Jane was the ugliest woman in the world. This was whispered into her ear the day she was born and never left her body. When she was barely a few months old, her mother entered her in an ugly baby contest and her picture was printed on the back page of some rag, as her father said. He liked to tell this story with a cigar in one hand and a tumbler of scotch in the other, despite the fact that he did not like hard alcohol.
Her mother was enthused by Jane’s ugliness; she made up t-shirts to sell with Jane’s crying toddler face, littered the walls of their small home with hundreds of framed photos of her. She would stand behind Jane while she got ready for school and beam at her daughter’s reflection, “I don’t know where you get it from, Jane, but God was looking out for this family the day you were born.”
It was only a matter of time before Jane went national with her ugliness and by her sweet sixteen, her features were known worldwide. As editor of her high school newspaper, Jane even had to oversee an article written about the dissymmetry of her own face. She perfected a smile not even her mother could love to combat the curious looks she received on a daily basis. It is okay to be lonely, she told herself. She applied to colleges on the other side of the country and prayed she would wake up plain.
The weekend after she moved into her college dorm, Jane got drunk for the first time. Her roommate sat with her while Jane threw up sunset colored daquiri mix and rum. Jane wept into the cool tile and confessed that she was worried she would never be loved for anything more than her ugliness. Her roommate stroked hair and told her everyone was scared of not being loved. When Jane woke up the next morning, her roommate and two suitemates had made her breakfast to combat her hangover and she thought, perhaps she would not be so lonely after all.
When aliens landed during Jane’s college graduation, they were eager to meet her. They begged her to remove her robe and the bright tassels signifying her many academic accomplishments so they could see every inch of her body. Jane politely declined, blushing at the memory of her hands tracing over her skin in the quiet of that morning. A galactic-wide council was formed to evaluate her and they all concurred; Jane was the ugliest woman in the universe. When her mother got the news, she baked Jane a vanilla cake with congratulations written in pink cursive on the icing. Jane hated vanilla cake, but ate it anyway. She knew other people had it much worse than she did.
Jane was well-read, could make paella from scratch, and was a favorite at trivia night. She loved things. Like the word cacophony and baking her own bread. She had many lovers, although she was wary of starfuckers (her mother’s words, not hers) and never settled down. Her friends teased her that if she kept it up, she would leave a wake of broken hearts across the known galaxy. Jane laughed but did not change her ways; ugly still hummed in her blood, her bones sang out with a longing for beauty that she wasn’t even sure she believed in.
She adopted a three-legged cat and dog who had to wear an eye patch. Her house was cozy and warm and she paid a great deal of money to build a wall to keep away photographers and fans. Similar to her mother, she filled the walls of her home with photos, but Jane’s photos were of her friends, her lovers, her cat and poor-sighted dog, the many corners of the universe she was lucky enough to travel. There were no pictures of Jane anywhere in the house and there were no mirrors. But there were books and there was music.
Jane died at seventy-three of a brain aneurysm. She felt nauseous and complained to her cat that she had a headache and then keeled over on her kitchen floor. Her cat did not have time to respond to Jane’s call for aid but viewed it as her last act of love that she did not eat Jane’s face in the 18 hours it took for her body to be found.
The whole universe mourned her. She had an open casket which traveled around the world and into space and people threw flowers and wept and the aliens cried alien tears and touched her face. The galactic council decided that Jane was to be shot straight into the sun; a burial befitting someone of her importance. But the sun could not contain her and Jane returned as shimmering dust and we were all left gleaming and unbearably sad.
Rose Andersen received her MFA at CalArts. She is a writer of strange fiction and stranger non-fiction. She writes to the dulcimer snores of her Boston Terrier Charlotte, and completes her stories despite the endless barrage of puns from her partner, Josh. She is currently editing her memoir, The Heart and Other Monsters which was awarded the Emi Kuriyama Thesis Prize. She is published in Gone Lawn, Ghost Parachute, Jellyfish Review and forthcoming in Forge Lit Magazine. She can be found on twitter @roseandersen.