I decided to post something a little different this month; A little work of fiction, with a hint perhaps of non fiction…
‘People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone.’ Audrey Hepburn
“Do you think there is such a thing as happily ever after?” he asked her, a small sigh escaping unseen.
She looked at him for a moment. He asked the question carelessly, but she sensed his whole life depended on the answer.
“Yes,” she answered slowly, “but I don’t believe it is something you can create for yourself. It is a gift life gives you and a gift you can conspire with life to give to others”
“How does it start?” he said, his eyes on the ground.
“With a smile” she said laughingly, “and with the breaking of a curse”.
Once upon a time there was a beautiful maiden. She was quite beautiful on the outside with lovely long hair and a radiant smile, but even more importantly she was beautiful on the inside, which is much harder to be and rarer to find. Her kindness and warmth shone like the rays of the sun on all around her, making her the most lovely and loved maiden in all the land. Everyone touched by the beauty of her soul loved her and because of this her name to all became ‘Beauty’.
At that time there also lived a man who was much less beautiful. In fact, he was very un-beautiful. It was not that he had always been un-beautiful, but from the time he could remember people close to him had made him feel unwanted, sad and worthless. Hurtful words from others over time had begun to seep into his soul leaving a deep scar that daily sang him a lullaby of despair, ‘You are unloved and unlovable, you are ugly and unwanted’. It had been a long time since this man had felt anything but repulsive. Hurt had become fear, fear had become anger and anger had become a resentment that dulled everything warm within him.
From this dark sad place in his soul sprung a resentful, moody anger that growled at any flicker of light around him, pushing everyone away. When he came to town, people would cross the street to avoid walking near him and would speak about him in whispered voices as he passed. No one spoke to him, no one met his eye and no one invited him in. He would walk on, pretending not to see, not to hear, not to feel. But with every step the silent song echoed inside his soul ‘You are unloved and unlovable, you are ugly and unwanted’.
He had been treated as a beast, he behaved as a beast, he was labelled a beast and so a beast he became. Outcast and shunned by everyone, his name to all became the ‘Beast’. Dishevelled and careless about his appearance, as every day passed the ‘Beast’ became more and more deeply the embodiment of this name. There was no one meaner, angrier or more bitter than the Beast in all the land; and there was no one sadder or lonelier.
One day the Beast set out to the lake to catch some fish for his dinner.
The heat from the sun beat down on him with a relentless glare. He felt hot and tired. As he neared the town a storm began to gather on his weary brow. Frown lines deepened and his right eye began to twitch. Once again his soul braced itself for the long lonely walk through the bustling town.
The town’s people saw his thunderous face and dishevelled appearance as he approached; some frowned, some stared and some turned away in discomfort pretending not to see him at all. The storm on the Beast’s brow became a tempest.
A little boy was playing with a toy car in the street. “Out of my way,” the Beast growled at the boy angrily. The boy looked up in fright and began to cry. His parents rushed to pick him up, glaring at the Beast. Unflinching the Beast walked on.
Finally he arrived at the lake looking for a shady place to catch some fish. He was feeling irritable because he was hot; he was feeling irritable because he was hungry; but most of all (in a deep place inside himself which he tried not to visit very often) he was feeling irritable because he was lonely.
That same day Beauty came down to the lake to pick some flowers. She was skipping and twirling among the trees, enjoying the sunshine. She was smiling at life and life was smiling back at her in the dancing of the flowers, the song of the birds and the warm fresh breeze that kissed her cheek.
Because the Beast had his head down in sullenness he did not see Beauty. Because Beauty had her head raised toward the sun enjoying its warmth, she did not see the Beast. Suddenly (as anyone looking on might expect) OOMPH! They crashed into each other.
The Beast yelled.
Both of them fell in a heap on the ground.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Beauty smiling, picking herself up and brushing down her skirt.
“You should have been watching where you were going,” growled the Beast gruffly.
“Yes” said Beauty, “I’m sorry. I was enjoying the sunshine so much that I didn’t notice you there”.
“Hmmph” muttered the Beast under his breath, “No one ever does,” and he turned to walk away.
Beauty watched him as he started to go. She saw his slumped shoulders; she saw his angry glare; she saw his dishevelled clothes; she saw his stormy brow.
Beauty looked at all these things thoughtfully, and then she looked past them. Her looking became seeing, her seeing became wondering, and (as it happens when your heart is big enough to really love another) her wondering became doing.
“Wait,” Beauty said looking at the Beast’s fishing lines, “Were you fishing?”
“Y-y-yes” said the Beast morosely, “But I haven’t caught anything yet.”
“Can I fish with you? I am starting to feel hungry, and a fish dinner would be wonderful!”
The Beast almost fell over again. He was startled and confused. He felt uncomfortable that someone as beautiful and friendly as this girl would want to be around him. “She just wants to catch fish,” he told himself, feeling a bit better about it. So he agreed. Beauty gave the Beast a smile. The Beast gave Beauty a fishing line (and a frown) and they began to fish together.
The Beast was too sullen and shy to say anything at first, but Beauty talked gently, first about fish, then about the sunshine, then about the birds, and finally about the Beast. She asked him about his life, and seemed really to want to understand. This seemed strange to the Beast as no one had ever been so kind to him before, and no one had ever asked him what life was like for him before. Soon he started to feel a strange sense of… now what was that feeling? A sort of dizzy, light feeling in his belly; was it happiness?
The Beast started to talk to Beauty. Beauty listened to the Beast. She was kind and treated him as though he was important. This made the Beast start to feel important. The more Beauty treated him kindly, the happier the Beast felt. The happier he felt, the more he shared with her about his life. The more he shared, the more she listened. They caught many, many, fish that day, and didn’t pay attention to a single one.
Finally as the last rays of evening sunlight were disappearing behind the trees it was time to go.
“Thank you for letting me fish with you,” said Beauty, “It was very kind of you.”
“Thank you” said the Beast shyly. He wasn’t sure what he was thanking her for, but he felt thankful.
The Beast walked home whistling to himself. A strange lightness had come over him. The sunset seemed brighter, the air more fragrant. He found himself smiling for no reason at life (and to make matters even more bewildering), he had a strange sensation that life was beginning to smile back at him.
As he walked back through the town, there was a little boy playing in the street again. Without thinking the Beast smiled at the boy. The boy smiled back and pointed to the fish the Beast was carrying. The Beast stopped and showed the little boy the fish he had caught. The boy smiled and laughed. He touched them; screwing up his nose at their slimy texture.
The boy’s parents came out to see the fish.
“Have some,” said the Beast feeling a strange unfamiliar warmth in his heart.
“Thank you,” said the boy’s parents, “but only if you stay for dinner with us.” The Beast looked surprised. He felt uncomfortable, he felt confused, he felt afraid and he felt… pleased.
“Thank you,” he said shyly. He stayed for dinner. The fish that night had never tasted better!
As the Beast walked home afterwards with a full belly and a fuller heart, he whistled a song. He looked up at the stars in the sky and for the first time in his life he did not just look, he saw. Seeing became wondering and wondering became smiling; not just smiling on the outside, but smiling on the inside as well. The Beast smiled at life and life smiled back at the Beast.
Perhaps happily ever after wasn’t just in the fairy tales after all.