There Once Was a Beast
He said the beast still lived inside him. That he’d spent so many years living trapped in beast form his heart had begun to grow hairy, hardened, his brain rewired until it was more animal, less human. He said he didn’t know how long it would take to feel at home again in his human skin, if he ever would.
Beauty laughs and does not believe him. She was there when he transformed, saw the fur fall away revealing flesh pale from years of being hidden from the sun. She saw the claws retract and the teeth shorten, turning from pointed fangs intended to rip flesh to straight teeth he did not have to hide.
She thinks, I can keep him like this.
Sometimes, Beauty does not see him for days. He tells her he forgets that she is there; he spent so much time alone he doesn’t know how to share his habitat. He promises to try and do better.
Other times, she finds him curled up on the floor in the corner, head tucked under arm, asleep, hiding. He snores, and the sound brings to mind the image of a hibernating bear. Beauty drapes a blanket over him, only to find it later, stuffed in a garbage can and ripped to shreds.
She thinks, what of the spell that I broke?
He likes his meat cooked rare, then not at all. Beauty finds him in the kitchen, shoving chunks of raw meat into his mouth that she had meant to prepare for dinner. She suggests that this isn’t safe, but he ignores her. Unable to change his cravings, she stops leaving raw meat unattended.
He comes at her in bed with a growl, rolls her over and over like she is a field mouse in his lion’s paws. She lies still; she read somewhere that playing dead is a good way to avoid harm from wild animals. He leaves scratches on her skin: along her arms, her chest, down her back. In the morning, she covers them up. He says he’s sorry, say they are an accident. He promises to cut his nails, to be more careful.
She thinks, did I free man from beast, or turn him inside-out?
When Beauty was young, she had a cat that gave birth to a litter of kittens. She was horrified when, one day, she walked into the barn where the cat slept to find the father of the litter with his mouth to the throat of one of the kittens. The mother cat hissed and tried to claw at him, tried to get him to stop. He jumped agilely out of the way, the kitten dangling helplessly from his jaws. The mother cat howled, a sound Beauty tried to forget. When she discovers her own belly growing, the howl comes back to her in her dreams.
He is always cold. Having grown used to fur, he does not know how to tolerate the naked flesh. Every blanket on their bed gets pulled to his side, no matter how many Beauty brings to him. She wakes during the night, her pregnant body shivering, to find he has stolen her own blanket again, his sleeping body hidden beneath a pile of them. She starts sleeping on the couch instead, one small blanket over her body, one hand over her stomach.
She thinks, what of his gentle heart?
Beauty starts to wonder how she can put him back. Back to the way he was when the beast was only on the outside. She consults her wardrobe, the lamp by the front door, the candlestick on the table. They are all useless, as are the kitchen utensils. All the old ones changed back when the spell broke and left her, saying it was about time they got to live their own lives, wasn’t it? Back when he was Beast, she was surrounded by voices pushing her into his arms. Now that she’s there, no one wants to help her get out.
She thinks, what if they knew all along?
When Beauty finally leaves she does so while he sleeps. There is no fight, no grand finale. It’s just Beauty, a bag over one arm, a sleeping baby in the other. Last night, when she watched Beast watch their baby, she had seen the hunter’s gleam in his eye, the predator’s stare.
And if, somewhere in the house, fur begins to grow back on Beast, if his teeth lengthen, if his claws grow out, Beauty doesn’t know. She doesn’t turn around. She doesn’t go back to check. She takes no souvenirs.
She thinks, what of the girl who comes next?
Grace Carlson is a writer from Washington. She writes fiction, creative nonfiction, and the occasional poem. She also writes articles on travel, mental health, writing, and books. Sometimes she’s funny, or at least that’s what her mom says. Visit her blog, A Passport And A Pencil.