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She wears gloves to protect herself from the world. No: she wears gloves to protect the world from her. Elbow-length gloves, smooth and sleek and cold, the kind that clam to her skin like they’re skin itself, tighter than skin, like skin without all the defects. They are impossibly smooth, the kind of smooth a real body will never be. When people look at her they see the gloves, they don’t see her. They don’t want to.
Touch is dangerous. Skin on skin is like heart to heart, heat to heat, a little too real to let anyone feel. She keeps herself wrapped up like a castle. She is wise, brilliantly bright, thinking the kind of thoughts that would scare her subjects, that her subjects could never fathom. Does that make her better than they are? If anything it makes her worse. This tension unbecoming to a queen, just as she is becoming queen. How can she hold her kingdom together if she’s ready to fall apart herself? She is their rock of stability and she is an unstable avalanche. She is their brain and she cannot stand to think half the things she thinks. She is their fire and she is frozen.
The wise ones who came before her found different ways to deal. A rabbi on the run from Romans buried himself in a cave for twelve years, up to his chin, spread out books before him, unground himself when he needed to turn a page. Another queen before her fasted for forty days before confronting the king her husband with the news that he had just unwittingly signed her death warrant. She waited until she was perfect. She waited till there was nothing in herself but herself.
If she does that, she fears there will be nothing left. She was always a peckish eater, too careful with every bite, too reserved with the idea of sharing herself, even with her own plate. She never shared secrets. Her own sister, hammering at her door, when she wanted nothing more than to fling it wide open. But what kind of sister would she be if she forced her own inadequacies on the people she loved? What kind of queen, on the childish emo wish to satisfy her own shortcomings, makes life worse for her own country?
And so she keeps it to herself. Conceal, don’t feel. She hides her pain inside — just like we all do, only she didn’t know that. Not back then. Just as we all do, she thought she was the only one.
Until one day it breaks out. The inside turns inside out, the concealed is revealed, the pain that hurt her for so long escapes and explodes, the daggers reverse, the monster she has always feared is the monster she becomes. Since she was a girl she’s reviewed worst-case scenarios, trying not to be this thing, learning all the horrible things that would happen if she didn’t take care of herself, if she let herself slip this far.
She’s spent her whole life learning the horrible things that happen when you turn into a monster. Of course she knows how to become one.
And when it happens, she knows just what to do. Locks herself away. Not just mentally this time, but physically. She erects walls, she imposes sanctions on the world. Her powers are out of control, but only by shedding this control can they truly serve her. This world is a veil of lies, and she is the only truth. Or maybe the world is the truth and she’s just had enough of it.
She is free. This emptiness fills her, she is warmed by the lack of warmth. She doesn’t mind the horror because she knows it so well and it comforts her. It’s the only real thing, only thing she knows is true. Her ice palace she fills with stories. It’s big enough tow ander forever without ever finding herself. And if she ever runs out of corridors and crannies, she can always make more. This is the advantage to her madness: by embracing it, she gives it the strength to keep going.
The rabbi in the cave dug himself out and went wandering. The queen, to save herself, told the king her secret. The king could not undo his decree — the death sentence still must be carried out, or at least attempted — but he loaned her the entirety of his armies to defend her. There was a war, and thousands died, but she was saved. And their jobs, anyway, were to be killed.
And the rabbi? He came to the forest to a farm, found a farmer tending to his crops. Aghast that anyone could spend so much time away from wisdom, he shot flames from his eyes — of course his studies had taught him to shoot flames from his eyes — and incinerated the farmer to cinders. A voice rang out from the heavens, told him that if this was what he’d learned from learning, than he hadn’t learned a thing. He withdrew to the cave for one more year, started from nothing.
She doesn’t have nothing but she has enough. Before she used her powers they welled up inside her and created a mighty mountain. Now that they’re free she wonders what is left inside, with them on the outside what is she? She strides through the icicle halls, the halls she knows like the back of her head. Every step is one she has taken ten thousand times before, every twist and turn is expected. She misses the unexpected. She misses the unknown. She needs the variables of conformism, the messy normality which she knows she is not a part of, the sameness that keeps her different.
She turns to the east where the sun is blasting its weak first rays, the morning off to an ineffectual start. there is no way it can melt this castle, she knows that as well as she knows anything. But with that sun comes morning, the waking time for ordinary people who don’t stay up all night. They will wake. They will see, in the distance, her ice palace. And they will be scared.
But one of those people, she trusts, will be her sister. She will come, and she will meet her, and she will not understand, and she will not know what to do.
And that, she thinks, will be enough.
Image from Ice Castles.