In the bright, garden-choked suburbs of northern New Jersey, there lives a princess. She is six-years old, a spastic fairy in a pink dress and a plastic tiara, dancing and skipping and waving her magic wand at everybody that walks by. And they all wave right back, smiling at the little sweetheart as she laughs and jumps and giggles and rolls across the lawn, playing with the boy next door.
The boy next door, with his cardboard sword and his broomstick stallion, her knight in hand-me-down denim. Doing his absolute best to defend her from the dragons they imagine and the Disney-diluted witches that might try to do them harm.
The parents stand shoulder to shoulder on the sun-porch, joking and whispering. Our brave knight, our little princess. Wouldn’t it be funny, they say, see you at the wedding, neighbor. Whisper and kid about first kisses, holding hands, an immaculate prom night. Smiling and waving and never giving an honest thought to the kids in the basement-boxed costumes. To the princess and her unrelenting smile, the one that says she knows she will be beautiful. To the clean-cut knight and his attempts at perfect posturing, the noble stance he tries hard to maintain.
The parents laugh some more and sigh and walk away, back to half-filled ledgers and still-potted plants, to thawing chicken and a busted head gasket. Forget about the cigarette-stained bars and back alleys, about asinine ideas hatched in college dorms and coffeehouses; forget all the beds and couches and cars, the cops and courts and dead friends and ex-wives and the world that always got in the way. Laugh and sigh and walk away.
And the kids keep make-believing, everyone playing pretend right along with them. There are castles to build and trolls to fight and daylight to burn. The knight doesn’t notice the sugar-fed delirium in her tiny green eyes, the unstable fury proclaiming that one day, one distant day, all the men she comes across are in for a world of hurt. And the princess can’t see the streak of idealism apparent on his face, the Boy Scout attitude that will get him knocked to the ground time and again.
And the passers-by keep passing by, never giving a second thought to the princess and her grass-stained knees, not concerned about the knight with the tangled hair. About the girl who wants the stars and the boy who wants to give them to her.
Smiling and waving and no one will look long enough to see the restless nights and the heated words, the void she’ll try to fill with whatever and whomever she can find, the broken lamp and the bloodied fists and his inability to sleep in an empty apartment. No one will look long enough to see anything, except a princess chasing butterflies and the boy next door who sits there staring after her.
“Storybook Romance” originally appeared online at amphibi.us in 2010.
EIRIK GUMENY was a boxing kangaroo who died, tragically and violently, in the ring in 1923, fighting Teddy Roosevelt and a time-traveling Muhammad Ali. Find out more at www.egumeny.com.