The bearskin is hot and heavy. Beneath it I am hair and sweat and fingernails, itching and bleeding, stinking with the filth of unwashed years. The people I pass recoil when they see me.
Good, I think. I recoiled from myself in the mirror long before my seven years began: there is a spiteful glee in my heart each time I see that they see me as I see myself.
But there is hope before me now, strong as silk, and I follow it grimly. Seven years I must wear this bearskin, seven years I must leave my nails and hair uncut, seven years I must go without washing – but at the end of it, so the man with the horse’s foot promised, I’ll have whatever I desire.
“You know what I want,” I told him.
In my pocket I carry half a broken ring, a promise within a promise. I find some comfort in its smooth curve, its raw jagged edges: touching it, I think of the woman who holds the other half. She loved me for myself, I think, for she met me as Bearskin. It cannot be my body she cared for.
When my fingers catch on the ring’s broken edge, I wonder if she’ll still love me when she sees me as I’ll become.