Penelope stood in the freezer of the Prescott Grand Hotel as she did every night, between the frozen juices and the pastries, and admired the other ice sculptures crowding the narrow concrete floor. They were all roughly the same – ladies in long flowing gowns, intricate flowers in their curly hair, latticed sashes around the waists, delicate fingers holding scepters and wands. The same, and she so very different. She didn’t know what it meant to shiver.
The door opened, the murky lights of the kitchen illuminated the red tiled floor covered in black muck. Brad walked in, smoothing his white double-breasted tunic. Penelope broadened her smile for her sculptor – he had carved her with a frail, dainty smile she did not care for when looking at herself in the Grand Ballroom mirrors. She wished she could make her cheeks dimple the way he did when he laughed. Not six inches from her shoulder, Brad ignored her as he pulled out a box of danishes, his smoky breath jetting from his lips as he whistled. Her arm creaked and popped as she moved to touch him, to be close to him, to feel the scorching heat of his skin against her ice.
At the barest scrape of her finger on his wrist, Brad sucked in his breath. “Jesus,” he said, rubbing the blue dot where she touched. He stepped around the smaller sculptures without once looking back at her, the pastries clung to his chest while he held his wrist, re-entered his warm world and shut the door behind him. In the door window he looked at her once before turning his head and clicked the lock. Penelope knew about the light switch next to the freezer door, and in her mind’s eye she imagined his smooth fingers flicking it.
She stood in her corner in near darkness, only the kitchen light flooding in to allow her to see her fellow ice princesses. Soon, only the dim security light near the back entrance remained. She slid her feet across the floor – her knees did not properly bend like her sculptor’s – careful not to disturb her little sisters and went to her favorite spot next to the window. Penelope pressed her hand on the glass and lined up the angle of her forefinger and thumb with the refrigerator door on the other side. She desperately wondered what was in there, if more people like her lived so nearby, what they were like, if they had any friends. She loved her sisters, but they never stayed long enough to get to know them before new sculptures joined her. Only Penelope remained, and she diligently taught her new sisters every game she played to pass the long hours before dawn.
One of them pointed with her scepter at the flaw in Penelope’s skirt, a place where the flowing rhythm of the make-believe cloth was chipped. She had asked Brad to fix it by rubbing her finger on the place, but he had merely grunted as he set down one of her newest sisters, the one who happened to be noticing her flaw. Penelope cupped the girl’s face in her palm and silently thanked her for the attention and concern. She pressed both fingers in the girl’s cheeks where the dimples should be, hoping – praying, perhaps – the girl would smile more brightly.
She just held her perfect pose, frozen like her other little sisters. And like the others something was flawed with her. Not like the flaw in Penelope’s skirt – something more basic, elementary, and more than surface deep. Penelope had no name for the flaw, except the girl didn’t move and gesture the way Penelope could.
So Penelope taught the new girl how to stack the boxes into pyramids and castles. The night passed like any other, with no playing or suggestions for new games from the others.
In the morning the kitchen and freezer lights turned on and the lock on the door clacked open. Ken bid her a good morning, as was his habit, looking her in the face as he talked and winking with his lazy eye. Penelope liked him. He came in often on his breaks, sat on a cardboard box, and took off his funny hat. “No need for a cigarette break,” he’d say while wiping the sweat from his face with a greasy towel, “I’ve got a pretty lady in the freezer.”
Later, Ken walked her to the Ballroom and helped her get on the short pedestal. Brad checked her enchantments and again she pointed out the place in her skirt. Did her no good – though she tried to make eye contact with him, Brad was focused on everything else and bossing people around. People bunched around her, smiling, laughing, a few brave ones even touched her. Penelope went through the motions of posing for the flashes of light the people held in their hands, willed her smile bigger – a trick Brad shrugged off and ignored, though she was quite proud of herself. Despite all the attention on her, a deep sensation nagged her like the hammer and chisel her sculptor used to make her.
Her visitors left one by one. She knew it was time to go back in the freezer, but Brad and Ken were too busy to attend to her. Bored, Penelope got down from the pedestal and nearly slipped on the puddle. A little piece of her, she realized. A piece she’d never reclaim, along with all the water she left on her way to the door. Outside the glass door was a bright light – brighter than anything in her little world.
Penelope stepped into the sunlight, and immediately the magic threading through her body began to unravel. She walked for a long ways until her legs gave out and she collapsed into a heap of ice and water on the hot sidewalk. Staring up as the last of the enchantment faded, she realized what she was really made of.
Word Count: 999
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