Written with my Thursday night group with the prompts: soaking it all up, whose feet would you wash, aren’t you hungry, do not listen to that person, not ready to sleep that sleep, prior work was painting fingernails, do not believe the news, should, time moving like a wave, the feel of spandex, man orchid, Gertrude the Goat, the princess and the honeybee
“When I was young,” the old woman told me, “they called me Princess Trudy. The minstrels wrote stories and songs about me. ‘The Princess and the Honeybee.’” She paused. “That was a popular one, supposed to prove how sweet I was. Even the bees and butterflies mistook me for a hibiscus or an orchid because I was so very very sweet.” She rolled her eyes. “It was all nonsense and propaganda!” She leaned in close. “Do not believe the news! Do not listen to the people who want to make you into some sappy paragon of virtue. You have to blaze your own trail! You have to be true to your own heart.”
I nodded, soaking it all up, but I was wary too. I was new at court, and I had to tread that narrow path, agreeing with everything my elders said without uttering a word that could come back to bite me. I cleared my throat. “Aren’t you hungry, m’lady?” I asked cautiously, delicately pushing a plate of apricots and almonds toward the queen’s great-aunt. “I could go to the kitchen for bread and meat,” I offered. “Or cake if you’d prefer.”
She narrowed her eyes and gnawed at the corner of her mouth. I held my breath, sure she was displeased. Suddenly she leaned forward and grasped a bit of my sleeve between her thumb and forefinger. “They’ve got you wearing spandex, don’t they? I can feel it. Don’t let them make you into something you’re not.”
I almost laughed. This curve hugging blouse and leggings wasn’t so bad. In my last job they had me painting fingernails and washing women’s feet. But I was told the queen liked me and I’d been plucked from the obscurity of the staff to serve as a type of entertainer—well, no, that’s not right. Actually I was to somehow help create the illusion that the royalty themselves were entertaining me. I was to listen with rapt attention, laugh at their jokes, sigh when they complained, compose a visage of awe when they dispensed advice, platitudes and trite adages. This last was a skill I had yet to master apparently, because when I raised my eyebrows in an attempt to look impressed, Princess Trudy snorted and threw up her hands. “They might as well have sent me a man orchid,” she grumbled, “for all the conversational skills you’ve got.”
“Forgive me, m’lady,” I began, “but I was told I should—”
“Forget the should!” she squealed. Then she deliberately lowered her voice to a near whisper. “Do you know they call me Gertrude the Goat?”
I did know that, but hardly felt it polite to admit it. “Oh, m’lady—”
“Do you know why?” she interrupted. “Do you know why they call me goat?”
“No—I don’t—” But before I could finish my sentence Old Princess Trudy had grown a snout and cloven hooves and long horizontal pupils in her amber brown eyes. I thought I would scream as she leapt spryly to her feet and shook her compact tail.
“What creature might you fancy?” she asked me, as her voice was still unchanged. Struggling to catch my breath I felt tufts of fur sprouting in my ears and cheeks. My cry of dismay came out in a screeching yowl as I watched my hands morph into cat’s paws.
“That’ll do,” Trudy said, “for one short evening.” She coughed and I could see her voice was becoming gruff. “Time is a wave moving through us. It won’t come again and I’m not ready to sleep that sleep.” She took a tentative jump forward as if testing out her new limbs. “C’mon, my heart’s companion. Let’s explore the night.” She headed for the window and I crept along behind.
Photo by Hannah Markley on Unsplash