Tiny Prince

From In a Wide Coun­try. Pub­lished by Cor­morant Books in 2017. Everettgreen’s short fic­tion has won a sil­ver Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award and his short non­fic­tion ap­pears reg­u­larly in the Globe and Mail. He lives in Mon­treal.

Geist - - Findings - ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN

Oh crap. Jasper, look at this thing.” Corinne held out the two pieces of the makeup com­pact that had come apart in her hands. She was sit­ting at her mir­rored van­ity in the semi-fur­nished flat we rented in Win­nipeg, in the spring of 1960.

I peered at the co­ral-coloured plas­tic, and the wire spring. “The hinge is busted.”

“It’s al­most brand new!” She shook the pieces at the van­ity glass in both fists, with a fierce look on her face, as if she were an­gry with her­self and not the man­u­fac­turer. Then she threw the mir­rored part on the car­pet. “I can still use the makeup,” she said. “Put that in the Drawer of Shame.”

I picked up the mir­ror and cupped it in my palm. I liked the way my mother’s com­pacts felt in the hand, the way they sprang open, the muf­fled click they made when they closed. It had taken many slaps from her to con­vince me not to flip one open and shut like a cas­tanet, not to fon­dle the soft pad or poke the cake of skin-coloured makeup with my dirty fin­ger­nail.

I car­ried the mir­ror to the kitchen, where we re­served a drawer for things that were ugly or dis­ap­point­ing: an un­flat­ter­ing photo, a bro­ken toy, or a dress pat­tern that hadn’t worked out. The Drawer of Shame also held things Corinne dis­liked on sight, which she some­times swiped to in­clude in the col­lec­tion. I had mixed feel­ings about putting the mir­ror por­tion of the com­pact in there, but at least I would see it again when we sorted the drawer, as we some­times did, dis­card­ing items that no longer meant any­thing.

I re­turned to Corinne’s room, where she was fas­ten­ing her hair back with a big tor­toise-shell clip. She in­spected her re­flec­tion with a cool, ap­prais­ing eye, as if the face there be­longed to some­one else, then be­gan brush­ing things onto her skin.

I of­ten lurked around when Corinne got ready for work, watch­ing her in the mir­ror or draw­ing pic­tures, usu­ally of war­riors bristling with ar­mour and ready for bat­tle. The de­lib­er­ate rhythm of her makeup rit­ual had a calm­ing ef­fect on both of us. It was a good time for talk­ing, and es­pe­cially for telling her any­thing bad.

“I spilled Coke on the car­pet,” I said. Corinne stroked a soft brush against the closed lid of one eye, as if try­ing to smooth away an in­vis­i­ble mark.

“It’s not our car­pet,” she said ab­sently to the mir­ror. “Throw a rag on it.” She dabbed the brush on the nar­row cake of eye­shadow, and leaned in to do the other eye.

“They’re your shoes,” I said. “On the car­pet. Where the Coke spilled.”

Some­thing be­tween a sigh and a grunt is­sued from her throat. The brush con­tin­ued its over­lap­ping strokes, from the eye’s in­ner cor­ner to the edge of the brow bone. “So wet a rag,” she said slowly, “and wipe them off.” Her lips moved like those of a per­son drop­ping off to sleep. “Lit­tle mucker.”

The min­eral-lipped bath­tub spout coughed cold wa­ter onto the rag. I wiped the patent leather pumps that lay on the car­pet out­side the bath­room, and pushed the rag down the slope of the in­ner sole, where the Coke was al­ready dry­ing into a sticky lac­quer. The steep arch of those gleam­ing high heels was per­ma­nently fas­ci­nat­ing to me, as was the creamy, pop­corn-scented sole, from which her heel had ground away the sil­ver script of the maker’s name.

I left the rag on the car­pet and re­turned to the draw­ing I had started on the floor next to her chair.

“There’s noth­ing to do,” I said. “You’re do­ing some­thing.”

“I’m sick of draw­ing. Tell me some­thing.”

With a finer brush, Corinne ap­plied a lighter tone to the crease above the eye­lid. “Tell you some­thing,” she mur­mured at the glass. “Like a story, you mean.” She licked her fin­ger and smoothed the eye­shadow tones to­gether, then drew in the eye­brow, thicker, longer and more arched than it re­ally was.

“Once there was a boy who was very small,” she said. “He was no big­ger

than his fa­ther’s nose. He never grew, no mat­ter what he ate. The farmer took him to the fields on the brim of his cap. But a gi­ant came and snatched the boy away, and car­ried him off to his cas­tle.”

She leaned in and drew the other eye­brow, slowly and silently. She took so long about it that I al­most thought she had played a trick on me and ended the story with the kid­nap­ping.

“The gi­ant’s wife fed the boy from her own breast,” she said. “He grew and grew un­til he was a gi­ant him­self. He ran away back to his par­ents, who were fright­ened to see a gi­ant com­ing through the for­est. He did all his fa­ther’s work, and brought his mother cart­loads of flow­ers in his arms. But he was so big, he emp­tied the larder in two bites. When he slept, his body filled the house. His par­ents went hun­gry and had to sleep out­side. My shoes had bet­ter not be sticky.”

“They’re not,” I said, but scam­pered back and again pushed the damp rag

down to the point of the toe.

“When the boy woke up, his par­ents were gone,” Corinne said. “He caught up with them as they ran across a bridge. He stepped in the wa­ter to stop them, and shrank back to his tiny size. He floated away, and was swal­lowed by a fish.”

She spat on the black cake of her mas­cara, made a few quick cir­cles on it with the brush, then dragged the bris­tles the length of her eye­lashes, sev­eral times. I started an­other war­rior.

“The king’s fish­er­man caught the fish and brought it to the palace,” she said. “When they cut it open, the boy popped out. The king was so amazed, he adopted him and made him a prince. The boy was happy, but told the king he would be hap­pier still if he could see his aunt and un­cle. The king sent a golden coach with six white horses to find them, with­out know­ing they were the par­ents. I thought you were sick of draw­ing.”

“I’m do­ing the prince,” I lied.

Corinne took a red makeup pen­cil and drew the out­line of her lips. The mouth she drew was bet­ter than her own, big­ger and more shapely. Not for the first time, I thought of how won­der­ful life would be if I could draw a bet­ter me.

“The coach brought the par­ents to the cas­tle,” she said, her draw­ing com­pleted, the lips still pale be­tween the lines. “When they saw the tiny prince on his throne, they bowed down low. He touched them on the shoul­der, and said ‘Arise! I am your son.’ ‘Our son is drowned,’ said the fa­ther, and be­gan to cry. Each tear be­came a di­a­mond as it fell.”

Corinne wound her lip­stick up from its cylin­der, and daubed on the colour.

“The prince gath­ered up the diamonds and gave them to his mother,” she said. “When they touched her skin, they be­came tears again. She knew he was her son af­ter all.”

She took a pa­per tis­sue and pressed it be­tween her lips, and pulled the comb from her hair. Some­thing about the tone of her last words told me the story was fin­ished.

“Was the king an­gry?” I said. “Did the par­ents get to stay in the cas­tle?”

“How should I know? They were happy, that’s all. When peo­ple are happy, the story’s over. Now scoot so I can do my hair.”

She brushed her hair, briskly as she usu­ally did, tear­ing at it from the roots. I went out and closed the door against the com­ing clouds of hair­spray, which made me sneeze. I picked up the Coke bot­tle that still lay on the rug where I had knocked it over near the shoes, tapped the mouth of the empty bot­tle against one glossy toe, and said “Arise!” A few last drops rolled onto the patent leather, and shone there like black pearls.

When Corinne came out, I zipped her into her dress. She gave me a long, close hug, as she of­ten did af­ter mak­ing her­self up. Fresh makeup al­most al­ways put her in a good mood, or at least a bet­ter one. Her heart beat through the cloth, and the sharp, sweet scents of hair­spray and per­fume set­tled around me.

“We need to go some­where and see about a modelling job,” she said. “Sounds bor­ing.”

“Tough luck. We won’t be long, and we’ll go for sup­per with Dean right af­ter.”

I trudged out to the car and sat so low in the pas­sen­ger seat, my eyes were level with the bot­tom of the win­dow. We had an old Sun­beam then, an ugly car that coughed blue smoke.

“Are you go­ing to sulk the whole way?” Corinne said.

“Not if you tell me the rest of what hap­pened.”

“There’s never enough for you, is there?”

We drove sev­eral blocks in si­lence. The green metal un­der the win­dow vi­brated against my cheek­bone.

Corinne took a cig­a­rette from her clasp purse, and pushed the car lighter in. “Okay,” she said. “The par­ents are at the cas­tle and ev­ery­one’s happy. But the gi­ant comes, and lays siege to get the boy back. The king goes to the cas­tle wall and shouts, ‘We’ve got food for a month. You’ll starve first.’”

She let this sce­nario sink in till the lighter popped out, then lit her cig­a­rette with the glow­ing coil.

“The gi­ant starts throw­ing big stones over the cas­tle wall,” she said. “The first one crushes a dog. The sec­ond kills an ox. The third knocks a big hole in the throne room. The prince jumps on a mouse, and rides out to stop the gi­ant.”

“How could he stop him?”

“Give him­self up. But he doesn’t get to the gi­ant. The mouse runs for a crack in the cas­tle wall, and a cat pounces. You can guess what hap­pens next.”

I had seen barn cats with the mice they caught dash­ing through the straw. They left only the tail, and maybe the hind legs. “What about the prince?” I said. “That’s up to the cat, don’t you think?” We stopped at a light. A lit­tle girl was cross­ing with her mother, skip­ping on her skinny legs, her hand hid­den in her mother’s white cot­ton glove.

“I don’t like this part of the story,” I said.

The light changed, and we moved on. Corinne took an­other drag on her cig­a­rette. “What if the cat’s ac­tu­ally a witch?”

“That’s not bet­ter,” I said, with a tight feel­ing in my chest.

“Say she’s a good witch. She could carry the prince over the wall, and make him a gi­ant again. He could fight it out with the big lug.”

“Just tell me the story the way it’s sup­posed to be.”

“What­ever that is,” she said. “I told you that al­ready and you didn’t like it.” She was get­ting an­noyed. “Look, for­get this bit. Go back to what it was. They’re all at the cas­tle. There’s no gi­ant, ev­ery­one’s happy. The end.”

But I couldn’t go back. The boy was off his throne. The cat was af­ter him. The end­ing had un­rav­elled into some­thing bloody left in the straw, or a fight with a gi­ant that might be just as bad.

I would know bet­ter next time. I wouldn’t ask for more, af­ter an end­ing that was good enough.

Con­trol Room by Michael Love. From the pho­to­graphic se­ries The Diefen­bunker. Love is a pho­tog­ra­pher whose work has been pub­lished in Next Level, Pre­fix Photo and Black­flash mag­a­zines. He lives in Van­cou­ver.

Of­fice by Michael Love. From the pho­to­graphic se­ries The Diefen­bunker.

Amerikakoku. By Yoshi­tora Uta­gawa, 1865. Ja­panese trip­tych print shows view in Amer­ica of a crowd gath­er­ing to watch a bal­loon as­cen­sion. Li­brary of Congress.

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