“A snivelling toad!”, her rivals said, while the Emperor only saw a weeping beauty. Some days she was a trickling fountain, others a gushing waterfall. Her face and eyes were never completely dry, so that she sparkled like a rare precious gem, which for a time made her the Emperor's favourite. For him, she glistened like morning dew or shimmered like a lake. None of his other wives or concubines could match her unique splendidness, not even the fine-looking Empress.
The Emperor, who was prone to whims, indulged in Lady Willow's propensity to weep. Her tear-stained cheeks fascinated him and so he sought out her other weaknesses. She was encouraged to whine, to clamber on his knees for comfort, and to throw herself at his imperial feet and beg him not to leave: “Please, Your Majesty, stay longer!”
He sent numerous gifts to make watery pearls gush from her eyes: song birds in gold cages, dragonfly hair pins, armfuls of chrysanthemums and peonies, and beautiful patterned robes. He ordered her to accompany him to operas, temples and gardens, all of which were intended to start a pool then a flood. And she didn't disappoint: she cried bucketfuls and the Emperor was delighted.
When he tired of her reaction to happiness, he experimented with his moods and tried frightening her: he made impossible demands and shouted at her, his chief eunuch and his ministers. She cowered and trembled like a leaf in an unforgiving icy wind in his presence and the silent weeping turned into vocal sobs, but still she would cling to him as a child does to a disapproving parent. She would have done anything to please him if he requested it, but her behaviour was reward enough.
In-between gulps, sniffs, and sobs Lady Willow waited for him, the Emperor, her husband, her love, her tormentor, but those waits got longer and longer from hours to days at a time. Without knowing why she'd slipped out of favour. The Emperor, bored with his latest plaything had moved on to torment some other female creature.
Lady Willow, with constant overflowing eyes, pined for his attention. Her reasons to wail somehow seemed justified when he'd courted it and now her whole being bowed from the loss. All her features appeared to suddenly droop as if life had been taken from her: she hunched and kept her thin twig-like arms wrapped round her disappearing body. Her eyes sank into empty, dark wells and her tears turned black, as black as squid ink, and left unsightly trails; a permanent mark of her tortured soul and blackening heart.
Her youth was spent before she was ready so that she felt trapped in a perpetual state of misery. She wept with one pure emotion, that of sadness, instead of how she used to weep up and down the emotional spectrum. Gone too was her magnificent dress for she would now only allow herself to be dressed in coarse sackcloth as if grief-stricken. She forever mourned for the girl she once was before the Emperor had cruelly hastened her age and her weeping.
*Inspired by Anchee Min's Empress Orchid