The Girl Under Glass
They kept the girl under glass in a bedroom off the living room on the first floor of a brownstone. The girl’s parents had slipped the glass over her while she slept. She had just turned thirteen. Her parents wanted to preserve her adolescent purity, her freshness, and impatiently waited for a man to wake her.
At first, close relatives came to gaze at the girl—her mother and father, her sisters and brothers. Then extended family came—aunts, uncles, cousins. Then the friends of extended family. And then their friends. They each took turns, leaning over the glass eagerly. They saw their reflections flitter and dance against the girl’s stillness.
Once a boy, the child of a friend of a distant relation, tried to lift the glass. And he did lift it. (He was a prankster.) But he dropped the edge immediately when the girl moved. She moved only one fingertip less than one inch. But he was a sharp-eyed boy and saw it. He didn’t know her before she was asleep under glass, so he thought she would stay just as she was—arms gracefully by her side, toes pointing up. A doll dressed in a white, sugar-cake icing gown. (Later he said, he only wanted to lick her lacy cuff.) Her tiny gesture so frightened him that he ran away and never asked to look at her again.
Although the girl was asleep, she could still hear. She heard her relatives argue over whether or not the boy spoiled her purity.
It wasn’t the boy’s fault, asserted an aunt. It was the girl that lured him. That girl took advantage of his prankish tendencies. He was only being a boy, doing what boys do.
Many rumors streamed from this incident. There were questions like, Was her movement a sign of criminal intent? The girl’s mother and father feared the rumors would scare off suitors. But the opposite happened. The talk drew crowds. Strangers lined the block, waiting for hours to gaze at their reflections in the girl.
Her new popularity, however, did not resolve the dilemma. After the incident with the boy, the question remained: Was the girl ruined?
She heard relatives and their friends discuss options. If she was ruined, should they discard her? Bury her to contain her impurity? The next oldest sister easily could take the girl’s place under glass. Or should they pay a man (any man) to kiss her and wake her, and then sell her to earn wages in a factory.
Isn’t child labor illegal? her uncle asked.
Things can be arranged, said a friend of her uncle.
It may be her best option, advised a second cousin.
The girl’s mother agreed. And then her father agreed.
But what man would kiss her now?
At that moment (A blessing? Luck?) a man, a stranger at the back of the line, burst into the bedroom and fell in love.
I love you, he said, staring at his reflection in the glass. You’re just like me. The man, seeing his own likeness in the girl, said to the crowd, I can save her. I will wake her.
The girl’s relatives and their friends and especially her next oldest sister were overjoyed that this stranger—a true suitor—had appeared.
This is the one, said her mother, elbowing her father. And he agreed.
Unfortunately, the girl could not see what the man looked like, because her eyes were closed. But she could hear his voice. His voice sounded like a dream—both far away and near.
She was careful not to move. She did not want to be accused again of the crime of seduction.
The strangers in line and the relatives and their friends gathered in the bedroom. With everyone watching, the man tipped the glass back. The hush in the room was the softness of snow. Then he lifted the glass all the way and leaned it against the wainscoting. The girl in her sugary gown remained still. She wanted release badly. The man leaned over her. He kissed her. She did not move her lips. The man looked into her sweet face. She did not smile. Everyone waited, but the girl dared not move.
She’s as cold as a fish, said the man stepping back. She is not like me. She is an ice queen.
The girl sensed disappointment. She was neither pure nor fresh, but a cold, limp fish. She sensed anger. Strangers left in disgust. Her relatives and their friends reconsidered options: burial or factory? In a rush out of the bedroom to make competing arrangements, they left the glass leaning against the wainscoting.
The girl was alone for the first time in three years. She opened her eyes. Her fingertip twitched. Crisp air swept over her. Her nerves tingled. She stretched her arms overhead. It was not easy to move because her muscles had atrophied. It took her all afternoon to sit up. At nightfall, when everyone else was asleep, she stood. She steadied herself and took her time. Her limbs were sore, but she pushed on. She changed out of her lacy-cuffed, sugar-cake icing gown and into the T-shirt and jeans she had worn before she fell asleep. She once was a tomboy, which had alarmed her parents.
Tight-muscled, she limped out of the front door of the brownstone and down the stairs to the street. Her dead skin shivered awake in the coolness. Blood pinked her cheeks. Overgrown hair swept her ankles. She moved into the night. Slowly at first until her muscles loosened. She kept moving, swinging her arms wide. Her body trembled with elation and terror like a thousand sparrows startled to flight. She was alive. She kept moving. She had no definitive direction except Away. She moved. She kept moving.
Kristine Marx is a writer and visual artist. She earned her MFA in visual arts from Hunter College in New York and has exhibited her drawings, paintings, and video in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and Tokyo. Her art criticism has been published in MIT Press PAJ: Journal of Performance Art and Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art: Materiality. Recently her creative practice has shifted to fiction, and she is pursuing her MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. She teaches art and Buddhist meditation at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and lives in Beacon, NY with her husband and pharaoh hound.
© Variant Literature Inc 2021