The Not-Princesses And Their Dress

Once upon a time, there were two Not-Princesses, who were twin sisters.

One of the Not-Princesses was a smart, thinking young lady, who liked machines and how they worked. She worked hard and applied herself, and was very clever and learned how to make machines think, and then because they didn’t think very well, she learned how to make them think better. Then when she had become very good at that, she learned how to make humans think about the machines in the best of ways, and spent her life tending to that.

The other Not-Princess was just as smart, but did not think so much of how machines worked and thought. She was more interested in how people thought and worked. And she realised the way you teach a person how to think is to tell them a story. And so she worked on her stories, bit by bit, and she crafted a story that would show people how she thought, would teach them how to think a little bit better, maybe, hopefully, kind of.

These two sisters worked very hard on what they did, and they did it in ways that boys often told them they couldn’t do. But it was after a long time of telling stories and rethinking machines, that the two sisters met on their birthday and sighed.

“You know,” said one.

“Yes?” said the other.

“I have worked at thinking machines so very hard that I have not had much time to care about me.” she mused, tapping her chin.

“And my telling stories is all about focusing on other people, the people the stories are about and for.”

“You know what?” said one.

“What?”

“I’m going to buy you a lovely dress.”

“Wh-what? Why?” Asked the other.

“Because you wear such dowdy clothing, so often. You dress to hide yourself and you shouldn’t have to live in fear. Just sit tight right here, and I will get you that dress, okay?”

“Oh, okay!” Said the other, who thought to herself images of what a lovely dress would look on her. It was true, she so often wore dowdy clothing, dark and grey and brown, because telling stories did not make much money, and the work was hard and needed lots of thought. Who had time or money to buy a thing that only mattered to be pretty?

A little while later, her sister the Not-Princess returned, holding a box in palest rose with a dark burgundy ribbon about it, and smilingly gave it to her sister. “Here,” she said. “Please, wear this and enjoy it, if only a little, and in private.”

The other Not-Princess took the box, and with trembling hands, undid the ribbon, letting it flutter to the floor as she lifted out a truly magnificent ballgown. It was magnificent and beautiful, and it did nothing but be pretty, and it reached all the way to the floor. The Not-Princess who told stories looked at it with her mouth open.

“Go on,” her sister said. “Put it on! I’ll wait outside,” she added, because she was, after all, very interested in people’s privacy.

“Thank you!” said the storytelling Not-Princess, and she proceeded to disrobe carefully, and slither her way into the elaborate construction of the beautiful dress. She squirmed and she tugged and she gasped as bits of the dress laced up a little tighter than she had expected. And she smoothed it down, fitting on the gloves at last, and swallowed nervously, stepping out of the room to see her sister.

“Oh my!” said the other Not-Princess, who looked just as open-mouthed as her sister had a few minutes beforehand. “You- you look amazing! You look beautiful!” she said, waving her hands excitedly.

“D-do I?” asked the Not-Princess who told stories.

“You do!” her sister nodded again. “Come, come quick to the Room of Mirrors!” And she took her sister’s hand, and led her down the hall, to the Room of Mirrors, and let the Not-Princess who told stories stand in the middle of the room and look at herself.

She saw the way the fabric pinched at the straps and made her shoulders looked fat.

She saw the way it dipped in front and made her chest obvious.

She saw the way the clasps had to hook up a little to fit properly, and seemed to be under strain.

She saw the patch of freckly skin on the back of her shoulders, exposed against the soft pink of the straps.

She hated it.

She hated how ugly and stupid and not-right she looked in it. But it was a gift! It was such a lovely gift from her sister, and the dress was so pretty, but she hated to be in it! What was she going to do?

“Sister?” asked the Not-Princess who taught machines to think.

“I have an idea,” said the Not-Princess who told stories. “I have an idea, an idea. Um, here, you should have this dress. It’s too lovely for me, and you speak to people in your work! You should have it, you should definitely have it.” she said, biting her lip and flailing her hands, as she hurried out of the room of mirrors, pulling the dress over her head and leaving her in her not-quite-altogether, handing over the bundle of pink.

“R-really?” her sister asked, remembering how beautiful she had seen her sister be in that same dress. “I- why, thank you!” She said, thinking of all the greasy, hard work she had done with thinking machines, and how so rarely she was able to dress herself up as prettily as a Not-Princess could be. She went to the Room of Changing, and emerged, to the eyes of her sister, the storyteller.

She looked amazing. She was beautiful, wasn’t she? The flow of that beautiful pink train. The ribbons criss-crossing across her navel, that pulled them up and made her look so firm and lovely. The straps that drew the eye up to her chin, to her nervous smile and her beautiful bright eyes. “Y-you look incredible,” she said, feeling the pang in her heart. Why did it not look so good when she wore it? But she took her sister’s hand, and together they ran off down the hall to the Room of Mirrors, and there, she urged her sister up in the centre of the room, to look upon the mirrors. To see herself.

And her sister, the Not-Princess who made machines think, looked at herself, in the mirrors, and felt her stomach lurch like it was full of dust.

She saw the way the fabric pinched at the straps and made her shoulders looked fat.

She saw the way it dipped in front and made her chest obvious.

She saw the way the clasps had to hook up a little to fit properly, and seemed to be under strain.

She saw the patch of freckly skin on the back of her shoulders, exposed against the soft pink of the straps.

She hated it.

*

The two Not-Princesses began a game, then. One would return the dress to the other, and every time, reassure her sister at how good she looked in it. Every time, the other would tenatively try it on, and see herself one way. And the dress passed from sister to sister, back and forth, sometimes staying for days, sometimes for minutes, as each sister tried to understand why she wanted to give it back. After all, it always looked so much better on her.

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