This is the tenth installment of Duessa, a 12,000-word allegory (of sorts). I’m posting a new installment on each of the twelve days of Christmas, wrapping up on January 5th. See the previous nine here.


It was a different bed, her twin-size from high school. The ratty comforter she’d sewn herself from the most beautiful cloth she’d ever seen (it was an Escher-esque maze of rainbows, sky, and stars) and some soft, white faux fur, was too hot for her tonight.

“No one mourns the wicked,” Elphaba roared through her Walkman for the fifth time since she’d turned out the lights. Her small, messy room felt like a prison, but her parents had made it clear what they thought of her habit of taking midnight walks when she couldn’t sleep. So she glued her head to the pillow and tried to think of Perfect Love, which pastime her parents had yet to object to.

Sometimes she meant it religiously. She’d been raised dimly Catholic and, like her parents, didn’t believe a word of it, but at times like these she badly wanted a God who cared the way it was unfair to ask anyone to care.

Sometimes it was romantic. She hated all the guys who’d tried to date her so far — total of three. She’d humiliated herself over crushes on other guys who had no interest in her whatsoever, some of whom she still couldn’t get out of her head, and not in a good way.

Tonight, any configuration of Perfect Love she could wrap her mind around seemed like she’d have to be a completely different person to have anything to do with it. Which, she reminded herself glumly, a lot of Christianity assured her was true. But as a result, all she could imagine asking right now was that she be completely erased from the world, past and present, so no one would miss her, she’d just not be there.

No, she told herself. Back up. Something is really wrong here. Do I really want to die?
Indifference and a vague sense of relief at the thought looked back at her from her mind.

Look, she imagined saying to her parents. I’m depressed. I’m not making this up. I’ve been crying for two hours straight, and I thought it was just because I was a loser, but I just gave myself a suicide test, and I’m fucking suicidal, and nothing bad even happened. That’s not how this is supposed to be, right?

Tomorrow she’d say that, right? That was what the good little girl was supposed to do.

Had she ever heard of things like this getting better, though? It felt like every story she’d heard about people with like her was that they spent a lot of money on medicine that never worked and took advantage of everyone in their lives and still only got enough better to write a book about it.

And when had she ever been a good little girl?

From the first fairytale she’d ever read, she’d known she was one of the ugly stepsisters of the world. She wasn’t patient or good-tempered or obedient, she was clumsy, and people didn’t just like her the way they just liked her classmates, even the mischievous classmates, even the nice adults. On good days it was one of the deconstructed fairytales, where that meant she was smart and had to work to get what she wanted, and usually she still failed miserably because life was just like that. On bad days, she felt like she existed to do stupid things and get punished for it.
Then, she remembered, suddenly coming unglued from her teenage body, came the strangest moment she had ever experienced. She suddenly remembered this evening. And she suddenly remembered the voice — odd, ill-timed, reticent and matter-of-fact at once, curiously not supernatural – seeming rather about as human as voices came — that had said — she couldn’t remember the exact words. Instead, she found herself pulling away from that bedroom scene, thinking what she might say to her own daughter under these circumstances. It came out at least as awkward as she remembered it, especially since that savage teenager seemed suddenly as cut off from her as any other human being had ever been. “Look, talk to them. To your parents. They’ll believe you, I promise. And it’ll get better. Not perfect, but better.”

As she spoke the words, painfully stupid and inadequate, she came back to the mirror room entirely and lost all contact with her younger self. That was the one time she had hallucinated, and she’d taken it for her subconscious.


“Duessa” is revisiting her high school self here as the globe fuses.