PREVIEW: The Ugliest Duckling

She was the archetypal Ugly Duckling: she was told so all through her childhood. She had been cursed with everything that made her a natural target in the playground: frizzy red hair, freckles, glasses, buck teeth, spots; she was too tall, too skinny, she had a stammer, and she was forever stumbling over, and therefore perpetually covered in scrapes and bruises. In short, she had no chance.

“But your mother was beautiful,” said the aunts and uncles. “With those genes to grow into, you can’t help but blossom as you grow older.”

They conveniently neglected to remember that she also shared her father’s genes – he of the gaunt, gangly stature, the fiery hair and temperament. It would not be unfair to say that Jack, just like his daughter, had never been the prettiest duckling. But Jack was possessed of a wicked wit, and it never once crossed his mind to project the same defeated air exuded by his daughter. It perplexed and irritated him profoundly, to the point where he found that even he could barely look at her. It was a quiet, soulless home, he thought, devoid of childish chatter. How had he managed to raise a child so lacking in spirit?

So Ida (yes, to add to her woes, she was also encumbered with a cruelly old-fashioned name) waited. She lived in the shadow of her dead mother, and endured the taunts, because what choice did she have? She grew a little harder every day. When she was young, she clung to the story of the Ugly Duckling. She genuinely believed, at first, that she would turn into a beautiful swan. When she was a teenager, she counted the days until she could turn to her tormentors and they would gasp at her sudden and unexpected beauty. So she waited – not especially patiently.

The bathroom filled with products to straighten or tame her hair: nothing worked. There were creams to mask her freckles and cure her spots: nothing worked. There were dyes to change her hair colour, diets to change her shape: nothing worked. All the lotions and potions in the world failed to make Ida any prettier.  And with each failure, Ida endured further taunts; and with each failure, another stonewall layer was added to her fortifications.

TO BE CONTINUED

See Enchanted Times #2 (coming soon!) for the full story

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