‘Not a Princess, But (Yes) There Was a Pea’, Rebecca Buchanan

Illustration © 2019 Carmen Moran

 [ Princess, © 2019 Carmen Moran ] There was a pea.
That much is true.

There was also a cat,
but he usually
gets left out of the story
(although he did make it
into the other one,
wearing boots
of all things).

And, yes, there was a storm,
and I was hungry and tired,
but I certainly wasn’t lost.

I knew exactly where I was.

Hard to miss that monstrosity
of a palace, even in the middle
of a storm. (It’s gone now.)

(More on that later.)

We spent weeks
trading and stealing
until we had enough silk
to make a dress. Not the finest
in the land, but enough to pass
muster when I was already
drenched and muddy.

No shoes. I lied and said
that I lost them in the storm,
after I was waylaid
by highwaymen who
made off with all my jewels
and all my horses and my coach.
And my coachmen.
And all my other clothes.
And my ladies-in-waiting.
(I even made up names for them.
Not that he asked.)

All that was left to me
was my cat, my sweet little kitty.
(Actually, he’s not sweet
at all, really, he’s rather bossy).

The King leered and groped
and invited me in.

(I would have stabbed
him in the throat, but that
would have ruined the plan
and, anyway, I didn’t have
a knife.)

He didn’t suspect a thing.

The Queen Mother did.
She was a smart one,
the rat-eyed hag.
Watched me the whole time.

All those hours and hours
of dancing lessons and elocution
lessons and history lessons and
which fork to use with the salad
lessons. Yeah. They came in handy.

(I tried not to stuff my face,
but I had been hungry
for a very long time.)

I kept the rapacious royal
and his rat-eyed mama distracted
while the cat made for the dungeon.

But the key wasn’t there.

No, the dungeon key was with the Queen.
Specifically, on her belt. The golden
belt with the golden lock that had
its own golden key. Which was …

(Damn mirror. Use the key,
it said. The golden key.
Never said anything
about having to find
the stupid thing.)

So the cat hunted.

And I stalled.

I danced and I laughed
and I praised his prowess in bed.
(Faked the orgasms.
Every. Single. One.)
I got between his fist
and the maid who spilled
his wine, and the valet
who missed a spot on his boots.
He decided that he liked
the blue of the bruises
against my skin.

For days and nights, I danced
and I laughed and I praised
and I faked,
bruises blossoming,
while my Papa and my Mama
and so many others
rotted in the dungeon.

the cat found the key.

Inside a pea.

He was quite proud
of himself. There was
no living with him,
after that.

The rat-eyed Queen
realized that it was missing
immediately. The only
place to hide it
was under the mattress
—the monstrous featherbed—
where I was loudly
entertaining her son.

Come the morning,
he went out to hunt some peasants.
Black and blue with bruises,
I pleaded off,
and went on my own hunt.

The cat never left my side.

We went room by room,
up stairs and down stairs,
through large doors and small
doors and hidden doors.
We finally found the Queen
way up in the tower
not quite as human
as she had been the night before.

A skinny bald tail
poked out from beneath
her fine silk dress, and
her teeth were too sharp
and too long.

The golden key, the mirror
had said.

I cracked the pea open
and she wailed,
her skin cracking, too.
Her fine silk dress
and her fine pampered flesh
fell away
and she was a rat again.

The cat took care of her
in a single bite.

(Now you know
where he got the idea
with the ogre.)

The golden key
from inside the pea
opened the golden lock
on her golden belt.

Keys of iron
and bronze and brass
spilled into my shaking hands.

The dungeon emptied.

The treasury liberated.

The guards fled.

The palace burned.

No one is quite sure
what became of the King
who was no longer a King.
There were rumors, of course:
he pissed off a fairy
and was turned into a beast,
or he pissed off a different fairy
and was cursed to dance in red hot shoes,
or he’s sitting somewhere
spitting up toads.
(That’s my favorite.)

The cat went off to have
adventures of his own. You
know at least one of them.
There were many more. He comes
back, every now and then, and
tells us stories of his adventures
out in the world
—me and Papa and Mama—
home again
in our little farmhouse
with the mirror above the hearth
and the golden key on my belt.

© 2019 Rebecca Buchanan

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