She was beautiful, but nobody saw her. In a crowd where a thousand faces cry out for attention with paint and powder and glitter and ink, there is not much space left for skin laid bare, with all the imperfections of one who does not look in the mirror, but at the time, at the faces of those without.
She was beautiful, if any mortal woman could ever be deserving of that name. For she did not glow with an inner light; her flesh, untouched, did not inspire a divine light, was not worthy of Caravaggio's unending adoration, or Renoir's solemn reflection. The crowd preferred the glowing goddesses of Gucci and Givenchy, who floated, serene, from on high, upon billboards. There, they said, you did not have to worry about the dark side of things. Fighting and unhappiness is not a trouble when your sweetheart does not talk to you.
Where she walked, she stepped on the ground. She smiled when she was happy, and frowned when she was not. She was a working girl. Men do not appreciate working girls. They like the housewives, the sweet nothings dressed in pretty skirts, and her sharp tongue did nothing to soften the blow of their bosses' disappointment when they were caught making out in the coat closet. It's her fault for not being kinder, they said, and her duty to be kindest. No one will like her and when she is too old for children she'll wish she'd been prettier, they said.
She was stubborn, though, and their words were so many raindrops on stone to her. She smiled and left, and in the sunshine, when the rain had stopped, she led her nieces out to play with her in the puddles. As they made clumsy circles in the water and laughed and shouted to each other, crying her name, she turned her face up to the sun, she smiled the most radiant smile. The children are happy, she said to herself, they are safe, it is what my sister would have wanted, and somehow, it is enough.