“We are what we choose to be.” My mother’s voice is fierce, proud. She is smearing white paint on her cheeks. Her hair is slicked back into a tiny knot. She is wearing only a pair of bloomers and her bra. I can see the white scales of her costume glimmering on the rack behind her.
Soon, she will not be my mother.
I inch just a little closer to her, huddling against the wooden legs of her chair. She smiles down at me as she finishes her make-up, glitter on white, a faint blue tint to her lips. I see the beginnings of the dragon.
“Bring me my skin,” she tells me and I scramble to my feet, eager to comply.
The scales of her costume are cold against my fingers, the chinking links pinching my skin. I wonder if it pinches when she wears it.
“It does,” she tells me as she takes the costume from me. She laughs at my surprise but stretches out her arm to show me the faint red pock-marks where the scales bit and pinched at her. She kisses me on the forehead with her blue lips, still laughing at me. “It doesn’t hurt much.”
“Then why?” I ask, watching as she steps into the costume, the scales slinking and shushing where they are puddle at her feet. I watch as she pulls it up, the snake returning to its skin, the dragon.
She gestures to me and I race to fasten the snaps and catches along her back, buckling the costume tightly around her waist, her neck. Only her face with its white paint is visible, foreign beneath the glitter, the blue tinted lips. “Because I am the dragon,” she tells me.
I feel my nose burn, my chin tremble. I am going to cry.
“No!” my mother tells me. “No tears. You are a dragon.”
“I am ugly,” I tell her. I feel my face twist, my lips, that deadened space where scarred flesh had flattened cheek-bone, caved in the left side of my nose.
My mother’s lips are a thin blue line. “You are what you choose to be.”
“I am ugly!” I tell her.
She stares at me, her face glimmering in the dim light of the back-room, her skin the glittering white of a snow dragon, her spreading smile a toothsome grin. “Then be ugly.”
My heart pounds. I can feel it in my chest, pushing outward. My face burns in the space around the scar. The tears on my face spit and hiss and are gone.
My mother takes my hand, wincing a little at the heat of it, the dig of my fingernails into her flesh. “Front row,” she tells me. “Left hand side. There’s an awful little boy that throws stones.”
I follow her toward the curtain, watch her gleaming white shape vanish into the dimming lights of the theater. I look to the left. There’s a little boy, younger than myself, freckled. His hands are in his pockets. I slip out from behind the curtain, slink down the steps toward him in the dark. He won’t be throwing stones after tonight.
He screams when he sees me.
I am ugly.
I am a dragon.
Because I choose to be.
Author's Note: Still plugging away with U. Another bit of fiction. I'm really having fun with these short snapshots. Who knew?