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1.

Once upon a time was just too trite.

One day, when I was already old—ancient in my bones and weary—a man came up to me and said he knew me. Knew me when I was young and pretty. Said that I was never really a beauty, but exceptional. Just exceptional.

"I knew you since we were children, or you were, at least. I'm much older, always have been. And when you were sixteen, I knew you were disaster in the making. So, I made myself distant, and now, I don't regret that. But I did know you, and I think I still do. Damn, you were pretty."

The man left after that, didn't say another word, left. But he helped (made) me think.

I don't stare in the mirror like I used to, like when I was young and vain. Now, the mirror held nothing remarkable for me to look at, so I ignored it. But after my conversation with that man, I began to see myself again. In the mirror. In glass, in all my ravaged features. I see each wrinkle and line. I am old now. But I was young and pretty once.

Once upon a time.

-x-

My country was in war when the commencement came, when the inception was here, when I was sixteen-years-old. I was small for my age. Tiny. Like a doll, like something fragile and sickly, but people admired that. Back then, it was to be prized. My mother said that I had a gift. She refused to explain further than that, except to inform me that it was the bad-gift kind. The kind that every man shuddered at, and it was such a pity because I was really pretty. She also said that it was because of my gift that we were impoverished. So maybe the gift she meant was bad luck. Maybe I naturally drew misfortune to me, and my mother gathered it in her arms too, indiscreetly.

We weren't always indigent, she told me. My father had fought in the war, the previous one, and rose high in the ranks. But he died shortly after. Simple as that. And he was packed away in a gaudy funeral with too-long speeches and real-fake condolences. Then, his senior officer took my mother's hands and told her: Good luck to you.

And left us to civilian life.

And to this day, she loathes that man, did everything to make him miserable. Make him suffer, make him pay. Because vengeance was so sweet and endearing. And for many years, that was what kept her alive. That and me. The failed daughter. The one who couldn't catch a guy because of an inherent deficiency. The one she had to take care of when all her other daughters (two others in counting) made it rich, made it off. But we lived, and my mother never relinquished her dreams of setting up on high society.

Like that, she forgot herself. Like that, she forgot that I was only sixteen.

On that day, when I met him for the first time, I was sixteen. I was sixteen and was wearing a dress, silk—I think. It must have been silk because I remember it was pale and shimmered in the sun, fluttered, like butterfly wings. It was my mother's—if it was silk. I liked that dress, even if it was old, like something of an antique.

At that time, the war was still occurring, but it became less of a sensation, less of a scandal. My mother said that it was because at this point, the people just didn't care anymore. The King was dead, and the Queen was frail. And it was just as soon as a second that the Prince would fail. But I thought that it was really because people grew bored, bored of waiting for husbands, brothers, sisters, mothers, and everyone to come home again. Tired of waiting out an impossible war, having their purses drained to support some unfeasible trial of glory and honor. For our nation. For our stupidity. But as long as the war was real, no matter how far away and faded, like a passing thought, a daydream. And she said that during wartime, it was scandalous to wear red. Betrayal. Might as well wear blood and laugh it off. But that's precisely what I wore that day: red high-heeled sandals that made me teeter as if drunk. Red shoes which equaled disgrace.

So, on that day, I wore the red shoes without care, caution, without pride, and the silk dress. The dress came down slightly above my knees, and the shoes made me stumble, tumble down the hill. That day, I met him.

That day, I really did stand aside and watch as my fortunes were sluiced away, down, down the drain.

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