I think it depends on which draft you’re working on.
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Beautiful (Part 1) – by Myah
It had always been this way.
Every day, I dragged myself out of bed, shrouded my face with a veil, and trudged out of the dingy house to the serenade of my Keeper’s hissing threats. As the first morning light diffused the air, I walked through the dirty, winding alleyways, my bare feet splashing through the puddles of muddy water and the rotting refuse that clogged the drains. I made my way to where the ramshackle shacks gave way to more refined-looking homes and estates. I pushed through the crowds of shrill-voiced vegetable sellers and swarthy gypsy peddlers swarming in the city courtyard, took my place under an archway, took a deep breath – and sang.
The peddlers, coffee-stall owners, wealthy women dripping with furs and jewelry, and street beggars, and comfortable people driving past in carriages all stopped to listen to my clear, sweet alto, even for just a few moments. By the time darkness was falling, the pavement beneath my feet was scattered with coins. As the store owners closed their shops, I bent down to pick the pieces of money out of the mud, and turned to leave.
Every night, before I entered the maze of alleyways that lead to my dwelling place, I lingered by the gas-lit homes that fringed the plaza. I crouched in dark corners to catch a glance through curtained windows at children sprawled on the carpeted floor of comfortable, homey living rooms – complete with padded armchairs, knick-knack cluttered fireplaces, and rosewood desks. I pressed my nose to the clear glass of shop windows, gazing at the brightly-lit rooms, the velvet-lined shelves, and the diamond bracelets and wristwatches that glistened from their soft red cases. I wandered in the streets, my eyes clinging to the silhouettes of fathers kissing their children goodnight.
And then I turned to trudge down the trash-clogged alleyways alone, drawing my ragged dress father up on my thin shoulders, listening to the wind whistle through the empty houses. Going back into the life I lived.
And I wondered what it was like to be loved. To be safe. To know you had value.
I wondered how many bruises my Keeper would give me in exchange for my handful of coins, and hoped his blows would not be fueled by intoxication that night.
For all I knew, my life could never change. Until that one autumn day – when it did change.
I woke up that morning, earlier than usual. From the other room, smothered, heavy breathing rose and fell. My Keeper was still asleep. I rolled over on my broken, dingy mattress and stared at the grey light filtering through the closed, grimy shutters. My eyes wandered over the peeling paint on the walls and the cracked washstand in the corner. Absentmindedly, I reached up with my hands to finger the thin material that shrouded my face.
I could never remove it unless my Keeper gave consent. If someone dropped enough coins into his hard palm, he would give the word, and I would walk to the window, open the shutters, unwind the veil from my face, and for a few moments let them gaze at the incredible beauty painted there.
Yesterday, someone had paid.
I had never even seen my own reflection. My beauty did not belong to me – nothing belonged to me. If my Keeper wished to harness my voice for his gain, I sang. If someone wanted to see my face, I let them. I was nothing but an object to fill their sordid desires. As far as I was concerned, I had no value but the coins that came from my voice and my face.
I buried my face in the musty pillow, trying to press down the leering, taunting accusations that hailed my brain. Trying to forget.
The door to my bedroom creaked open. I scrunched myself close to the mattress, dreading his presence. A light appeared in the doorway, casting strange patterns on the wall. Staggering footsteps approached my bed, and a gnarled, heavy hand shook my shoulder.
“Get up.” My Keeper’s voice was drunken with sleep and his words were slurred and heavy.
I dragged myself up and sat on the edge of the bed. He tangled his hand in the matted hair that hung down my back. I shrank from his touch, but dared not pull away.
He picked up his stump of candle and turned to the door. “Make yourself presentable.”
I pushed myself up, swaying unsteadily on my feet. I grabbed the windowsill and rested my forehead against the wall to steady my rocking vision. The spots that danced before my eyes slowly cleared. Splashing cold water on my face, I ripped an old towel down from its hook and scrubbed it over my skin. I reached back and ran my fingers through my tangled hair. I pulled a thin, white dress off a hanger and slipped it over my head. The folds fell to my ankles and mercifully hid the bruises and sores that discolored my legs.
I bound back my long, dark hair with a strip of leather and dropped my near-transparent veil over my face. Walking through the doorway, I muttered a farewell to my Keeper, who sat hunched over the dying fire – a fierce, beak-nosed profile against the struggling flames.
I stepped out into the cold, grey, morning air.
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