Quite Contrary

They name her Mary when she is born. Mary means bitter. Her mother is plain and unlovely. She knows what the ugliness means. Ugliness is a mirror image of beauty

Mary’s first word- a year old, from a face to puffy, eyes too far apart yet too close and a curious hooked nose- is “please”, and her father says “no”

Mary’s father loves her and he always says no. no Mary you can’t go to school, they will laugh at you. No Mary you can’t wear that pretty dress, it will only accentuate your ugliness. No Mary, no Mary, no Mary

“Please” Mary says. Her father kisses her forehead and runs his hand over her too puffy cheeks. She didn’t have a single mark of ugliness, just various shapes that didn’t fit together. Lumps where straight lines should be. Eyes to big and wide yet not considered striking. He holds her lovingly and says “no”


Here’s what you learn when you are young and people don’t want to look at you

  1. the baker closes at four but if you come later, he gives you food out of pity
  2. Witches are everywhere. Witches understand. They hold your hand and run their fingers along your lifeline. They press a bag in your hand and tell you it will help you.
  3. Beautiful women look at you once and never again. They fear what you remind them of- that natural beauty is unearned. Won beauty is unnatural. Beauty is necessary yet you are here and you are alive. They do not know what this means.
  4. Beautiful men look and look and look and then laugh cruelly because of how they’ve been taught to treat ugliness. Their cruelty then turns into amusement and soon they forget you as a person. They speak their darkest secrets and don’t realize you are there.

Mary listens. Mary learns. Mary understands. Mary is not as bitter as her name


They say “ugly” but what they mean is “stupid” what they mean is “useless” what they mean is “ignorant”

“Be good, boys” says Mary to a bunch of loud stable boys as she clears away their empty pints. The boys smile. They love her here. Poor gentle Mary too ugly for marriage. Our poor Mary. Our ugly duckling

“Ugly Mary!” said Jonas, the fishmonger’s son “come tell us a story!”

“These tables aren’t going to clean themselves” she said. Yet she sat down. Jonas leaves his money bag on the table. The drunker he gets the lesser he remembers it. “What kind of story?”

“A good one” said Jonas “make us laugh”

“Alright” says Mary. She leans in front and picks up the bag of money “this–” she said dangling the bag in front of him–“is my dowry”

He laughs. The stable boys laugh too. Poor ugly Mary with a dowry! Ugly Mary would never need a dowry. Mary quietly palms the purse and replaces it with the one the witches gave her. The witches had said “no matter how far away you send this purse, it will always come back”

Mary has given Jonas this purse five times and he always comes back looking for his own “seems like I’ve stolen someone’s eh?” he laughs nervously” just don’t tell anyone okay Mary?”

Mary tutted at him “careful with those sticky fingers Jonas” she jokes “They’ll get the better of you someday but for now, it will be our little secret


When a beautiful woman walks into a room, all eyes are on her beauty. She says “I want” and they say “We’ll get it” everyone wants to please her

Mary’s first visit to the palace is under a hood. “Don’t let them look at you too long” says Edna. Edna is nice, Edna understands but Edna also says “no”

Mary is there to make a delivery, some chickens for a party. Their usual boy has a broken leg so Mary brings the goods.  Mary has a snack from the baker in her mouth and the witch’s purse in her hand

“Oh well aren’t you a bit of a divine accident?” said the royal chef frowning “Parent’s asked a witch for help eh?” he laughed.  Mary flashes a smile. First they will be cruel

“Where should I leave them?” she asked. “Straight to the kitchens but leave one with me” his eyes twinkled “I get hungry too eh?” Then they’ll turn to benign amusement 

When mary moves to obey, she catches her arm “say, what’s your name ugly girl?”

“Mary” she answers. She watches his eyes soften. Good.
“Ugly Mary” he says to himself “Come again little girl, I quite like you”

“Yes sir” she says and smiles


The chef cooks laxatives into the foods of nobles who mistreat him, he tells her thoughtlessly as he garnishes a roast turkey with a few leaves. The serving boy takes silver from the storage and sells it. The errand boy is sleeping with the lady-in-waiting. The queen’s lady-in-waiting told him that queen is sleeping with the king’s brother.

Mary learns all, Mary listens to all, Mary understands all

Mary gives her purse to the errand boy. He comes back weeks later panicking with a note in his hand

“I- I don’t know where I got it-t” she he babbles “It speaks of some sort of conspiracy plot I don’t-t know” He sobbed “What if they find me with it– it wasn’t me–”

“Shh” comforts Mary as she takes the purse back. “It’ll be our little secret”


“Don’t worry” says Mary smiling, with a purse full of belladonna in her hands “I–I thought it was sage”, blabbered the chef “I didn’t know-w, I didn’t do it on purpose”

“It’ll be our secret” she says to the serving boy, cradling the purse of diamonds in her arms “I swear I didn’t take them” he weeps “I must have grabbed the wrong bag”

“It’ll be our secret” Mary assures the queen’s lady-in-waiting. The purse is heavy with a vial filled with liquid. “It must be enough to terminate– oh god– a pregnancy!” the girl whispers “I must have taken it from her bathroom mistaking it for mine. Oh god if she ever finds out”

Mary keeps their secrets. Mary smiles. They thank her and give the purse back and give the purse back again.


Mary’s mother sells the diamonds. Their clothes are mended. Their roof is thatched. They all eat well.

Mary holds onto the vial. She knows better than to waste oppurtunities

“Father are you proud of me?”

“Yes”


“So you’re ugly Mary” says the queen looking at her

Mary smiles. Mary is not as bitter as her name

The king laughs, loud and bold. The king is a simple man. He is not beautiful. He hides his ugliness under cloaks and crowns. But Mary knows better.Mary sees.

“They say you want something” says the King gently

“It would be a honor to work for you sire” she says curtsying deeply

“No” says the queen. She is beautiful, she looks away

“We can let her do the cleaning” he says to her “nothing like an ugly girl to do the ugly work eh?” he laughs

“Indeed, your majesty” says Mary


Beautiful women are noticed
Ugly women are noticed

You never stop noticing the beautiful ones
You never stop noticing the ugly ones

You want to please the pretty one
You want the ugly one to please you

You give the beautiful ones what they want
The ugly ones give you what you think you want


“What I like about you Mary” says the king “Is that you never complain. You never make a fuss. In fact, I hardly ever realize your there”

Mary smiled. She knew that she wasn’t unnoticed. Just simply unremarkable. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just another tree in the forest. Another color in a painting. Surely someone who looks defeated must be defeated.

“Yes majesty” she says

The kings trails off, lazily running his hands on his bed covers when he finds mary’s purse. Mary keeps her eyes on the ground and continues scrubbing.

one dose before bedtime says the paper the pregnancy will end with blood

the pregnancy– the pregnancy” his eyes widen and he snaps to look at Mary

“Tell no one”

“It’ll be our little secret”


On the day of the queen’s and her brother-in-law’s death, Mary stays near the king’s chamber. She makes sure she’s inside when returns, puffy-eyed, drunk

“She was too beautiful” he slurred “Her beauty lied. You’d never lie”

Mary takes the moment and uses her liberty to do something she’s never done before. She brushes his hair away from his face and says “No majesty. I wouldn’t”

“Your ugly face hides a beautiful heart” he says and Mary laughs

“Don’t tell anyone sire” she teases

“It’ll be our little secret” says the king softly


On the day of the wedding Mary doesn’t dress beautiful. Mary dresses simple and they love her for it. Ugly Mary and her beautiful heart.

The chef weeps, the serving boy weeps, the errands boy weeps, the lady-in-waiting weeps. Ugly Mary has been so kind to them. Ugly Mary keeps their secrets.

“Father are you proud?”

“Yes yes yes”

And so they stand at the altar. Ugly Mary and her simple king. He looks at her and smiles. So fond, so trusting. A woman like her could never betray him. A woman like her is surely grateful and gratitude must mean loyalty right?

Mary smiles


 

Neha 

 

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