Based on The Pink, collected by the Grimm brothers. The original is an Aarne-Thompson type 652, The Boy Whose Wishes Always Come True.
One moment, I existed.
The moment before that I wasn’t even a thought. It’s a different thing, to not exist. It’s not all nothingness, that’s for sure. Nothing is something, if it’s the absence of it. It wasn’t all that jarring to suddenly be, but my mind was full with being around finite things, with just being. I wasn’t, then I was. I wondered if, from then on I couldn’t ever not have been.
The first words I heard were that I was so beautiful a painter couldn’t do my face justice. I didn’t know how to respond to that, for various reasons. Then the man who’d spoken patted a boy on the head and wandered off. The boy and I stared at each other. I wiggled my fingers and toes, not ready to look at them yet. I think we stood there a while, regarding each other. Something friendly broke through the boy and he took my hand and showed me around.
I learned we were children, of about the same age. He chattered at me about how he’d been stolen, his mother framed for negligence and locked away. The castle and grounds we walked had been asked for by the captor and wished into existence by the boy. It turned out I’d been wished for as well, to be a friend and playmate.
“I’m glad you turned out pretty,” he told me.
So we bided time, living a lazy existence not really worthy of itself. We rode horses, I gathered flowers while we walked the gardens, I took up needlework. I liked needlework, because I could pretend to create things, when I was really just transmuting thread into designs, flat fabric into dimensional, purposeful shapes. My work scattered around the house, marking the passing of time as a runner laid itself across the table, a cloth appeared over a basket of bread, doilies insinuated themselves under vases and knick-knacks.
I realised early on that my own position in the castle was on par with the aprons I made—we both were fancy things created to ease the wear of daily life on more valuable things. I listened to the prince talk and did not ask aloud why we lived here with his abductor when he knew his mother lived in punishment for the supposed death of her child. Sometimes the prince said he missed his father, but I don’t know if he meant it.
There were no servants. Meals appeared, rooms became clean when you looked away, dust never collected and the gardens tended to themselves. We didn’t see much of the man; he was always out hunting, or studying maps, or flowers, or something.
There were originally no books in the castle, because the prince didn’t care for them. The library had false shelves lined with sheets of pretty-coloured spines. The man had the prince wish him books, once, but their insides were blank. Perhaps the prince was being petty. Perhaps if the man had wanted specific books, the boy could have wished them. His wishes seemed to take care of themselves. I had a heart that beat, I ate and eliminated. My anatomy was a female’s, though the prince when wishing me, had been fully ignorant of what that might consist of. I was like the books though, empty. I never bled with the moon. The man asked once about it, I wouldn’t have known it was a missing function otherwise.
So we lived and existed. The prince told me he loved me and I told him I loved him. I doubt he meant it more than I did, but he seemed to believe what was said. The prince mentioned his father more regularly and the man became more anxious, spending more time hunting.
One day the man found me alone and told me to kill the prince. I told him I could not, that I saw no reason for it, as the prince had never harmed anyone. The man threatened my life and left. When he next returned from hunting and saw the prince and I playing dice, the man held my gaze, mouthing again his threat to my life.
He repeated his command the next day before riding out. When he’d gone into the woods I asked the prince to wish me a deer. He did it without question. I butchered the animal, cutting out its tongue and heart, setting them on a plate.
“You could have just asked for those,” the prince commented, turning the plate so a ray of sun lit the blood like jewels.
I shrugged and we went about our day until the man was due home. The prince hid and I held out the plate to the man as he entered, removing his gloves.
“You’ve killed the prince as I asked, then?” He did not take the plate. We regarded each other a moment before the prince emerged from his hiding place and swore at the man, whose face turned white.
The prince wished the man into a dog and fed it coals, but it did not die. Looking at the beast sobbing on the tile, the prince told me he was going to return to his father, the king. I hesitated joining him, for I’d never been off the grounds of our wished-for home.
But the prince wanted me, so he wished me into a flower, put me in his pocket and went on his way. I didn’t know of his adventures in travelling, or what kind of flower I was, or if the castle continued to exist after we left it. I found out most things later, but not what happened to the castle.
Being a flower was not like being a human and it was also unlike not existing. There was still an “I.” I was a flower. As flowers measure it, I was a flower for a very long time.
When the prince wished me human again I was standing on a table and the first words I heard were that I was so beautiful a painter couldn’t do my face justice. I looked at those seated along the table and lining the walls. At my feet sat a tired old man with a crown. The prince stood next to him. The dog who had been a man was not there. All the rest totalled more faces than I’d seen in my existence.
Four more strangers led in a woman whose eyes held nothing behind them. From the prince and king’s conversation with her, she was the falsely accused queen. The little family talked there at the head of the table while all the court looked on, straining their ears. I remained standing on the table, but no one seemed to notice.
The queen died some days later and the king soon followed. The prince became king and married me, I accompanied him on walks through the gardens, or stood by his side in court. I went back to my needlework.
I wonder what will happen to me after he dies. Will I keep existing? I have asked, but nobody knows if the castle we once lived in still exists even though it stands empty and the prince has forgotten it. If I stop existing, with the things I make with my hands still exist? Will the little cloths that cover the chair arms still protect them from dirt, the lace still keep the sharp legs of vases from scratching the woodwork? I worry that if the king dies, the things I have done will come undone.