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Brava! Bravissima! A tidal wave of applause washed over Justine as roses rained down on the stage.
It's a wonder they don't hit me, she though bitterly. I'm the largest target for miles.
After curtain-down, she retired to her dressing room, set her horned Viking helmet aside, and waddled up to the mirror with a gelatinous jiggle. There was a knock at the door, and Henry Whalin appeared. Henry again.
"You were magnificent, Miss Divangelo. Did you see? The papers are calling you the finest soprano of the nineteenth century." He looked at the floor and shifted his feet uncomfortably.
"Every man in town loves you."
"Stupid Henry," moaned Justine, as she examined her profile in the mirror. "No real man could love a fat twat like me." She tried adjusting her midriff. Disgusting.
She waited for the sigh, but today Henry's response was different. There was a rustle, a metallic thunk.
"Good evening to you, my lady." She heard the clack of the door.
Justine gazed wistfully at a tintype of beautiful Bella Magro, the slender soprano she idolized in her youth.
What was Bella's secret? she wondered, as she picked away at a box of truffles on the table.
A few minutes later, Justine was bent over the wastebasket by the door, gagging and heaving. Eventually she gave up and removed her finger from her throat.
Then, at the bottom of the wastebasket, she saw the roses and the letter, and remembered the rustle and the thunk.
She opened the letter and read aloud: "You have won my heart, and that is no small feat."
"No small feat?" she shouted in rage.
"A large feat, is that it?" She crumpled up the note, threw it on the floor, and stomped on it for good measure.
Something inside of her had snapped. From that moment forward, she was determined to never sing again. Her voice could go to hell, just as long as she could be beautiful.
No one knows exactly what happened to Justine after that.
Not the impresario, who had begged her to come back. Not the reporters, who had begged her to comment.
Not Henry, who had been too crushed to face her again.
When Justine's landlord finally let himself in, he was startled to discover a slim and beautiful woman in his tenant's armchair.
She was naked, and her throat had been savaged; the blood had painted an inverse bouquet of roses on her chest.
The woman held her own vocal cords in her hands.