art by Shothot Designs
Some Day My Prince Will Go
by Sheila Crosby
It was pretty scary watching the witch sing "Happy Birthday".
Instead of being pursed in disapproval as usual, her mouth stretched into a smile so wide it made me think of strychnine. Meanwhile her eyes stayed as cold and unblinking as a hawk, with a nose to match. She wore the inevitable silky blouse, twenty years out of date and buttoned right up to her wrinkled neck, but today it was little-girl pink. Even her trousers were pink. The outfit clashed hideously with her strident plum hair, and I couldn't help thinking it was going to get stained when she shinnied down the tower.
"Here's your present, Darling."
Surprise, surprise, it was yet another book of fairy tales about princesses being rescued by princes. Very tactful considering how long I'd been waiting for my own prince.
As soon as the witch left, I dumped it with all the others, and went to the tower window to gaze out over the sea of heather. I was thirty. I wasn't left on the shelf so much as stuck up the tower, haunted by the mistakes of my youth. Whoever heard of a middle-aged princess being rescued?
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I was so deep in my brown study that it took some time for the wailing to register. Then, of course, I assumed that it was some new sorcery from the witch. But all I could see was a bicycle, groaning under a fat man, approaching from the East. Not a prince, then, unless some princes didn't have white horses or Harley Davidsons. Could a commoner rescue me? Even a life washing socks had to be better than mouldering in this stupid tower.
To my delight the bicycle came closer, until I could see that the man wore a rucksack. He also had a bald spot. I didn't care. I dashed off to touch up my make up and cram myself into a corset, followed by the golden ball gown. Right. Where were those toe-crushing stiletto heels? I had to look cool.
He reached the foot of the tower and stopped with a final squeal of brakes. Then he put one foot on the ground and one meaty hand over his heart. "Rapudzel, Rapudzel, let dowd your log hair."
There was no sign of the witch, so I spiked my hair on the hook by the window and let my plait snake to the ground. My rescuer let go of his rusty bike and began to climb.
He was heavy. Hook or no hook, his weight brought tears to my eyes, so that I could barely see him sway from one side of the plait to the other. Eventually he heaved himself through the casement and collapsed on the floor, gasping.
I sucked my stomach in, pushed my chest out, and surveyed my dream come true. He wore an orange T-shirt with ketchup stains and purple jogging pants with baggy knees; wives could fix dress-sense. Beer belly; oh well. Protruding eyes, chapped lips and a drippy nose; he obviously had a terrible cold, so perhaps he didn't realize that he smelt of fish.
Eventually he sat up and started searching for a hanky. Then he ignored the one I was offering and wiped his nose on his sleeve. I pushed my chest out again as he rolled up onto one knee. "Rapudzel, I am prince Jeffrey. I hab heard of your beauty frob afar, and I hab come to rescue you."
My back ached from posing. "The sooner the better. It's amazingly boring up here."
His brow furrowed with unaccustomed thought. "But I hab rescued you."
Oh dear, another stupid one. I forced a smile. "No you haven't. I'm still up here."
"Oh. Id the bidstrels songs, the prince climbs up and thad's thad."
I'd always assumed that I'd marry whoever rescued me, as princesses do, but I was beginning to have serious doubts about spending the rest of my life with a man as dim as a dinosaur. Kick Jeffrey's shin on Monday morning and he wouldn't say "Ow!" until Thursday lunch.
He finished his Jurassic thought process and said, "Why don't we go through to the bedroob and you can idspire me."
My body recoiled. The wedding was off. I absolutely couldn't share a bed with this oaf.
"Come od. You must be gagging for id after all those years alode up here."
I began to babble. "No, no, I really don't think that's proper and the witch might arrive here any second and I really think--"
"You need me. You can't escape widdout me." He grabbed my behind with both hands and yanked me close. I was still trying to shove him away when his chapped lips slobbered over mine.
I found myself pushing at air. Jeffrey had gone. I looked down to see a yellow-bellied frog with a drippy nose hopping about on grubby T-shirt, leggings and long-johns.
"Rubbit," said Jeffrey.
"Oh no, not again!" I wailed.
I gingerly picked him up and put him in the bath with the other six.
This was less fun than chewing aluminum foil. I waited months for a prince to appear, and every time, I got a frog. I might be stuck here forever. I couldn't escape by myself.
Sez Jeffrey. Sez the witch.
Oh well, you couldn't get much clearer than that.
I wasn't going to climb down anywhere in these stupid clothes. Off went the jewel-encrusted gown and the toe-pinching stilettos. On went Jeffrey's disgusting rags, with numerous safety pins to compensate for my lack of beer gut. Presumably the pong would fade in the open air.
I grabbed the nail-scissors and hacked off my plait at the nape.
The frogs gave an outraged chorus of "Ribbit!" and "Rubbid!"
"Don't be silly. I can't climb down my hair while I'm still attached to it."
Freed from the weight, the remaining hair felt as though it was standing on end. I peered at myself in the mirror. No, it was just a raggedy bob. I trimmed it as best I could. It would be wonderful not to have to wash, comb, and plait thirty feet of hair.
I dithered over the frogs. They had tried to save me, however ineptly, so on went rubber gloves and I loaded them into one of the witch's lunch baskets, then took them over to the window, dragging my plait.
I hesitated. Now that I was thinking of climbing down myself, the ground looked a lot further away.
I took a deep breath. I'd wasted twelve years waiting for rescue, and I wasn't going to let a few heebie-jeebies stop me now. I spiked my hair on the hook, tied the frog basket to the other end, and lowered it. When my plait hung strait, the basket dangled six feet above the ground. I'd just have to jump, and hope I didn't break my ankle. I imagined lying there, moaning, when the witch arrived.
I'd just have to imagine something else.
My hair was slippery, but I managed to control the slither well enough to land with nothing worse than a bruised rump.
Why hadn't I done this years ago?
Because I'd been waiting for someone else to do it for me. Anyway, what mattered was now. The cold wind numbed my face. Freedom at last!
I untied the frog basket and set off north, because the witch always came from the south. Walking was harder work than I'd expected, and as soon as I got out of sight of the tower I flopped down for a breather. I picked a sprig of heather. From the top of the tower the heather had always looked like one solid mass, green in spring, mauve in high summer, and rusty brown in autumn and winter. Now I could see that the mauve was made of thousands of tiny flowers, each with a darker line around the bell, and mine had a minuscule orange spider crawling--
"And just where do you think you're going, young lady!"
The witch stood there, arms akimbo and lips pressed together in a thin, angry line. She'd changed into her usual black power suit and white blouse, leaving her hair and scarlet lips as the only color. I felt tiny and overwhelmed.
The witch folded her arms and tapped her foot. "Well? Cat got your tongue?"
"I... I..." A tide of depression and defeat rolled over me. Then I thought, This is ridiculous. I turned seven princes into frogs and got down from the tower by myself. I can at least try to face her down. I took a deep breath and stuck my chin out. "I'm going to get myself a life."
"Oh no, you're not. It isn't decent. You're going back to that tower to wait for your prince."
"I'm sick of waiting."
"Tough! How else do you expect to meet a prince?"
"If they're all like the ones I've met, then I'd rather do without."
The witch's mouth opened in a big, scandalized "O." "You can't do without! The world isn't safe."
I felt cold. "If you try to stop me, I'll... I'll... I'll kiss you!"
"What? Yes please." The witch puckered up. It was about as inviting as a traffic accident.
"But you'll turn into a frog."
She doubled over, cackling with laughter. Eventually she gasped, "You think you turned them into frogs? Oh, that's priceless."
She snorted. "No, no. They were pretty much frogs to start off with. They only looked like princes because that's how they saw themselves. I just arranged for a kiss to show the truth."
So much for dreams! "So aren't there any real princes?"
"Of course there are. You're a real princess, aren't you?"
"Right." I tipped the frog basket upside down. "Hop it. Go find yourselves a pond."
The frogs gathered in a circle round my feet, looking up at me. "Ribbit. Rubbid." I spotted Jeffrey's yellow belly. His eyes were soft and pleading.
The witch sneered. "Oh I wouldn't let them go, dear. There's a French restaurant in the village that pays rather well for frogs legs."
The air briefly filled with leaping frogs, then they were gone.
The witch smirked. "You see, you haven't a clue about the world. You're not ready to be on your own."
I bit my lip. "I won't learn any more up that tower. I'm going."
"But it isn't safe." She gave me the look that had frozen my resistance for as long as I could remember, something midway between a sneer and a glare.
In spite of the sun, I felt cold all over. What if she was right? "I'm not all that safe in the tower either. What if a decent prince never comes? I'm thirty already. I could die of old age up there." I wished my voice wasn't so wobbly. "And what if something happens to you? I'm off. I've got to make my own life."
She wailed, "But I'll worry about you."
I hesitated, wondering whether she really cared, or whether she was just manipulating me. I needed the truth. My insides twisted, but I darted forward and kissed the witch.
She didn't turn into a dragon, or even a frog. She looked younger, and sad, and scared. Her black power suit faded into a daisy-print summer frock and her plum bob turned into brown hair curling round her shoulders.
Dim memories stirred. I'd played pat-a-cake with this woman. She'd told bedtime stories, cuddling me. Only then I'd barely reached to her hip. I must have been... three?
The jigsaw clicked into place. "You're my mother!"
"As good as."
"You adopted me?"
She rolled her eyes. "Of course I did. Your birth mother was in a panic about some silly curse. Why else would I go to such trouble to keep you safe? Now you're coming home, with me, right now."
"Home? That tower's a prison."
"You ungrateful brat! I only gave you the best --satellite TV, organic food--" She broke off with a sob, tears in her eyes.
I stared with my mouth open. All these years she'd been taking care of me.
Protecting me from life. As far as she was concerned, I was going only one place: on a guilt trip.
I gave her a tissue. "I'm still going. I don't need your permission any more than I needed a prince."
"But I'll be all alone!"
"I'll write," I promised. "Give me your email address."
"Promise?" The witch looked up, tear tracks running down her cheeks like snail trails.
She handed me a business card
Princess Protection Service
Princess Protection Service
I put the card in my pocket and gave her a quick hug. Then I headed down to the village, sure I'd make a lot more mistakes and kiss a lot more frogs.
It was going to be great.
This story was first published on Monday, November 22nd, 2010
Sheila Crosby is a British author who fell into a teleport and found herself in the Spanish Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco. Luckily she loves it there. As an adolescent, Sheila was considered an extreme feminist because she went around saying things like, "Women should be allowed to do any job they're capable of doing, and get paid exactly the same as a man for doing it." Things have changed a lot since the 1970s, but Sheila still thinks the traditional version of Rapunzel is a stupid story.
- Sheila Crosby
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