She burst into the courtyard. It was quiet; the cobbles glinted in the bright moonlight. Although her feet ached from running, she did not dare take her sandals off. The streets were sticky with the blood of the wounded, even this far into Ilium.
A fountain depicting Poseidon stood in the middle of the courtyard, spurting water from a conch shell in the god’s smooth stone hands. Walking over to it, she sat on the rim of the fountain. She stared into the basin. There was a shard of mirror at the bottom, barely visible in the water. She reached down, pulling up her chiton, and lifted it out of the cold water. It felt icy and unforgiving in her warm hands. It was smooth and curved on one side, but tapered off sharply into a dangerous point. Slowly, she brought it up to her mouth and breathed on it. In the condensation, she wrote a small H.
“Helen,” she whispered to herself. “I am Helen.”
The sound of her own voice entranced her; she hated it and she loved it. It was sweet and silvery, like a bolt of cloth so silky that it is difficult to hold. “Do I love myself?” In the mirror, her ruby lips moved in sync with her words. “Do I love my face? The face that has killed a thousand men?”
She cupped the small shard of mirror in her palm and examined herself. Her eyes were a dark, rich brown flecked with gold, lined with thick black lashes. She moved the mirror and examined her cheeks. They were round and sunny-gold, like the warm hue of olive wood. Again she moved the mirror; this time to her hair. It was dark and wavy, arranged into soft braids which circled her head like a crown. Or a snake, she thought, and moved on. Her mouth was small and plump, like a ripe cherry; her nose delicate, almost fragile.
“I love myself,” she whispered. She put her hand to her head and stroked one of her braids. “I love myself. How can I not love myself? There are men dying for the love of me.”
Men dying. She gazed at the bloody spears lying in the moonlit courtyard. “There are men dying, and still I love myself.” Suddenly, she tore at her hair. “How can I love myself? I am a monster! There are men dying because of my face! Surely, no one loves me!”
Then she caught her eye in the mirror once more. “But . . . I am so beautiful. I love myself.” She stroked her cheek, running her fingers over her skin. Then she dug her nails in, hard, so that five small red half-moons stood out on her face. “Do I love myself? I hate myself! I hate Helen! I hate Helen!”
She clenched her hand around the shard of mirror and cried out as glittering red blood blossomed on her smooth white fingertips. Her voice crumbled into a whimper: “I hate her . . . Oh, I hate her . . . She’s so beautiful—”
A thin rain began to fall; her chiton grew wet and tight around her. It suffocated her; she tore at it angrily. She knew that even huddled on the lip of the fountain-basin, with her clothing ripped and her hair bedraggled, even in the half-light of the rain, she was beautiful.
And nothing she could do would ever change that.
Or was it nothing she would do?
She gave a sigh, straightened. Swinging her legs gracefully onto the cobbles, she stepped delicately over the puddles that were forming amongst the cobblestones. As she stepped out of the courtyard, she threw the shard of mirror over her shoulder.
It shattered in a spray of bloodied glass.
“Helen” was awarded a Gold Medal in the 2019 Scholastic Arts & Writing Competition.