Fairy-Tale Realism: long ago, not far from here…

 

 

“Daddy, I’m sick.”  He felt her forehead, and it was boiling.

“Damn, Joan, you have a fever.  I don’t think you should go to school today.”  She coughed twice and rolled over.  “Damn.  I’ll call your teacher.  Just stay in bed, and I’ll bring you some juice.”

Fifteen minutes later, he was off the phone and back in her room with a glass of orange juice.  As she drank, he ran his fingers through her hair.

“Daddy,” she asked him, “will you tell me a story?”

“Oh, honey, Daddy has a lot of work today.  Go back to sleep.  I’ll be right down the hall.”

In fifteen minutes, as she padded her way back from the only bathroom, she stuck her head up to the crack in the door leading to his office.  He was sitting at his desk– elbows on the dark, mahogany surface, head in his hands, fingers sticking through his hair.  The coffeepot on the floor was now empty, and there were already five cigarettes in his ash tray.

She pushed the door further open, and his face changed its grave expression to a smile.  “Can’t sleep?” he asked her.  She shook her head.  “I’ll tuck you back in bed.”

“Are you writing, Daddy?”  she asked, back in bed and tucked in.  Sitting on the side of the bed he snorted.  She knew that he had not been writing, had not been for many months.  “Tell me a story.”

“I may as well lose time in here as over there.”  She smiled and settled in bed.  “It all began a long time ago, not very far from here… There was a beautiful princess named Joan–”

“I don’t WAnna be a princess, I wanna be a knight.”

“Damn, sweetest, you’re always a knight.  This time you’re Daddy’s only princess.”

“I wanna be a knight!”

“Alright, alright, there once was a knight named Joan–”

“A BEAUTiful knight named Joan.”

He looked at her, intensely grumpy, but his eyes mischievously sparkled.  “A long time ago, not very far from here, there was a beautiful knight named Joan…

“She lived in a very small kingdom, surrounded by many other very small kingdoms.  Her village was the largest village in the land, and she had a great many friends.  Some were young; some were old.  Every day they would meet by the village well, to chat and swap gossip, to entertain themselves.

“‘Have you heard,’ said Joan’s friend Claire, ‘about the ogre that has taken over the castle on the other side of the lake?’  There were a great many castles in her kingdom, but the castle on the far side of the lake was the largest for many miles, and included in its parks the whole northern shore of the lake.  ‘The ogre killed everyone who lived inside that beautiful castle, but wickeder still, he hired the WORst interior decorator.’

“For her ninth birthday, Joan’s friends gave her a horse, and she named him Boa.  One day, she was out riding Boa, when she came across a very young man by the side of the road.  He was crying.  ‘Hey you,’ Joan said.  ‘What’s wrong?’

“‘My parents,’ he said.

“‘What could your parents have done to make you cry so?’

“‘They left me.  They abandoned me in this forest.  I’ve looked for them everywhere, but they must have hated me so much that they moved away.’

“Yheessshhh, thought Joan to herself.  This guy must be a real nuisance, if even his parents can’t stand him.  I want to help him, she thought, though I don’t want to be stuck with him for too long.  ‘Do you have any friends nearby that you could go to?’ she asked him.

“‘I guess so,’ he sniveled.  ‘The next village from here.’

“‘I tell you what,’ Joan said.  ‘You hop on the back of my horse and I’ll drop you off with them.’

“Boa galloped along the road– Joan wanted to finish her good deed quickly so she could go home and tell everybody at the well.  They passed through one town and when they finally reached the next village it was late in the afternoon.  Good, thought Joan, I’ll have just enough time to gallop home before dark.

“They road up to the house where the young man said his friends lived, but they weren’t at home.  Drat, Joan thought.  They sauntered toward the center of town, looking for his friends.  Soon, they noticed that there were no people in the town at all.

“They reached the town square, and no one was there, either.  ‘Creepy,’ Joan said aloud.  As Boa walked aimlessly across the square, they heard a long, faint cry.

“The young man jumped to the ground and pulled his rapier, turning this way and that.  Joan thought the source of the noise was in the direction of the church, so she urged Boa toward it.  As his footsteps fell closer and closer, another cry emanated from inside the open doors.  ‘Come on Boa,’ Joan whispered.  They were at the doors now, and Joan shielded her eyes from the external glare.

“She exhaled bitterly as a sharp sent reached her nose.

“Inside the cavernous church hall were the villagers.  Many were badly injured, and the unscathed attended to the wounded.  ‘What happened here?’ cried Joan.

“The minister came up to her and held her hand.  ‘The ogre from the north side of the lake,’ he explained.  ‘He was here, in this very forest.’

“‘Oh nooo,’ she cooed.  The young man entered through the church doors.  ‘I’m so sorry,’ Joan told him.

“‘What’s going on?’ he asked, trembling.

“‘It’s the Ogre,’ Joan said.  ‘He’s eaten your parents.’  The boy fell to the floor.  He was weeping and pounding his fists on the ground, but then flew into a tremendous  rage.  Jumping to his feet, he swore revenge, slashing the air with his rapier.

“‘You’ll help me, won’t you?’ he asked Joan, matter-of-factly.  She inhaled a long, ponderous breath scented with stale flesh.  How often in her village had she longed for adventure, for romance.  But this was very different.”

“Daddy, why do ALL your stories have so many DEAD people?”

“Because,” he told her, suddenly stern.  “That’s how the world is, sweetest.

“These people in the church were hurt.  And the young man was not her Prince Charming, that’s for certain.  He was not very assertive and none too bright.  Besides, his breath stunk.  She looked at the boy.  Charming or no, he had asked for her help.  ‘What’s your name?’ she asked him, making her decision.

“‘Vincent,’ he told her.”

 

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