A Short Story by Jess Smart Smiley
4-5 minute read
Aberdeen Gray was convinced she was cursed.
She claimed that her eyes were made blind by her husband—“The Conjurer” she called him—because she refused the “singularly ugly and frightful” portrait he had gifted his bride for their wedding.
Young Frederick was shocked by Aberdeen’s response, claiming he had expended four canvases in his commitment to capturing her likeness, and that days upon days were spent exhausting sticks of charcoal, applied with devotion, using chapped and bone-weary fingers. Her white-lace bonnet and streaming silk ribbon were tenderly and expertly portrayed. The rendering of her favorite blue dress with a ruffled collar was likewise depicted with marvelous accuracy and affectionate care.
It was her face the Conjurer had so cruelly disfigured.
Her face, so dutifully creamed and oiled. Her face, kept soft and pale and new.
“You’ve drawn me into a wrinkly old maid!” Young Aberdeen shrieked. “Is this how I appear? With a crooked nose and a hooked chin?!”
“But the curves of your ear,” Frederick directed, pointing to the charcoal features he had so lovingly expressed. “Your slender nose and hint of lash.”
Heartbroken, Aberdeen fled to the country.
When at last her anguished tears dried upon her perfect cheeks, Aberdeen found her vision gone completely. Not even the burning midday sun was detected by the dead orbs that circled wildly, bereft of their intended function.
Adopted by a kind, industrious village, the blind and forlorn Aberdeen was well-cared for into her advancing years, though she consistently and bitterly rebuked the many charities offered her.
“I don’t want your help,” she spat. “Leave me be.”
But, her fellow villagers decided, Aberdeen Gray would be helped. In turn, her dark door would be brightened and its sour inhabitant sweetened. The whole of the community would benefit from the deed.
The name of a strange inventor—one J.F. Tiller—was suggested to the village leaders. It was proposed that the creator might know of a potential solution for their cantankerous resident.
No one ever spoke to Tiller directly about the situation or about the villager’s request. (Though, in truth, no one had ever been givevn an address or even a country for the enigmatic innovator where he could be reached.) Instead, a series of odd requests were fulfilled and the labor of ten individuals was exacted for a period of twelve days as payment for the service.
No money was exchanged and no written agreement made. No formal accord or understanding of what “service” would be rendered was ever broached.
And so, the village suffered Aberdeen Gray’s incessant complaints and prickly demeanor another four long months while they awaited a response of any kind from the evasive inventor.
And then, one day, a wooden box arrived—or rather, was discovered, tucked beneath an overgrowth of thick ground cover.
The misnomer was printed on a curling, brittle placard affixed to the box, which caused its finder to question the credibility of the carton’s creator.
The villagers called together a council to witness the opening of the cat-sized container, allowing the blacksmith to raise the wooden boards and reveal their mysterious contents. Rounded, translucent stones were placed in a bed of sawdust surrounding a small metal container. Within the container was a remarkable set of glasses—heavy and peculiar in their construction of black meteoric iron with leather blinders and wreathed in silver wiring. Into the eyepieces were set a pair of mulberry-tinged convex lenses.
Beside the box lay a rolled piece of parchment, attached to it a note:
TO BE VIEWED ONLY BY
“Ludicrous!” Aberdeen scolded. “And ‘seeing spectacles’ is redundant! It’s absurd, giving an old blind woman glasses. You abuse me!” Her spit was a thick gob that clung to the pastor’s cassock.
It took the butcher holding her down and the blacksmith screwing together an additional apparatus to be fitted to her head for the glasses to finally cover Aberdeen’s blind eyes.
“Whose idea was this?” Her wretched voice screeched. “It’s dreadfully heavy and punishing tight!” Aberdeen’s dour countenance wrenched and distorted into worsening grotesque features, until she resembled something like a living gargoyle, kicking and spitting. “I can’t see a scurvy thing, you ugly worms!”
The device held and, once she was alone, Aberdeen resigned herself to her bedroom, locking the door to the small house, weeping unseen mulberry-colored tears.
Villagers watched the sullen woman’s activities through the small windows in her bedroom, kitchen, and parlor, ensuring her safety and hoping to observe any potential effects from the glasses.
After a week of self-imposed confinement to her house, the sound of Aberdeen’s irritating and dramatic moans could be heard by the villagers through her windows.
“It hurts! It hurts!” She howled. “So terribly heavy! The devil’s worked its way inside my head! It’s meddling with my mind!”
“That’s enough. I’ll get my tools,” said the blacksmith. “Wait—she’s going for the scroll!”
Aberdeen stumbled through her home, gripping the device on her head with one hand and holding the rolled paper from the box in the other. She faltered clumsily through each room, struggling as if the rooms themselves were turning, swinging, swaying, sweating.
At last, Aberdeen braced herself against a wall, beyond the views from the parlor and bedroom windows. The villagers crowded around her bedroom window, each vying for the best view, as the weakening hag unrolled the thick sheet of paper.
“I’m coming!” called the blacksmith.
But his words were drowned in the vixen’s sudden deadly shriek, followed by a furious shredding of the material in her hands, and Aberdeen’s collapse to the wooden floor, where she drew her last breath.
As the pastor blessed Aberdeen’s grave, the blacksmith lamented the failed glasses and their expense, and how their gentle village had worked together to kill an old woman.
“That her soul might have been more like the woman she destroyed,” the pastor stated, sprinkling the torn shreds of canvas on the dirt. “Beautiful, innocent, and pure.”