Christina Peng

United States

Painted Skin

April 8, 2019

A girl in scarlet spills from a giant golden birdcage
Her face white and set as she stumbles toward the sea cliff’s edge
Where below, the water whirls like a wishing well
Oh, for a wish!
She peers over, her frozen white toes curling over the rock blade
Into water teal and chilling
Her tears mingle with the rain
As the wind whips her hair into a fury
Atop her head, a myrtle crown glistens,
DUTY, it bellows
She listens through a storm of unshed silver tears
Blurring a gilt-framed painting of her future in the sky above
A marriage, a queen, a fate
A besotted king nodding to her every word
What more could she ask for?

LOVE, she screams into the wind
As in her mind, her errant feet float down another road
To him.
And at the thought, her marble cheeks warm to soft petals
And her heart thuds like a trapped bird
Her heart flies to the forest, where in his embrace
There lives a whole world
The world he created
Through the magic carpet ride of his stories
Oh, for a wish!
She wants to be in that forest again
Not bumping down an endless road to her death day

There, beneath the arms of blush-pink wisterias
His lips would quiver with stories she’d never heard
And in the glow of fireflies, he would cast the spell of a story
In them, she would wrap herself in the colors of the rainbow
Not sit frozen-hearted in her golden cage

In her pocket are his letters
Creased from being read in silent whispers
Standing on the cliff, she clutches them in her hands
like white paper cranes
Knowing if she lets them fly into the wind,
She would be admitting there is no god

Oh, for a wish!
In the fairy tales she had read, help had always come
A frog disguised as a prince, a fairy godmother
But as she stands, waiting, no one came
She is so very alone

Two roads diverge atop a stormy cliff
Which path shall she take?

A voice pierces her consciousness
“You called?”
She jumps
As a large silver eye blinks in the sky
Silver, it is. Old, it is.
Then shuts in a flash
A face forms around the silver eye, then a body
Of lithe liquid glass like a delicate chandelier
Her smile is alluring--an old soul in a maiden’s glass vase
Preserved unnaturally in time
But the most disturbing are the empty souls of hades,
Singing in their mistress’ stoned braids

She hears a voice in her mind:
For a price I can change your flesh to gold
Or turn a maiden from young to old
Few humans love the skin they are given
Your wish to change can be forgiven

Black fear fizzles on her tongue
But she swallows the stung
Embracing only that floating feeling of the undreamed of
Is this her chance to love?

The price is just this fair trade
Your face is what I will be paid
Trade it in for another so you can choose
The life you wish for, and one to lose

The princess doesn’t think, she only feels
She forgets the Queen’s warning about witches’ deals

“Yes. YES!
Any price I’m willing to pay!
You can have my face today!”

Silver Eyes chuckles
Is that final? she asks through her angelic mask
The princess pauses as her adrenaline recedes
Her mind says no but her heart has needs
Duty—
Screw Duty.
Listen—
She’s done listening.

No one can see her; no one cares
This is no time for a princess’s airs

“Yes,” her lips part. “I want what you have to give
As of now, this is no way to live.”
Silver Eyes smiles
Very well, close your eyes…

The princess feels a tingle in her hair
Hopefully it would not be bare
Maybe she should have specified she didn’t want an ugly face
But now her wish is too late to erase

She longs for a mirror, but there’s only the sea
Where she runs down the path quite excitedly
And in a tidepool filled with fish
She sees the consequences of her wish

Her golden hair is now black wires
Her eyes, once emerald, are orange wildfires
Her shock ricochets from her toes to her head
As she begins to feel real dread

How would her love feel now she’s no longer pretty?
Maybe it’s enough that she is witty?

She sheds her myrtle crown and blood-red wedding gown
She drops it into the sea where it can never be found
And in her petticoat she sets off for a new road
For she knows her prince is no toad
With a hopeful heart and a twinge of fear
She longs for her true love to draw near

On bloodied feet she runs through the thickets’ moans
Past the biting crimson rose bushes she loathes
She moves, as if captivated by spells
Toward the theater where her lover dwells

In the wind, she hears him calling her from afar
He is her Polaris, her North Star
And though her feet are torn to shreds
In her heart she feels no dread
Only an incredible lightness of being
Knowing it is him she would soon be seeing

Before she knows it, she is standing on the grassy knoll
At the tip of his amphitheater where he extolls
The sight of him fills her heart with fire
He is the one and only she desires
She watches as he plays Romeo from afar
As her heart awaits love like a door ajar

And as soon as the play is done
From the stage’s wings she did run

“It’s me, my darling! Your princess, my love!”
His grey eyes stare back blankly like the wings of a dove.

“Come, my love. The time is nigh.
When loving means to do or die
I have given all to be right here
Why are you not drawing near?”

Her heart trembles as he stares at her with blank contempt
Is this all her sacrifice had meant?
She surges past the crowd of his well-wishers to clasp his hands
Surely now he would say their wedding banns

But instead of his familiar touch and a sweet reunion
She receives not even the smallest communion

“Who are you?” he asks with hard, contemptuous eyes
“Certainly I would never align with such a poor prize.
My bride shall be King Lowry's child
A damsel with power and beauty that beguile.”

“My love, it is I.  I am standing right here
I changed my face so before you I could appear.
You know Father betrothed me to another man
And that union I could not stand.
So I made a deal with a local witch
My face for hers for this love switch.”

His face stiffens at the horrible news
As she gazes at him, terribly confused.
“So now you have nothing...not even your face?
And no gold or status for our table to grace?”

She slowly nods her head with a “no.”
“But my love we have us to grow.”

He stopped silent, then gave a sharp laugh
“You think such things can forge a life path?
Go away.  You disgust me.  Simply looking at you gives me chills.
I think seeing you for a lifetime would make me ill.”

Her heart ceases as her soul falls into her bloodied feet
Who knew this man would be such a cheat?
She had given him her all
And for her all gotten nil

The kisses they had shared were sewn in her heart
And with her own hands she tears them apart
She sees him now for who he was
And nothing could make her unsee because
Into her collection of happily ever afters
Her hope had dissipated into the rafters
In her cut and bruised heart
Excuses and abuses rip her apart
His million oaths are terrible jokes
Her whole love had been a cheater’s hoax

She rakes her nails upon her face
In the silence there is no space
No. No! NO! it cannot be
She had given away her life for free
The visions of his lips brushing her hair
Mocks her now in the blankness of his stare

And in the air she hears a silvery laugh
A large silver eye and a very old staff
You gave him all, he gave you nil
Now what will you do for good or ill?

With an upturned face, she gazes up at the sky
At the witch who had shown her beyond his mask of lies
“Please!” she calls up to the heavens as she sinks to her knees
“Please save me from myself, dear witch, oh please!”

The voice comes quickly, it is rather calm
It cradles her like a leaf in a palm

You wish to return?

To the sorrow you wished to sever?
To the bondage you wished to escape?
To the crown you wished to leave?
To the prince you wished to betray?

“Please… I beg of thee...”

I shall return you to your rightful place
But this is the price you must embrace
Upon your death your soul shall be mine
Trapped in my braids for eternity’s time

With a flick of a brush the princess’s crown reappears
Her scarlet wedding gown, her footmen--all she never held more dear
And once again, her life wraps in different chains
Not the chains of betrayal but that of a rein

But isn’t life a series of thorns and rain
And just a bit of sunlight flickering between shadows again?
She squares her shoulders and raises her chin
As her old life she assumes with a morbid grin

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2 Comments
  • Blue Moons

    WHAT?!? This is amazing!! So so impressed! You should be really proud. I love the rhythm, and the tone that you give it! All the emotion and detail is wonderful :) :)


    about 2 years ago
  • jaii

    beautiful piece! and welcome to WtW!


    over 2 years ago