Vide Cor Meum – P.C.M. Christ

“Everything that’s realistic has some sort of ugliness in it. Even a flower is ugly when it wilts, a bird when it seeks its prey, the ocean when it becomes violent.” -Sharon Tate

Leila watched the little white scars, charming, imperfect and curious, dance in the flickering shadows of her cell. Outside, a crowd had begun to gather, their screeching voices worming through the walls. She lay back and sighed comfortably. Hers was not a life contemplated but observed. Immune to any lingering traumas of the past, she remembered only the paintings of memory, which served her as a storybook, bringing a naive but reflective richness to her existence.

        One night, to the horror of all who loved her, she had become beautiful. Objectively. Hers was a beauty that even technology’s mighty hand could not emulate. Thick, playfully cascading hair; a full lipped smile that radiated her lightness of being; a beauty mark below conversant eyes which, simultaneously, begged and demanded action toward her appeasement; her neck and collarbone regal; all the vulnerable symmetries and proportions of divinity. Hers was God’s rarest gift; the only perfection given to what is created by man. People began to murmur.

        That same night, after everyone had left, nodding their commiseration, her mother had pounced, and began scouring her arm with sandpaper, not having the heart to begin with her daughter’s face. Anything for a few blemishes; that would be a start. The young girl cried tears of confusion and pain, her pleas growing louder as the scrapes became scratches became bloody striations, the sight of which halted her mother’s fervor. Her mother fell to the ground, weeping, gnashing her teeth, cursing irony for a bitch.

        Well-intentioned, they had hid her away with a secret convent, but, in the end, this would only deepen her mystery and appeal. As she grew older, she was able to support her family and growing number of adherents with hidden but platonic, well-guarded, relationships with artists and thinkers, eventually housing herself in a small compound. 

        Becoming the object of secret portraits, a black market would form, solely dedicated to the provision and continuation of her image. Protective of their own experiences, writers would transcribe their conversations in code, her presence silently guiding them to epiphany. Some would spend the remainder of their lives writing nothing but revisions of their own transcriptions. Such beauty was the muse of a hundred opuses and the suicide of a thousand more.

        Of course, the true enemies of beauty have always been the twins: jealousy and imitation. It was custom, for those who had not disfigured themselves, to wear masks that blurred and bent their features, so as to not cause offense to the inherently ugly, the naturally deformed, the disabled. Nevertheless, society needed examples of what not to be, what should be condemned, demonized. Commercial renditions of her portraits, fake and machine printed, along with various mocking and denunciatory slogans became synonymous with this effort, and as her beauty spread to the masses, their calls for her destruction began to crescendo. Inevitably, a cult following grew around her image, leading to infighting, zealotry and denominations. Families were ripped from their homes when suspected of celebrating her, their idols cast down; men castrated for depictions of her hidden away in small places; women forced to self-mutilate if they adopted her as fashion.

        Her father, her first protector, who loved her most, gained many scars in her defense, eventually losing his life to an assailant on a cloudy afternoon in Autumn. Lying there on a windswept bed of leaves, the oranges and yellows reddening around him, the warmth of the earth pooling underneath, he watched gathering swallows twitter in the sky before darkness came and shrouded his eyes. She did not speak for one hundred days, and would fall silent for the rest of her life after speaking thusly:

Mourning lies beneath

windows locking eyes

with heaven’s glimmer,

never seen,

but acknowledged by

the ever-facing man in the moon

who glows tired

of his visions

of what is to come,

of all that has passed before.

Tomorrow always becomes yesterday.

        Thanks to those who cherished her, hers was never a beauty scarred. Proposals and would-be suitors, both men and women, were constant but politely declined. She belonging only to those who created her. The exclusivity kept most participants moral, and the terror of exclusion provoked integrity, but that is not to say there was no trouble at all before her current predicament. A particular memory was of a man who, dressed as a woman, had sneaked into the small compound and almost succeeded in taking her virtue, but, there under the stench of dogwoods, by grace, his passions, still sheathed, arrived too soon. The men had tore him off with the violence of their convictions, and she observed him dispassionately being dragged away, clawing at the ground, screeching, wailing like a girl under each blow until he was gurgling his own blood. And she beheld that scarlet river run over yellow teeth, pink lipstick and blue eyeshadow, before it washed them all away. He was buried in an unmarked grave in garish repose.

        For a time, even under the ardency of zealotry, her location and identity remained a secret, carefully guarded, held to the chest as a promise. Alas, her betrayal would be one of good intention. A young girl, who had stumbled into the convent begging for food happened upon Leila reading. Her welcoming smile had filled the child’s heart, her bread had filled her belly. The consequences beyond her comprehension, the child would go on to boast to some of the older girls that she knew who and what she wanted to be when she grew up, and to prove it she showed them the dogwoods under which Leila had lain, and the older girls, being half-way wise to the ways of their world, sold her location to the authorities for a sack of gold potatoes.

        During and after the raid, her entire entourage, her artists and her believers, were massacred without mercy. Leila, hooded in black, awaiting transport in the back of a vehicle, was forced to experience all of this aurally: the screams of those who loved her consumed by the roar of the fire in the night; the house on which her life had centered, now painted red, the dogwoods set ablaze, their frames blackened and sagging like candlewicks inside the inferno, becoming the center of the conflagration that would spread to the rest of her life, reducing it to ash and dust.

        The jail where they took her, a secret one, was an unassuming two-room shack with a receiving room followed by a walled cell. Media silence was imposed on the topic of her capture, and the most dire penalties threatened for those who would betray her whereabouts.

        The officer who processed Leila’s arrival had begun to remove her mask, but, crying out, lunged backward, and ran into the night. He hung himself under the shadow of a bridge, above dark waters, his body swaying as if it too came and went with tide.

        A group of asexuals were assigned as her guards, but even they were found, and summarily executed, while in the grips and entanglements of orgy. A complete ban was instituted regarding any interactions with and viewings of her.

        A short time later, the National Media Director came to meet in secret, and took Leila to her residence, a preserved town-home, the third floor of which overlooked the river at the center of the city. The director did not speak until Leila was seated in a high backed, uncomfortable chair, a plush forest green wreathed in ornamental gold. The director then, after removing her jacket and hat, lay herself across a coach, posing rotundly, as if for a portrait, before explaining the various centuries and times and owners of each piece of furniture in the room, the details of the decor and the prices of imports, presuming these facts meaningful, or even beautiful, rather than a simple list of the historical. 

        Leila had sighed at the “Qin dynasty hairpins” on the small table next to the chair, the legitimate beauty of the room ruined by the impositions of its owner, and instead turned her gaze to the river out the windows, which the Director insisted were brought from France after the Hall of Mirrors was “shattered” with “no pun intended.”

        The Director, a great box of a woman with a p(r)iggish face and the frosted tips of a mohawk, had gone on to explain that as the media director, her job was image, it was message. And how, as could be imagined, Leila’s beauty had come to dominate every aspect of her life, without rest, for years. And so, seeing her there in-person was surreal and unbelievable, and how much she lusted for Leila’s beauty, how she wanted it, how she needed it, had to have it, could use it; how much she could give her if she would just…

        Luridly, she had begun rubbing her over-sized clitoris through her pantsuit before pulling her hand out of her crotch and patting the spot next to her on “the Victorian era, properly termed a ‘day-bed’ not ‘fainting couch,’ with the indigo dye of the crushed velvet brought by the East India Company.”

        The director had worked herself into a sort of estrus, and, when Leila would not acknowledge her gesture, or anything else for that matter–dismissal burrowing so much deeper than disdain–she had stumbled toward the chair, pants fallen to her ankles, and lunged at Leila, knocking the small table over, and throwing her onto “a second century Persian rug” before tearing at her clothes. 

        Laying there, Leila remembered the dogwoods from what seemed so long ago, but could only smell the oily must and hair gel of the woman beginning to lurch on top of her. By grace, Leila’s hand searched and found the hairpins, and, repeatedly stabbing toward the woman’s gyrating crotch, nicked the femoral artery, which sprayed the woman’s life out at high pressure. The Director had rolled over and tried to rise, screaming, before collapsing in a pantless pile.

        Hearing the noise, the guards rushed through the door and seeing Leila standing there–unmasked, her pouting lips parted in awe, her doe eyes watering, frozen mid-breath, her hair disheveled and falling, her gown ripped with a single breast exposed, covered in blood but for her face–they fell to the ground as dead men.

        And so, here she was, the crowd’s murmur outside now a rumble, awaiting the whims of existence, the lives of others swirling around her since her beginnings.

        She rose from her recline when they called her name, and, adjusting her mask of disfigurement, stepped forward. After dressing herself in a formless smock, the guards, wearing blinders, came in and put the loop of a control pole around her neck before leading her out the front door into the blinding light of midday.

        The crowd hissed and spat. The men were shrunk to their frames; the women bloated and doughy. Those born beautiful were disfigured by the scars of acid burns; those too tall with their limbs hacked to size. Signs of the religiously devoted were total disfigurement; armless, legless, formless, faceless; purposefully reduced to their voices. They rolled around in wheel chairs, shouting through megaphones mounted above armrests. The masks of the institutional class watched from balconies around the town square.

        As she was marched through the crowd, they ripped at Leila from all sides, and a large tear, a ‘v’ ending in her navel, went down the center of her garment before it was ripped off entirely. She stood there, gorgeous and lithe in the sun. Her mask twisting her face into the obscene. At this, the crowd ceased, silent with their reconciling expectations and reality. When recovered, they threatened violence until a man who was directly in front of Leila was accused of having an erection. 

        The mob turned toward him, and he was savagely beaten from all sides before being castrated, his penis thrown through the air before a flamboyant bone-thin man, picking it up, pretended to fellate it, and, after the laughter died down, threw it on the ground, where all around began stomping and spitting on it with great gobs of disdain. Blood pooled in front of the once erect man’s mouth and crotch, a steady flow through the gapes where his teeth and member had just been.

        Taking advantage of the distraction, the guards hurried Leila up onto a tall platform, the kind where they hanged men of old. They strapped her, standing, to a large wooden X, and, averting their eyes completely, removed her mask and ran away.

        The crowd again fell silent. With a collective wail, they beat their chests and tore their hair. They screamed and beat one another. They cast dirt upon their own heads. In their anguish, some wept tears of blood. Each one thrust into their own personal hell of inadequacy. They smeared themselves in excrement. They cursed beauty and all that she had wrought.

        Through it all, Leila stood quiet and dignified. Her naked body without shame. Her eyes studying them. The crowd regained their composure and jeered, their cruel wishes and intentions, their frothing curses always falling short beneath her gaze. They hated her the more for this, and were becoming frenzied with blood/lust, when, to great cheers, the executioner arrived.

        Commissioned after Leila’s killing of the media director, the Excision, a semi-sentient medical robot, walked onto the platform, bowed to applause and commenced its deconstruction.

        A straight razor, carelessly applied, to shave her head. Her locks falling in great clumps, stray hairs blowing in the breeze, still perfumed; a pleasure the Excision could never know. Her scalp began to bleed, and trickles of blood ran down expressions of discomfort and sadness. Her hair now gone, she felt the sun on her bare scalp, as she had not since she was born. The light’s presence on what had been hidden now felt warm and caring.

        Still guffawing, the thespianic among them miming her falling tears, the crowd jumped with one another in childish glee as the Excision drew out a large bucket of whitewash, and, dumping it over top of her, began smearing it across her body, the flesh and muscle supple beneath steel that felt nothing. Before it covered her eyes, Leila thought of the whites of dogwood blooms.

        The metal man scoured Leila’s extremities with sandpaper. A succession of violence to each of her limbs, the tears coming quickly. Her bare belly torn. Blood mixed with the paint that still covered her body, going from the white of dogwoods to the soft pink of the cherry blossom.

        She moaned half-consciously, and the crowd moaned back at her, imitating lust, removing their clothing and exposing their orifices. One group sing-songing as it formed a naked, prancing circle, each member with a finger, some a hand, inserted into the anus of whoever was in front of them.

        The Excision raised a steel fist high in the air, calling for quiet, before swinging the fist in a great downward arc and shattering one of Leila’s kneecaps.

        Her cries were choked off by the shock, but her gasps of exhalation sputtered cherry blossoms to the ground below.

        They cheered.

        Her heaving breaths and lulling head had helped to remove the paint from her face, and as her features again became evident, beautiful even in displays of anguish, in their purity of experience and expression, the mob called for her end.

        As Leila cried out a final time, her neck outstretched and face to the sky, the Excision amplified her voice to operatic levels, the crowd returning her cry with shaken, outstretched tongues and teeth-filled grins, before her voice was silenced entirely, her head removed with a single swing of a blade. It threw her head into the crowd, and unstrapping her body, threw it in as well. The spectacle now over.

        And they ate her. A society of vegetarians turned to cannibalism in a mad rush. The wheelchairs running over cripples as their occupants tried to roll themselves down and onto her body. They dismembered her. They clawed and bit at one another; every patch of her skin, exposed by their pouring sweat and drool, was an affront to be devoured. Those clamoring from the back began to crush the first, who, writhing from under the great weight, began stumbling off, vomiting paint and blood and flesh into the gutter. They howled how they would shit her out. The masks on the balconies bent one another over the railing and fucked, calling below for flesh. Others in the pile, having engorged themselves, forced themselves to vomit and began to eat again. And when it was done, when the ground was soaked and puddled with fluids, they clapped one another’s backs, boasting that beauty was dead for they had killed it.

        That night, a boy and his brother walked quietly out to the platform under a glowing moon, and, removing their shirts, soaked up Leila’s blood, wringing it out into a small bucket. She was the most beautiful thing they had ever seen, and ink was hard to come by. Their task done, they began their journey home, when the younger brother happened upon an unblemished lock of her hair. He breathed in deeply, and it smelled like peaches.