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The Depths

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It hurt Ted that his mother couldn’t see how beautiful she was.

Her self-image was better now than it had been when Ted was a child, yes. She no longer shut herself away from the world and cried for hours on end. She no longer sat cuddling with the shotgun that had belonged to his dear departed bastard of a father, contemplating its barrel like a piece of art in a museum. But, when she thought Ted wasn’t looking, she still sat in front of her vanity mirror and ran her hands over her face, digging her nails into the bark. Bugs had started to crawl on the vibrant green leaves sprouting from her flesh, which she seemed to view as a disgusting omen.

Ted didn’t understand. Bugs were beautiful. She was beautiful.

Ted blamed their environment. This carnival was better than most of the exploitative freak shows they’d lived at in the past, in many ways. Here, at least, his mother had Dixie. While Ted didn’t approve of the woman on principal (damned whore, batting her eyelashes at every man who strode down the midway), he saw how much she meant to his mother.

But the rest of the staff...they didn’t appreciate mother. They didn’t realize how important she was, how much of an asset mother was to their little two-bit circus. That dog woman Dagmar (ugly, so ugly, those tattoos all over her skin were so revolting next to his mother’s gorgeous brown bark) looked down her nose at the ‘old lady’ in the exhibit next door. That vegetable Ike (god, Ted had never seen an uglier soul, so greedy, so angry) only cared about ‘The Human Log’ for the money she could bring into his grubby, wrinkled hands. And Otto, the fat rat bastard - well. Ted quite nearly strangled him when he had the nerve to refer to mother as a “sawed-off stump.”

They’d get what was coming to them, and soon. Every one of them.

And yet, there were bright spots. There was the boy, Timmy (so innocent, so dumb, Ted had never had the chance to be innocent and dumb, his father had beaten it out of him before Ted could even properly talk). Timmy’s only sin was his youth, and youth had its advantages. For instance, Timmy agreed that mother was beautiful. Ted decided then and there that Timmy wouldn’t have to pay along with the rest.

The thing that hurt Ted most, though, was the night he heard a crash from his mother’s room. He stopped assembling his latest butterfly, wiping fish and squirrel innards from his hands as he hurried to the door beside his own.

Mother was on the floor, still in her nightgown, pushing herself up on her arms and groaning in pain. Her crutches and boots sat untouched next to the bed. She saw Ted in the doorway and sighed.

“Don’t mind me, honey. Woke up from a dream where I still had my legs. Tried to get up and go to the bathroom without even thinking about it.”

Ted knew pain was written across his face as he rushed to his mother’s side and picked her up, helping her sit down on the edge of the bed. Mother had always talked about missing her legs. Another thing Ted didn’t understand.

Growing up, Ted knew two types of legs: His father’s long, strong legs, the sight of which nearly always meant pain. And his mother’s delicate little stumps, the sight of which always meant warmth and love. He knew which one he liked better.

And out in the woods, mother and father were the only humans he knew. It had never occurred to him that ‘normal’ people had legs like his father’s. Ted still remembered the night mother had walked in on him in the shed, attempting to saw off everything below his thighs with a rusty work saw. Oddly, he couldn’t remember any pain. Just mother’s screams of terror.

As mother had grown older and more frail, her arms had weakened and sometimes it was just too much effort for her to get set up to walk. Ted was more than happy to carry her - he was overjoyed. It made him feel like a prince in a fairy tale, carrying his fair princess to safety.

And no storybook Ted had gotten his hands on ever said princesses had to have legs.