From WTP Vol. V #3
By Kayla Miller
There was a mother and a father, naturally. They were King and Queen. They had children, too, of course. Naturally, they had children: two, of course. A boy and a girl. Our Prince and Princess.
Their royalty and royalties were vast—our children grew in a kingdom-sized palace with rooms of jade, gold, opal, silver. Each room was decorated solely in the gildings and solid architectures of its theme: bookshelves with intricate gold leafing and books with gold-edged pages, raised ceilings glinting silver with light thrown from silvered walls and shining silver sconces. The slightly-older Princess, almost an adolescent, most loved the room of turquoise; in it, the soles of her queenly shoes, all stiff and solid and polished, made the most satisfying tap-tap against the turquoise floor. The walls were coated in an aquamarine glaze. The Princess spun slow and heavy-footed in the room’s center, imagining sun through layered water, mermaid tails, burgundy hair that shimmered and floated in the current.
Our Prince was dark-eyed and quiet and did little dancing. His pale skin was moonly beneath the almost-black of his hair, hitting just above observant eyes and obscuring his eyebrows, which could be thick and unruly or nonexistent. The Prince was young, young enough to suck his royal thumb for comfort, a wet and warm bodily reassurance when atmospheres felt less predictable and safe. Young enough to do so without scorn, but kingly enough to roam about his home unwatched and unburdened on free days, his socks rolled high to his knees and his pants free of wrinkles.
The slightly-younger Prince preferred the room of opal. He sensed it was also the Queen’s favorite bejeweled room, though this knowledge did not influence his partiality. The room in its entirety was opal, its streaks of color dancing with your eye and the movement of light. White and reflective chandeliers of opal hung from the ceiling, which boasted an an ornate display of sculpted opal, shining fields of flowers and strong-growing trees and vines with beautiful and perfect leaves sprouting from them like the tiniest buds. The floor mirrored the ceiling above, a smooth polished tile of opal, reflecting the chandelier’s many lights and skipping them across ivory and opal walls. Our Prince sat dwarfed on a white chaise across from the ivory fireplace, sucked his thumb and thought manly thoughts, his eyes following the pearlescent curvature of the room.
The two children wanted. They wanted what they weren’t yet allotted, or were never to claim. Our Princess longed for her child-sized tiara—the most beautiful object in their home, she was sure, and rightfully hers. Her parents kept their bejeweled headgear in glass cases on the opal room’s ivory mantle. Our Prince most wanted the peacocks—two albino peacocks caged in the room of opal, snowy and otherworldly, their feathered fans all shocking white and necks so long and proud and eyes that burned black.
One night, the Prince bit his thumb as he slept with it pressed to the roof of his mouth. He woke to the steak-like meatiness of his limp thumb on his tongue, the taste of blood tangy against his cheeks. He licked the thumb clean and slipped out of bed, called by the quiet and dark of the house, its stillness and silence beguiling, a warm bath. He tiptoed to his sister’s room, feet noiseless on the bedroom wing’s plush carpeting. The Princess sat awake and wide-eyed in bed, her breath inaudible. She watched the door to her bedroom open and saw her kingly brother silhouetted against the less-solid darkness of the hallway. He walked to her silently, placed his free hand on her shoulder, the other still at the mercy of his anxious, sucking mouth. Our Princess thought how small the little king’s hand felt against her shoulder, her body only a few years older than his but so much more. She said nothing but put her soft hand into his and let him lead, his eyes more adjusted to the black; out of the bedroom and down the hallway, through a thick doorway and down the stairwell, into the hall, down another hallway.
Our children did not rush, but moved spryly, like springy little cats or wind-up toys or tiny acrobatic monkeys that dance and play carnival music. They were quiet and breathed normally; they did not appear afraid or tense when they crossed the threshold into the room of opal. Still hand-in-hand, the young Princess and younger Prince moved in tandem towards the far end of the room, the opal more muted in the dark, shining in a way that was less like shining and more like something else. Our Prince sucked his thumb and thought glowworm.
Before the fireplace, their hands broke open and the Princess walked forward alone. The little king watched with big dark eyes. Their white skin looked ghostly against all that blue-white opal. She climbed atop the chaise with bare feet, cold now from the opal floor. Behind the pair, the tile glinted a steamed-footprint-trail where their warm feet walked. The Princess lifted the glass case surrounding her delicate tiara, set it on the ivory mantle, and crowned herself Queen of Opal. She smiled in the dark room, but no one saw it.
She replaced the cover and turned to her brother’s smaller but sturdier and equally jeweled crown. The slick of her nervous palms and oily fingers nearly caused her to drop the glass. Our Princess again placed the covering on the mantle soundlessly and removed the little king’s crown. Leaving this case open, the Princess descended and returned to her watching brother.
The Princess did not ask him to bow or kneel. She placed the gold band solidly around his almost-black hair and thought him a King. In the dark, the young Prince’s almost-black eyes shone.
Crowned, our children turned from the fireplace to the oversized birdcages housing those royal peacocks. The animals slept soundly, with eyes closed but expressions smug, crisp white feathers looking almost blue in the dark. This time, it was our young King who reached out a hand, stepped forward without accompaniment, and unlocked first one, then the other birdcage, fancy and multistoried houses much taller than himself. The birds stirred; he did not open the doors. The animals roused, rose and stretched their necks, looked at each other through their bars, looked at the crowned little man before them, stretched again. Our King swung both doors open simultaneously and silently and the beasts stepped out in one movement, all grace and glowworm and ballet.
The peacocks were poised and incredibly well-trained. Reins of diamonds hung from their beaks. The little King held them while his sister outfitted the birds in stirrup-ed saddles made of white leather. Our children mounted the all-white birds, the spray of cream-colored feathers behind them shiny-soft in the room of opal, their jeweled reins and jeweled riders sparkling dully, but not so dull that the King and Princess did not notice their own stardom. We are beautiful, they thought.
The two rode the animals at a trot, the birds’ spindle-legs more silent than even their child-sized feet had been on the carpeted halls. The birds were purchased through back channels and trained for showmanship such as this, so their cracked feet did not buckle under the children’s weight. Together they crossed the full length of the enormous palace, moving through spaces of various diameters and with varying purposes, in and out of great rooms and parlors and through two kitchens, one smaller than the first, until the troupe reached the ballroom.
Tucked into the saddles were white leather whips with white-gold handles. Our King and our Princess stilled at the ballroom’s entrance and brandished their whips like swords. They thrashed the birds lightly at the start. The royal peacocks did not screech but instantly reacted, moved like water, all swiftness and elegance and soft sounds. The ballroom seemed infinitely long to the unlaughing children. The birds raced neck-and-neck. The floor-to-ceiling windows of the room let moonlight in. It hit the jewels of their crowns, the shininess of their royal hair, the spark of diamond reins and black eyes in albino peacock skulls. Our children thrashed their birds harder, each moving at a breakneck pace but equally matched and without a clear frontrunner, so our children lashed harder, until white feathers began to fly about them in the animals’ wake, drifting like dust motes through the air. Until the red of peacock blood began to mix with the blanched white of feathers; until the white leather whips dripped as they sailed through the air, stained on the ends like a dip-dye job. Their whips lashed until they lashed not the all-white of bird hide but the bleached-white of bone.
Nearing the ballroom’s other end, first her bird, then his, collapsed. Our Princess did not allow herself to fall. She was slightly older, after all, and thought to jump off the bird when she felt it dying beneath her. Our King bumped to the ground on his backside, faltered slightly and tipped backwards into a bit of blood. He righted himself as the peacock made its last life noise. The little man wrapped chubby hands around his gold crown and returned it to his head, raised himself on little man legs and wiped small flecks of blood from his pants. Stood straight as he could, popped his thumb back into his mouth, and, ignoring the white garbage bags of the birds’ bodies, moved towards his chambers.
That night, the children slept as they always did: royally.
Kayla Miller’s chapbook, See & Be Seen & Be Scene, won Five Quarterly’s e-chapbook competition in 2014, the Talbot International Award and Janef Newman Preston Prize for Fiction. Her work has appeared in the Tahoma Literary Review, Canyon Voices, and Gravel Magazine.