A companion piece to this one.
The first chemise she bought for herself – the first coin she didn’t put toward more things for her laboratory – had lace. Just a little bit of the cheapest kind on plain linen. She was in a market, and people were looking, and people were seeing her buy it. She could hardly look the shopkeeper in the eyes. What must he think? “Poor girl. Doesn’t she know that nobody but her will ever see her underthings?” That’s what she herself was thinking, at least.
The second chemise she bought had a little more lace, and drawers to match. By then, he had seen her in her smallclothes. His hands had touched the worst of her skin and hadn’t recoiled. Oh, he had seen it, and he hadn’t liked it. She’d have called him a liar if he said it was beautiful, and she wouldn’t abide a man who could find pleasure in the sight of such disfigurement. Only a sadist would find his loins stirred by scars like hers. But he saw them, and touched them, and loved her. He washed her skin attentively and she felt no driving need to make him scrub it raw. His touch was a clean thing. He was touching her, and not her ugly body.
She touched him too where his leg ended. A raw truncation still healing, vandalism of a beautifully made man. It was wrong and imperfect. She touched it, and stroked it, and loved him. She was safe being with him in this way, like with like. He understood that she was not her scars, just as he was not his leg. He would see her when she wore lace and fine linen. He loved the splashes of color and the satin of ribbons. His eyes saw love and not disfigurement. So she bought those fancy underthings, and wore them, and was beautiful to his eyes as he was perfect in hers.
Beneath her clothes where nobody would know it was safe to have delicate things made with care. In time, her child wore beautifully embroidered smocks that he promptly outgrew, even as she made more. Her house was a serene haven of clean, beautiful furniture. Wicker was like lace furniture. Oh, how she loved lace. Lace and embroidery and soft, damasked cloth… now her nightrail was the finest work her thriving business could buy. Her son wouldn’t notice and her husband enjoyed hunting for the closures.
How Luned had talked her into this, she didn’t know. She meant to see her little sister dressed nicely. It was both a joy and a pain to see how beautiful and unmarred she was, but mostly a joy. They were so different that comparison was well nigh impossible. Luned was beautiful and beloved, and that was all. But here she herself was in a dress… a dress! Dresses were for the world to see. Even as a woman of means, she bought the plainest fabrics in the most modest cuts she could find. “Don’t see me” they said, or “I’m a practical woman who has a man’s job, and does it well.” “Look at my mind,” they said, “And please, please, please forgive me for my face.”
But this dress was such a dress! Not a stitch uneven, not a rumpled seam. It felt like a second skin, but with the weighty drape of exquisite fabric embroidered in delicate gold. The belts clasped with her husband’s buckles, firm and supportive around her middle. It was perfect. She caressed it like she did her child’s clothes when they came back from the washerwoman, or like her husband’s back after a day swinging his forge hammer, or like a delicate roll of pastilles on a cutting block. She wore it. It wore her.
“Go on,” they said. “Look in the mirror.”
Dread squeezed at her even before she looked and saw… a nightmare. Perfection below the neck, and a cracked china face above. The image struck her like a slap to the face, and she was ten again, all over again. There was no Guradan or Belion or Mastery or Lab or… anything. Her, and an empty room, and a lonely pair of shoes. She didn’t know she was sobbing on her sister’s shoulder until she noticed she had soaked it.
Mindred’s voice broke through the memory of sickening shock and the hot headache of bitter tears. “There were once two sisters who played, as children do, around a boiling kettle of laundry water. And when the water spilled, both were burned, the older worse than the younger. They almost died, but they lived, one with scars below her neck, and the other with scars everywhere.
One day, the younger girl – the girl with the unmarked face- stood at the seamstress’ shop to have a dress made. The seamstress cooed and fussed over what a pretty girl she was, right up until the time came for measuring in smallclothes. And then! The seamstress couldn’t be done quickly enough, or have the poor scarred girl out the door fast enough. And that is why I became a dressmaker, so that when my sister needed clothing, she would be treated like any normal girl would.”
Helvia’s anger cut sharp and true through her shaking disgust at the sight of herself as she thought of that little girl. How dare they? How dare they say that a scarred girl hadn’t the right to be dressed in good, well-made work? How dare they make her feel less of a person for being marred? How dare anyone look at her and say “She is imperfect and should hide herself where we won’t have to see her, or know her, or value her.”
Damn them. Damn them. Damn them all. That little girl deserved beauty on her, and in her. That little girl needed to see that surviving and enduring and overcoming should never, ever be a source of shame. No more shame.
She sat in the chair and, with determined spirit, said, “Yes, change the hair too.” I will be seen. It is that awful seamstress from long ago who should wear rags, and the scalded girl who should have lace. I shall wear it for her, and make them get used to seeing beautiful things on imperfect people. I will make them keep the cracked doll.