Princess (Opus no. 3)
Every day is the same. She awakens when the light shining through the window reaches her bed. She washes her body and hair, combs it out to its full length. Then she goes to each window and scans the horizon. She can see very well from this tower, and in all directions. If she sees something of interest, she turns her telescope toward it and looks more closely. Sometimes only out of curiosity. Occasionally tinged with hope. Her day is planned so that she can repeat this ritual every few hours. After lunch, she will read a book or take a nap. She might lie down to remember her past or her future. She has dinner in the evening. She goes to bed not long after nightfall. Every day is the same, although the order of events may vary.
She dreams. Her father sits upon the throne. The people look happy, as always. She sees her mother looking on. The talk is mundane--royal banter. At some point, she realizes that it is no longer her father upon the throne. It is another man. Everyone treats him as the king. Her mother's demeanor changes. She seems barely capable of containing herself. Her anger is directed toward the man upon the throne. The mood has changed. Darkness and shadows envelop the scene as she realizes that she is the new king.
She had moved into the tower when her mother arranged for her to marry the prince of a neighboring kingdom. He was a handsome prince, known throughout the kingdoms for his bravery and prowess in battle. Her mother had wanted the union to secure their home against invasion, kingless kingdoms being so attractive when one is considering conquest. But the Princess had refused and locked herself in the tower. Each day her mother would send an emissary, requesting that she end her self-imposed exile. Each day the Princess, afraid of offending her mother, would send the emissary back with the same message: "I am too distraught to discuss anything. Please ask again tomorrow."
The people loved the king. Not from obligation but genuinely. He was often away--vanquishing enemies, making pilgrimages, crusading against infidels--but when he returned to court, he would hold celebrations in honor of the people. He could generate excitement in anyone; all he had to do was look at them and laugh or smile, and they would be thrilled. The Princess barely remembers. He's been gone so long. She does remember he would reach down from atop his horse, scooping her into his arms to ride with him and accept the accolades and cheers that came up from the people. The mount would stride through the crowd. She would wave. Her father would laugh. She remembers feeling proud. She wanted to be just like him.
She dreams. She awakens in her tower. Someone is at the door. They pound loudly. She is frightened. She doesn't want to open. She hopes they go away. This isn't her room. It's the hallway outside. This is her door, but from the other side. How did she abandon her watch, her duty? She cannot open the door. Her heart flutters. She fears the creature behind the door. Can she move? Does her body still work? Will it let her open the door? Finally her arm begins to move toward the bar securing the door. She slides it aside. The door bursts open. She screams.
"Please ask again tomorrow," she says. She lays herself upon the bed. A bird lands on the windowsill. She watches. It stretches its wings, caws. She closes her eyes. When she opens them, her father sits upon the sill. He looks the same. The glow of his splendor hurts her eyes. She runs to him. He surrounds her with his arms. She looks up at him. He leans forward, kisses her roughly. Frightened, she tries to pull away, but he only holds her more tightly. He fills her. She thrashes. She can barely breathe. He dissolves into her and is gone.
"Your father is a dangerous man," your mother tells you. "He nearly lost the kingdom and his people, myself included, and you." You stress the people's love for him, but not strongly. "The people don't know him," she whispers. "He may return someday to ruin us all, you know. He may yet be our death. And don't think you'll be spared his wrath, my dear." You tell her that he loves you. "True. That's why you should be afraid."
Her mother at a workbench; she watching nearby. Babies crawl along the floor. Mother reaches down, picks one up. She kneads its face, the skin yielding like clay. She molds and re-molds it, searching for the right grotesquerie, an artist of deformation. She sets it down, selects another, slams its head flat against the bench. From another she removes the genitalia. "What are you doing?" asks the Princess. She tosses the unwanted parts away, saying "How could you let this happen?"
She stands at her window. A bird lands upon the sill. It glide-hops to her bed. She watches the horizon. She turns inward. Upon her bed sits her father. He looks different. She runs and jumps on him. He collapses beneath her weight. She claws at his clothing, rips his tights. She raises her skirt to reveal her flesh. She pushes it inside of him, an inch at a time. She thrusts her hips forward harder. She takes him without knowing what taking means. She screams as her motions grow more frenetic. She awakens in her bed alone, blood upon her skirt.
Every day is the same. She awakens each morning when the dawn light reaches her bed. She washes and brushes her hair out to its full length. She watches the horizon through her telescope. Usually with curiosity. Occasionally with hope. She dreams of her future, of her past. Every day is like every other. Only the order varies.
(Andru Matthews lives in Brooklyn.)