It is a truth that when you are plain, people do not forget your face; they rarely notice it in the first place. Someone may say “Oh, did you see so and so in the village, when she stood in line behind you?” and you will likely say “who?” because you no more noticed me than a pebble under your foot. I was plain like that.
I will tell you about my sisters, because if you are like everyone else, you will be quite enthralled by their beauty. But I suppose I must also give you the disappointing details of my own person. I have thin, straight hair that hangs about my face rather like the petals of a wilting flower. My mouth is no bigger than when I was a mite of three, and I have a blunt nose. My fingers are thin and flat, and my father frequently refers to me as “slight as a plume of steam.” If someone had told me in the beginning of it all that I would one day marry a king and be mother to a great beauty, I would have laughed at them. My desires were always in scale with my appearance. Modest. The one thing I have longed for all of my childhood was not fame or beauty, wealth or romantic love. I have simply hoped for the returned affections of my sisters. But their disinterest in me has been proportionate to their beauty. And when the gods withheld beauty from me, they also withheld her consolation; familial kinship. Jadis is the oldest, Emeraulde the middle. Jadis was always a cool beauty, with her fine blonde hair, waving and soft as lamb wool. Her pale skin, translucent as a moth´s wing--almost shimmers, so pale her veins are visible, like tiny rivers beneath her skin. When she was born, people speculated that she was not my father’s child, so silver was she. Both mother and father were dark haired, and Jadis’ only resemblance to either were her eyes. They were an ever-changing shade of ocean blue, deep set and hooded as my mother’s. When Jadis was angry, you always knew without being told. Her eyes flooded by an undercurrent of something cloudy, like turbulent water flushed dark blue. She never smiled, and cared little for the feelings of any of us. If you asked me, I would tell you that it always seemed she was missing a piece of something human. Perhaps because she remembered our mother best, and was the most wounded when she left us. Emeraulde was an obvious beauty, the kind that stops a man. She had glossy brown curls that reached to the small of her back, ruby lips and emerald, almond-shaped eyes. She had a sly, clever look about her, and a way of inventing little lies and twisting truth to get what she liked. She loved her reflection, and it was not uncommon to find her changing dresses two or three times a day, inventing reasons to be seen. She liked to throw parties and only tolerated the young men who adored her. When I would ask her with moony eyes if she didn’t like Alec or Johan, she would only eye me with disdain, and running a brush through her lovely thick hair, smirk. I remember that, her smirk. When she bothered to answer me at all, she would say “I could have any one of them I wished.” Which always confused me, because she didn’t seem to actually want any of them. So what was the good of having an option on all of them? I know one thing Emeraulde would never admit. It drove her crazy that Jadis was as beautiful as she. Even our father knew this about her. Emeraulde wanted no one, but she wanted to be wanted by everyone. Jadis was the only girl in town that held a candle to her, and Emeraulde would have spat in her eye, if she could have gotten away with it. Papa called her Envy for it, but he loved her all the same.
I suspect, with 99 per cent certainty, that the only reason Envy tolerated me was my utter lack of appeal to anyone besides my father.
Jadis, on the other hand, possessed a beauty that frightened men. I understood when I became a woman that she was aloof in a way that made them believe she had no need of them. In this, they were not mistaken; Jadis wouldn’t lie to win anyone’s admiration, and her pride was monumental. Whereas Envy was always checking mirrors to make sure that she was as beautiful as the young men told her, Jadis had no need. That she was beautiful was an immutable fact, like water freezing at 32 degrees. This quality drove Envy toward proof of her superior beauty all through her adolescence. I would sit cross legged on her bed, mesmerized as she brushed out her curls, or plucked her eyebrows thin as calligraphy strokes, and she would smile at her reflection, eyeing me in the periphery. “Hani” she would ask, a rarely used term of endearment “who is the most beautiful of all?” “You sister,” I would answer dutifully. This pleased her. It was the only interaction between us that ever resulted in warmth from her. “Pet,” she would call me on those occasions, “would you like to brush my hair?” and of course I agreed. Feeling honored she let me near her, allowed me to touch her person. And although it was always her that men preferred, it drove Envy wild that Jadis didn’t care either way, and would never acknowledge Envy as a superior beauty. Father went away frequently for his work, but he always brought back treasures from his travels for us. Fantastic trinkets from far-away lands: singing mechanical birds, golden eggs, intricate boxes that opened into secret compartments, and tiny exact reproductions of towns he had visited carved into jewel toned agates. However, what my sisters desired most, what Envy clamored and cajoled for and Jadis expected, were jewels; sparkling, smooth, cool and hard, jewels. Jewels in hair combs, jewel encrusted ornaments, jewels in rings and bracelets, jewels circled by gold and platinum, jewels of any color. However, I never wanted father to think I only wished him home for a gift, so I made it a habit to refuse the gifts he brought. One day, as Papa was leaving, he sang us the same song he always sang when he was leaving;
Jadis is white
Envy is green
Hana is always true
Ask me now
what you would like
me to bring for you?
Envy wrapped her arms around him and asked in the purring voice she always used: “something pretty daddy, something sparkly and shiny and rare. Bring us something new!” Jadis was always particular about value, wanting something expensive, while Envy preferred novelty, a gift no other child would have, something she could flaunt to other children. This day, I asked for something I would long regret after. I should have learned to never ask for anything else again, but that was a mistake I would repeat. “Papa,” I asked with a little embarrassment, “might I have a rose?” “A rose, child?” Papa asked. “Just a rose? Any color? Something rare? What would you have little mouse?” “A tea-rose, Papa, that smells of mother,” I asked him. “Is that all, little mouse?” he asked me. I have always remembered, because what I asked for cost so much in the end.
A Fairy Tale Family History