Chapter 7: Dysphoria

The image painted inside the eyes can be more vivid and descriptive than the pale illustration outside. — Queen of Ice and Salt (Act 1, Scene 4)

Galadin stared at the mirror with tears in his eyes. Helplessly, he ran his hand through the long blond hair that now flowed down his back. The color and length was perfect in every way, except that now it looked like an uncomfortable boy wearing a wig instead of the beautiful woman he hoped would have come out in the last few days.

He didn’t want to be a boy in a dress. He wanted to be a lady. A beautiful, gorgeous lady that would steal the show.

With a sniff, he wiped the tears with the back of his arm and looked down across his table. In the last few days, he had acquired a dizzying array of makeup jars, perfumes, and brushes of all types. Most were impulse purchases from whatever looked pretty or was suggested by the various ladies who were helping him prepare for his debut.

There were too many choices to look at. He knew what he wanted but his hand didn’t seem to move in the right way. Glancing up, he looked at the makeup smeared across his face. It was wrong with sharp lines and blotches. Even the places he tried to blend looked wrong, the lines were too obvious and painful to examine.

With a choked sob, he picked up a wiping cloth and started to remove it again. He would try again before giving up.

He had said that hours ago. Now, it was probably after midnight and he still couldn’t erase the image of a boy from the mirror. He felt sick and hot and flushed, a sensation that had been coming more frequently in the last few days. He wondered if he was getting sick.

“Glorias?” It was his father’s voice from the other side of the door. Unlike his mother, Storan seemed to easily switch to calling Galadin by his chosen name.

Giving his face another wipe, Galadin leaned back. “Yes, Father?”

“You sound distressed.”

“I…” Galadin looked at the boy staring at him in the mirror.

“May I come in?”

Galadin set down the washing cloth and sighed. “Yes.”

His door creaked open. Storan came in wearing his sleeping outfit, a long silk shirt and a pair of boxers. He looked frazzled but concerned.

Galadin sniffed and wiped at the tears.

“What’s wrong? Have you been up all night?”

“I’m not pretty. I try, but I can’t make it.”

A helpless look crossed his father’s face, highlighting the wrinkles for a moment. He grabbed a wooden chair from near Galadin’s bed and carried it over to set it down. “I don’t understand. How can I help?”

“I… I…” Galadin sobbed for a moment and then gestured to the mirror. “I don’t see what I want in the mirror.”

“What do you want?”

“I want to be a girl.”

His father’s confused look softened. “And you just see yourself with long hair, right?”

Nodding, Galadin took another sob.

His father looked down at his lap. He lifted his hand and awkwardly rested it on Galadin’s thigh. It was cool and firm. “You’re seventeen. You’ve been all that time looking in the mirror and seeing yourself, right?”

It was Galadin’s turn to be confused. “Y-Yes?”

“Well, were you seeing the image you wanted?”

“No.”

“Right, you were seeing a boy. You may not have wanted it, but it was still a boy looking back at you. Day after day, night after night. You’ve gotten used to seeing that boy so much you can’t see anything but that boy.”

Galadin rested his hand on his father’s.

“If you close your eyes, you can still imagine yourself in the mirror, right?”

“I, I don’t know.”

“Try it.” Storan said.

Galadin closed his eyes and the image of his disjointed face came clearly. The hair was fuzzy and he couldn’t seem to focus on both his face and his hair at the same time.

“That’s your memories filling in the blanks. Your body is changing, you are changing. It takes time for your head to forget what you look like and your eyes to start seeing again.”

Galadin opened his eyes and looked into the mirror. The sense of discomfort was still there but he got the smallest hint of what his father saw. By focusing on just the hair, he found it easier to imagine his face fitting it.

Storan’s hand lifted from his thigh. Instead of pulling away, he turned his hand and clasped Galadin’s.

Galadin looked at him in confusion.

“Have you been feeling flush lately?”

Galadin nodded. “And tingly. I think I’m getting sick.”

There was the briefest of smiles and then it was gone. “Maybe, maybe not. But let’s focus on the problem. What is wrong?”

“I look horrible.”

“Too vague, more details.”

“I look like a boy wearing a wig.”

“Okay, why?”

“My face, it’s all wrong. It isn’t smooth and pretty and glowing.”

“That’s probably makeup then. You seemed to be focusing on that.”

Galadin glanced at his father.

Storan shrugged. “I’ve seen your mother when she wakes up. I know what makeup can do.”

Galadin smirked.

His father grinned and shrugged. “I still think she’s the most beautiful woman in my world, but she refused to stop wearing it on my account.”

There was the faintest of creaks beyond the door.

Storan didn’t seem to notice. “Okay, I don’t know much about makeup but I’ve seen your mother put it on more than once. Do you want me to help? I’m good at guessing.”

Galadin took a deep breath. “Okay.”

Storan shifted his chair closer and peered over. He picked up a pot of deep purple. “Okay, what we do is take the brush and then put this on you.”

He grabbed a brush and unscrewed the top. “Looks dark, but I’m sure it will lighten up. Okay, just all over your cheek, right?”

Galadin started to laugh but then remembered he was supposed to giggle. His voice lightened up as he smiled. “No, Father. That’s an accent color. You don’t smear that on.”

“Okay, so white?”

“No, a foundation. Like…” Galadin’s voice trailed off until he found the larger pot of foundation that he thought looked the best. “This one. You brush it on lightly as a base.”

Storan peered at the pot for a moment, set it down, and started to inspect the other pot. “Now, your mother had these lines between the colors so I would expect you to have colors that match.”

As his father’s effort clinked the clay pots, Galadin looked up. He noticed his door was open still and started to get up to close it when he saw a shadow moving on the other side. With a gasp, he turned away and sat down. His mother was watching.

“Okay,” his father said holding up the foundation that Galadin had picked. “So this one first, right? Start the bottom and work toward the eyes?”

It didn’t sound right.

Storan picked up a brush and started to rub it into the foundation, smearing it around and thoroughly coating the brush.

Galadin giggled, it came more natural this time, and pried the brush from his father. “No, lightly, you want to dust it, not smear it.”

“But this is how you paint a room.”

Rolling his eyes, Galadin shook his head. “My face is not a wall. Is that how mother does it?”

Storan shrugged. “I never figured that out but now would be a good time. Okay, show me then?”

Galadin set down the ruined brush and picked up a new one. It still smelled of fresh bristles and glue. Gently dabbing it into the pot, he leaned forward and began to apply it with smooth strokes."

“Do you have an image in your head?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Maybe try to picture what you want?”

Galadin tried, focusing on the paintings that he wanted to mimic. After a few seconds, he started to see the flaws again and he set down the brush. When he looked at his father, there was a look of concentration furrowing his father’s brow.

Storan looked up and straighten. “No, it isn’t visualization.”

“W-What?”

The frown faded. “Okay, that doesn’t look right. Maybe we start with your eyes. You’ve been crying so they are red. So we just use this white stuff to hide it?”

“No, Father, that isn’t it!” Galadin said with a giggle.

“Oh, for the Couple’s sake,” announced Maran as she shoved open the door. “Storan, you’re useless.” She had on her nightgown, a gossamer outfit that brushed against the ground. Her hair had been pulled up for the night, wrapped around bone rings to give it curls in the morning.

Galadin’s humor faded. The serious look on his mother’s face brought a flush to his cheeks.

“I’m not useless, I’m experimenting. Mistakes need to be made to figure out how to do it.” As Storan talked, he was still looking at Galadin. It was a sharp, piercing gaze that made Galadin uncomfortable.

“And you are going to teach him now to paint himself like a street whore. Go get us some mead.”

“Glorias should have ice water.”

She waved her hand dismissively.

Storan stood up and patted Galadin on the shoulder. “Your mother is probably a better choice than me.” He turned and left but not after smilingly warmly to his wife.

Galadin cringed as his mother sat down. She was going to be rough with him, no doubt reminding him once again that he was going to ruin her life.

She clicked her tongue. “That man might be brilliant at magic, but he’s terrible at makeup. Here, let’s start over.” She ran her fingers over Galadin’s face. In the mirror, he could see the makeup fading away to bare his masculine features once again.

A sinking sensation flooded over him. He hated the sight he saw in the mirror.

Once she finished cleaning his face, his mother inspected the jars. She didn’t fumble like his father. She quickly set pots aside, moving the colors to a side table as she isolated only a handful of pots near the center. “Men never know how to put makeup on, but you’ve seemed to be fairly understanding of this.”

Stunned at the almost compliment, Galadin couldn’t find any way of responding. His body grew hot for a moment and then started to tingle again. He frowned but concentrated on her actions to keep the woozy feeling from overwhelming him.

His mother picked up the drenched brush and used her thumb to clean it off. It only took a single stroke with the caked-on foundation disappearing without even marring her skin. She gently dabbed it to gather some before handing it to Galadin. “Okay, start with the cheeks.”

Galadin took a deep breath and started to apply it.

As he did, his mother gave quiet suggestions. “Lighter… more delicate… there, now come around in a wider circle… There. Much better. You want to put some along that ridge, it will help smooth out your lines.”

The strange sensations grew. He almost felt like he was a young girl learning how to apply makeup for the first time. He smiled to himself and lost himself in the unexpected moment of his mother helping instead of complaining.

Time grew fluid as they worked together to start filling in the colors. Before he knew it, he saw a hint of the woman he desperately wanted to be in the mirror.

“Let me see,” his mother said with pursed lips. She turned Galadin and cupped his chin as she turned him from one side to the other. “You did a good job for the first time,” she finally said.

Galadin smiled, his heart swelling.

His mother suddenly jerked then her eyes widened. She kept tilting Galadin’s head from one side to the other.

“Ah, it’s mental state, I should have guessed,” his father said cryptically from the door. He had two misting wine glasses, one with a white wine and other clear.

Galadin took the offered glass of water. He felt heated and his skin was crawling. He squirmed in discomfort.

“Drink, all of it, now,” commanded his father.

Obeying, he saw his mother look at Storan with a strange look. His father nodded once and handed her glass over.

Galadin felt a quiver of fear but didn’t ask. The ice water felt like exactly what he needed, calming his racing heart and subsiding the tingling sensation. Even the flush seemed to fade as the bitterly cold liquid poured down his throat.

“Maybe one more tonight, a short snack, and then she needs rest. You can’t learn everything in a night.”

She. His father called Galadin a “she” and for the first time, it felt like the right thing. Galadin smiled happily as he set down the glass. He felt like a girl in that moment, a proper daughter instead of a son.

When he looked up, both of his parents were watching him closely. He gulped with a flicker of nervousness racing along his veins. “W-What?”

“Definitely mental frame and emotional state,” his father said cryptically. “A second lesson tonight would be exactly what she needs.” He emphasized the “she” when he spoke.

His mother looked nervous, but his words seemed to relax her. She nodded. “Thank you, Storan.”

Storan leaned over to kiss the top of his wife’s head. Then he reached over and did the same to Galadin before announcing he was going back to bed.

“Mother? What is going on?”

“He’s right. It’s late. One more, but with a green tint to match your dress. Then you need to go to bed. A… girl needs her sleep.”