“They need props, you understand?
They are given ready-made ideas, then they believe in them as they do in God.”

~J-P Sartre, Dirty Hands

There was never a time when she was beautiful. Receding chin, potato nose, stubby arms and legs. The surgery was done when she was too young to remember, but sometimes she has dreams of flying. Her wings open for one last flight and she is effortfully up, just barely off the ground, but flying.

“Lady,” they call to her, “hey, lady, hey, a moment of your time, if you please, just a moment. Lady, lady.”

In the corner of a building she pauses, the sun bright behind her gentling her face with shadow. He is spread out over a bright carpet. His filthy hands, his beard dull with tobacco, his cracked voice. She pauses.

“Thank you, lady. Thank you. A moment, a moment only.” He unfolds his display with cunning, every movement economical. “See here? See? A moment. Here is the volcano, here is the town.” He points, she follows with her eyes, careful not to nod, not to agree to anything even by implication. The men are fleeing, are defying the sky; the women are bent, withdrawn into themselves, their faces turned toward the earth. “If you please, lady.” He opens his hand: the volcano is still. He closes his hand: the ground shakes, and the town is buried.

She weighs him with her eyes, weighs the town. His hand, open; his hand, closed. She knows she is being played — the dice are always loaded, the queen is always hidden in the palm of the hand. Still. She nods her head, and he capers; nods her head and Pompeii is destroyed. She was never beautiful, though the statues they carve for her will lie it so.