Instructor: Howard Schott
Fairytales were stories woven from children's imaginations: a little boy's dreams of conquering a dragon in a knight costume made from cardboard boxes; a princess-clad child's tea party, and her wish for a dashing Prince Charming; a maiden at slumber, only awakening after a true love's kiss. Fairytales were figments of augmented reality where everything was always happier, never succumbing to life's hellish sensibilities. Fairytales were the silver linings of a dark cloud only children could see. Fairytales weren't real, and Quin knew this. At least, she thought she did.
Quin sat in a wooden chair, staring at the plate of food in front of her. Quin had no appetite, and her vision kept blurring, re-focusing, then blurring again. The pounding in her head spiked to the point where she could see red with every pulse. Another sickening wave of bile gurgled in Quin's throat, and she pushed away the plate with a sigh. Her hands shook—from anger or fear, she didn't know—and dug fingers into her temple, nearly ripping skin from the exerted force. A sudden buzz from the phone next to the plate caught her attention. Quin answered, too nauseous to check who the caller was.
"Iz! Hey, what's up?" Quin cringed internally at how her voice cracked at the high pitch.
A pair of shoes clicked in the background. "I'll be at your house in five. Are you ready to leave yet?"
"Oh- yeah!" Quin scrambled to eat her foul breakfast, barely chewing each bite before hastily swallowing. "I am so ready."
A loud scoff sounded from the other end, with no real annoyance. "Don't pretend you weren't just eating breakfast. You definitely would've forgotten if I didn't call you."
"Of course." Quin slipped on a thick jacket over her sweater. "What would I do without you, dear Isabel?"
"You'd still be a hopeless romantic, obviously. I can't believe you're 17 and I'm the only person you've dated." The footsteps halted. "I've arrived."
Quin quickly hung up and opened the door after anxiously smoothing over her hair one last time. Isabel stood under the roof, her golden, wavy hair trailing in rivulets against the off-white turtleneck, paired caramel knit cardigan, and down to the hem of her plaid skirt. Quin smiled fondly.
"Let's go?" Isabel held out a hand, And Quin took it. "Let's, princess."
Quin didn't know she'd be driving home alone with a shameful, red handprint on her swollen cheek, but the hurt she felt was minuscule compared to the blistering humiliation that wormed around in her skin. Quin couldn't have known. She couldn't, but she did. There was no one to blame besides herself, and Quin knew she was fully aware of what her parents' reactions would be. She could still vividly remember the look of utter disappointment and cruel acrimony sketched on her father's face. She remembered her mother's raucous cries and embarrassing pleas directed skyward, despite being in a public place. Quin remembered Isabel, and the fear on her face made Quin snap. She rebelled, head held high in defiance, but her voice collapsed as soon as her father's hand struck her face. The ignominy crushed her broken confidence into dust, and Quin sprinted back to her car with an apology directed at Isabel, neck bent low to avoid any eyes.
The garage door groaned as Quin stopped the car before bolting for her house. It was dark. Everything was dark, and Quin couldn't see anything while she crashed through the entrance. Something shone on the dining table—moonlight reflected across its surface. A bowl filled with paper figures innocently sat on the blood-red tablecloth. Writing adorned them, and their little wings seemed to twinkle.
With shaky hands and tears cascading down her face, Quin reached for the bowl of verses—used during family dinners for prayer—and stumbled through her empty house. The floor seemed to bend and stretch, boards creaking slowly under pressure with each lethargic step. She passed the hall—decorated with family photos, and one or two mirrors gleamed against the gray, monotonous wallpaper. Her feet lumbered up the carpeted stairs, and her hands clutched the bowl like a lifeline. She slinked past a bathroom, her parents' bedroom, and a closet before she stopped at her room's door.
Quin knew it was over. She felt it in her head—barren and frozen, unable to properly produce a single coherent thought. She felt it in her hands—trembling, raw, and slippery against the bowl's smooth clay surface. But mostly, she felt it in her core. At some point, Quin had stopped crying, yet the sinking, languid grief still shimmered in her eyes and tightly caged her heart. Quin felt it—an excruciating pain blooming in every crevice of her chest, a loss so heavy it crippled her, and she let herself crumple to the ground like a rag doll. Quin offered the bowl to the darkness and dumped out its contents.
A slip of paper glowed dimly in the dark hallway. "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."
A rip and Quin coughed, the paper scraping against her throat as she swallowed.
Another slip of paper. Another faint angelic glow. "Scarcely had I passed them when I found [her] whom my soul loves."
Quin made sure the paper was wet enough to swallow smoothly. Verse after verse, she consumed them slowly, deliberately, while tears bled from her eyes. When it wasn't enough, she ingested multiple at a time, teeth tearing them apart. When that wasn't enough, she grabbed handfuls and harshly shoved them down her throat. It burned. Everything burned. Swallow after swallow after swallow—she downed them all. Her lips stung from numerous paper cuts, and a metallic tang dusted her tongue when she licked them.
Quin still felt like she had been ripped in half. Her throat was sore, and her hands continued to shake from adrenaline, but Quin knew better.
Fairytales weren't real, and Quin knew that now.