Once upon a time, there lived a woman of incredible charm named Kaliope, so stunningly lovely to look at, that it was almost impossible to look away. Such was her splendor that she soon became an enchantress, capable of bending anyone to her will. To preserve her face from wrinkles, she refused to laugh or smile, and only ever adopted a stern disposition. Thusly, she managed to draw to her all she desired, and avoid everything else. Men admired and inquired of her, women emulated and envied her, and all were enraptured in the presence of her supernatural sightliness.
But, unable to laugh or smile, she only ever enjoyed things soberly, if at all. At parties and social functions, when others would grin, giggle, and guffaw, she would gaze absently, albeit gloriously, to the point of an apparent indifference. When others would cry, she would comfort them icily, seemingly unmoved. And when others would smile warmly, she would only ever nod back coldly, as if hidden behind a magnificent, mesmeric mask, maidenly and motionless. Even the Sun’s satisfying rays were forever shielded from her heavenly visage and body, to preserve their own ravishing radiance.
Over time, as fissures and cracks formed on the faces of her childhood friends, her countenance remained pretty much the same, so that not even aging could grab her attention. But, weighed down by the hopeless heaviness of her own staid comportment, Kaliope gradually grew miserable until despondent, coupled with the constant wonderment of why she, the prettiest person, was so downhearted. It grew so bad, that one day she decided to go to the highest temple in town, from the uppermost steeple of which, she resolved to throw herself off.
Desperately, she climbed the stairs, but upon reaching the loggia just beneath the spire, found there a hideous, hoary, old homeless hag, who smiled a toothless smile, above jowls so saggy as to be capable of hiding fangs, and a double chin so slackly loose as to appear turkeylike. Her eyes, stamped by crow’s feet and under eyelids so droopy as to soon melt into a puddle, were surrounded by skin so spotted as to seem scaly, and so tanned as to look half leather, half bronze. Recognizing the distress in Kaliope’s near perfect eyes, even before they noticed the embodiment of every fear she ever carried, the old woman sat up to speak.
Half expecting her to cackle diabolically and gobble, Kaliope felt stunned and struck frozen in place to hear the power in her pretty voice, as it gently cooed in a reverberant, maternal hum, “My child, what’s the matter? You must tell me, you must, in order to pass.”
Frightened and red-faced, Kaliope turned around to leave, and even proceeded all the way back down the stairs to the bottom of the stairwell, before diffidently deciding that such a divine voice demands an answer, especially one so deeply desired to be delivered. Flying back up to the top of the tower, she disconsolately declared, in a delicate cadence, with a dainty, finely-drawn tone turned desperate, “I’m frightened to lose the reason why people love me, and haven’t laughed a day in my life since I was seven!”
“And what, my child, is the reason you think people love you?”
“Of the lovely, I’m the loveliest, but who am I anyways but an appearance? Everyone has crowded around me ever since I was young, but who’s ever actually seen the real me?”
“I am seeing her right now.”
“No, you’re not!”
“Then show her to me.”
“I don’t know me enough to! Aside from my reflection in the mirror, there is nothing to distinguish me from anyone else. It’s utterly hopeless.”
“Oh dear, you’ve been afflicted by a most serious disease, the worst one of them all, in fact.”
“And what’s that?”
“The disease of seriousness, my child. The bad news is, it’s serious, but the good news is, it’s treatable.”
“Please help me, ma’am. I can’t bear it any longer. What good is an immaculate face if it wishes to destroy itself?”
“My daughter, you must allow yourself to laugh without any regard.”
And with that, the old hag let out a rip-roaring, reverberatory burp, so clamorous, it echoed clangorously against the walls, before mixing in with her coarse laughter of a canorous cachinnation, so raspy and mirthful as to emanate from her very soul. Nervously, Kaliope began giggling, then chuckling, then howling with laughter and unable to stop, like a little trickle turned flashflood, caused by a tiny crack in the dam wall. After finally ceasing, she lied on the floor gasping for air, then offered the elderly lady a more comfortable place to stay, but the latter insisted to remain there, “to continue to catch all the beautiful children…”
Ever since that day, Kaliope has laughed every day, and experienced every sort of other emotion too, expressible on a human face. And with each passing year, she only grew wiser and more beautiful, so that by the time she was elderly and frail, her fine, felicitous face, crowned by long, flowing gray hair, appeared considerably covered with well-placed wrinkles so deep and profound as to tell stories. One day, on her morning walk, she overheard a toddler exclaim, “Look, mommy! She’s so old.”
“Please excuse us!” her mother reacted, blushing in embarrassment. And Kaliope laughed so hard, the toddler started laughing too.