She knocked on the door


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I read a piece once upon a time (see what I did there?) about different perspectives in writing. I wish I could remember where I found it, because I loved it so much I kept thinking about it time and time again. Here it is, best as I can remember it:

The author picked a dramatic turning point in a story and imagined the lead up to it from different perspectives. She chose the fairy tale where the protagonist must refrain from looking at the cursed prince by night, who is by day a huge monster and only turns handsome by night. You might have guessed it, it doesn’t quite work out that well for our heroine and she lights the candle to have a gander at the man she shares her bed with. He catches her, drama ensues, ends in happily ever after many trials.

Easy peasy, right? Well, yes and no. Yes, because hey, you’ve got the hard work of coming up with the actual story all done, you’re just supplying the details. And no, because those details can be, if you’ll excuse the language, a Bitch. The author did a good job, I enjoyed it immensely, as can be surmised from remembering it years down the line, and it is my go-to mental exercise for battling writer’s block.

(Also an aside: I have let things go in the net community for a while. A LONG while. It was not a case of the writer’s block, but I have had and will continue to have them. No idea why I’m telling you this, but I thought I could take this time to share this writerly moment with you, fellow writer, and commiserate on the suckfest that is The Block. There. I feel better, don’t you?)

Please enjoy sniggering at my subpar writing skills by reading about Beauty and the Beast and the moment Beauty knocks on the door to the castle after her father so foolishly promises her companionship to the Beast. In exchange for a rose. Because that’s what passes for fair in fairy tales.

She could taste the bitter bite of vomit at the back of her throat still. She was a coward.

Three times her bile rose and three times she spewed her lunch on the side of the path leading up to the mansion. Heaving until there was nothing left in her stomach.

She was such a coward. Her insides churned and turned with terror as she made her way to the decrepit dwelling. She went as slow as she could, slow as she dared. She looked up the sky and listened to the birds and she cried in great big gulps, thinking this was the last, very last time she would hear their song and very last time she saw them zipping and nipping all across the air, so free, so free. Not like her.

She was a terrible coward. She hiccuped and sniffed, her face wet with tears and snot as she dragged her feet along the path. She reached out and dragged her fingers along every bush, every flower. The softness of their petals. She wondered if there were flowers in heaven? Was there a heaven? When her mother died they lifted her up so she could kiss her blue lips. She brushed them as softly as she dared. They were cold and hard and smelled of something sickly sweet. “Kiss your mother.” That was not her mother anymore. Her mother was gone and was there a heaven?

She was the worst coward. When she was eleven she fell and hit her head very hard. She saw the rushing blackness and then nothing. When she came to it was her sisters and father around her, crying. She began crying too, she thought they had died as well and she was seeing them in heaven. It was not heaven. She then began suspecting the rushing darkness was all there was.

She was an incorrigible coward. When her father said her beautiful, exquisite flower cost her her freedom, her life for the Beast, she cried. She wailed and brayed in loud gulps and begged her father to say it was not so. He could not tell her that. But for a rose, innocent and delicate, sitting in her vase. She took it, pressed it in her little book and took her things. She could barely see through the tears as she stumbled out the house and up the hill and through the forest. She could hear Catherine-Nicole, her eldest sister shrieking at her father and crying after her. “Bella, my Bella, stay, stay, I need you.”

She was a shameful coward. She put her hands over her ears so she could not hear her anymore and ran, more by feeling than by seeing, until she could hear nothing more.

And now here she was, shaking and shivering and staring at the oak door. By sunset, the Beast had said. Would he eat her immediately? Devour her while she was still alive? Or would she suffer a fate that everyone assured her was worse than death?

She couldn’t decide which one scared her more. She reached up and knocked on the door.

She stared up the oak door. How cliche. She looked around and oh yes, there it was. A gargoyle scowling down on her and ooo, wasn’t that nice, a door knocker in the shape of a grotesque beast. She scowled at it, daring it to move.

“So, what of it?” she asked when her father broke down in tears and confessed he had traded her life for a rose. “It’s a nice flower and I asked for it. I suppose you could have double checked if it was guarded by something similar to a ferocious beast, but what’s done is done.”

She went down the village and asked her godmother for her trunk and her dowry. “I might as well get it now Auntie,” she said. “I am to be imprisoned by a beast and I think this particular little detail might dissuade anyone from marriage, so I have come to collect it a bit ahead of time.” Auntie peered at her over her spectacles and pursed her lips with all her might, but still, she gave her the trunk.

“You have nowt of value to put in, I think. It was still early to start thinking about dowry.”

“I doubt the Beast will mind. I have some clothing and some linen, though I have not embroidered it yet. I might do it in the mansion. I don’t believe the Beast is a stickler for tradition.”

When she stepped through her door, Auntie hugged her just a little tighter than necessary and pressed a parcel in her hand. “I think a woman needs a nice pair of gloves,” Auntie whispered, indicating the package. “It helps you stay grounded. The world takes notice of a woman with good gloves. Don’t worry, the Beast is old. With a pretty young thing like you, it’s half a year, two at most before his heart is done for. Write. Visit if you can, though I don’t imagine you’ll be able to.”

Bella played with the gloves as she walked home. They were delicate and fine, but the lace did not scrape against her hands. They were, indeed, good gloves and she would wear them with pride and in memory of Auntie. She did not think she’d see her face again. Auntie was a constant presence in their lives, even more so after her mother died, but she was getting on in years and the last winter had been cruel on the woman.

The dress went in at the very last. Bella smoothed down the lace and the ribbons. Her father brought the dress from his travels. It was a beautifully made piece and she was to wear it for a dinner up in the city. It was very expensive and it made her look strong and delicate at the same time. She moved in it like a breeze through a meadow and she laughed and clapped when she twirled around her bedroom, her sisters laughing with her and helping her with the intricate lacing. The dress was why she requested only a rose. It had been so expensive and there were three of them. She had the very fine and very expensive dress and her sisters still needed the jewelry before the big dinner. Her father never said, but she could tell from the meaningful glances and from Auntie’s pursed lips, they were not as comfortable as they had been.

But, and it was an important but, they were all three great beauties with a good education, and from a decent family. An asset. There were whispered exchanges and raised eyebrows and the sisters were given to understand that it was up to them and their pretty smiles and pretty dresses to replenish the family coffers, preferably accompanied by wedding bells. Auntie pursed her lips even more, but Father’s word was final and very, very firm. Claudine goes first, then Brigitte and after a few years, Bella herself. But first impressions matter and Father knew there were many, many gentlemen amongst his esteemed colleagues who had a penchant for rosy cheeks and innocent curves.

Like cattle to slaughter, she smirked to herself. Out of the fire, into the pot. She tried the handle and discovered the crate was light enough for her to carry. She waved away the stable boy. “The Beast might decide to eat you if you come with me,” she said. “And your mother would never let me hear the end of it. Off you trot and tell Father I sent you away.” The boy fled, relief spilling like a river behind him.

The walk was not long and the weather was kind to her. She looked back to the village and shook her head. She loved living there and, she supposed, she was well-liked by the population. Still, if she were to be sold like a fine ornament, better sooner than later. At least she’d be spared watching her sisters being carted away to their loveless marriages. She blinked fast, willing the tears back. No sense in crying. She reached up and knocked on the door.

She stared at the big door looming above her. There was a knot in her stomach, but she didn’t know if it was fear or excitement.

She thought of how he caressed her cheek for the last time. “Remember, Bella, you’re doing this for us all.”

She nodded, her voice small and timid. “Yes, Papa. For us.”

“We all make sacrifices, Bella.”

She nodded, her eyes on the carpet.

“I need you to say you hear and understand what I am telling you, Bella.”

“I understand and hear, Papa.”

“You are youngest and your sisters need me. They will be married come spring and you would need more time to mature.”

She nodded. He raised his brows and inclined his chin. She nodded, swallowed. “Yes, Papa.” Silence. She felt like something more was expected and she thought, blood rising to her cheeks, what else, what else? “Whose fault was it anyway, Bella?”

Relief washed over her. She knew this answer. “Mine, Papa. I asked for the rose.”

“Yes, Bella. It makes me happy that you understand this, you are a good daughter.”

She felt, deep down, that perhaps it was not as simple as all that. She asked for the rose because she was given to understand that modesty is good and will be rewarded. There will be words of praise. No hard floors and scraped knees.

She was wrong. Papa returned with the rose which he flung into her face. She remembered the thorns biting into her hands and his hand on her back, pushing down, down. She did not know, at that point, what she did to make him angry, but she learnt early enough that you bow your head, you zone out and you say all the things that were expected. It passes.

Her sisters put salve on her hands and hugged her, while Papa was stomping around downstairs. “Be brave, Bella,” Genevieve whispered. “You’ll be out of this house soon. We will be out come spring, too, so don’t worry about us.”

“Messrs. Henri and Jules are old, but they’re kind. They’ll treat us well,” Beatrix assured her. “Don’t provoke the Beast and don’t talk back and you will be fine. I hear there is a garden there, with beautiful flowers and exotic herbs. You’ll like that, won’t you?” Bella smiled through her tears. She will like that.

She stared up at the hard oak doors. The Beast wouldn’t be so bad, she mused. Bow her head, zone out, say what was expected. And she knocked on the door.

Have you got a go-to writing exercise?


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