C H I L D
Sit down with her baby, wind is full of trash.
She bold as the street light, dark and sweet as hash.
(Joan Osborne, St. Teresa)
If histories were symphonies, theirs is the third movement, the dance. A well-played balance of fear and loathing, forgiveness and misguided compassion. Two women, mother and daughter, moving together in passionate fluidity as poison-dart arrows and swinging axes sing through the air above them.
Ursa remembers holding her daughter when she was eight years old, angry and frustrated when no other children in the palace will willingly play with her, and comforts her child by stroking her dark brown hair. She cannot fathom the depths of grief her children suffered in her absence, and does her best to open up her secluded heart to them once more.
They meet at the same vanity table, each woman preening and combing her tresses. Ursa's hair is longer, and darker, and suits her perfectly. This everyday ritual is no different than clipping her toenails or painting her face, but sitting in the same vicinity as her mother heats Azula's blood. The princess's eyes are a mask of curiousity in the mirror while she searches for a treacherous wisp - a trace of disapproval on her mother's carefully composed face. Her lungs expand and compress and anticipate Ursa's maternal claws. Deadbeat lioness. Wait for the pounce that conceals the sharp, painful remark that leaves her daughter's heart open and raw.
Azula scorns the woman, but can only refer to her as 'mother'. Capillaries saturated in hate, she catches her reflection in the bottom left-hand corner of the mirror as she bends down to retrieve her hairbrush and laughs at herself, calculating how long she can persist before age lines form around her mouth.
"What's so funny?" Her mother is all liquid honey.
The princess cracks a smile. "Oh, nothing."
A horsehair brush smoothes her silken hair and the daughter cannot force her eyes to go blank. Someone is playing tambourines in her head, working her up into a frenzied state, and her neck muscles are taught like violin strings. Golden eyes shine in concentrated fury and the girl screams silently.
"What do you think, Azula? Should I change my hairstyle?"
"No, mother. I think you look beautiful just like that."
Ursa is all smiles today. She caresses her daughter's cheek and pushes her trademark bangs out of her face.
"I like it when you pin them back, sweetheart. That way, you won't break out."
Ursa's touch is soft and light, like the smooth white cream she rubs into her face to retain the moisture of her skin. The fire lady does not use much makeup, opting to curl her eyelashes and powder her neck, while Azula reaches for the stick of kohl, and follows with the rouge. Mother watches, interested in her daughter's meticulous application of cosmetics, particularly the way Azula purses her mouth to cover all the corners with her lipstick and scratches off the excess with her nails.
"You shouldn't do that. Use a napkin instead."
When the preparations are done, the women stand up from their cushions and automatically flatten the soft creases in their ceremonial robes. Thin, delicate ornamental bangles adorn their slender wrists and heads. Dressed in crimson, gold, and black, Ursa hesitates in the doorway and pulls her youngest child into a cherished embrace.
"I love you, Azula."
"I love you too, Mom."
They go well together, everyone tells them that.