When she was little, when her mother was still
alive and breathing and her father still told her
bedtime stories about little princesses and kissed
her goodnight, she often thought about unicorns,
and at night, in dreams, she tried to conjure them,
but they would always appear misshapen or deformed,
with a chicken’s foot instead of a hoof, or with the
stripes of a zebra or a horn that was jet black
instead of silver.
When she was in kindergarten, she tried to draw one
using finger-paints once, but the smudges she made
were intolerable to her; she felt as if she’d
desecrated something pure and holy and it wasn’t
until many years later that she would try again.
After her mother passed away, her father was
infuriatingly kind and gentle. He treated her as if
she was a princess, and she hated him for it just as
she hated herself for living after her mother’s
death. In response, her father tried to become even
more understanding: he let her wear her mother’s
earrings, the ones her mother never let her borrow.
When she put the earrings on and looked into the
mirror, she realized for the first time in her life
how much she looked like her mother. She took a comb
and arranged her hair, applied lipstick and
eyeshadow. Suddenly she gasped and coughed it was
her mother’s face staring back at her through the
mirror! She knocked the mirror to the floor and it
broke into shards, and she ran out of the house and
kept running until she collapsed on the sidewalk, her
In the mornings, she made her father breakfast.
Coffee, decaf only, whole wheat toast with margarine,
pancakes, whole-wheat cereal, low-fat milk, no bacon
and no eggs. Afterwards, she went to school, where
she got straight-A’s, and when she got back she did
her homework until dinnertime. In the evenings she
and her father went out for walks in the park a few
blocks away from their home. She wore her mother’s
earrings and a touch of her mother’s perfume under
her chin, and they held hands while they walked and
pretended to be happy.
It wasn’t long until her father kissed her goodnight
and she felt herself responding to him; she wrapped
her arms around him and opened her mouth, but her
father broke away. “You’re getting too old for
bedtime stories,” he said, and he never kissed her
again. She felt sick, as if she’d defiled something
pure and holy.
The next day, she lost one of her mother’s earrings;
it fell off sometime during school. She searched
everywhere, getting more and more frantic, but she
couldn’t find it and finally she burst into tears and
the school nurse sent her home.
“What’s wrong?” her father asked. “Is it some boy?”
He tried to sound concerned, but she knew that deep
down he was jealous over her, and inwardly she
laughed with glee. She imagined her mother’s
consternation. You never gave me anything, she said
silently to her mother’s memory, and now I’m taking
him from you.
“It’s something only mother would’ve understood,” she
replied. A muscle inside her chest spasmed and
squeezed the breath out of her. She started coughing
and couldn’t stop.
And then she started having nightmares.
She often woke in the middle of the night gasping for
breath someone was choking her! she thought, but
there was nobody in the room but her and the shadows
of dreams. She closed her eyes and listened: the
sound of cicadas, the beating of her heart. Nothing.
One day, when she couldn’t fall asleep again, she
tiptoed naked past her father’s room and out into the
garden. She lay down and closed her eyes. The sharp
twigs and blades of grass scratched her skin; the
cool night air, and her fear, made her nipples ache
and she pinched and pulled at them and stroked
herself between her legs breathing quickly, panting,
but she couldn’t let herself come, she had to wait
for something she didn’t understand.
Please let me, she whispered in her frustration,
please, her fingers moved faster, but no, not yet,
not until I’ll do anything, she whispered, I’ll
sacrifice myself to you and then she heard it: the
whinny of a unicorn! She came, moaning into the
night, her terror dissolving.
You will be my only joy, my only pleasure, she
promised, and the cool air felt so good so
wonderful just to breathe that she laughed and
stroked herself again until she came shrieking and
crying with relief. She lay on the dew-moist grass
until the first light of dawn, then crept back into
her room before her father awoke.
She started drawing unicorns everywhere. On her desk.
On her math homework. On the inside of her thigh. Her
grades plummeted she couldn’t concentrate but
her art teacher said her drawings were getting much
A few days later, one of her classmates, a boy named
Kip, found her mother’s lost earring. “What’s so
special about those earrings?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she replied.
“But what’s the big deal? Why were you so upset?”
She tried to speak she wanted to tell him
everything: that the earrings belonged to her mother,
and if she could she’d bring her mother back to life,
even though she hated her, yes, hated her and wished
her dead every day of her life; but she could not
open her lips. She could not speak. Instead, she
kissed him, partly to thank him, and partly to shut
him up. He asked if she wanted to take a walk in the
park with him after school, and she said yes.
She was tongue-tied the entire time. Something
prevented her from talking freely and she stuttered.
She knew that Kip felt her discomfort, and she didn’t
want to lose him, and so after they found a secluded
spot in the park, hidden away behind the evergreen
trees and hemlock shrubbery, she kissed him, and then
kissed him again fiercely and forced her tongue into
“I’ll do anything,” she whispered. He unzipped. She
knelt, took him into her mouth and closed her eyes.
His buttocks were hard beneath her fingers and he
filled her mouth again and again as he thrust into
her, groaning and clutching at her hair.
Her mind began to drift away from her body and she
imagined she was far away from that park and the boy
she barely knew, kneeling on soft green moss in a
magical forest, near a castle by the foaming sea that
lapped gently against the shores. I sacrifice myself
to you, she called out silently into the open woods,
you are my only joy, my only pleasure. For the first
time in her life, a unicorn appeared for just an
instant, a perfectly formed creature that she could
never imagine before, and then the entire illusion
Her hand reached under her skirt and stroked herself
as she sucked the boy. Her pleasure made her moan,
and that brought him over the edge. She swallowed,
and swallowed again. You will always be part of me,
she thought. You are my first and only love. She
imagined she heard the unicorn whinny in reply.
Kip never spoke to her again, but he told his
everybody about her.
“I’ll do anything,” he mimicked.
Her female friends abandoned her, sometimes one-at-a-
time, but usually in pairs or groups. The boys hit on
her often, especially the ones who despised her the
most, the ones she slept with. She wanted to
sacrifice herself, and they all obliged.
She lay naked on the cold basement tiles and
masturbated while James watched, incredulous, and
then he couldn’t wait any longer and he pushed his
jeans down and entered her. She cried out as her
hymen tore, bit her lip, but her eyes shone. I
sacrifice myself to you, she whispered. James heard
her and he started thrusting wildly and mashed his
mouth against hers. He came, spurting into her oh,
my love, my love, she repeated, still crying,
trembling from the enormity of what she’d done.
The stress took its toll. She was always tired and
she hardly slept or ate.
“You’ve lost almost twenty pounds,” the nutritionist
said in alarm. Her father was angry and afraid he was
losing her, and that pleased her, but the thought
made her cough uncontrollably.
Her drawings improved rapidly. It was as if
everything that was good and strong within her fled
out through her fingertips and into her drawings.
Her health and her relationships deteriorated.
“My only pleasure, my only joy,” she whispered into
the night. Paul held her wrists down, but she rolled
her hips and used him for her own pleasure, arched
her back and scraped her nipples against his chest.
He bit the skin on her neck until she gasped and
writhed, and came.
“There’s real passion in your drawings,” her art
teacher said. She coughed, blushed, but didn’t say
why: she masturbated while drawing.
On the nights she was alone, she lay on her stomach
on top of her quilted bedcovers and drew on her
sketch pad the unicorns and the serpents, the dragons
and the gryphons, the severed head of Medusa that
haunted her dreams and now her days as well. She
always drew the head of Medusa without the eyes; she
could never draw the eyes her hand trembled and
cramped whenever she tried, and she left the eye
sockets blank but the thin red lips excited her
and angered her at the same time.
It seemed to her that those lips mocked her, dared
her to be sexual and seductive. She squeezed her legs
together with each frenzied stroke of her pencil,
waited until the drawing was finished, then bit her
pillow and orgasmed silently so her father couldn’t
hear her come, again and again, drawing after
drawing, late into the night until she fell
unconscious from exhaustion.
And then one day she disappeared nobody knew where
and after a long time the police gave up, though
her father kept trying.
The day she left, an intricate mural was discovered
on the wall of the boy’s restroom. Someone had broken
in the previous night and painted a unicorn, resting
its head on the lap of a pregnant young woman. The
unicorn was beautifully drawn with a shining silver
horn, a pure-white mane, wise eyes and gentle hooves.
But the young woman’s face was taut and etched with
lines and her lips were pressed together as if to
hold back some unspoken anguish; her hair was in
tangles and one of her earrings lay on the ground.
The mural remains there to this day, untouched by
graffiti. The boys and men still look at it in wonder