Tender

By @nmauch16
Tender

What happens when you follow your path.

Chapter 1

So many hapless girls spent their lives tending to ponds; though, you couldn’t really call it that—a life. We girls were created to maintain the lives of humans, to help keep real girls on the “good track.” Wherever there was a girl in the human world, there was a Tender and a pond, just beyond the Veil. The other Tenders—my sisters—and I cleaned the ponds whenever they became addled with sins. When vices grew too dense at the base and curled up towards the surface, we would dredge the ponds, lest the corresponding girl become too shallow. Everyday was the same: I woke at dawn and started working, trying to make my girl’s pond clear of sin, empty of greed, and deep of thought.

And that was it.

That was my story, but I wanted a different one.

I had never been good at tending. I used to question whether I was a fluke, some creature that Mother had shaped while she was drunk. The God of Plenty often stopped by while Mother was at her molding wheel, and Mother could never turn down the wine he offered. That’s why this side of the Veil was reserved for gods (couldn’t have the humans seeing a three-headed deer prancing through a copse of tree-sized tulips). I once asked her if I were a Tender gone wrong. But she smiled down at me, a glass of mead in her hand, and said, “You are exactly as I intended you to be.” Which seemed like a typical mother comment to make. Then she winked and said, “So do what I intended you to do, my dear Retsasid.” And that was all I would get on the subject.

I did try at first. I worked as hard and as often as my siblings, cleaning out the hatred and loathing that writhed within my waters. I scrubbed away greed from the bottom of the pond, even though it grew back thicker every day. And yet, I was hopeless. My sisters stopped commenting on my pond’s lack of clarity or depth, and perhaps that’s what made it worse. They smiled at me; offered a good-natured thumbs-up whenever I dug out a particularly deep root of jealousy. It was pity though, tinged with the disappointing knowledge that I could never achieve what they would. I, like my girl and my pond, would never be good enough. It was an upward battle, raging against the elements, and I don’t know why I fought that long.

I can’t tell you why or when the idea came to me. That this was how I would alter my story—my unending failures. I’m not nihilistic or anything. I didn’t want to ruin my girl’s life because my own felt purposeless; it was just the opposite. When I rose one morning, I was compelled to kick dirt into my girl’s pond. It felt so right watching that grime fester with each passing day. As the other ponds remained clear and empty, mine became a cesspool, teeming with sneers and lies. There were so many that I could not distinguish one hateful remark from another; they all swirled together, a different color for every sin.

Charity, a Tender whose pond was near mine, said that my pond was infecting the others. I never liked that word. Infecting. It’s such a dirty and vitriolic way to describe a revolution. I saw colors spreading, vibrancy overtaking everything on this side of the Veil. It was transforming the Tenders too; they found pleasure in letting sin and corruption remove the burden they had long carried.

While my sisters transitioned, I told them that my pond was beautiful, and the pond was my girl, so wasn’t she lovely too? They agreed, of course, but their ponds were becoming vivid like mine, so adding another dash of red (a lie), or streak of purple (sycophantic praise) no longer mattered. Maybe they even wanted to, because their waters were duller than mine. I never worked hard to best them, I just gazed into the still pool and new, vile acts unfolded before my eyes. I’d look up, and smile at my fellow Tenders, or offer them a good-natured thumbs-up whenever they found something particularly dreadful to sink into their pond.

It’s been a year now, since the Change, and they all look at me with a jealous reverence, knowing they will never be as horrible as I am; that they can never achieve what I have. I’m standing in front of my pond, which is no more than a dark puddle now. When the sun shifts toward the horizon, it has a wonderful, iridescent glimmer. Mother approaches and offers me a glass of merlot. I let the liquid fall into my puddle. Today it will gleam scarlet, like clotted blood.

Mother laughs, and places a hand upon my shoulder. “So you have finally done what I molded you to do, my darling Retsasid.”

We both look into the water; it’s black and glossy like obsidian, so I can see our reflections perfectly. Mother asks me if I understand how simple life can be when you give in; and I think I do. Because once you accept who you are, then you need only be wholly that. The bad shouldn’t compete with the good to be the most virtuous. It is better to sink into the role that was chosen for you, to let yourself fall fast and hard because perhaps you’ll reach the bottom first, and become the worst of them all. Isn’t that a splendid title to hold?

Mother’s reflection grins at me. It’s strange, watching the world backwards in the water, but I’ve decided that’s what I was meant to be. Backwards, inverted, twisted around. My story is no longer one of a sorry Tender, but one of a beautiful Disaster. 

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