Ivy was ugly, not unabashed but ugly all the same, kept it tucked beneath a hat when she could. She draped her face with a handkerchief once, to see if that would make a difference but it only covered her vision and her eyes were nowhere near the worst part of her.
She kept a glass of water by her bed, always full though sometimes dust floated in it. When she awoke at night sweating and wishing she could scream she sloshed it into her mouth, dribbling down her chin and neck.
Someone had once told her that at least she could be beautiful inside, but having no one to tell her if she was, she let go of that preposterous notion, giving it to her pet fish in case he could chew on it. She had read about people like her, mouths melted open slammed behind prison bars. The mental hospital on an old tree-barren hill, smashed against the lip of a forest. She thought maybe she might not be alone, but then seeing herself and only herself in the mirror she reconsidered.
Plain, she thought, spent a whole afternoon looking up synonyms but none of them were what her mother used to call her.
She wanted to try something someone somewhere else and she went so far as the train station with half a wallet full of money. The odd selection of coins wasn’t enough so the man on the other side of the glass told her to go home. She asked him for directions. He didn’t know.
What she saw outside of her windows frightened her, even when she thought she could see water, which happened sometimes if she didn’t pay too much attention, didn’t try too hard. Instead she stayed inside, learned how to make casserole, stitch things into pillows and dance with a coat on a hanger. The closer she got to the real thing the more worried she felt, embarrassed to have gone on for as long as she had. Never reached that point, though, where she found herself ill-equipped outside the walls for she stayed well inside them.
One day as she settled down to pick through some knotted thread she found an old box, pink full of flowers and whirled ribbon, bit grimy from the drawer but that hardly mattered. Inside was a faded blue woman in a ball-gown, spinning mechanically as the music box sang her a song. The woman was alone, nothing else in the box, just twirling on her own on a little pink platform.
Ivy wanted to know where the box came from because she had never seen it before, because it only just now snuck into her hand after weeks or months or years of invisibility, only just now crept into that drawer she forgot existed. Some smell came out of the box, like some herb, some sort of plant, some smell that her mother used to exude, breathe down the staircase. Strong. She didn’t like it. Must have come from her mother then, nowhere else would have smelled like that breath down the staircase. She didn’t know where her mother was, hadn’t for years, didn’t matter now any more than it had back then which wasn’t much.
She looked out the window, past the dust-coloured curtains. It had started to rain while she wasn’t watching. The leaves shuddered, dripped, heavy with water. She put the box back in the drawer and went on with her thread.