The exterior of the house was battered and damaged from the countless storms it somehow continued to withstand. Its color resembled that of an overripe peach, covered in bruises with spots gone to rot.
But inside the house? Oh what wonders there were to behold! Intricately detailed tapestries adorned the rich mahogany walls. The wood floors were polished to a reflective sheen. Elaborate chandeliers hung daintily from the vaulted ceilings. Centuries of wisdom lined the custom bookshelves. The Persian rugs were of the finest quality, and the sheer, silken wisps of curtains fluttered wistfully when one passed them by.
The resident of the weathered but stout little house suffered from no small dose of madness. Pacing the interior, day by day, year after year, she knew the layout and felt safe there. Safe, but lonely. Safe, but distraught. Safe, but afraid. Safe, but morbidly disturbed.
When necessity demanded it, she would venture forth from the walls of her home, her prison. Warily, shakily, relying on her cane to guide her steps.
She could feel their glares. She could feel them watching her every move. She could feel their judgment. But she couldn’t actually see them.
She was blind, you see. Blind to the world. Blind to her surroundings. Blind to herself. She trusted no one. It’s not that she wouldn’t. She couldn’t. She was incapable of trust. She refused to rely upon anyone but herself, so convinced she was that no one else would care for her.
People were kind to her, helping her fetch things from shelves or warning her of dangers she had yet to discover. She was blind to this, too, and could not trust their motives.
But the townsfolk were confused.
You see, though she stooped as she walked, she didn’t appear frail. In fact, she looked quite strong and stout. Like her house that appeared ready to collapse but stood strong against the battering winds that would cause most to crumble. And though she was blind, her eyes were clear as the trout pools the local men fished in the spring. Bright and clear and beautiful. There was no question of her fragility, however, but one could not see it with one’s eyes. One could not observe it outwardly, aside from the way she blanched at the slightest touch or stumbled backward when one moved in too close.
Try as they might, they could never break through her invisible barriers. They were friendly enough. Friendly as she’d allow them to be. But they kept their distance, respecting her apparent need for solitude.
But they didn’t know.
No one knew.
About the prisoner she kept locked away.
Returning home from one such outing, the blind woman wiped her muddy boots all over the Persian rug lining the floor of the foyer. She was blind to this as well, fully incapable of seeing the richly appointed home in which she dwelt. She wasn’t careful with it. She wasn’t respectful of it. If only she could see, perhaps then she would wipe her feet before entering. If only she could see, perhaps then she would keep things in better order. Such as it was, she tossed her groceries carelessly into beautifully etched glass cabinets. Once, in a fit of madness, she threw a bottle of sweet cream, shattering both a cabinet door and the bottle. She cried as her blood mingled with the sweet cream but never bothered to remove the shard of glass from her foot.
Every door in the house remained locked, only opened when she had immediate need of whatever lay inside. Otherwise, she forgot the other rooms even existed.
One door, however, she could never forget. Never far from her mind, she tried to keep it locked. But somehow, somehow, the door would swing wide now and again of no force she could ascertain. The draft which escaped from that door sent sinister shivers into her core, covering her flesh in goosebumps. She would shake and weep and curl into a ball on the floor, rocking and sobbing, overcome with such a feeling of destruction and great loss, of grief and sorrow, of stabbing pain and hopelessness. Once the draft finally settled, she would gather herself and close and lock the door. After testing the door to ensure it wouldn’t open again, she would return to her cold and stoic demeanor, denying that the room even existed.
Beyond the door, a narrow staircase led down. Down into the basement of the weathered but stout little house. The subterranean room was spacious, its footprint perhaps larger than the house that stood upon it. Covering it. Hiding it. Both protecting and imprisoning it.
This room was cold and dingy, stripped bare of all beauty and joy. An odd assortment of things lay randomly scattered upon shelves thick with dust. A stuffed purple bunny. A small porcelain turtle seated on a leaf. A dusty stack of children’s books. A stack of letters penned in the most beautiful script, all opened and bearing signs of multiple readings. A framed photograph of a smiling elderly woman, a small white puppy perched upon her lap. A strange taxidermic frog holding a guitar. Mostly neglected, these were the only things that gave any semblance of happiness to the otherwise stark room.
Intermingled with these innocuous but seemingly happy little things were other, darker things. A tattered shirt with a bloodstain on the shoulder. A photograph of a child seated on the laps of an unknown couple. A doll with finger-shaped bruises on its neck. A paddle with holes drilled in it, wrapped in layer after layer of thick, black electrical tape. A bowl of pickles. A small black and white television, playing a video on loop. A video of a man bathing his daughter; she played with her little ducky as he told her to be quiet. A tiny pile of broken toys.
In the exact center of the room, there knelt a little girl. She was filthy, covered in a thick layer of dirt and grime. Her hair was long and matted, wildly unkempt. What remained of her clothes was a tattered, disheveled mess of thin, holey fabric. If one looked closely enough, one perhaps could discern that it used to be a little white dress, homemade and scattered with tiny red hearts. Her knees were bloodied and scabbed, her dirt-caked hands tipped with sharp, shattered nails, fingertips callused and devoid of fingerprints.
She’s starving, subsisting on rotten scraps tossed down by the blind woman. The woman doesn’t properly care for her. The woman hates her. The woman hides her and wishes her away, but the little girl refuses to be ignored.
She feeds on rot and poison and nightmares. Her bones protrude through her skin in places, and she is in pain. Constant, relentless, malicious pain. Her heart glows through her chest, and though it is covered in scars, still it beats. And still she perseveres. Still there is an aura around her, a dim halo of flickering hope.
Looking closer, one would see that the little prisoner is digging. Scratching. Clawing at the ground. Fretting away at the earth to get at what lies beneath the thick crust. She wasn’t sure what she would find. But she felt, intrinsically, that it was important. Deeply important. And if she didn’t uncover it, she would finally wither away.
The scratching leaves the woman awake at night. She yells and scolds the little girl, hurling vituperative verbal assaults down into the dark. Piling on the abuse and neglect. Intentionally hurting the little girl in hopes that she will cease her digging and lie quietly in the dark.
But the tiny prisoner is tenacious, relentless, ceaselessly worrying away at her work. Year after year. Day after day. Hour after hour. Until the day she finally rocks back on her heels with a gasp, her broken little fingers clasped over her mouth.
The woman bolted upright in bed, heart hammering against her ribs. So dazed and shocked was she that she tumbled to the floor as she attempted to don her slippers. Righting herself, she grabbed her cane and cautiously, apprehensively made her way to the basement door. To the forbidden door. To the cell door.
She stood just outside, one palm pressed flat to the door. Where there had been a steely cold before, there was now a thrumming warmth emanating from the beveled door. It was slight at first and would only have been noticeable to the woman. But slowly, steadily, the warmth creeping into her through her palm flickered and grew, warming her icy cold veneer and penetrating into her frozen heart.
She never thought this day would come. She stood upright for the first time in years, but dared not open the door.
Scraping, clawing, digging for years, the little girl had finally reached down far enough to uncover what she hadn’t known she was looking for. It looked smooth, but jagged. Broken. She spat onto it and rubbed at it with her thumb. It was blue, a rich cobalt blue, with a nice shine once polished. But she could tell this was only a small part of a greater whole.
Weeks of relentless, punishing scraping ensued, after which the little girl stood and began splashing preserved water rations upon the floor. Pulling her tattered dress over her head, she knelt upon what was left of her knees and scrubbed the entire floor until it shone.
Once satisfied, she returned to the center of the room and spun slowly round and round. The tentative smile that had been cautiously building over the last few days finally spread into a full grin, until an innocent giggle escaped her lips. A giggle full of joy and hope and dreams. A giggle of release from bondage and demons. A giggle of freedom. A giggle of glorious realization.
Her eyes fell upon the precious pearl in the exact center of the floor. She scrubbed this extra carefully, until its iridescence shone to reveal its glorious perfection.
Slowly she backed away until she stood upon the first step, so that she could take in the fullness of it.
Clapping her hands and bouncing on the balls of her feet, the childlike joy radiated from her in glowing waves that rippled out from the center of her precious being.
When the woman heard the gentle yet insistent knocking on the door, she clutched her hand to her heart and nearly fainted. Though she’d kept the little girl prisoner for all these years, she had intentionally avoided direct contact with the wounded creature. She was too dirty, too scarred, too unclean. It was better to ignore such things, leave them to die. Yet the little girl had persisted. And now she wanted to be acknowledged. She wanted to meet the woman on the other side of the door.
In spite of herself, the woman extended a shaking hand to turn the knob, opening the door.
And there she was.
The scrawny, bruised, damaged little girl stood naked before her. Fully exposed in all of her pain. But something radiated from her. Warmth? Yes, but that’s not quite it. Hope? Definitely, but there’s something else here. Something…something more profound. Love? Selflessness? Healing? It’s…wait. It’s right there, just waiting to be uncovered.
“Life!,” cried the woman. “Forgiveness!,” the woman exclaimed. “Beauty! Beauty! I can see! Oh! Oh! I can see! I am whole!“
“Not yet,” whispered the wisp of a girl.
The woman wept unabashedly and clasped the little girl’s extended hand. Following her down the stairs, she stopped on the last step. The little girl looked up at the woman for approval. The tears spilling down her cheeks, down her neck, between her breasts, testified to her regained sight.
She looked around, taking in the magnificence of the floor. There were shards of different colored pottery and glass, broken to bits and scattered everywhere.
They had all been salvaged and put back together, forming an entirely new pattern. Oh the shards were terribly broken. But they had been carefully, lovingly, meticulously crafted into a mosaic so beautiful that it pierced the soul. A mosaic far more beautiful than the sum of its parts. The woman wept and wept as she allowed the little girl to guide her to the center of the mosaic.
The little girl pointed at the iridescent pearl.
The woman fell to her knees and released a cry. A cry so great, it rocked the walls and windows of the house.
The little girl knelt beside her and took her hands, placing both sets of hands upon the beautiful orb, pulsing with light and warmth. The power of the two of them together, working as one, fused together to generate a heat so great that they merged into one being.
A new, more beautiful being. The broken bits coalescing into something more beautiful and more powerful than they ever could have been alone.