The Little Prince
Her favorite thing is to read about the antics of the little prince who lives halfway around the globe. Yesterday — or would it be two days ago in his time zone? — he rode in a baroque open air carriage that looked like it belonged in a museum. When he stuck out his tongue at the press, his picture appeared magically all around the world. On Twitter, his eyes shone bright as a naughty bird’s. She’d had her own boy like that once. Justin. He’d slam the china cupboard door over and over, her treasures rattling and surging behind their glass windows. Shepherdesses and woodland creatures would tip precariously while he looked over his shoulder and laughed. When it’s too painful to remember him, she imagines the little prince in his stead, perhaps wearing a red velvet robe, or at least one of his quietly expensive brands. When he drops her teapot shaped like a cottage, seemingly on purpose, she doesn’t shake him but rather holds him close, stroking his helmet of golden hair. Letting him sob into her commoner’s shoulder, forgiving him as he, in another time, may one day forgive her.
Happily Ever After
Today the little prince has borrowed his nanny’s handbag and used it as a seat to ride down a damp and grassy hill. Next to the supermarket checkout line, she laughs aloud at the tabloid photo of him, legs sticking straight out, his minders dashing to catch him.
There’s a cough behind her, and she turns to find Justin’s high school counselor, Mr. Broderick. Somber. Cardiganed.
“How is he?” It’s like no time has passed. The years they’d spent trying to cajole Justin into going to class, finding a new “peer group,” joining a club. Anything.
“He’s great! Studying to be an EMT. He has a nice new girlfriend.”
She sees that Mr. Broderick, Daniel, knows she’s lying. Spinning the news. Decades of hearing high schoolers’ untruths have honed his powers to those of an ancient oracle.
“Well, tell him I said hi.” He turns sadly — disappointed in her, in Justin, in both of them — disappearing down the nearest aisle.
She’s still holding the tabloid when a woman peers over her shoulder. “He’s adorable, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” she replies. “He reminds me so much of my son.”
In a Land Far Away
She’s driving to a dental appointment when she hears on the radio that the little prince is in Angola.
“No,” she says to the Subaru’s dashboard, blurry through her sudden tears. “It’s not safe.”
She feels her heart thump until she thinks it will pop in and out of her chest, like a cartoon character’s.
Later, on the news, she watches the little prince dance in a circle with his hosts. They all smile and clap their hands, dust swirling in tiny tornadoes as they lift their feet. For a moment in time and place, the little prince is perfectly at home. The world watches him on his first goodwill mission while she Googles, “How long is the prince’s trip?” In reply, she sees many terrible, unjust things being asked and answered about such a young boy. She prints out a photo of the little prince as a ring bearer at his aunt’s wedding last summer and sticks it to her refrigerator, writing underneath, “Home October 15!”
A Century Ago
She hasn’t seen Justin in so long, what her own mother would have called “a donkey’s age.” One night she’d caught him taking cash from her purse. It was practically all she had left, after months of his emptying the house of anything of value, including her hope, until it was just the two of them, cheapened, bankrupt.
“I can’t live like this anymore. Get out and don’t come back,” she’d screamed in a new, witchy voice. How many times had she thoughts the words. But then asked herself, Where would he go? Who would want her sick and broken boy?
Justin had paused, his hand full of dollar bills. He was both large and gaunt, like a medieval executioner in his black hoody. Beyond the five o’clock shadow and dilated eyes, she’d seen the little boy frozen in time. The one who used to run his Matchbox cars gently up and down her back and arms, whispering, “Get in the car. I’m late for work.” The same one who on trips both short and long would fall asleep in his plush, elevated car seat, waiting for her kiss to wake him, then smiling up at her like she was the sun.
That night he’d strode to her in just a few steps — an angry giant — and given her a tremendous shove. She’d fallen backward and heard before she felt the bone break.
“Fine. I’m sick of this scene.” Justin had swept his arm around the house, encompassing its shabbiness, including her now beneath him. “You’re just dragging me down. That’s all you’ve ever done.”
He’d slammed the door so hard that the peephole window within it had shattered, leaving a child-sized view into their cursed kingdom.
At the ER, the doctor had set her wrist and given her a bottle of painkillers. After taking two pills, she’d said, “My son would love these.”
“Are you safe at home?” The doctor had looked at her, hard, through his large glasses.
When she’d begun to sob, everything had happened in a rush — a police report, a restraining order, a man changing the locks on her newly repaired door.
The next day it could have all been a dream if not for her arm in its cast. With her left hand she’d written in crude, childlike cursive, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. This is always your home.” She’d affixed the note to the door, where it would age, yellow, and fade, just like its author, until one day it was simply gone.
Once Upon a Time
There was a beautiful young mother with a flawless blowout who favored wedge heels, even though the Queen disliked them. She had three children, each as perfect as the next, like in a storybook, or maybe Facebook. Nothing ever went wrong in her world, except for funny, forgivable things, like minor wardrobe malfunctions such as a see-through skirt or a toddler’s brief tantrum, to which she’d respond by laughing joyfully. Her devoted husband would stay, her first-born son would, in due course, go, find a job as a prince or an EMT, and one day he will give her another perfect boy, so she can relive a child’s childhood all over again, the luckiest woman in all the land. This spell would never break, nor would any glass objects. Never would a silent car pull up outside her house, depositing a man all in black with a silver star over his heart. Never would he tell her that her child, sixty-three years old now, had been too far gone to be brought back. Never would this stranger hold her, patting her dowager’s hump as it quivered and shook like a dragon dying, for what to the universe was a nanosecond but to her seemed like forever and a day.