[Translated from French]
Death is eminent, I suppose for us all, but for me, my death comes swiftly. I don’t care. A much worse fate awaits me after I die. I’ve never disillusioned myself with the prospect of heaven or hell. For me, it is enough that the moments I lived are steadfast and locked away forever. I lived my life to the fullest, and each second of my existence was to lay unashamedly on the universe’s timeline. Those moments are eternal, and even though we’ve moved past them, they still exist, and they will exist forever. The brightest of these moments is the moment when I met her for the first time and fell in love.
I will be erased. Every last noble deed I’ve ever done will be expunged. The moments will be rewritten. My life will be replaced with a lie. This would not be such a great loss, for many great men have been defeated and their conquerors wrote terrible things about them in the histories which eventually became truths; I find myself in good company here. What tears at my soul is that this terrible deed will be done by the only person I ever grew to love in this life. She loved another. He was a terrible man who used all manners of abuse, torture, manipulation, and imprisonment to take what I loved in her and change her into something else. His victory will be complete, for when I die, she will tell the tale of how I was the monster and he was the savior.
In my final moments, I must tell my story, but I don’t know who I shall tell it to. Like most of my life, I find myself alone. My death is merely seconds away. Perhaps it is fear that makes me reach out to connect to someone before I’m undone. Perhaps I’m talking to God? In life’s last plummet, I desperately want to tell my story before I’m erased. Perhaps the illusion of God is enough. I need a judge. I need a witness. I need closure. I need someone else to see me for who I truly am, because the one person in life I’ve ever loved never saw me for who I am, and she never will.
I grew up in a small village, so tiny the map makers didn’t even bother to waste their ink including it. The universe cursed me on the day of my birth, for I was a great man in an inconsequential town. Perhaps if I were born in Paris I could have met some equals to my greatness. Alas, I was not. From a young age I knew that I didn’t fit in. My best friend was the town fool, leeching off my accomplishments as if he too could become great from proximity. As I grew up, the prospect of traveling the world in search of other great people did occur to me, but there were two things I loved about my little province.
The first was the outdoors. I loved to hunt. I found the structure of nature exhilarating. That the universe could be so cold and uncaring and yet take the time to create the countryside I relished in was magnificent. It was the only part of my life that made sense. I was a part of it. I saw its beauty. I understood the minds of the beasts. I understood the patterns of the seasons.
When I hunted the water fowl I could see everything, and in those moments I was one with existence. I saw the birds, but not only did I see where they were, but I saw where they would be. I saw the wind, invisible to most, and the path it would take my prey. I felt the carelessness, for the birds had no suspicion that I was there. I was camouflaged, inside my very surroundings, a part of the landscape. I aimed, not with my gun, but with my eye. The gun was a part of my arm, an appendage I found after birth, not bound to my body, but bound to my identity. I was the trigger. I was the hammer. I was the buckshot spat forth by the expansion of gunpowder. I was gravity, pulling the shot into a perfect connection with the fowl. Bang! One. Bang! Two. Bang! Three. I was the greatest hunter in the whole world, or at least what I knew of it. No one I knew could take shots like me.
The second love I found was her. Like myself, she was a bright spot in this mud puddle of a town, too great for the townspeople to see and understand. She dreamt of far off places, meeting royalty, experiencing new cultures. They thought she was so peculiar. The town couldn’t understand her greatness, for she wanted more than any of them could have planned for themselves. She excelled them all, and I in my hubris, I thought that I deserved her.
I wooed her once. It ended poorly. She spurned my advances and showed me the door. It was a public humiliation, I felt, but the townspeople didn’t seem to care as much as I did. I took solace in the tavern that I haunted with my best friend. I told him that I had been thinking. Perhaps I didn’t deserve her. Perhaps the greatest curse that could befall a man is to be forever engaged with a woman he deserves. She understood that. She read the great philosophers. She read the great romantics. Despite having no romantic engagements before, her breadth of literary knowledge gave her lifetimes of experience to draw upon to understand the core of love. I didn’t.
It was the greatest epiphany of my life. The moment that I’ve locked away as the distilled essence of my life. I can still taste the beer I was drinking, smell the cedar from the fireplace, feel the fabric of my tunic, and hear the tavern chatter. I don’t remember the sights, because all I could see was her. Before I thought I was in love. Silly young man that I was, I didn’t understand it was only infatuation. Now I knew her. Now I was in love.
I never saw her again.
It is the greatest crime the universe could work against me. I never saw her again, after the moment I fell in love, at least, not whole.
While I was thinking about how to redeem my terrible first impression, she was called away. The magistrate who ruled over our province had taken her as some sort of security for the crimes committed by her family. She was his prisoner, his play thing, his conquest.
I didn’t know what happened to her. This terrible deed had been done in secret. I searched everywhere when I’d noticed she’d gone missing. She was not in the town; she was not in the countryside. Months went by. It wasn’t until I interrogated her father, a man who had recently been released from prison, that I heard the story. I thought it was a lie. The old man, frazzled with fanciful imagination told of his imprisonment and that his daughter was also held captive. He had been set free because she had martyred herself, a sacrifice of a bright soul to appease the corruption of a dark one.
Why would the magistrate take an interest in some peasant girl? Everyone knew that the magistrate was a recluse, and no one had seen him for years. Why would the magistrate do such a thing? Why would he hold some peasant girl hostage? It gave reason to everyone else to doubt the old man and think him insane, but I grew suspicious.
Deep in my heart I knew the answers to these dark questions. It was because she was the greatest woman in all the land.
Shortly after her father had escaped, she came back to the village. She had a fantastic story. She’d been held hostage by the magistrate, her father’s story had been true. He’d imprisoned her all this time. The first time she tried to escape, the magistrate had set his dogs on her. Her clothes were loose fitting. Her eyes were sunken in and contained a confused mania. She wasn’t comfortable in her own skin, pale and dirty as it was.
I asked her who did this to her. She said that no one had done anything to her. The magistrate had treated her kindly, had given her the run of the castle. She described impossible events, coping mechanisms of manic origin. Each tale grew wilder than the next. Magic, mystery, and conflicting details muddled her story. At one moment she told of a late night romantic evening with the magistrate, where everything was so perfect that the teapot’s hiss sounded like music. The very layout of the castle was so inviting that every appliance was inviting her to the castle, not as a prisoner, but as a guest. She was learning to love the magistrate.
It was clear that the woman I loved was either locked inside this confused creature. Or, perhaps, she was gone forever.
This is how I know the universe is cold, and that no loving god could ever exist. While I was strengthening my character up to her requirements of any potential husband, this magistrate was holding her hostage to tear her down to his level. He had tortured, abused, manipulated, and fought her. He broke her will as someone breaks a stubborn stallion. He violenced his way into her heart, crushing her independent spirit and rewarding any sign of love until he’d trained her to love him. Maybe he wanted her love, or maybe he just wanted to destroy something beautiful. Like a dog loveably loyal to an abusive owner, the only person in this world that I ever loved was brainwashed. She did what she had to in order to survive, but when reality became too unimaginable, she imagined her own world and lost herself in it.
The signs of abuse were clear upon her body. Bite marks that could have been made by a wolf. Deathly thin. Shivering from exposure. It wasn’t until she spoke of her imprisonment that I glimpsed how deep the abuse went. At some points she described her captor as a monster with gnashing teeth and tearing claws and satan’s horns, but other times she said he had kind eyes and was kind and gentle, but further contradictions issued for the when she spoke laughingly about his temper. She couldn’t make eye contact with me as she spoke, just looked far off into a world only she could see. She couldn’t speak of the servants, only their tools, as if inanimate objects were doing their chores about the castle, for there was no humanity to be found in that awful place. She had clung to tools as a child clutches onto a doll, desperate to find someone to love her even if it was her own imagination.
I swore vengeance. Like the waterfowl, I had also missed the predator lurking in my countryside. My beloved outdoors had hidden a monster from me, and so had turned traitor. My world had collapsed with her sanity. I forged the strongest hatred, the kind inspired by love, as I tenderly touched my beloved’s cheek and swore to remove the cause of her mind’s damnation from the world. I could not protect her, but I could initiate justice.
When I made my intentions known, she tried to stop me. She reached into a bag and pulled out a mirror. Her eyes were wild, trying desperately to see a world the rest of us could not, found only with the aid of her failing mind. “No! He didn’t hurt me! He’s gentle and kind!” She yelled, fumbling the mirror into my hands. “You see? Do you see?”
I looked at the mirror, silver and ornate, but otherwise common.
“It’s magic! Just like the castle! It’s a magic mirror that shows whatever my heart desires most! ‘Mirror, show us the kind and gentle soul who loves me more than anything else in this entire world. The person who would never ever harm me, would take care of me forever, and would see to my happiness every waking day’.” She looked at the mirror and pointed. “Ha ha!” she yelled. I told you it works!
I looked at the mirror and saw exactly what she described. The man I saw was crying. I did not recognize the man at first, for I had never cared enough about someone to cry for them, not until that awful day. From that moment on, my heart never stopped weeping.
The girl was sick, and needed treatment. My heart was a sword aflame and needed to be quenched in the magistrate’s blood. I sent her to a safe place out of harm’s way while I did what I must. I rallied the town about me. We could not let such an evil person lurk in the shadows, loom over us with power, and threaten us from every corner. We would not sit by while we brought up our young in this town, sacrificing our children to the magistrate’s whims and appetites. This magistrate must be killed, his servants scattered, and his kingdom forever overthrown. It was time to take action. So consumed with fervor was I that the entire village knew it was time to follow me.
With rebellion on our lips and revenge a stirring in our hearts, we laid siege. The servants and villagers clashed. The magistrate was a coward at heart, letting his servants fight for them. They loved him and would sacrifice themselves for him. The magistrate was a puppet master, for these servants suffered daily for the sins of their lord, and yet he convinced them to love him. I stalked the grounds to find my nemesis. I’d never hated until that day, and it fueled me. It kept me warm. It kept me brave. It kept me strong.
I found him in his own chambers, and we fought. He was larger, stronger, and more well versed in fighting than I ever was. His royal upbringing giving him a distinct advantage over me. I fought with passion. He fought out of indifference. Clearly I was outmatched. The footing of his quarters went out to the castle ledges where our fight continued.
That is, until she showed up. I don’t know why I hadn’t made sure she stayed behind. Here she was amidst our combat. She looked at me in utter horror, screaming at me to stop. She loved the magistrate, and tried to interfere. It hurt deeply to see this confused creature try to protect her own predator. I couldn’t let that happen, not again. I had to stop him. I had to destroy him. I couldn’t crush him the same way he crushed her, but perhaps I could kill him. She would hate me for all her life for it, but it was for her benefit. If I truly loved her, I had to remove the magistrate from her life forever.
I knew the magistrate was a better fighter than I and I had no hope of killing him in a dual. Perhaps a more honorable man wouldn’t do what I did. While he was distracted by her sudden appearance, I took my dagger and stabbed it into his back. While he recoiled in pain I grabbed the monster and tried to throw myself out the window while dragging him behind me. I had no fear then, because when he destroyed her, he destroyed me as well.
As we fell off the castle, I looked back to see her. She was right beside us, lunging forward. She was so beautiful. I remembered the girl from months ago last summer. Her eyes had focus. Her body had determination. Her movements had purpose. Her face had courage. She reached for us as we fell from the ledge, her hand reaching out to us both. The magistrate and I both let go of each other as we fell, each reaching out for her.
It was her choice to make, which of us would live and which one of us would fall.
Her hand whisked away as she clutched the magistrate’s uniform. My hands closed on air, and soon I found myself surrounded by the same.
So in these final moments I love her, I hate her, I pity her, and I miss her. My beautiful Belle, you chose wrong. So lost are you in your expansive imagination fueled by your excessive library reading that you cannot see who is the monster and who is the hero. When you chose him, I knew your spirit was lost and no longer inhabited your body. When my body breaks against the rocks below, my spirit will be released, and it will forever look for yours. It should not be hard, for your spirit always shown so brightly in the darkness. Perhaps my death is a blessing, for it is the only way that Gaston and Belle can ever be together.