They can take my life but they can’t take my soul. This is what I must keep telling myself.
I was once a member of the mighty house of Dekler – yes, I am Stefa, daughter of the Baron Dekler, or at least I was. But even the mighty fall. In fact, I think we fall the furthest, the most spectacularly. Look at the archangel Lucifer. I know all about him; sometimes I think I see him out of the corner of my eye, as though he’s watching over me. And sometimes I feel he’s doing more than playing a passive role in my life.
For I have fallen and fallen again. I have been reduced to the dust maid before you, sweeping up after the wealthy, after the same children my youngest sister used to entertain in our home. They look at me, snub noses in the air, while I keep my gaze turned down toward their dirty floor. I think they track in all the dirt they can on the days they remember I’m coming.
When I do dare to lift my eyes – not to meet theirs but to see further, to look back down the banks of the great river, back toward what was once my home – I find I barely remember my old life. A life lived among riches, warmth, the comfort of hearth fires and sumptuous fabrics. It seems foreign, the type of place I now experience only with broom in hand and only during the hours of daylight that exist briefly before our northern sun disappears and I must drag my tired body back across to the other side of the river. Back to the place of paupers and artists and musicians. Back to my small room in the roof of a rundown little house owned by someone else.
But I cannot be anyone that I am not. I cannot live a lie. To return to the arms of my family, I would have to do so. I would have to renounce my very self, my artistic ways, my so-called deviant ways. This was what my father pronounced on the day he faced me with his list of accusations, on the day he informed me that, as I do not conduct my life in a way that befits my name or stature, I could no longer be Stefa Dekler.
Perhaps he was right. Perhaps I did not live up to the expectations that go with the name, but who can I be if not myself? In holding tenaciously to the true me, I have had to let a crust form over my heart, a heart which was once soft and loving and kind. I am innocent and naive no more.
Don’t cry for me, though. I do not want your pity. I am fine, you see, as my fall has fed my art and my hard edges intrigue those who would be my suitors. If ever I would be interested in something so conventional as that. I have found my home among the late-night, underground clubs with their thick stone walls, their shadowy, smoke-laden air, their experimental music. Here, I am not merely accepted but feted. I shine among the other artists and deviants.