When Talia was three, she got lost in the garden behind the house. She stomped in circles around the same copse looking for a break in the underbrush; there was none. When the moon was full, she howled.
Nanny didn't notice her missing until after tea, and the last time anyone admitted to having seen Talia was just after breakfast when Cook threatened to break her neck for petty thievery. For thirty minutes the family sat at the long table, backs straight and hands clasped. Talia's uncle had the audacity to break the comfortable silence by reminding them that a child was missing. Talia's mother coughed delicately into her sleeve. A unanimous vote delayed a search until morning; in case she returned on her own.
Talia arrived in time for breakfast. She was a bit scratched up, but that could just as easily have happened in the dining room. Her absence went unremarked when she hopped up on her chair and enquired as to the whereabouts of her plate and fork. Nanny scuttled off to the kitchen as if her ass was on fire; which could very well have been the case. However, Talia was satisfied with the return of her place setting and let it go. She waited for the fish course to drop the frog on the table, which is where he stayed until she picked him up again. No one, not even Cook, was willing to touch one of Talia's familiars.
When Talia was thirteen, she was by no stretch of the imagination the great beauty they'd expected. She wasn't an eyesore, but she had a way of not really being there. You could stare as long as you liked, but her face remained a blur. They agreed she had brownish hair, sort of. They mostly agreed she was tall. They surmised that she was of reasonable proportion; she did not take more than her share of space in a room. In the kitchen, Cook said she was small and quick as a cat. Her parents might have expected her to stay. The youngest daughter was traditionally responsible for the care of her aging parents. However, her middle-age parents feared early deaths; perhaps in the next few months. Talia was oddly territorial. She periodically muttered something about too many people using up the air around here. Thusly, they took the proactive approach in the interest of personal well-being. Nanny drew the short straw and marched herself off to the local healer. The local healer shook her head and said, oh, no, I won't be touching a hair on that child's head.
Well nobody asked you to touch her! We just need her gone! You know, gone, as in married and someone else's problem.
Have you a husband in mind?
Honestly, we really don't care, just so long as she's gone.
So any husband then? Assuming he can provide for her?
Assuming he can withstand her and not send her back!
Fair enough. Come back Tuesday and I'll have something for you.
Nanny sent Cook to avoid direct implication. Cook returned too late to prepare their supper and didn't say why. She nodded toward the kitchen and said something about a basket for the cat. They drew another set of straws. Her mother lost.
The basket was so full of straw, Mother wasn't sure there was anything else. Cook suggested that she be very cautious not to break the thing. When more than two thirds of the straw was on the kitchen floor, Mother found the egg. It was a tiny blue thing, a bit smaller than a robin's egg. The shell was little more than a membrane; it gave when pressed. Mother squeezed it gently, top to bottom, side to side, but identified no yolk. It was full of fluid and nothing else.
And what are we supposed to do with this?
Pop it into her mouth when she's sleeping.
Do we have to make her swallow it, because you know that won't happen.
No. We just have to pop it into her mouth. All the way, so it doesn't fall out.
She'll wake up when we cross the threshold, you know that.
Cook pulled a vial from her apron pocket, and said, this is what that is for!
Oh, she'll see that!
No, she won't. We coat her glass and let it dry; she won't see or smell it. When the wine is poured it will dissolve and she will sleep. I'm a little worried she'll drop at the table, but I suppose we'll deal with that when it happens.
Talia asked for the bottle more than once. She ate and drank more than her share. They were alarmed when she asked that another bottle be opened, but produced it anyway. The meal stretched on for hours as Talia requested one additional dish after another. She ate as if the kitchen meant to pack itself up and leave before dawn. Family etiquette required that everyone remain seated until Mother stood, but Mother wasn't going anywhere until the kid dropped. The kid was just as transparent and wiggly as ever, but she seemed somewhat more substantial. When her plate was finally clear and her glass empty, Talia pushed her chair back and struggled to her feet. She asked for her frog and pillow, and wandered into the drawing room.
Nanny fetched Talia's pillow and the frog. The frog was a bit hefty and most certainly not past his prime. A ten year old frog can be expected to reach nearly two pounds and expire shortly thereafter. Talia's frog was the size of small infant, if an infant was shaped like a nine pound lump with bulging eyes. He felt like a damp sack of potatoes and flicked his tongue at her face when she settled him on the pillow. Lifting the pillow was worse; she worried he'd roll off halfway down the stairs and explode at the bottom.
Talia had positioned herself on the divan. Nanny placed the pillow under her head and the frog on her belly. Talia wrapped her arms around him, repositioned herself, and looked directly at her family. She didn't seem even remotely sleepy, but she closed her eyes and opened her mouth. Mother decided, better to lose her fingers than her life. She approached the divan, held her breath, and dropped the egg into her daughter's open mouth. The mouth closed, Talia slept deeply, and by morning she was completely visible.
The family was terrified, but couldn't look away. No one mentioned the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room; they just stared in horror and fascination. Historically speaking, she should have roused herself by now, but she didn't even appear to be breathing. The frog blinked periodically, but remained in place. Talia was distressingly beautiful; a perfect combination of her very perfect parents. They wished she was wearing something a bit less appropriate. She might not be difficult to market as is, but would fetch a far better price with a bit of skin on display. They decided to wait a year before putting her up for auction. Mother thought she had a bit of baby fat left around her chin and cheeks. Father thought she'd bring a better price if they placed her now. Nanny said, wait! Wait for the frog to die. Things can only end badly with that frog on her belly.
Frog or no frog, on her fourteenth birthday they put her on the market. Advertisements were placed in all the best publications. Viewing hours were established and Nanny chaperoned from the foyer, which was as close as she was willing to get. A steady flow of men came and went; some returned more than once, but no one made an offer. Father upped the price and replaced viewing hours with appointments. They created an artificial backlog and waited. Six of the original viewers returned, one after the other. Each leaned in for a much closer look, and each was bitten by a frog that seemed to have developed rather sharp teeth. The household despair was palatable. Like a house that has been on the market too many days, an unconscious virgin on a divan begins to look like a loaf of stale bread. They removed the advertisements and took the sign off the lawn.
On her fifteenth birthday, she had an unannounced visitor. Only Cook was available to open the door. The family was conveniently elsewhere. Nanny was nowhere to be found, which left Cook with her hands full. When the door opened, the visitor stepped into the foyer and looked around. Cook pointed in the direction of the drawing room. Yelena moved toward the divan as if she meant to sit on it. She thanked the frog who let out a weary sigh, expired, and dropped to the floor. Yelena toed him out of the way and smacked Talia's face. Talia woke up, startled, and spit out the egg. Yelena squashed it; the fluid dribbled from her fist and when she was satisfied, she wiped her hand on her shirt and slapped Talia again.
What the fuck was that for!
That was for fucking with your family for the last fifteen years.
They had it coming; you know it's true.
Might be, but you're the one who chose to lie here like a succubus for two years. Have you got a reasonable explanation for THAT?
Yes. I do. I think objectification needs to be punished. Harshly. None of this was OK. They've been planning to sell me since I was three. They were just waiting for puberty, a great pair of tits, and the illusion of something relatively docile.
Right. So they were. And who, exactly, provided that illusion?
It's not an illusion!
Talia, you have as much right to put your body on display as you have to torment your family; but you are also responsible for the results. And what are your results?
My family fears and hates me?
I have absolutely no life.
And you have absolutely wasted two years of a life that might have been worth living. What I'm trying to tell you is this: women objectify themselves and blame it entirely on men and the media. We demand that men and the media cease and desist, but how can we reasonably expect a shift in behavior if we continue to market ourselves?
Look. Talia, you can be an angry victim or you can refuse to play the game. It's up to you.
So why are you here?
Me? Because I've been watching girls and women just like you, do this to themselves for centuries and I'm sick to death of it. Changing the paradigm won't be easy, but nobody's going to change it for us. Have you had enough of this shit yet?
Do I have to change back to myself?
I don't care what you do with yourself; dress yourself up in princess skin if it makes you happy. I care very much that your princess skin has nothing to do with who you are. I'd also suggest you examine your motivation. Own it, or drop it. Are you ready to go?
Does it matter? It's not as if an explanation would mean anything. You've never left the grounds. Grow a pair of ovaries, kiddo, and get up off that couch. I want to hear that three year old's howl again. It was damned impressive.