‘Can we drive by the Princess House today?” the little girl asked as she pulled on her spring coat. They were already late for school and the house in question would add another five minutes onto their drive. “PLEASE can we see it?” the little girl begged, spinning around in the front hall to make her school jumper twirl ever so slightly. The mother agreed and set to work getting her daughter, her school bags, and her own mother into the car. It had been a month since her mother had moved in with them after her father had died and she still wasn’t comfortable leaving her home alone, even for 20 minutes.
“Now, what is the princess serving for dinner tonight?” the mother asked as she backed out of the driveway. It was the same routine every time. “Pizza” the little girl responded after giving it some thought “and ice cream cake.” The grandmother smiled a faint smile as she remembered the roast beef his mother used to make when she knew she would be by for dinner. Dripping with juices and roasted with onions and carrots. She had never been able to recreate it.
“And what does the living room look like today” the mother continued their routine, they would go through each room in the house before they even passed the boarded up old mansion. “The walls are pink and there are lace curtains” the little girl said without even pausing. The walls were always pink; everything should be pink in the little girl’s mind. She was right about the curtains, her grandmother thought; they were his great grandmothers curtains. She brought them from Ireland, his mother was so proud of them. “You’ll hang these in your own home someday” she would tell her.
“What is the princess wearing today?” The game went on. The little girl listed off dresses that would be worn to play, to eat, to the ball. A princess must go to a ball every night of course. Her grandmother smiled and every so often offered an encouraging “that’s nice” but as the streets became more and more familiar she wished she had fought to stay home. To sit alone with her book in her attic bedroom. A place unfamiliar but it was the lack of memories that she craved at this moment. To feel nothing, to want nothing, to just be. After eighty years she did not know how to be alone.
They turned the corner down the tree lined street. “There it is!’ the little girl cried, “There’s the princess house!” The dilapidated Victorian sat covered in No Trespassing signs. Half of the shutters had fallen off and there was a hole in its once stately roof. The window panes were cracked and ivy was quickly sneaking in, searching its halls for anything to latch on to.
The mother slowed down. She knew that the rest of the world would pass this house by but to her daughter it was a castle. “That’s the princess’s room!” The young girl decided, pointing to a group of windows on the turret. Her grandmother almost corrected her and told her that was actually the bathroom, but she wasn’t so sure it was anymore. She wasn’t sure of what anything was anymore. “And in the back there, that’s where she keeps her horse” she gestured to nothing in particular but if one squinted, and really thought hard, the collapsed shed could have been a stable. “And the porch!” the porch was the little girls favorite. It wrapped around the corner of the house, somehow still as strong and beautiful as the day it was built while the rest of the house crumbled around it. “That’s where the princess has her tea parties and every prince in the country comes but only one is her prince charming.”
Her prince charming. Her grandmother had kissed her own prince charming on that porch for the first time. It was on that porch that she sat in the long gone swing with him and he told her that when he had saved up enough money he was going to ask her to marry him. Where they talked about where they would hang their curtains and holidays where she would cook his mother’s roast beef.
It was also on that porch that he told her he no longer loved her, that he was moving across the country and that this was the best for the both of them. That she deserved better. She didn’t want anything better, she wanted him.
It was on that porch two weeks later that she gave his mother a basket of freshly baked cookies, a seemingly meaningless token of grief for a son killed in a car crash a day after setting out to find himself. On that porch that she saw those curtains had been replaced by heavy drapes, blocking out the light from a house that had lost its soul. It was on that porch that she hugged his parents goodbye for the last time, wishing them well and promising to keep in touch. She walked off that porch and never said another word to them. Never telling them about the child inside her. Never letting them know about her princess who would grow up knowing the wrong king.
Marianna Bogucki is a lifelong Lawrence resident. She works at Princeton University, where she has begun to explore writing as a hobby through the Princeton Writes program. She was the winner of the 2015 Princeton Writes staff essay contest and also tries to maintain a blog. In her spare time she enjoys playing softball and exploring parks with her dog, Rory.