By Austin B. Hahn
Poor Pretty. She spent her whole life being adored for her beauty that admiration became a part of her identity rather than a compliment. No one ever warned her about the fugitive nature of life. She used to captivate the attention of any room she walked in. People often blushed at the sight of her face. Men could hardly look at her without smiling. Women idolized her, and children loved her. Everyone wanted to be friends with Pretty.
Her curvaceous hips, plump red lips, ivory skin, pearly white smile, and lustrous black wavy hair that fell down to her waist made her the epitome of beauty. Ares wanted to be with her. Aphrodite envied her. All the village people glorified her; yet, no one knew her.
On occasion, Pretty would spend several hours in her room, away from the world, contemplating what her life would be like if she looked different. She was aware that people praised her, but she often questioned their motivation for doing so. Contemporaries panegyrized her, and, soon, she was asked for her hand in marriage by a prince named Phillip. “But why, though?” she wondered. “All this adulation and eulogizing because of my beauty? And now marriage???”
Pretty reluctantly accepted his proposal on behalf of her father. After marrying into royalty, she made a new home for herself among the aristocracy. She never fathomed the idea of marrying a prince and being subjected to royal treatment within the confines of a kingdom while becoming detached from the outside world. The pristine dwellings of the nobility were cold and somber, and, as the years went by, Pretty noticed Phillip’s attention slipping away. “Why do you love me?” she would ask him.
He would just smirk at her and say, “You are so beautiful my love, and you shall make a magnificent queen one day.”
Phillip had a reputation for being aloof in public, but, in his private life, he had always been attentive to his wife . . . until her coronation. Throughout their marriage, he frequently reminded her that she was the apple of his eye, but after taking the crown as queen, he rarely even smiled at her. “Have I changed?” she thought. “Am I really that different now?” She became frigid due to Phillip’s indifference towards her and lack of affection. Her beauty, and life as she knew it, began to fade away.
One day, while visiting the village that she grew up in, she realized no one had greeted her. Not a single person acknowledged her. “Doesn’t anyone remember me?” she thought while strolling through the snow-covered cobblestone street. The queen knew that most of her family, along with several friends, had passed away, but she was baffled by the nonchalant shrugs from passersby. In her youth, strangers welcomed her into their homes. Now she barely receives any courteous gestures.
As she passed by a middle-aged looking man, he yelled out, “Liliana!?” a name she hadn’t heard in ages. The villagers had given her the nickname after the flower, lily, for her refined beauty.
She swiftly turned around and immediately recognized him. “George . . . is that you?” She spoke hesitantly.
“Hello, Liliana. It’s been a long time,” he smiled.
George was a local villager who loved her once. As a little boy, he used to chase her near the forest and pretend that if he could catch her, then he could keep her forever. “Don’t go,” he would say when he caught her with his arms wrapped around her waist. “You just get older. Stay with me,” and she would just giggle. In their youth, after their work in the village was done, they would sit under a blossom tree late at night and watch the stars go by.
Memories filled her mind, and she was unable to conceal her smile. She was relieved to find someone who could remember her. “It has indeed, George. I’ve been doing alright. How about yourself? Has life been treating you kindly?”
“I’m alright. I’ve stayed the same, but my life hasn’t. ” He pauses and looks down. “It hasn’t been the same since you’ve been gone.” George gazes at her. “You look different now.”
“Well it has been years.”
“I mean you’ve changed.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I don’t know. You look different from how I remember you.”
“How do you remember me?”
“You were always smiling and full of life. You were happy and beautiful, and now you seem just so . . .”
“Just so what?”
“Oh come on, George. Just say it,” she insisted.
“I look old now!”
“I didn’t say that, I just meant that–”
“That what? I’m not the young, pretty girl you remember?”
“No. I mean you don’t seem happy anymore. That light that made you who you were . . . it’s gone.”
“Well gee. Thanks, George, for noticing! I haven’t seen you in nearly twenty years, and all you can say, besides ‘hello’, is something about my appearance!? In case you didn’t know, I have a husband who ignores me. He doesn’t even hear what I have to say anymore. He used to be charming, and he told me that I meant everything to him, and now I seem to mean as little to him as dirt! I am trapped in a loveless marriage, so you can bet that I’m bitter as hell! I have spent the last few decades in a castle pretending to be happy when I am, in fact, disgusted with the mundane life that I have been expected to conform to. Meanwhile, I come here to temporarily escape from my marital crisis and to reconnect with my people, and all I get are a few cold shoulders and a man who suddenly tells me that I look old now?”
“I did not mean that. I just meant that you look like you’re no longer in love with life.”
Tears streamed down her face. “I fell out of love a long time ago. You don’t know me anymore, George . . . not like how you used to.”
“I’ve known you for years, Liliana. I may have no idea about what you have been through, but I know you’re unhappy.” George lends out his hand. “Stay with me.”
“I can’t. My husband is waiting for me.”
“Then come with me, and we’ll flee from here.”
“I am almost forty years old. Where would we go, George?”
George remains silent.
“You should’ve asked to have married me when you had the chance. My father liked you, and I would’ve said ‘yes,’” she said as she turned around and walked away.
On her way back home, as she rode in the carriage, she thought about her childhood in the village and reflected on how her life had changed. She had been fortunate to marry into royalty as a peasant girl, but at the expense of what? Her life is consumed by menial tasks and red tape. What’s more, her efforts to mask her sadness often left her exhausted. She desperately wanted to leave her husband, but the possibility of facing execution prevented her from doing so. The queen continued to ponder. “I started out so beautiful in life, and here I am, returning to my private hell. How did I get here?”
Upon her arrival, she was informed by the guards that her husband would not be joining her for dinner.
“Why? Where is he?”
“He’s in his bedchamber. He does not want to be disturbed, Your Highness.”
“I don’t care. Move out of my way!” She passed by the dining room furnace and dashed through the corridor. The doors leading to Phillip’s room came flying open. “What is this!?” A woman, much younger than herself, was in bed with her husband.
“Get out!” he yelled.
“I am your wife! What the hell do you think you’re doing with this whore!?”
“You are my queen. You were supposed to give me an heir!”
“So you went behind my back my love!?” She began to tear.
“Just get out!!!” he roared.
She ran out the door and headed for the staircase that led to the throne room. As she made her way through the doorway, she fell onto the floor and sobbed uncontrollably in despair for several minutes before regaining her composure. Once she pulled herself together, she stood up and walked towards the throne chair. While she sat down, she reminisced about the pleasant times in her life and imagined her husband sitting next to her when they were younger. She remembered how loving he had once been to her. Everyone admired her when she was majestically radiant.
She is old now. Her beauty, which had once exalted her, is gone. Her husband tried to have a child with several concubines behind her back, but he was impotent. She didn’t care, though. His younger brother would succeed him to the throne, and she was unable to conceive a child due to her advanced age anyway. Besides, nobody cared since almost everyone she knew had died or had forgotten about her. She often sat near a window while ruminating on her contempt for humanity. “I was once regarded as one of the most beautiful women the world had ever seen. Now I am old and dried out. People used to say that I look ‘lovely’ or ‘pretty’, and they would stop to ask me how my day was going. I was flattered by their kindness, but I was naive; I should’ve known better. Everyone loves you when you’re beautiful and young, but there will come a day when they will stop caring. When that day arrives, people will quit making an effort to be on their best behavior in front of you.
“Beauty is mesmerizing, but what fades in the tangible world also fades in memory. In time, people will forget you. No one talks about the pain of being beautiful, but everyone pities the ugly. Being pretty is tough. People will lust after you, and then, when you lose your charm, they’ll abandon you. You’ll be the victim of short-lived admiration; however, the ugly ones won’t. They will be fortunate to be humbled by genuine love and loyalty. None of them will have to deal with the harsh reality of diminishing beauty since they never had it to begin with. Meanwhile, those who were once loved on the basis of superficiality will be disillusioned and only left with their deteriorating bodies.”
This would be her untold truth that she would carry to the grave . . .