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The Rose- Tinted Amulet
This piece was initially an assignment for my 10th grade English class as a twisted fairytale. I was inspired by the original story of "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen, and used it as my starting point. I decided to essentially make the amulet the opposite of what the mirror was, and make it a magical element that could be used to manipulate others by dulling their inhibitions and making it easier for them to trust. The term "rose-tinted glasses" is a stereotype but seemed fitting in this particular piece. This piece started as a fairytale but also became a symbol for manipulation, gas-lighting, and emotional abuse especially from parent to child, with an element of mystery.
The screams echoed at dawn, ear piercing and blood curdling, like the cries that come from the family of young lambs in their final moments, as they are ruthlessly slaughtered. With nowhere to run and nowhere to hide, the lambs only cry, as the farmer that fed, cared, and protected them, takes a blade, and with one sweeping motion, steals the light right out of their eyes. I wonder what I would have done if I was a lamb and had seen the pure white fleece of my brother stained with blood. I’d like to think I would have run, but maybe my own demise wouldn’t have seemed possible until I felt the cold blade against my own skin. No one likes to contemplate the unthinkable until it has already happened.
I didn’t hear the gunshot, or her body hitting the floor, or the frightened howls of our black lab; I only heard the hysterical sobs of Father as he pounded on my bedroom door. At least that’s all I can remember hearing, maybe I did hear the sounds but my mind decided to bury it for my own protection. However, Father's voice that night still echoes within the confines of my brain whenever I’m given even a minute of too much time alone. Words sputtered out of him like an old rusted fountain, but they did not sink in right away.
“She’s dead Clara! She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead!” I pulled the covers up to my chin and held my breath, hoping if I was silent enough he’d forget I was there.
My father’s night terrors got the better of him sometimes.
“If you stay quiet, he’ll eventually tire and go back to bed. You can’t try to tell him what he said and what he did, because he won’t remember it. He’d be furious at you for even suggesting it, as people typically don’t take too kindly to those who aren’t able to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s in their mind.” Mother’s words echoed in my ears, and I tried to use them to drown out the pounding and the crying that gradually started to become angrier. The iron latch that stretched across my bedroom door began to rattle. Mother insisted on me having it, once his night terrors began to worsen.
“I am doing it for you, and for him. When he has those dreams he isn’t himself and to him, we aren’t ourselves. He loves you, the guilt of doing something you can’t take back is a horrendous burden to bear. I spare both of you the pain and the misunderstanding. That is love my darling.” Mother’s wariness towards doing something you can’t take back seemed terribly ironic now.
Of course there was no way that Father could know about the latch on the door; or it certainly would’ve sparked a heated argument between my parents. Trust is the most important thing in our family; knowing that my mother didn’t trust him would be the biggest betrayal in Father’s eyes. However, I had also learned that sometimes protecting somebody from themself is the greatest act of love, both my parents had taught me that.
The pounding only grew louder and so did the screaming, “Open the damn door Clara! She’s dead Clara, I’m not mad, now open it!” With every word he sounded less demanding and more desperate. I couldn’t leave him like that; a broken hysterical mess who feels like the ones he loved had abandoned him. Father held me and soothed me whenever I woke up in the night petrified; certain that a stranger in a black cloak was lurking behind my dresser. He was the terrified, confused child; I couldn’t abandon him.
“What the hell is on the door? Oh my God it doesn’t even matter. Just let me in. Please.” Father pleaded, his voice heavy with defeat.
I fearfully got up to open the door, only to find Father on his knees, his face buried in his blood-covered hands. It’s impossible. It’s impossible. I stared at him searching for the same urgency that had been present seconds earlier.
“Who did that to Mother? Where are they? Where’s the gun, Father?”
“It’s in your mother’s hand Clara. The gun. She did it to herself… She killed herself.” The words poured out slowly, each sound another twist of a dagger. Father sat at the foot of my bed with a blank look on his face. He managed to stop crying, controlling his breathing with one hand on his chest.
The sudden change in his demeanor both relieved and horrified me. He looked like himself again rather than the mad man I had seen minutes earlier; with his soft blue eyes with wrinkles around the corners that looked like they’d witnessed their fair share of sorrow. He always looked troubled, like a Husky that had been separated from the pack as a winter storm approached, and his dark purple circles were etched into his light skin. I had never seen a Husky before, but I remember Mother reading me a story a few years ago, about a man and his pack of Huskies. It was entitled “The Great Alaskan Warriors”. A group of beautiful dogs with white fur with traces of black, and icy blue eyes that looked like they were thousands of years old. The pack was attempting to carry the man across a frozen lake on a dog sled, and to their horror they found the ice to be much thinner than they had predicted. It cracked and the leader of the pack fell into the water. If the rest of the pack hurried quickly enough, they could cross to safety.
Death was breathing on the backs of their necks; and “when the raven of death is perched above you, survival becomes a numbers game; the loss of a member is a better alternative than the loss of the whole pack” Mother had said in her honey-coated voice. Now, those icy cold words rang in my ear in an ominous hum.
The rest of the pack hurried to safety and watched as one of their own desperately tried to claw its way back to the surface; and saw the fear and betrayal in its eyes as it realized that it had been left to die. The title didn’t make much sense to me until we finished the story. However the word “warrior” in the title began to feel very fitting; the bravest rarely make it out alive. I was definitely too young to have been reading such a morbid tale, but Mother seemed to have a special fondness for the husky left behind; maybe because she had a special fondness for Father. His hair was the color of grain and it matched the patchy beard on his chin and neck. He always looked exhausted; exhausted but kind. However for a moment he appeared completely blank. A switch had flipped. I couldn’t quite comprehend how, but I wasn’t going to question it. The eerie calmness following the panic was comforting oddly enough. I was too shocked to muster tears at that moment, and I was relieved that there was no unwritten expectation for me to have a deemed appropriate emotional response.
“You mother is--was, a troubled woman Clara. Beautiful, smart, kind, and magnificent, but deeply troubled. I tried to shield it from you the best that I could, and maybe that’s the worst thing I could’ve done. She loved you, but she couldn't fight the voices off any longer. There’s nothing that you or I could’ve done.” Father said, attempting to reassure himself with his own words more so than me.
I had seen Mother just hours before, as she tucked me into bed and kissed me goodnight. The sensation of her raven-colored hair lightly brushing the side of my face, and the lilac and vanilla scent of her snow colored skin, still lingered. It had been a night just like any other; she had sat at the foot of my bed and read to me. She had pulled out the old story about the man and the pack of huskies, which she hadn’t done since I was nine. We only had 23 books in our collection, which seemed endless to me at age 6 when I couldn’t comprehend how Mother was able to effortlessly make sense of the thousands of different letter configurations that sat on the pages. However, multiple years of reading led to us reading each book numerous times; my favorites for more times that we could count. However, “The Great Alaskan Warriors” we only read once, as Mother would find me sitting on the edge of my bed blankly staring at the wall in front of me, hours after we had finished our nightly reading. Mother always came into my room in the middle of the night, just to ensure that I was sleeping soundly. She told me that the reason she came into my room every night was because she missed me, and couldn’t stand to be separated from me for the entire night.
However I had a suspicion that she didn’t sleep much anyway, as years of my father’s night terrors led her to become accustomed to being awake during the ungodly hours of the night. Father couldn’t simply go back to bed afterwards, as it took his mind time to separate a dream from reality. I would sometimes find the door to my parents’ bedroom open and see Father resting in Mother’s arms like a petrified little boy, shivering as if he had come in from a snowstorm, even if it was the middle of summer. He always looked fragile but every once in a while he shattered, only to find himself loosely reassembled the next morning with no recollection of the previous night’s events. I was told that these terrors began shortly after Oliver’s death. I imagine she felt like she was living in a cruel world completely of her own those nights before I was born.
I have no memory of the episodes that followed our readings, but Mother told me about them when I asked if we could read the story again. She didn’t think it was a good idea. For the three weeks that it took us to finish the book, Mother lived in a home with two apparitions that haunted her in her most vulnerable moments and then resumed being her loved ones as soon as the sun rose again. If she were to describe these events to anyone else she would sound mad, and maybe she was. Maybe we all were, but if no one else is around then it didn’t particularly matter; at least it didn’t matter then. As long as the madness could be contained within our secluded cottage in the woods we would be alright. That’s what I had thought, but my Father had felt the need to give me the amulet in order to pacify the voices that inevitably lived in my head, as the seclusion had not been quite enough to contain my brother.
His name was Oliver and he had passed almost a year before I was born. The time in between his passing and my conception was so short, Mother oftentimes mused at the idea that I was the new host for Oliver’s soul. We were so similar with our sunny hair, and light eyes that seemed to take up our entire faces. Our love of reading and the tendency to get lost in worlds of our own also created an undeniable link in Mother’s eyes. Oliver was 7 when he passed; when I was 7 I believed myself to be grown but now that I’m 12, I realize how incredibly young that is. I realize how cruel it was that his life was stolen from him before he even had the opportunity to count his age on a full two hands. I wonder if there was even a possibility for there to be a me, without an Oliver. I still wonder if whenever Mother looked at me she pictured a small boy with an aura of hope surrounding him; and maybe that way she could allow herself to forget how that had been taken away. Mother seemed light and joyful whenever anything I did reminded her of Oliver, but Father always seemed fearful. Mother and Father still will not tell me what happened to him; but their secrecy surrounding the topic suggests something sinister. Young children dying of illness or while attempting to gather plants and herbs is not uncommon. If Oliver had passed due to the measles I know that they would have simply told me that. I feel sick whenever I think too hard about it. I don’t know what happened to him, but I know that he was imaginative, peculiar, and bright and those traits are dangerous. That’s what I was always reminded of; despite Mother being very fond of those traits, but only behind locked and latched doors where no one else could see. “With imagination comes delusion; and the people who reside beyond the confines of the cottage will think of you as a monster if you appear to be slipping too far into your own realities.”
After the stories my mother had told me about my behavior following our readings of the story of the man and his pack of Huskies, I found it odd that she wanted to revisit it now. I guessed she had grown bored of fairy tales and their sickeningly sweet endings, and maybe I had grown mature enough for the story that had haunted me just a few years ago.The last time I saw her, the words felt almost eerier than they did the first time, because this time I knew how it ended. This time I felt like the raven, watching from the distance as the man and his beautiful dogs followed the narrative that had been written for them, unassumingly, while knowing that death was right around the corner for the brightest and boldest of the pack. I now believe it’s possible that there are some fears that we will never outgrow, and maybe there's a good reason for that.
Those final hours before Mother had shot herself had felt strange, but not because either of my parents were acting particularly strange. Mother was the same as always, and so was Father; well for the most part. The frozen lake and the cracked ice that awaited at the end of the story felt like it was sitting just under the surface of my skin. As Mother and I sat in my room concluding our reading, Father came in to say goodnight as he always did. He kissed Mother on the forehead and held her in his arms with the same tenderness as he always did. He caressed my face as he tucked me into bed, and as he said “goodnight” his eyes appeared icy and vacant, and he was desperately in need of a shave; his golden whiskers were the longest I’d seen them in months. Panic ensued; I was doing it again. After reading I would sometimes see the characters in my stories sitting right beside me; and that night when I looked into Father’s eyes, I saw the leader of the pack, abandoned in the snow. I rubbed my thumb over the amulet, and the image was gone.
It vanished as fast as it had appeared, and I could breathe once again. Father’s warm smile was visible and Mother tucked me in the same way she’d done every night since I was little, refusing to give up the tradition even as I had gotten older. I didn’t mind, as there was no one around to judge or tease me for being a baby. Our cottage was surrounded by endless greenery, with trees that stretched so high that they partially blocked out the sky. We were miles away from the nearest town, but we could visit for the day and make it back by nightfall if we took our horses. We had done that on a handful of occasions, the last one being for my 10th birthday, I’m 12 now. Other than that I rarely left the property; it was safer that way, I had known this since I was old enough to stand on my own two feet. I understood that I was peculiar, not exactly to what extent, but the people in a village like the one near us, don’t like peculiar people. My brother was allegedly a peculiar boy himself; which was why when the early warning signs became evident, my parents knew that I was chillingly similar to my brother Oliver. I suppose it’s the reason Mother and Father would rather keep me contained.“People can be cruel, and ignorant, they won’t understand you. You are a loaded canon Clara; you will go off easily and you will leave much damage behind you. That’s why you have the amulet, to help you control it; but all magic is flawed. It is flawed, but the only thing more flawed than magic is people. We love you, we can’t leave your life up to fate.” Father had said this to me on my 7th birthday as I wept about having to stay within the grounds of our cottage. I had only had the amulet for two years at that point, and I was still young and foolish and I had believed that I was immune from being out of control. I couldn’t imagine things that weren’t there, I couldn’t drive myself mad out of paranoia, and I couldn’t harm anyone. What I didn’t understand is that while I was mostly safe, magic is never a guarantee. My parents could never guarantee that the fire in me wasn’t hot enough to melt the rose-tinted glass in my amulet.
That night I clung onto those final hours spent with Mother; closing my eyes in hopes that maybe if I opened them again I’d find this all to have just been a horrible dream. Mother had looked, felt, and sounded the same; she couldn’t be dead if she’d been so alive, glowing, and vibrant, just hours earlier. My heart dropped further as I opened my eyes only to find the darkness of my bedroom with my frightened and heartbroken father sitting on the edge of my bed. Father sensed my growing panic and confusion. No words escaped my mouth. The only sound that came out of me was my labored breathing and quickening heart rate.
“Hold onto that,” my father said, as he ran his thumb over the rose tinted jewel that hung around my neck.
“I need you to be a really strong Clara, for you, for me, and for your mother; keep the amulet close to your heart.”
He’d given me the amulet for my 5th birthday, and he always reminded me of the story behind it, whenever I was in distress.
“Once upon a time…” he’d begin, “there was a beautiful fairy, and as she observed the people in the kingdom she was saddened by the judgements and resentments that the subjects had towards those around them, as they drove wedges in between families, friends, and lovers. She then created a mirror using her magic; and when anybody looked inside it the way they saw the world would be completely shifted from then on, they would only see the best parts of others magnified and their fears and reservations would fade.”
One day the fairy decided to shatter the mirror, so that the shards could be shared far and wide for anyone who needed them. The rose tinted amulet that my father got me came from one of those shards. A gift that the king gave to his daughter when she was picking a suitor. The King knew of a Duke who would be perfectly fitting for his daughter. He was noble, skilled in battle, and had the potential to be a great leader. He was kind and well-spoken but was not blessed with the most handsome of faces. The King knew his daughter to have superficial tendencies and would most likely not choose a suitor out of virtue, or choose a suitor at all.
The King decided to take matters into his own hands in order to protect the princess and the kingdom from her faulty judgement. He gifted her the amulet during courting season, and everything went according to plan. With a clearer head she was able to see the Duke for the wonderful man that he was. She married him; she was greatly loved for the rest of her life and the kingdom was more prosperous than it had been in centuries.
Father told me the amulet I wear is the same one that belonged to the princess. This idea enchanted me when I was little; I still had no way of knowing whether the origin of my necklace was the truth. The story, regardless of its truthfulness; lended a valuable lesson. Being impulsive and unrealistic is dangerous, it’s only when you are given the ability to think clearly, can you make the decisions that are right. When I touch the jewel I feel warm and serene, and I no longer have to battle with my own paranoia. That’s all Father wanted for me.
I can vaguely remember a time near my 9th birthday; I walked into the kitchen to find my parents talking back and forth about who had to wake at dawn and milk the cows, or why there were no funds left to buy fruit at the market.
Tension radiated through the entire room, and pressed into my chest, making it harder to breathe. The household was typically tense around my birthday as it was also around the same time that Oliver passed. This incident took place close to the 10 year anniversary of Oliver’s death. I could’ve sworn I saw my Father slap Mother across the face, leaving a red mark across her snow white skin. This wasn’t like Father at all, I had never seen anything like it, but somehow I was certain that it had happened. I thought I could hear her cry, so in my attempt at aiding her, I took the glass vase from the center of the table and dropped it against the tile.
I’d always been a ball of fire and nervous energy ready to implode if one wrong move was made.
“The amulet, Clara. Everything is alright, just breathe,” Father said calmly. I reluctantly rubbed my thumb against the jewel, fearing what would happen if I didn’t, and instantly found it easier to breathe. The red in my cheeks began to fade. I surveyed my surroundings within my more tranquil state and found my mother to be perfectly fine, untouched; no red mark on her face and no traces of any tears. I had imagined the entire thing; I felt the guilt consume me as I stared at the pieces of broken vase at my feet. That was when I realized that the amulet was the best gift I could possibly ask for, there was just no way I could trust myself without it.
The night of Mother’s suicide, the serenity I found from briefly touching my necklace didn’t last. I became completely overridden by a mixture of adrenaline and anxiety. I had to see her. I had to know it was real. Father quickly rushed in front of me as it became clear where I was going. From the stairs connected to the loft that my bedroom resided on, there was a clear view of the kitchen. He attempted to pre-screen the surroundings and prevent me from seeing anything gruesome, but it was too late. Mother’s body had been moved. “I laid her outside near the rose bushes, we’ll bury her when we can” Father said, tripping over his words. He hadn’t mentioned that to me until then; I wondered how on Earth Father could have found it within himself to move her body within the state that he was in. I didn’t think too hard about it, it seems that tragedy forces us all to do things we never thought we’d be able to. Her body was gone but a pool of crimson was displayed on the kitchen floor, and that was enough. I stopped in my tracks, my legs crumbing to dust.
My father lifted me off my feet before I collapsed down the stairs. He remained steady while holding my trembling body in his arms, like when I was little and I had gotten my hand caught in the fence. I was older and bigger now, but felt infinitely more helpless than I even did then. I closed my eyes trying to channel the peace and safety that I’d felt when I was little, knowing that as long as Father was there, everything would be alright somehow. I gave in and rubbed the amulet; and instantly I was calmer. Father sat me down in Mother’s rocking chair and rocked me gently with one hand, the other one wiping the tears off of my cheek. I kept my hand on the amulet and felt my own tears begin to dry. I felt like I could’ve done that forever, but I didn’t let myself.
The morning of Mother’s burial I regained my ability to feel the emotional weight of the tragedy that had taken place, for better or for worse. Except for a couple moments where I found myself running my thumb across the center of the amulet in an attempt to comfort myself. My breathing began to slow and I could see the sun on the horizon in between the trees. The sky was a mixture of rosy pink, orange, and violet; natural and mesmerizing. My fears retreated and for a few minutes, all I could think about was that sunrise; nothing else seeming quite as important.
I remember still clinging onto bits of hope that melancholy Sunday morning, that somehow mother would be alive-- the past couple of days just a dream. But the wooden box that Father had found on a visit to the village just a day earlier, was open. He hadn’t paid a cent for it, as the value of not having to be the man with a dead wife who had died so shamefully, was worth infinitely more than any coins. She laid there, or her body did, it wasn’t my mother, it was only the vessel that carried her, and was useless now. Her snowy white skin that once shined like moonlight, looked like white paint; the combination of that and the crimson red lipstick that Father had put on her, made her into a mannequin. My heartbeat seemed to slow more and more until I was certain that it was going to stop. Those few seconds felt like years, I was paralyzed, unable to breathe or utter a word. I dropped to my knees beside Mother, and found my cries spilling out uncontrollably. “How could you do this to me? You left me and I needed you, Mother. We’re falling apart.” She was supposed to stop me from pulling the trigger, not pull it herself. If my mother was troubled and I’m a loaded cannon, then what is to become of me if this is what happened to her. I wailed and screamed like a lamb being slaughtered until my throat went raw. Within a matter of days, this monster that lived within the darkest corners of my mother’s head had taken her life and shattered my entire world, leaving it in a pile of shards at my feet. The rose jewel now seared into my skin. I ripped it off my neck violently, breaking the clasp. I then looked to my side to see the rose-colored jewel had cracked.
“How did I not see this coming? Did I somehow not know her at all?” My mind was attempting to make sense of it all. The shock faded and the confusion set in. She hadn’t bothered to leave a note. It seemed so terribly unlike her to not bother to say goodbye, or to give us a reason, when communication was the most important thing to her. She doesn’t use her left hand. She taught you to write Clara, did you ever see her hold a pen in her left hand? Not once.
“It was in her left hand, Father. She always wrote with her right.” I blurted out to my father; it wasn’t a question, but I didn’t know what answer I was looking for.
“My God Clara, does it matter which hand she used to blow a hole into her head?”
Then, like a wave of frozen wind rippling through my clothes. I knew. With the rose tinted jewel lying cracked on the floor,, I realized the monster was sitting right beside me. Here was the mad man I had caught glimpses of in my bedroom that horrendous night. I tried to conceal the horror that creeped its way across my face. My father cast a sinister look at the broken amulet on the floor. Maybe the paranoia was my friend all along. My skin turned cold and white, like the color of a lamb’s fleece.