by Janine Jones
Féa! My dearest darling Féa. What a lovely
name you possess! It leaves one to wonder what on heaven’s
earth could have possessed your dear mother to confer it
upon you. What, with a face like yours! So soft, so sweet.
It wants only to be whispered. And to think! a sound so
divine with you as its bearer. Whatever could your mother
have been thinking?’
That was the cry that beckoned me during all my real life
days. Those who would call me by name are not to be given
the benefit of the doubt. They knew all too well what my
mother had in mind, tagging me Féa the moment she
laid eyes on me. Why it’s meaning, what else?
My story is not a long one to tell, unless I were to dwell
upon fading details which would only recall a dull ache
to my heart, reminiscent of those I had in living. They
say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps. But the
world at large beheld me as not fit to be seen, starting
with my own sweet mother who took one curious look at me
and looked no more.
They say a mother’s love is unconditional, that it
can conquer all. They say a mother will see her child as
beautiful, no matter what! as it is her own. My mother saw
me and knew my name.
Not everyone mocked my uncomeliness. There were those, girls
my own age and their mothers, who did not turn their heads
at my sight. Decked out in nature’s loveliest forms,
they would smile on me, deigning to stroke my knobby shoulder,
all the while reassuring me with words dripping with sweetness,
bursting with wisdom.
‘Féa, don’t worry, dearest. Someday you’ll
outgrow your name. Give it a few years.’
That’s what the daughters said. Their mothers’
words sounded more equivocal, though I understood them not.
‘Féa, my child, all things must come to an
end. Bad things too. God would never be so cruel as to have
it otherwise. And always remember this. Though you may feel
wronged it is not for you to judge.’
Then mothers would smile lovingly on daughters, reveling
in their own past looks and glory, and they’d walk
off arm and arm, the original’s vanity supporting
the copy’s and vice versa. Meanstwhile I, idiot that
I was, believed what I could of their grand words forgetting
their smiles and gestures.
The first time such advice came my way I ran off like the
wind until I found the tallest tree. I stood with my back
against its trunk, knife in hand. With the thrill and terror
that comes with performing black magic, I slashed its back
to mark the height I was that day. Every year afterwards
I checked the mark to see how I had grown. And I found (to
my delight!) like grass I had! or the beanstalk. But I did
not outgrow my name, which grew on me as I grew more hideous
with each passing day.
An ugly infant must be marveled at, an ugly child mocked
or pitied; and an ugly woman despised and condemned, as
though her very being were all her own doing.
My mother had to feed me, clothe me, give me shelter until
I was of age. That was law, and custom. I left her in peace
after fifteen summers, the time when maidens who’d
come into the world the same year as I were married off.
I left without dowry, or a cent to my name. Yet I had hope
of living a life in accordance with God’s law, of
keeping myself by His word and my hand. Nature had cursed
me with a face of rot. But He had blessed me with a touch
Sweater. Coat. Hat or sock. If it be something to make I
made it beautiful. And in that way, I came to earn my keep
in a time when women did pull the needle and turn the wheel
but could not open shop.
I never blossomed. My breasts, my hips, my hollow belly
never grew to know what fullness is. So my mouth was never
searched by a tongue not my own, and my legs never opened
to a prick of invited intrusion. With needle in hand - in
and out, in and out, in and out - I worked miracles in material.
And I opened shop.
I made my home and worked in a place many weeks walk from
my natal village. People came from all around to buy my
wares and gaze upon the miracle offered by the sight of
me, ugly as sin, giving birth to works whose virtue was
their beauty. Wretchedness spinning loveliness. Was the
world coming to an end? The people prepared themselves,
thinking this a sign.
They gazed and stared and wondered. They clicked their tongues.
In the beginning, when they came, I feared becoming a spectacle.
My father had always threatened to sell me to the travelling
circus. ‘They’re offering a fair price,’
he would tell my mother. ‘More than feeding a crooked
mouth such as hers is worth.’
My mother would hear it over and over, every word. But I
stayed. Perhaps there is some truth to what they say about
a mother’s love.
But it had stayed too, the fear of appearing in a spectacle.
And there I was, full of fear, thinking I was becoming one.
But those who came to see me sew and spin were also fearful.
Filled with the fear of God they were. Imagining themselves
to be beholding a miracle, they looked favourably upon me,
thinking God might look favourably on them and their crops.
Thus it was that beyond the sloping sides of hills, further
than the eye could see, people began to say, especially
to scold beautiful maidens who passed their time before
mirrors, or on their high horses looking down at the blemished
of the earth: ‘Pretty is as Féa does.’
My downfall was my doing, Nature’s design. Though
my body knew no fullness, sap was full to overflowing in
the vessels of my groin. But I had my virtue to uphold.
That was law, and custom.
I know some might think, ‘Who does she imagine would
have taken her had she been undressed and laid out on a
fine oak table?’
Who would have kissed this deformed mouth of mine or that
other mouth whose layers would not offer the slightest resistance
to being opened by prying hands as do the fresh crisp leaves
of the heart of a lettuce. No, as you may have guessed,
those private folds of mine were like the outermost leaves
of an old lettuce head, brownish-green and sagging, wanting
only to be stripped and tossed away.
And my breasts, like caves - why should they be explored
when men want only to move mountains? My head sitting atop
my shoulders, my legs connected directly to my back. No
neck to bruise, no butt to ride! Yes, and I know as well
as any other woman that men, like dogs, need to leave their
mark, and like sailors dream of mounting tides.
With not even a lobe of ear to pull and tug away at, my
virtue should have remained the best kept secret in the
world. Concealed between sealed legs. So, what happened?
The explanation is simple. Just as men gather to see a spectacle,
they'll gather to lay one too.
I had several proposals, on numerous occasions, from two
or three gentleman who wished to make it a night and gather
in my name. I knew their ways well.
There was a girl in my new village not half as horrid as
myself. I must say it was to her disadvantage to have been
so ugly in such an ordinary way. She had never been marvelled
at, nor pitied, nor condemned. There was nothing awesome
in her ugliness. Her ugliness was spoken of, as are all
commonplace things, like the colour of her hair. ‘Tell
ugly Olga with the mouse brown hair to go fetch the milk
to make the cheese.’
Ugly Olga never got herself a single man, but three at a
time they’d take her on. They’d cover her head
with a potato sack. One would take her from behind while
the other took her from the front. The third reaped his
pleasure from inside her mouth, whose lips were thin as
a snake’s but whose tongue was wet and tasty.
No secret was made of their goings-on. They took her to
secluded spots so nearby that any man might pass that way,
and did. Some would stop and take a turn. Others would put
it off till another time. The town tongues wagged till the
women were in the know, and ugly Olga shunned by all.
Why did Olga do it? Why did she squander herself, give the
men a good laugh and a warm place to relieve themselves
at her expense and at no cost to themselves? I’ll
tell you why. The sap was overflowing in the vessels of
her groin, and she was too ugly for an ordinary man to make
an honest woman of her. All her doing. Nature’s design.
Now listen carefully, those of you whose limbs grace you
softly as the flower’s petals do the stem. The mere
thought of my crooked legs spread in a scalene V, my contorted
face grimacing in Eros’ embrace, my blotched face
bursting with blood, my balding head damp against their
bare chests, my caved in chest heaving huhuhu to heaven,
my claw-like toes and nails clutching their calves and shoulders,
put those men with a mind to have me in a way of senseless
Two or three began huddling around me, whispering with lurid
looks, ‘Come on, Féa. Let us gather in your
name.’ The simple sound of my name whispered lightly
by their dripping mouths made me fuller than the greatest
river during spring’s first melt and my deaths-head
throb with the blood of pleasure.
I fought their advances as best I could, never forgetting
Olga’s fate. Giving into their perversity and my unfulfilled
pleasure would have certainly meant my downfall. I would
have lost my status as a miracle worker, and my ability
to earn my keep. And unsightly as I was, I could expect
no one else to provide it for me.
I prayed for an answer when I felt myself losing the struggle,
when felt myself melting, giving way to ‘Féas’
whispered on the sly.
The night I gave up on a virtuous
answer being provided, an angel of darkness responded to
‘Come and let us gather in your name, Féa.’
Three men whispered and slipped away. I could resist no
longer. So, I put down my needles. For once, I wouldn’t
work into the wee hours.
I put on my coat and hat, sneaked out of my shop, feeling
the watch already on. A curtain was pulled back. A pair
of eyes peered out. I walked down the silent village street
until I reached the path that led to Mr Miller’s old,
abandoned barn. Though spring was on its way, a sharp bite
cut through the night air. The moon was rising bright and
full in form, lighting my path as it travelled its own.
After a bend in the dirt road, I saw the barn up ahead.
I didn’t hesitate, for fear of turning back. I walked
on, quickness in my step, the friction of my uppermost thighs,
the only fleshy part of me, sparking preliminary warmth.
I would be ready on arrival.
As I got closer, I heard voices coming from the barn. I
walked in and stood in the entrance. The three men stopped
talking and drinking their brew. One man raised a lantern.
All three stared at me, their faces aghast. Then, as though
suddenly remembering the fulfilment this face of mine would
bring, their faces broke into grins filled with new blood.
One lifted a bottle in toast to me,
‘Where two or three gather in your name. Here’s
to you Féa. We’ll make a woman of you yet.’
They passed the bottle around. I would be next.
One man started unloosening his buckle, his eyes on me.
There was no backing out. They wouldn’t have let me
had I tried. I was there. I was theirs. It was as simple
as that. Nothing like a change of mind would have moved
their rustic natures. I was there; I was theirs.
‘Come here, Féa,’ one said holding up
the light. ‘Let us get a better look at you.’
I moved in close enough to feel the lantern’s brightness
on my face, and squinted to save my eyes.
‘Féa is as Féa does.’ They burst
out in laughter and toasted me, and my name, once more.
They hadn’t fouled me yet, but my fate, as had been
Olga’s before me, was as good as sealed.
They licked brew from their lips. They’d moved in
close enough for me to smell the odour of rotten oats on
their breath. My rivers began to overflow even as my fate
swam in my eyes. One laid a moist, heavy hand on my knobbly
That’s when a shadow expanded over the entire ceiling
of the barn. Like an eagle spreading its wings, two sides
of darkness spanned the ceiling overhead. We must have felt
it, sensed it before we saw it. We all looked up. But the
maker of the shadow was, of course, at the entrance to the
barn. Not above us.
‘Good evening. Having a party and didn’t invite
I turned. We stared at the door. One man raised the lantern
to get a better look at what we were facing. The stranger
lifted a bent elbow. Like a black wing, it flapped over
‘Lower that light.’
His word had been spoken and heard as command by men who’d
taken orders from lords since their earliest days.
‘Put it on the ground.’
I heard the lantern's base touch the floor of the barn.
‘Is she not a virgin? Have you not heard of feudal
‘Yes, my lord,’ the three mumbled, the words
of one stumbling over the words of the other, in their fear
not even knowing whose lord they were addressing.
The men made their way towards the door, stepping softly.
My saviour opened his black cape to show them the way out.
One by one, they stepped towards the threshold, then through
the entrance. There in the darkness I could not see whether
they had walked into the night or vanished inside his cape.
‘No need to be afraid, Féa.’
I heard steps approaching.
‘What is it you wanted from that swine? Has no one
ever told you if you show your pearls to swine they will
Flames burned where eyes should have been, lighting up a
face, white and smooth as a porcelain plate. A lower lip
glowed thick and red, as though gorged with blood.
‘Féa, what could they teach you of pleasure?
That humiliation’s pleasures, especially when well
nurtured, are the most acute? Hence, the sweetest?’
The stranger laughed quietly, pleasantly, as though amused
at the errors of a well-meaning but otherwise foolish child.
‘I’ll show you pleasure’s virtues and
take you at your worth. Otherwise, Féa, pleasures
aren’t worth the having. Take my word for it. Flesh
broken, blood spilt, a spring melt. Over in a moment, it
will leave no trace. I’ll take you for what you’re
worth, and leave you with a memory that will burn your blood.
I’ll teach you to taste pleasure’s delight,
not its stench. But for a price.’
This creature of darkness went on speaking, and I didn’t
miss a word. Wretched as they were, I did have two ears.
‘I’ll wipe your unwept tears away and give you
something worth crying over. Or is it possible, Féa,
you know not your own worth?’
Who’d ever suggested I was worth any more than a piece
of beautifully fashioned cloth? I had no recollection of
such a person, and hardly knew what he meant.
Entrusting my memory to his care, I went without a word
of reply and lay my head on a clump of rotting hay. I closed
my eyes. I’d seen all I wanted to see for a lifetime.
Life, as I knew it, had seen enough of me.
Like a huge black bird he spread the sides of his cape and
kneeled over me. He overwhelmed me until just before the
cock’s turn to cry and I could cry no more.
‘My lord,’ I said sadly afterwards, ‘I
have no neck to offer you for all your trouble.’
He held my crooked hand in his, ice cold. He turned it over
and over and then stroked my palm, kindling new pleasure
in the process.
‘No need to despair Féa. A neck is but a detail.’
My wrist supplied the vein he wanted.
Now when I go back to drink the blood of the village cows
and pigs I hear the people talking about me. Even in the
throes of grappling with the mystery of their perpetually
dying livestock, Féa is still on their minds and
‘Another cow gone.’
‘She slit her wrist. You should have seen it! Took
her own life.’
‘The cow’s calf is bound to follow her.’
‘It’s a sign, I tell you. We must prepare. We
don’t want to get caught unprepared.’
‘Wallowed in her lust then couldn’t face her
‘She’s finally where she belongs, I dare say.’
Little do they know that it is I who kill their cattle.
They might prepare, prepare themselves for poverty, a condition
that will make them earthly heirs when the good day arrives.
World without end! The old dead cow was a sign of nothing
more than my thirst to live through another sleeping day.
My shame! What could they know of my shame, I who had none
to speak of! Wallowed in her lust! they say, when I bathed
in a torrent that flushed me downstream and carried me out
to sea. What would they know of that!
With moonlight as my witness, my bath was prolonged in a
rocking ocean whose salt cured wounds carved deep into my
being. Human works of art. Once soothed, like a lone piece
of timber wood I drifted out to a death that promised not
the hardships of eternal day but brought the splendid calm
of an infinite night.
Cannot face her shame!
I simply cannot bear the light of day that never showed
me to advantage.
© 1999 Janine