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Beatrix often wished she wasn’t so sensible. It would be quite a comfort, for example, to wish upon a star. She never could. She knew that stars were really just gigantic celestial bodies that generated heat and light through nuclear fusion, and they couldn’t care less what you wished for. That was the thing about Beatrix—she wasn’t good at forgetting. It was like when she visited her parents’ graves. She always tried to talk to them. She wanted to feel like they were watching over her. But she knew that they were gone. She carried that knowledge like an anvil, deep in her belly.

Beatrix worked as a chambermaid for one of the town’s wealthiest families. The Watsons lived in a big grim mansion painted the color of a bruise, and the curtains were the color of animal fat. She hadn’t wanted to. She wasn’t very good at it. But she was too old for an orphanage and too young for marriage, so when the worn-looking bank official recommended she take the job, she agreed.

She was not happy there. The Watsons weren’t bad people, just selfish and dull and thoughtless, and so they steadily cranked out the low-grade nastiness that slowly turns the soul to gasoline. And that is all there is to say about them.

Beatrix was not a very interesting child. She wasn’t vivacious or charismatic, but dull and complacent. People who saw her always whispered to each other about how thin and sad and stretched the girl looked, her parents not dead a year, bless her heart. Beatrix had her heart blessed so many times daily it was a wonder it hadn’t been declared a holy relic. Beatrix was miserable, lonely, and broke. She moved through life in a kind of stupor. Her soul was as gray as the dishwater she emptied every day. Then, one day, she woke up and thought this:

I have no family, no money, and no future prospects. I hate my job and I’m not even good at it. There is not a single blot of light in my life, and I’ll only become more miserable as the years go on. I don’t even care if I live or die. There is nothing anyone can say or do to hurt me anymore. I have nothing to lose. No one can touch me, or shake me, or stop me. There is absolutely nothing I care about. Nobody can hurt me anymore.

So I can do anything.

I don’t have to stay here. There’s nothing left for me here. I can go. And I can be somebody, somebody who cares about something. Anything. What’s stopping me?

Beatrix got up and left. She didn’t even pack—there was nothing she wanted to take. She simply walked out the door. It was so easy, she reflected. People go through their lives doing things they hate for reasons they don’t understand, and here she was, just leaving. In the span of about four and a half minutes, Beatrix had learned that life is a strange and complicated thing.

And there were a million good things that could happen to a young, bright, hardworking girl in a good-sized but fairly well-organized city. There were a million things she could do. A million possible stories. All of which, she thought confidently, were sure to be better than working for the Watsons.

Beatrix stepped smartly into the city. And someday, this story will have an ending. It will be folded up and wrapped in ribbons and handed over like a gift, and there will be a what happens next and a that can’t really be the end and disappointments and sorrows and inappropriately humorous moments. But for now, there’s just a girl, looking out into a busy street, with no idea what she will become.



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