As expected, most businesses refused to hire paper girls for good reason.
“You must understand, Linh, I can’t keep you here when you nearly die every time a customer spills drink all over you! I’m doing this for your own good, girlie. The least I can do for your late mother!” Marie, the barmaid, crossed her arms.
The ink stains on Linh’s face curved down. She held out her palms, ink writing scrawled messily all over her fingers.
[I'll be more careful. It was just one pint of beer on my feet. I managed to dry them out!]
“And look at your feet now! They’re crumpled! You can barely walk!”
[Not true,] Linh protested, and to prove that she took a few steps forward, her feet scrunching up uncomfortably every time. Her toes weren’t as spread out anymore, more pointed and curved, like trying to balance on rocking chair shoes. She toppled over a few stacked stools, her limbs squished into the chair legs.
“Oh for goodness sake. Stay still,” Marie stormed over, yanking Linh out as forcefully and gently as she could.
Linh winched at the tight grip around her waist. She could practically feel her dress beginning to tear. Then, with another yank, she and Marie fell back together in a heap.
“Argh, my legs!” Marie groaned, dress covered in the mud trekked all over the floor. “Blasted chairs!”
[Oh, I’m so sorry!] Linh immediately jumped off of her, offering a hand. [Let me help you up,] the words splashed in capital letters all over her folded skirt, [get some ointment—]
“NO, Linh Page, no!” Marie slammed her fist down. “I don’t need your help. I don’t need your kind here. I’ve done my best to shelter you since the incident, all for your mom, but that’s it! I’m done. You need to find work elsewhere!”
Linh’s eyes began to blur, to feel smudged over with tears. [But—]
“Get back to your room!” Marie roared.
For a moment, Linh froze. Marie’s twisted expression fell. She tried to take Linh’s hand.
“Linh, I’m so sor—”
[It’s fine. You’re right, Aunt Marie. I will find employment elsewhere. I’m sorry for being a burden,]
Linh looked down blankly. Each ink word splattered on her arms and skirts like split wine.
[I’ll return when I can pay you back for the profit I’ve lost you. Good day.]
She strolled out, ignoring her Aunt’s attempts to bring her back.
As she walked down the bustling city streets, people began to stop and stare. Whisper. Point fingers. Some, those like Linh, merely nodded in silent understanding.
Most businesses would never hire a paper girl, a girl literally made of paper. What profit can be found from a girl who can barely lift heavy boxes, barely cook, or sew anymore? What profit can be found from a girl who could die from the slightest amount of force, from a sudden outpour of rain?
But Linh needed the money. She had to buy her way out of the curse, whatever the cost.