I woke up in my own bed and alone but I was still dressed from the night before so I must have been pretty out of it. Still, I had no hang over and that was something. I stretched, feeling pretty good. It was Saturday so I didn’t have to work and I was seeing Laurel in the afternoon. I’d made her promise no wedding talk so it might even be fun.
Then I caught sight of my hand.
Where the gypsy had pressed my palm there was a blooming rose tree tattoo going half-way up my forearm. I turned my hand over and it circled around to the back and disappeared up my sleeve. What the…!
Mirror- mirror in the bathroom… right now. I turned on the light and staggered a little backwards then leaned in for a better look. I was unrecognizable, even to myself. First off, I was bald. I’d been more than a little vain about my hair and now it was just gone- even my eyebrows were gone. There were nasty keloid scars crisscrossing my face and a tribal tattoo coming over the top of my head and around my ear that looked like a thorn branch. I looked in the backing mirror (I was so vain I had mirrors set to show my back as well) and the tattoo went over the side and top of my head and disappeared into the collar of my shirt.
I ripped the shirt off- it went down my neck and across my left shoulder-blade, then down my arm- or part of it did. It also went off down my spine with tendrils curling around onto my sides and around my right arm as well… I shucked off the slacks and there were tendrils of it on both legs as well. There was one unconnected clump of thorn branches just to the left side of center on my chest… looking closely, it was a heart made of thorns that branched out up to my throat. There were slashes of brands and more scars everywhere- parts of my skin looked like I’d been badly burned and then healed up poorly. None of it hurt… but the total effect was astonishing. I didn’t even look human any more!
My first feeling was of disbelief… this was some trick, make-up or something. But it didn’t wash off and the scars… trying to pick them off hurt. Oh my god, what happened to me? And, more to the point, how did I make it go away?
Ok, standing there staring at the monster in the mirror wasn’t going to make anything better. I started to get dressed… and saw a flash of green in the mirror out of the corner of my eye. I looked up and the gypsy fortune-teller was in the mirror. I turned to face her and she wasn’t there. I looked back into the mirror and she was still standing there looking at me.
“Who’s the tattooed frankenskank now?” She asked. I swallowed. I wished I could go back and swallow those words now. The gypsy or witch or whatever she was had a fine sense of the ironic. “But I decided to help you. A little.”
“How… what…” I stammered.
“Magic, of course. I think you have some questions, now. I am here to answer a few of them.”
“What did you do to me?” I howled.
“Tsk, tsk. Watch your temper. You don’t like my spell?”
I was almost incredulous. “Like it? Who wants to be ugly?”
“Ah, but this is just how you were before- it shows on the outside now is all.” She waited.
I processed this as well as I could. Magic- a spell.
“What will it take for you to take it off?” I could offer money… but I had a sudden intuition that any offer like that was bound to be a bad one.
“I can’t take it off. It doesn’t work like that. You have to break it.”
Well, I certainly felt like breaking something. “How?”
“Find someone who will love you just the way that you are and tell you so. But they have to really love you. Oh, and just so you know, you can’t tell anyone that you are under a spell or it will become permanent. That’s rule #1. And if you don’t find anyone to love you in two years, you’ll stay this way forever.”
Two years. I remembered that she had mentioned that last night as well.
“Two years? Why two years? I asked
“Oh, I’m being capricious. You did something nice for someone last night.”
I thought hard. “The girl with the roses.”
“Yes, very good. She gave you two petals so I give you two years to reverse the spell. If, at the end of two years, no one has said ‘I love you’, you’ll never break the spell.”
She vanished… or rather, her reflection did. It was just as well she hadn’t really been here.
I could hear my father beginning to move around in his room- this might be simpler than I thought. I grabbed a hoodie and put it on to cover most of the mess I had become.
I didn’t join him for breakfast. Our housekeeper, Maggie, knew our habits pretty well and set out a buffet type breakfast on the weekends. So I waited until he was gone, probably an early game of golf or squash, to emerge.
Then I called Laurel.
After all, I was engaged to her and no matter what the gypsy had said, I was sure she loved me. So a spell that required nothing more than someone saying ‘I love you’ should be gone in a matter of minutes.
She picked up on the third ring. “Hi Kyle!”
“Hi sweetheart. I know we’re planning to go out later…”
“You are so not cancelling on me!”
“No, no. Nothing like that. I was calling to invite you over now. I really need to see you.” Desperately. But I didn’t say that.
“I have Pilates… I suppose I could skip, just this once. Just for you.”
“I’d appreciate it.” She’d remember I owed her a favor but if she got me out of this mess, I’d owe her a bigger one than she would know. Favors from Laurel were invariably expensive either in time or in money or both but this time it would be worth it.
I managed to dodge Maggie until Laurel got there. She was busy with her cleaning and it wasn’t difficult. I wasn’t in the habit of socializing with the help.
Maggie answered the door when Laurel rang the bell. Usually I answered it myself if I was expecting her but not today.
“Good morning, Miss Laurel.”
“Where is Kyle?” Laurel didn’t socialize with the help either, something I appreciated about her. They were there to work, not talk.
“In the library, Miss Laurel. If you’d…”
“I can find my way.”
I heard her staccato steps on the hall tile approaching. I’d chosen the library because it had the fewest windows. With the thick curtains closed, it was very dim, almost completely dark.
“In here.” She reached for the light switch but I put my hand over hers. “Don’t turn on the lights.”
“Oh, silly, I can’t see you at all. And I wore something pretty just for you.”
“Laurel, do you love me?”
“Ok, I don’t know what game this is. Of course I do.”
“Would you say it? Please?”
“Kyle, what is the matter with you today?”
“Just please, say that you love me.”
“Oh alright. I love you, Kyle. Now let me turn on the light and we can decide where we’re going to lunch. I heard of this great little bistro…” She turned on the light as she was talking and screamed.
It hadn’t worked. And now Laurel was standing there with a look of pure shock on her face and her scream still ringing in my ears.
“Laurel, sweetheart, it’s me. It’s Kyle.” I wanted to go closer to her, hug her, but I didn’t move. If I did, she might run and now more than ever we needed to talk.
“It’s really me.”
Maggie looked around the corner behind Laurel. I’m sure Laurel’s scream brought her running. She looked at me and her eyes widened but she didn’t say anything and slipped back out.
“Oh, Kyle, you really scared me. That’s a fantastic make-up job but you can’t go out looking like that. Take it off.”
“It’s not make-up.”
“It’s not make-up.” She came closer and tried to rub the tattoo off, testing.
“Oh shit, Kyle! What happened to you?”
I started to tell her.. and remembered that I couldn’t. “I can’t tell you.”
“Well. I can see why you wanted to talk to me. What are you going to tell them at work?”
I hadn’t even considered that. “I don’t know yet. Maybe I should take a leave of absence.”
“Is it permanent?”
“I don’t know that either. It could be.” I’d do everything I could to make sure that it wasn’t…. but my first idea hadn’t worked very well.
“Well you might as well resign. No client is going to want you on their account with you looking like that.”
She was right. Advertising is all about appearances and my appearance was pretty awful now. “That’s not exactly on the top of my priority list right now.” I told her, a little annoyed.
“No, I suppose it isn’t. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of calls to make.”
Do what? “Calls?”
“Of course. I have to cancel the catering and the church and return all the wedding gifts and I don’t even know what else. You’ve made quite a mess for me, Kyle.” She made a face.
“We don’t have to call off the wedding.” This caught me completely blind-side. I hadn’t even thought about canceling the wedding.
“You don’t think I’m seriously going to go through with it now, do you? I can’t marry you- I can’t even be seen speaking to you. Just think what that kind of publicity would do to my career.”
“But I’m still the same person!” I protested.
“No, you aren’t. You would have made a great first husband- we were a cute couple and I could have met so many good contacts as your wife… but you can’t offer me anything I want now.” She wasn’t even looking at me any more. She’d already dismissed me from her life without even thinking twice about it. Then what she was saying sunk in and my mental gears ground to a halt.
“First husband? You planned to have more than one?” I think it was my turn to be stunned.
“Oh, of course. But now you’ve ruined it. Don’t call me, don’t text me- just pretend you never met me. I’ll manage the damage control.” She spoke as if she were doing me another favor. “Now I have to go- I have a lot to do. Good-bye Kyle.”
I didn’t see her to the door. But then, I don’t think I’d ever seen her before. I didn’t feel angry, just kind of all-gone, like someone had punched a hole through me that ought to hurt dreadfully but was to serious to feel yet. I collapsed into a chair.
I’m not sure how long I was sitting there before Maggie looked around the door frame again. “Mister Kyle?”
“What is it?” I was far too upset to be anything less than brusque.
“Are you ok?”
I stared at her. “Am I ok? My face is ruined, I’m bloody bald and my ex-fiancé doesn’t ever want to speak to me again. On top of that, I still have to tell my father. And my job.” I still needed to consider what to do about the job. I wasn’t ready to actually quit until I was sure that my face was permanently ugly.
Right up until that moment, I’d thought of Maggie, when I thought of her at all, as a timid, mostly efficient, fixture of the house. It hadn’t occurred to me to think of her as a person. She changed that right then and there vehemently.
“Well, sitting in the dark moping about it won’t change anything.” She came into the room and stood in front of me. “Now you need to get up and call that job of yours and tell them that you need to start you vacation a week early- you were taking a two month honeymoon vacation anyway so it’s already in place- and tell them that the wedding is off. Miss Laurel may remember to call them and she may not but that is one place where you need to be the one who tells them. Another is your father and you can tell him when he gets home tonight.” I couldn’t do anything except stare at her. I felt galvanized, as though I’d touched a live wire. But she wasn’t done.”And as for that Miss Laurel, I don’t think you should spend too much time being upset over her. I never did think she loved you enough, or in the right way. The way she looked at you when you weren’t looking! Not adoring, but like you were something to eat. And then leaving you at the first little bit of trouble? You may not feel it now but you’re better off without her.”
I had to say something…but what? She was right… ok, I didn’t know about the way Laurel looked at me… but she was right about everything else. “Why, Maggie, I didn’t know you cared.”
“Mister Kyle, you’re a pretty smart man, but you don’t see what’s right in front of you most of the time. Now I need to be starting supper and you need to be calling your job.” She started to leave and turned back in the doorway. “And don’t you go turning off the lights and just sitting there. You remind me of my son sometimes- he used to get petulant when things were bad too.”
That shook me up a little more. I never thought of Maggie having a family. And then it made me mad- couldn’t she see what I looked like now? My life was over and she’d practically called me a spoiled sulky child because I couldn’t just keep going.
In spite of that, I did get up and call my job.