Sign up for the latest news and updates from The Dark Newsletter!


Look! My magnolia dress!

Do you see the skirt is all made of countless magnolia flowers? All white, custard-tinted, except for this one . . . yes, the tailor made a stupid mistake and only this one here is purple. But it was near the back, and really low down, so I decided to overlook the mistake. And it seems mysterious, doesn’t it? As if some secret were hidden here! Just one flower out of hundreds of its own kin, so different!

My husband? Never mind my husband! Now look, my fabulous headdress!

And of course, I got what I got because I didn’t pay enough attention to things around me.

But my husband only loved my beauty in the first place, and how could I guess that he’d have to go away—how would I guess anything at all—while I had to be so self-centered and focused on my own beauty? And no, he didn’t leave my side! I sent him away, almost.

Because after a while he started to take my beauty for granted. But no beauty is just given to you like water in a river that flows from mountain to plain. It was just natural that I started to see men who appropriately adored my beauty.

But then, other beauty-admirer men went away, too, when my beauty came to be harder and harder to polish and rub the shine back into. One day I suddenly—really suddenly, damnation forgetfulness from old age—realized I was alone. There was no one around me, in this huge, gorgeous house I had inherited from my husband, who died of poison from the flowers in the huge, ever-thriving garden. I opened my closet and saw years, years, years on my own face, reflected not on the mirror which was fashioned to deceive yourself but in thousands of facets of the jewels my husband had bought for me.

I wanted to scream, but somehow, I just snorted and closed the closet door.

Right after I closed the door, I heard the bell at the house’s entrance. It was a house cleaning service girl, who smiled brightly as soon as she saw me.

Such a young smile.

I reached a hand out and touched her cheek. The girl looked stunned and then confused, and made faint traces of wrinkles that never reached the end of her eye. Such smoothness, and I couldn’t even remember when I had lost it. I tore at the skin.

It came off surprisingly easily. I squeaked in delight, and attached her skin onto my own cheeks.

The cleaner girl sobbed, her cheeks red and raw and horrible, and I felt pity. I offered my emerald from my closet to her, right onto her skin.

Her cheeks became rose-cut emerald. When she saw herself in the mirror I passed her she sobbed harder, but it looked beautiful in its own way; her tears just added to the shines!

So perhaps I could just get beauty from others and give them different beauty in exchange, hmm?

I opened another closet to find the dress withered and browned. I had told the tailor to care for it so that it’d be beautiful forever. But I’d forgot, he ceased to come and tend the magnolia dress when he was caught twitching under me by my husband. I could no longer tell apart that mysterious purple flower; so time fell equally on everything, I guess. I wondered what had happened between now and then, to me and the dress, other than losing the love that hadn’t been there in the first place. As I tried to wear it a few flowers crushed into brown powder and smeared the uncleaned floor.

I fetched my headdress spangled with diamonds and lead glass, my shoes and gloves of embroidered silk, and put on all the jewelry I owned. I found myself unable to detach from the dresses and all the beautiful clothes, either, so I put them all into a bag. And I set out, to regain the beauty I’d lost.

People stared at the middle-aged woman in her withered wedding costumes. I realized I no longer enjoyed the attention, it was the beauty I wanted their eyes on, not strangeness. I spotted a young woman with black gloves on, even under the hot sun. I asked her why and she told me, looking a little scared, that she modeled for hand-cream and ring ads, because she had such beautiful hands.

I asked her if I could have a look, and she hesitantly took the black gloves off.

And yes, they were such beautiful hands. No spots, no wrinkles no scars. Fingers so slender, so straight that I wanted to suck at them. I tore her hands off her, and gave her my silk gloves instead. Her hands became smooth, pure white, embroidered in silver thread and studded with crystal. I skipped away from the screaming woman.

A little away from her I found a man with smoky-quartz eyes. I wasn’t particularly drawn to the eye, but he was beautiful, and it struck me that he might look better with pink spinelle eyes. Incidentally, I had a pair of spinelle earrings. Coincidence!

So I scooped his eyes out with my gold spoon and replaced them.

It was so much fun! It was best when I could find a beautiful person that I could steal from, but it was also nice to find someone I could improve. Most people fled, but some bold enough visited to get their details changed, those who wanted bi-color hair or mother-of-pearl teeth. I enjoyed it so much when two furries came to have their skins replaced. I lost my comfy fur coat to them, but it was well worth it. My bag was now full of eyeballs, nails hairs skins, but less and less accessories and furs and silks. But at least it was really nice that my skin was as smooth and shiny as twenty-year-old’s, that my hair no longer greyed.

One night it rained.

It rained, the half of the night sky cloud-padded, but the other half intact. It rained, but still, the moon shined.

I watched thousands, millions of moon-ridden rain drops. I would have watched them much longer but for my withered dress being spoiled. I wished it could absorb all the moon-water so it could shine again, like it did that day, that day my husband was still there, that day my husband still loved my beauty.

I needed shelter so I went into a shop nearest to me. I had no idea what shop it was, because I didn’t care. I squeezed my fabulous crow-feather colored hair that I had stolen a few days back to get some water out of it. And I heard someone clear their throat.

It was a shop assistant there, I vaguely guessed, and I didn’t care. She said something about her having just finished cleaning the floor. I still didn’t care whatever she said. She. The young woman in front of me was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen. She was perfect. Her glossy hair shaded her eyes which looked like a cross between onix and smoky-quartz, just about enough light to make sparks dance in them. I could see she wore no makeup and yet, her cheeks bloomed like moss pink. There was nothing I could offer, no gold, no jewel no flower to improve her. While I gazed at her open-mouthed Perfect smiled her perfect smile, and asked me if I knew what she was selling there.

I stared on at her and said nothing.

Perfect let out a laugh that sounded like a bed giving under two people’s weights, warm and inviting.

And yes. It was herself that she sold there.

We went up the stairs at the back of the shop (at this point I finally realized it was a sex-toy shop.) Her room was tiny, the only furniture the mattress on which a thin futon set lay crumbled. I asked her if she could lie down on the futon and spread out for me, so I could examine her more thoroughly. I’d pay with my left-over golds, I promised. She let out that same laugh and went over to her futon, peeling her clothes and underwear on the way.

The curtains were open and I could see the moon-ridden drops stuck on the window pane. The light danced on her black, black hair.

Oh, Perfect.

I walked over, the hem of my withered dress catching things on the floor, some of the flowers crumbling. I didn’t care. I knelt and looked every square centimeter on her. I sometimes touched things on her, to feel their perfect shape, perfect texture. Sometimes she moaned. The moan made everything only more perfect.

I wanted the perfectness for myself, but it was impossible, I knew, because no matter how careful I was to be, deep down the structure was just me and I couldn’t fully be her.

I sobbed there, above her, and my tears fell on her naked, wrinkle-free belly. Perfect shifted and rested her head on her hand, the elbow pressing into the thin, weak futon. Why was I crying, she asked.

All I could say, there was nothing I could do.

She sat up and stroked my hair. Then she scooped a tear drop off her belly with a finger and tasted it. She kissed my cheeks and licked at the rolling tears as if one tiny drop wasn’t quite enough. Her teeth grazed my cheek, and I wondered if she’d do the same if my skin had been wrinkled as it used to be.

Beautiful dress, she whispered.

But withered, I told her.

Perfect shook her head. She could see the beauty when it was young. She could see how it used to shine. And yet she liked it brown better, because it made you wonder what time could do to you. That there were things you could do nothing about. And then she said, she also could see the beauty that I truly had been, behind all the things I had stolen.

I guessed she couldn’t see that one flower used to have a different color, but before I could point it out she gave me a full, perfect kiss on my lips.

Oh. Oh, Perfect.

She peeled my dress off me and hung it near the window. In the moonlight perhaps I could see it as it used to be, yes, the illusion of it. But I still couldn’t tell the purple one from the others. Then every thought, every memory-tracing drowned in kisses and moans and amazed cries.

Later, together we looked over my collection. She giggled at my eyes-skins-hairs bag, but then sobered and took a meticulous look at the left-over jewels.

Perfect seemed especially drawn to my husband’s gold-lacquer cigar box.

That was something I’d put aside, not because it used to belong to my husband. No. I had no idea why.

Perfect traced the golden patterns on the box and smiled.

So I transferred the gold lacquer onto her thighs and deeper places, because I couldn’t bear to detach anything from her. I was careful not to spoil anything, her skin or the patterns from the cigar box, and she kept on moaning and twitching, making everything harder, only making me want to try even harder.

At the end I was so tired. Just before falling asleep I saw her perfect, satisfied grin, from behind my long lashes as they fluttered shut.

While Perfect entertained her customers I’d have to wait for them to finish off, curled in a storing space behind curtains. I was not a child, I protested, but she said no, she was the one who was the child. She needed me there, she needed to know I was there, while she worked. I could tell when she was mocking her moans and cries, and then I wanted to rush off out of the curtains and tell the customer how to truly please her. Or perhaps not.

One day it rained again.

Perfect had a new customer. It was a rare she. She’s didn’t happen often enough but not never, Perfect had told me. Curiosity tugged and opened my curtains a crack and I looked out. Perfect’s eyes met mine and they watered, as the she customer kissed her lower and lower. When the she customer stopped short Perfect looked away from me for the first time.

The customer slowly and tenderly spread Perfect’s perfect legs even wider, and told her how beautiful she was down there.

But Perfect was perfect, and everything else in her was just as beautiful as the gold-lacquer sex, right?

Perfect let out that laugh. As if taking it as signal, the customer resumed her kissing. Perfect never looked in my way again. I watched them the entire time, during which Perfect never mocked a moan, every single one genuine.

A few mornings later, I woke to the sounds of footsteps.

I was still half asleep and had no idea why those men were here. Well, you wouldn’t imagine you had a bounty on your head, right? It took me moments to realize they were all in uniforms.

Behind them all, Perfect was smiling her perfect smile.

She was grateful, she said and laughed that laugh. The gold-lacquer sex would attract more customers, and she was grateful. That laugh like creaking wood. Only it no longer sounded warm or inviting.

There was nothing funny in the situation, but suddenly everything felt funny to me. I tried and let out my first laugh. It sounded like someone clawing at a pane of glass. The men in uniform winced at my laugh, and it was so funny! I let out the second laugh, and when the third followed, I didn’t know how to stop laughing.

They told me to stop laughing, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t even stop to say that I couldn’t. I looked to Perfect. My precious Perfect, love that I thought I found for the first time in many, many years. Perfect smiled her lovely smile, and bowed as if in sincere appreciation.

A lot of the magnolia flowers crumpled and crumbled between me and the uniformed men, and I looked more and more like a heap of dead leaves the gardener had left behind.š

I wouldn’t, couldn’t stop laughing and so they gave me a shot and let me sleep. When I was half-awake again they made me sit up on a chair.

They said the bounty wasn’t on my head, in fact. It was on the woman whose hand I had stolen. She now didn’t have proper fingerprints, her hand being silk, and she obviously killed a person but they couldn’t get the evidence of her crime, and while they hesitated the woman left the country. I asked them, so the money wouldn’t go to Perfect? They said no it wouldn’t, not to worry, misunderstanding my question. And then they said they were really disturbed because they didn’t have a proper article in the law about what I was doing, stealing people’s beauty and leaving something different behind. Some of the “victims” even liked their new colors, and it was making things more difficult.

I looked at my hands. The man in front of me said I had to stop doing this. And I had to return everything I had, including the ones I had in my bag, to the original owners. They didn’t know how to do it, so I had to be willing to cooperate and undo everything for them.

But that meant I had to be back to that middle-aged, withered woman that I had been, didn’t it? And I wasn’t sure if Perfect would recognize me, once that happened. I yelled, no! and once I said no! I couldn’t stop saying no! Because the men, customers, husband tailors gardeners wedding-planners teachers classmates parents everything was no! Everything that had pretended they cared, when they never did.

They gave me another shot. That was another no! but I couldn’t.

When I came to I was alone. I looked around, and my bag was at the foot of the bed; I wasn’t exactly committing “crime,” so they couldn’t confiscate my belongings. I opened my left-over valuables and stuff onto the bed. Without thinking, I started to attach them all to me and my withered dress.

Then I had more eyes than necessary, more hair than my jeweled headdress could handle, skins that had nothing to cover, and a crazy dress with too much silk and fur. I coated redundant skin with precious metals and stones. Of all the things I had, I had nothing from Perfect, or nothing from my husband, to tether me to this world, no matter how frail the connection. I hopped to stand in front of the mirror, a mirror that had no light-bending effect, and in it found a crazy-looking creature.

Look! The beast that I have become!

I shrieked in amazement, started dancing and twirling, kicking tables and chairs out of the way. People noticed and came to check on me, and the first person who peered in screamed and ran away.

Don’t run! Look!

I tried to say, but my mouth was too busy shrieking and screaming and laughing. Most people ran away, some tried to shoot me, but the bullet went to the unnecessary part of my skins so it didn’t hurt me. The person who shot me misunderstood that I was bullet-proof or something, and ran away, eventually.

Outside the building I found a pond in which carps swam, whose scales I stole and attached to my dress. The carp tried to escape me and splashed water, and it looked like the rain drops that night, the moon-ridden ones.

I attached them to me, too.

Autumn leaves were ablaze, and I replaced the crumpled remains of the magnolia flowers with them. I chuckled at the smoothness of crape-myrtle trunk and made my feet like them. I looked up and I wanted my eyes to turn to the color of the starry sky. When I arrived at a beach I wanted the star-shaped dead coral grains to sprinkle my shoulders. I wanted the color of the sea at dawn, but where could I put them in?

Look! Too many colors to have!

By the time I decided to set out into the sea, I could no longer bear to see what I was.

I couldn’t feel the water on my feet, damn my tree-skin feet. People watched as I went deeper and deeper into the sea. Did I look like a monster to them? But a monster was supposed to come out of the sea to attack them, right? I had only wanted to be beautiful, and thought I was only helping others when I was changing them. And now, what was I?

I went deeper and deeper, attaching more things on the way, colorful fishes and sea anemones. Now, I just couldn’t stop myself.

At some point I made my feet sea water. At first it seemed like a good idea, but soon I got carried away with the waves. I didn’t find getting carried away against my will particularly appealing, and so changed my feet into the soil of the sea bed.

When my feet became solid again, I suddenly realized I was so, so very tired.

Of course, I’d come such a long way. The surface of the sea, the surfaces of the waves, almost never stopped and here I didn’t have to worry about seeing the reflection of the creature I had become. No one screamed at me here, no one tried to steal anything from me. I could sleep here a little. Or as long as I wanted to.

And so I became an island.

It took many years for people to realize there was a new island far from any shore. But then, once they found it, they soon knew that it was me; the island was too strange. Impossible trees for the climate, jeweled cliffs and carps swimming in the salty water.

Those few who liked my doings—changing their physical details—took homage visits, bringing in more beautiful things, things they themselves had acquired over time, adding to my landscapes.

And Perfect came.

She looked old, withered, but her gold-lacquer sex still shiny as ever. I felt it as she dipped naked into my water, the secret pond of moon-color water that people threw their offerings onto. Did she not know? Or was she offering herself to me? Oh, whatever. Because, her smile. Hesitant at first, taking time as if she hadn’t made that face for a long while, but then, finally, perfect.

She laughed that warm, inviting laugh.

Perfect lived happily ever after, on the crazy island that was me.

About the Author

Yukimi Ogawa’s fiction has appeared or will soon appear in Strange HorizonsClockwork Phoenix 4, and Ideomancer Speculative Fiction.