No matter how beautiful a gift is, if it is left unappreciated, it fades and decays into ugliness. This is the case of the Freeman family. Eighteen years ago, they were blessed with a beautiful daughter, who possessed the big brown eyes of a dairy cow that promised a gentle and innocent disposition. However, she was never cherished the way beauty should have been. Her mother had forsaken her. Her father had largely ignored her. It even seemed they doomed her to ugliness with perhaps the ugliest name: Olga. It was never meant to be this way. It’s not like she had ever known the warm embrace of her mother and, thus, lost it. It’s not like she had known the cruel hand of an angry father. Simply, she sat alone in a brick and glass case, under the harsh spotlight like a collectible doll, never touched or taken out to play. Thus, under that harsh light, this beautiful Olga faded into ugliness until even the bright innocence of her big brown eyes had faded, as well.
Now, eighteen years later, ugly Olga still sits alone in the Freeman’s brick and glass house, her big brown eyes gazing emptily out of the kitchen window. Mindlessly, she picks at her scarred legs until they bleed, and, when the blood runs, she hardly notices. She goes on picking unfeelingly.
“Stop doing that,” Mr. Freeman snaps, as he brushes Olga’s hand away from her leg. “You’ll make it worse.” Somehow, in his lumbering way, Mr. Freeman had slipped into the kitchen and escaped the notice of Olga. He was a large man with a jagged, white scar slashing across his left eye, leaving it essentially useless. Mr. Freeman had the scar for as long as Olga could remember, and it’s been almost as long since Olga really cared to ask about it. It’s been a long time since Olga really cared about much of anything regarding her father. Their relationship bordered on mere coexistence, but Mr. Freeman kept an incredibly close watch on Olga, almost imprisoning her. Sometimes, she caught him staring at her deeply, but that was the only clue that he attributed any value at all to her existence. Their encounter today—his scarred eye emptily staring at her scarred legs—was hardly unusual. Mr. Freeman was just watching Olga in her brick and glass case.
As for Olga’s mother, she died when Olga was quite young under circumstances no one cared to explain. All Olga had of her was a single photograph. She stood tall in a crimson sweatshirt, holding a stack of books. She was quite beautiful; it was what Olga imagined herself looking like, had she not been ugly. Even in the old and wrinkled photograph, Olga could see the beautiful light in her mother’s big brown eyes. To be whatever was in that photograph was all Olga ever wanted—a beautiful, free, unscarred existence.
It was a rare occurrence that Olga had anything to say to Mr. Freeman, but this was one of those rarities. She pulls out a crumpled piece a paper from under her seat and, with eyes lowered, hands it to Mr. Freeman. The letter read:
Dear Ms. Freeman,
I am delighted to inform you that the Committee on Admissions has admitted you to the Class of 2021. Please accept my personal congratulations for your outstanding accomplishments.
Mr. Freeman looks at the letter with an almost familiar disappointment. “No. I’m sorry. You can’t go,” he whispers. He rips the letter in half, drops it in the trash can, and shuffles out of the room.
Mr. Freeman’s response was not wholly unexpected, but it was painful, nonetheless. As long as she had that letter and her photograph, Olga had a little bit of hope. She stayed her hands and sat quietly in her case with this distant, biting hope. Now, she is left to wonder if she would have been permitted to go, had her mother been there. The thought is futile, however, for her mother had left nearly eighteen years ago.
From under her seat, Olga reveals the old photo of her mother. She looks at it longingly, wishing for reality to be that photograph, for whatever was in those brown eyes. She gently places it on the kitchen table, unfolds her scarred legs, and drifts to the bathroom. The door quietly clicks shut, and only the low sound of water filling the tub leaks out from under the door.
Sufficient time passes, and Mr. Freeman lightly taps on the bathroom door. “Olga, are you in there?” he asks the door. He had found the picture of Mrs. Freeman, clad in her crimson, on the kitchen table, and he held it tightly in his calloused hands. After moments of no response, he says, “Ok, I’m coming in. I hope you’re decent.” The door creaks open, and Mr. Freeman falls to his knees. The scene was all too familiar to him, and, once again, he couldn’t stop it. Hell, he didn’t even try this time. There she lay in a crimson pool of her own making. He was supposed to protect her, and he failed.
Tears stream from his scarred left eye. With his good eye, he looks at that old photograph, the faded crimson sweatshirt, and the dying beauty. He looks up and sees the same, the faded crimson and the dying beauty. There was no fight this time. Last time, she was desperate for death. Life wrestled her down and killed the beauty in her. She lashed out at Mr. Freeman as he tried to grab her wrists, eventually catching the blade on the left side of his face. When he released to grab his eye, she caught the blade on herself. The quiet of an oncoming death was broken by the low whimpers of a baby in the other room. She wanted her mother. And that baby whimpered and faded for eighteen years until she met her mother once again.
“You always reminded me of her. You were too sacred for me to handle, so I let you die. I let her die all over again.”
Olga—Holy or Beautiful, perhaps—had faded from beauty, as her mother had. Mr. Freeman had sheltered her from all the dangers he knew, but he forgot the dangers of solitude and uncherished beauty. He put her in that brick and glass case, under that harsh, unforgiving spotlight. The fading and decaying was inevitable; it should have been obvious to him. Fading, he forgot, is a dangerous existence.
Mr. Freeman rises from his knees and brushes the tears out of his left eye. In his lumbering way, he drifts out of the room and clicks the bathroom door quietly behind him. In the front hall of the brick and glass, there is a small wooden table with a mirror. That is where he ends up, looking into that mirror. The scarred left eye looks back, almost seeming to be functional at this point.
“I wish the scar had faded. The doctor said it would, but it appears to only have gotten worse,” he mumbles. From the drawer of the small wooden table, he pulls out something heavy and metal. He walks out of the front door and leaves with a bang. After eighteen years, the only thing that remained of the Freemans was that one photograph, and with time even that too will fade away.