“Incredible, absolutely incredible,” people were known to say when they saw just how ugly Gaely was. Some would exclaim “Shit!” and “You have to be kidding me!” because Gaely was the ugliest person who’d ever lived. She knew that people thought that about her just as soon as she knew anything. Knew it before she knew that she breathed oxygen or didn’t like feeling sick or that she loved her mom. It made Gaely Gaely to the world, in her hard corner of it.
Her outstanding ugliness wasn’t just on account of the shape of her body or the growths all over her face. Eyelids that looked like rotten leaves. One ear two inches too high, or else the other two inches too low, but it was worse than that, because they were both off, regardless of where the other one was.
The special feature of her ugliness was what it brought out in others, in the world around her, and it was horrific. She’d read about Medusa and how she turned people to stone. Or was it just men? Well, it didn’t matter. Whatever Gaely was had a lot of the same effect on everyone, but without the quality, the pizzazz, of a legend in the making. Gaely’s ugliness begat ugliness, and it was hard not to blame herself, maybe even harder than it was to try and believe what Gaely actually believed, which she dared not tell anyone, lest she kill them from laughing. Because Gaely didn’t really believe that she was ugly at all.
She had girlfriends and she had boyfriends when she was older, mostly for the novelty. On their part. She didn’t turn anyone to stone but there was one time she walked past a house and the walls melted, but that also could have been because a fire had started inside that killed the whole family who lived there and the timing was just the timing. People talked, though. They had theories. A person without a theory can be like a shark without a tooth.
But then the world started to go backwards. Or was it forwards? It was like it didn’t even spin the same. Certain standards flipped and Gaely became in unprecedented demand, and it wasn’t for the novelty. That was all gone. No one would even put her down, save the jealous types, but everyone understood their motives. They were just bitter and didn’t fool anyone, not even themselves.
Gaely’s dad said, “I’m so proud of you, my ugly, ugly girl.” Gracie’s mom didn’t say that, because she didn’t want to suggest to her daughter that she was proud of her all of a sudden, when she’d been proud of her all along, from the very first.
People sliced up their faces to try to be more like Gaely, and cut off their ears and had them sewn back on in different places, but you can’t fake the real deal. The funny thing, though, was something that no one else knew, at least not in full. Some might have had an inkling, or most of it worked out. Gaely’s mom did, and Susan-Ann, the daughter she had had, and William, the best friend she had married.
But there was the glorious mystery, and a special part of its answer belonged to Gaely alone. That didn’t bother her, because it was uniquely hers. She had cracked a great code. And long ago, she’d begun to unravel the answer.