here.
Wisteria or The Ugliest of Them All
I live as if I am the old crone, luxuriating in the feather bed instead of huddling under my tattered blanket in the corner, canning and eating the best sour pickles, crushing herbs with my mortar and pestle. I’ve given up the dainty ankles and silken hair, but I still use magic to straighten my teeth because I enjoy being able to drink normally from a teacup.
Every night that the moon shines, I watch my old family in the water. My stepmother’s belly grows round as if she’s hid a pumpkin beneath her dress. She and my father are surprised and delighted that she is with child so late in life. My curiosity grows with her belly, and I curse the nights when the moon is obscured with clouds, not allowing me to watch. Will this child be as ugly as me? Will my parents leave it in the forest?
The ninth time the moon waxes, my stepmother gives birth to the most beautiful baby girl I have ever seen. Silken curls top her little head, her eyes are so blue they are almost purple, and she has a tiny rosebud mouth. My stepmother sings her sweet lullabies; my father showers her with golden smiles.
I am consumed by anger and jealousy. I hate my stepmother, but I hate my father more fervently. How could he abandon his own flesh and blood, only to be rewarded by the fairest child in the village, perhaps even the world?
Although I thought it impossible, I become uglier. The afternoon my stepmother weaves her a crown of daisies and places it on her curly head, a giant wart appears between my eyebrows. The day my stepmother cuts up my mother’s wedding dress and sews her a white nightgown edged with lace, orange tufts of hair sprout from my ears. And the evening my father waltzes with my sister in the crook of his arm around their kitchen, my skin erupts in livid boils.
As the months pass, I hope that their joy will diminish, that they will tire of her, that her angelic beauty will fade. Instead, she sleeps in a ribboned cradle in my old room, growing lovelier by the day. I cannot be happy in my wisteria cottage with all of my magic while she gathers their love around her like the softest lamb blanket.
During her ninth month, I leave the cottage and the forest for the first time in almost a decade. At night, I slip into my parents’ house, somehow smaller and distorted from the place in my memory. I pause by their bedroom, whispering a spell to keep them asleep until morning. In my hand I clutch the knife meant to slice bread and cheese, the one they left with me so many years ago. I think about killing them in their sleep, but then I will no longer be able to watch them in the moonlit water. I glide past to the baby’s room, my old room.
I mean to kill her, causing my parents the greatest grief. Perhaps I will use the knife they have given me, sharpened to be quick and merciful. Perhaps I will use my magic, drawing out her sweet breath.
I stand above her cradle, watching the rise and fall of her small chest. She wears the nightgown fashioned from my mother’s wedding gown. Her long lashes rest against her rosy cheeks. Then, she opens her eyes, and I gasp in surprise, fixed by her purple blue gaze. She does not start or cry out at the sight of my strange ugly face. Instead, she smiles. My purpose is lost.
I can’t kill her. She is my sister—the most beautiful sister who does not cringe at ugliness, who does not deserve to be raised by the monsters snoring in the other room. I lift her from the cradle and she reaches for my flapping ears with her dimpled hands.
I cut a long strand of my orange hair and leave it on her tiny pillow, curled to shape a heart. I steal my sister away into the center of the woods.
Her giggles and coos are the loveliest music I have ever heard. Her sweet essence spreads throughout the cottage, creeping up the walls and into my being, twining around my cold heart and squeezing out the hatred. I feed her goat’s milk and crushed berries, and move the dishes around with my mind for her amusement. When she is older, I will teach her my spells and recipes, but maybe not how to waste hours in front of a bowl of moonlit water watching the world pass her by.
I think of the lesson I have taught our parents. I watch them weep and search and curse one another at night. Their tears fail to move me.
Someday my beloved sister will have questions. I saved you from my monsters, Sister, I rehearse, ignoring the dread rising in my throat. She will not–cannot–hate me for what I’ve done. I am not like those images bickering in the water; I tell myself I would love my sister even if she were a reflection of me. I would find beauty in twisted limbs and marred skin.
I am not the monster here.