Contrary to traditional feminine ideals, there were no flowers in the cottage. No hyacinths, cherry blossoms, or daffodils. There were multiple scales in the two bathrooms, and a collection of dresses ranging from size zero to two. Shiny arithmetic books sat on the bookshelves along with empty picture frames on the walls. The woman’s estate had been reconstructed into a pristine sanctuary. It would be a space for successful, beautiful girls who could grow up appreciating order and everything right.
However, Minka’s own body is worn down after years of both misuse and disuse. In the mirror was a crooked face, with an off-kilter nose and a bulging chin. Impurities. All of them and more, impurities that she spent ages trying to cover up and hide away.
Despite it all, Minka smiled at her reflection. Why must she care about herself? This was the face of a protector, a liege of Queen Melisende trusted with the most important task in the queendom.
Leaving the bathroom without washing up as usual, Minka wanted to spend every second of her life caring for baby Princess Aeon. With soft, dusty brown curls and eyes like a soft ocean, Aeon was an angel.
Minka cooked a porridge with peach blended into it. The fragrant smell wafted into the kitchen, but the baby was content and quiet. Wonderful royalty, Minka mused. Born and raised to have a crown sit atop one’s head required the most fine-tuned of motions, the cleanest of behaviors, and a heart of steel. Minka would raise that baby to fit each and every one of the Queen’s standards.
At times, Minka wondered about her own, lower-status blood relatives. If she’d embodied their ideals of slender bodies, stellar grades, and womanly manners, would she have turned out one step closer to royalty?
Gently, Minka coaxed the baby to eat. All that mattered in the world was here, in front of her. Aeon’s future would be a light that rivaled the sun’s.
The spoon stopped at the baby’s lips, which remained shut. The baby stayed quiet. Minka smiled - she was plenty used to routine. Aeon didn’t get hungry, after all.
As she ate herself, waiting for Aeon to respond, she thought of long ago. Before Queen Melisende or Princess Aeon, there had been a series of letters. They came “Lenna”, someone Minka wanted to forget in her years alone. Lenna spoke for their family - what family, Minka thought. Minka remembered their years’ worth of harsh words, tearing into her heart like starved animals. Her young self was left with a stinking corpse of a soul, but better that than perfume.
All Minka smelled when she grew up were the noxious fragrances her mother wore, pretty smells from a pretty woman with ugly memories attached. She never tried to think beyond the initial flash her memory produced. Maybe she saw bloody ballet slippers, or felt phantasms of scalding coffee against her skin.
Towards the end, Lenna had written of a baby, just like Aeon. The main difference was that she had been dead for twenty seven years. Minka was overcome by an onslaught of memories, twisted symphonies of girls screaming and crying, words and tears and shrieks melding into one.
Oh, how Aeon, her Royal Highness, never cried.
It wasn’t your fault, Lenna had begged, lacing her words with lies. It was like saying that Minka was missed and appreciated and cherished. Dear Minka, the baby’s passing had been an accident. Had it? Or had it been a delusional act stemming from the anger at one of her father’s mad outbursts, or her mother’s magical act of shifting reality into a world of make-believe? Minka did not pretend-play. She was old enough, unlike Lenna, and knew what she saw...right?
Her parents said that she would never be good enough for their standards.
What disgusting, despicable words.
After all the ways they’d ruined her life, they asked Minka to come home.
What undesirable, flawed words.
But she’d made her home, away from all of them, because who in their right mind would want to stay with people that hurt them? Minka could run away from the damage, and raise a baby with all the love she never got.
The final punch was that the fire she burned the letters in smelled like lily of the valley.
Now, for the happy thoughts. Whenever a dark evil threatened to peel apart her shiny wrapping paper, Minka urged them away. She never thought of herself there, but the baby. These thoughts fueled Minka’s steps as she walked with the small stroller - one a child might push. Now this was her reason to grandly live her small existence.
Above anything, Minka wished she could've been born as Aeon. The baby was faultless. That was how Princess Aeon would win her love, the security and blessing of Fate and God themselves. After all, Aeon didn’t talk or doesn’t move. Her body was of ideal proportion, and her smile was permanent. There were no flaws on her skin, and without the ability to formulate a personality, not a single soul could stir those chances away. And most miraculously, Princess Aeon was under Minka’s possession, something to own and worship like a frenzied preacher caught up in the whims of an ideal they so desperately wanted to be real.
Aeon’s face was so soft, like the texture of flower petals.