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TITLE: Beautiful
By Shaun Stevenson

I wrote this article as an exercise in sensory detail, and also in dealing with an issue I needed to face up to and did through this piece.
Between the drippings of the faucet and the scratchings of my foot on the tile, I am alone. The sky-colored walls have become a shield; this is my place to be momentarily removed from the world. A lone mirror faces me. I search the reflection, looking for myself inside, but no one is there except a boy I seem to remember from long ago.

A picture framed in a deeper-set blue stands atop the cabinet over the toilet. I glance up to it, seeing myself with my brothers. I was younger then... better. Behind us the sun gleams off the pool water and onto the wood slats behind us. My eyes close; I am trying to smell that place once again. The whiff of chlorine returns to my nose, mixed with recently overturned potting soil.

I shiver and my eyelids open. The swimming pool and my grandparents' house has vanished. Instead, I see strange eyes reflected back at me. Dark eyes. Hiding. Searching.

I lean in, closer to see the details, the creases, the worries etched onto that face. There are many of them crevices hiding the secrets, the hurts, the fears of a life unlived. Or the life lived inside a ghostly body, never fully reaching the light.

I back away and open the door, flying down the steps. I need to get to my piano. I need to be there. I reach the bench, with the bottom paneling beginning to fall apart. The staples that had once held it together have long since popped out, and now a lone nail holds it stubbornly together.

My songbooks lay in a pile beside the piano on a darkly wooded table. I sift through, looking for one particular book. I find it. The girl on the front cover hugs the scarf around her neck and gazes upward at something distant. The sun shines all around her, gently lighting her face. She is beautiful.

I set the book on the railing above the keys, and turn the pages until I find the song, my song. I lean in, ready to push the pedal, ready to begin the opening measures.

My eyes close again for half a second; my fingers find the first notes, and I caress them, pushing downward, feeling the hammers striking the long bells inside the wood frame. I trill through the opening, feeling my body rocking in a rolling two. I hit the first verse.

I was so unique;
now I feel skin deep,

freeing my mind of all thoughts beside the words on the page and the notes dotted in black.

- Crying myself to sleep, because I cannot keep their attention. -

I feel it happening;

- I thought I could be strong. -

My eyes open wider,

- But it's killing me. -

Moisture forms beneath the lids. A heaviness settles in my chest as the measures build to a pounding chorus;

I want to be beautiful; And make you stand in awe;
I want to hear you say who I am is quite enough.

My lip curls upward, and I let out the heaviness in my breathing.

I want to turn my ahead away, but my fingers keep moving. I have no control over them now. They glide across the white and first of three blacks.

- Sometimes I wish I were someone else other than me,
fighting to make the mirror happy. -

The clouds shift outside, snatching away the sunlight that had been streaming through the front window. I'm being covered in darkness, feeling it,

- trying to find whatever is missing. -

The song breaks into another round of pounding broken chords rolling up and down the bottom half of the piano keys. I bring it out to the end, smashing into a completely instrumental rehash of the beginning measures. I end on the last note, allowing the sound to fade until I can't hear it any longer.

My head falls forward, onto the keys, making a blaring noise that must have been heard next door. My face is turned toward the window, covered in blinds, blocking any light. I don't want to move, but I want to reach over and wrench the cord downward so the plastic will go upward. I reach for the cord, and watch it hang inches from my fingers.

My mind churns in time with my stomach, building up a drive to reach out farther. I clench my jaw bones together and stretch my arm out, splaying my fingers, hoping to grasp even the faintest strand of the white cord.

Touch... grasp... pull.

I drag myself up to the window, pulling the cord downward and watching the blinds chink up to be bunched together at the top of the window frame.

And then I move forward, pressing my face against the pane, feeling the glass chill my skin. My eyes find the sun, hidden within the blue, trying to break through to the front.

And the sun moves forward, shining down to light my face, warming the coldness within; I feel the light pierce all the secrets in me, bringing them up to skin level.

(c) 2005 by Shaun Stevenson
"Beautiful" (c) 2004 by Bethany Dillon & Ed Cash
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