A Glass Coffin
Black as ebony, white as snow. That was me. I’m turning grey now. My skin is pale as ever except where liver spots cluster, mottling my hands. I am turning into an old toad. And no kiss can make me a princess again. I was Snow White, I was those three things: black hair, white skin, red mouth. And that, I see now, was all I was.
The Queen at least had her witchcraft – she had an interest. In the evenings I waste candles going through her books. Odd snatches catch me – to thwart an adulterer, break an acorn in two and hide half under each party’s pillow, and so long as ’tis so, the lovers never can meet – but I was never schooled to concentrate. I find it hard going, to turn myself into a scholar.
If I were clever, I would not envy my lady-in-waiting so much. Olivia is gold, like morning sunlight. Her skin glows with rose-petal youth. When she joins me at the mirror, I look away. I try to care more about books than beauty, and I wonder how I would feel if I had her heart cut out.
It is the famed mirror, yes. The Queen did not care for mirrors when first she came here. I think my father admired that, but the courtiers talked. It is said you can trap a witch in a mirror, and there were whispers that the new Queen avoided them from fear. So my father gave her this one, knowing its magical properties would intrigue her. I don’t believe he knew its real power. He loved her, after all.
My prince, the king, looks put out at breakfast. “I found an acorn in my bed,” he snaps at his man as they enter the room. “Have we squirrels for chambermaids?”
He sits, and then I do, Olivia drawing out my chair. His eyes focus above my head, and he smiles. In the mirror opposite, she blooms more lovely than ever. Perhaps, perhaps a kiss could restore me to beauty. Were kisses to be had.
For all that she was a murderer, the Queen wrote an elegant hand. To enter her diary is to enter her mind, and oh, what a marvellous mind it was. Filled with herb-lore and alchemy and astronomy, peopled with philosophers and poets and travellers. I dally there, as in a wondrous country.
What caused my step-mother to turn from the grandeur of her magic to the paltriness of envy? Her dreams shrank, over the years – I see this, in her later journals. A soul as large as the night sky, curled up like burnt paper. And what ate away at my step-mother, has kept me meek and biddable. We were both, in our way, captured by the thought that we were nothing but pretty reflections in a glass.
“His Royal Highness awaits your Majesty.”
“I… will dine in my private quarters.” She asks if I am unwell. I shrug, not caring what reason she gives. I find as his love falls away from me, my own dissipates like vapour. I see him clearly now. The door closes. I resume my reading.
In the margins are scribbled spells. To become beautiful; to become invisible. These opposites jolt me, and I pause to decipher them. To become invisible, destroy the m… maiden? No. The mirror.
I lay down the journal. There is the tail of an idea, sly and elusive, almost such that thinking on it will scare it away. Instead, I feel.
I feel the weight of beauty, weighing more the more it slips from me. But even in youth, it felt a kind of carapace, defining my limits – a transparent coffin. I was black hair, and white skin, and no more. And no, the mischief was not done by others thinking me so – it was done when I figured beauty as the sum of myself.
When I explore the world in her books, I feel… excited, happy. I see this only now, in hindsight, because when I am immersed there I do not notice how I feel – I am transparent to myself. I become invisible. Instead of seeing myself, I see the world. And it fills me with curious heady pleasure.
To be invisible to others is a charm beyond my powers – at least, it is they who decide whether or not to see me. But to be invisible to oneself. There is a thought. Is this the spell I have been seeking?
Sheena Power is an illustrator from Dublin. Her work ranges from dragons on the cover of JRR Tolkien: the Forest & the City, to Christmas cards for scientists. Although she draws for a living, her real love is writing. Her stories Aurelia Aurita and On the Matter of Dublin’s Gargoyle Population were published in Tales From The Forest; A Cloak As Red As Blood was published in Enchanted Magazine, and Queen was shortlisted for the 2015 Allingham Award and subsequently published in Boyne Berries.