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Jan. 3rd, 2010 @ 01:58 pm Convoluted Puzzle -Draft 1 pt1/2
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished

A convoluted puzzle.
A two way mirror betwixt which an old crone stares back at me with dead eyes, sagging cheeks and cracked lips. A sense is all it is and I raise my finger tips. The crone responds in like, copies my every move. Its eerie how close she can read me. Then with a puff of stale breath escaping my reddened lips in near humor, I finally remember that haggard form stuck forever in a prison of glass and metal, its me.

I was only six years old when I first met him. I was in the garden digging holes. In one small hand I held a trowel and in the other a glass bottle of milk crème. About thirteen holes I had dug in the garden when a small rodent jumped from the bushes, frightened by my trowel’s point. Surprised, I fell upon my backside and scratched my hand on a tiny stone. Seeing the small drops of cherry colored blood well from my palm I began to wail, for that's what you do at six, you wail. Before I quite knew what was going on I was leaned back in the arms of the most handsome stranger I had ever seen. His hair was a beautiful ebony black and his eyes were dark and watched me with wonderful fascination. At the time this man both frightened and excited my adventurer’s heart.
Looking up into those eyes I had already forgotten about my wound. Reaching around, the gentleman, I knew him to be a gentleman of course for he wore a suit of noticeable quality, despite its emblem being a curious design that I couldn’t make out. In any case, the gentleman took my wounded hand and hesitating only a moment to read my eyes, smiled a sad smile and kissed it once gently, in the center of my palm where I bled from.
I felt a warmth there, and it began to grow and grow until suddenly my entire body felt like it was on fire, but I didn’t struggle for I felt safe in the strange gentleman’s arms. I was only six and wasn’t yet aware of the dangers of the world. I began to ask him who he was but with a gentle smile he put a finger to his lips to quiet me.
“But, what’s your name?” I insisted in my childhood impatience. He watched me for a long moment as if he was trying to decide something important. Finally, he took his long finger and began to write in the loose earth next to my digging spot.
Gnar of the Mischief.

“Gnar?” I asked, for it was a strange name, but turning to look at the gentleman I saw an uneasiness in his eyes. As if he had told a secret that he had promised to always keep. His arms around me grew tighter and all of a sudden it occurred to me that I was late for the afternoon meal.

Standing up abruptly I tossed the milk bottle into the high grasses and shook loose dirt from my fine skirts, mama would certainly scold me again for digging, but it seemed the only right thing to do on a day such as that day.
“Clary! Where are you?” Like clockwork my mother’s voice boomed out over the fields and I unconsciously sighed. Although father had told her to let me be in the mornings, the afternoons I was forced to sit and take tea with the “ladies” and learn to knit and sew with my elder sisters; A tediously boring task for a six year old.

“That's my mama. I had better..”
But when I turned back to the holes the stranger was already gone, as quickly and silently as he had appeared.
“Gnar?” I whispered hesitantly into the high grass, but as my mama’s voice grew louder and closer I decided that finding the strange man wouldn’t be as valuable as avoiding a beating. So, with a final dusting of my soiled skirts, I pushed through the fields and met my family for the afternoon meal of meat pastries and whatever fresh fruits my brothers had managed to pick along the roadside on their mile walk back from school. I always admired them for it, being tall enough to reach the trees and pick something that would provide us with a meal, it seemed an impossible feat to me at six years.

“Honestly Henry, look at her! She looks like a common ground squirrel!” My mama’s voice was lovely, even when she shouted she sounded like she was singing a charming melody.
My father chuckled. His dark fuzzy beard caught bits of crumbs within it as he savored the quality of my mother’s secret recipe meat pies.
“Better bring us in some hazel nuts then lil’ squirrel” he taunted, tapping me under the chin lovingly as my mother fumed over the stove. I smiled back at my father and stuck out my teeth to make them look like a squirrel’s.
“Don’t encourage the girl Henry! I swear, it’s embarrassing when the ladies come over! Not to mention the house is a mess.”
My father frowned, and taking his cue I busied myself with ripping open a biscuit and slathering it with butter and jam. My brothers were late coming back from school and my two elder sisters were off visiting at friend’s homes that afternoon. It was rare that just the three of us were alone.
“My dear wife, the child is only six. If she wants to be a squirrel let her be a squirrel! She needs time to play before she can become the lady you desire.”
I smiled through my mouthful of biscuit. My father always stuck up for me. My brothers said it was a rule that the youngest child was always the father’s favorite, so without fail I always prayed at night that mother wouldn’t bear any more brothers or sisters for us. Without my father backing me up, there could be no telling how much sewing and stitching I would be made to do.

Done with arguing for the moment, my mama slipped several pieces of fatted bacon onto the plates in front of us still sizzling and fell into her own chair with an audible thud. Her eyes passed over the table of food twice before she selected only a single slice of green apple.
Whether or not it had any significance, at the time we were unaware, but she gently put a hand to her belly and sighed. In unison my father and I looked up at her and then at one another, both thinking the same thought.

The day I turned seven I gained not one, but two new siblings. Two little twin boys who quickly became the apples of my father’s eyes and the sun to my little family’s earth. I tried to be patient and waited while they worried over the weight of the infants, cheered over their first smiles. My brother’s brought back fruits for my mother to mash for their meals while my elder sister’s knitted all sorts of tiny socks and tiny blankets. I helped my mother to carry swaddling and diapers and even learned how to change a few on my own. I thought that maybe if I worked extra hard at it then my brother’s theory about the youngest child wouldn't come true, perhaps the new babies wouldn’t become the favorites. But, slowly before I even recognized it myself, I started to become invisible.
It was the most peculiar thing really, my parents would dress the babies, make sure that my sister’s had tied their bonnets for church and shouted at my brother’s to wash their hands and faces. With all that done they would head off down the road to the little chapel where we sought guidance from the lord and yet no one noticed when I was left behind.

On the first occasion I had been in the washroom and came out to find my family gone. In all my seven year old glory I stubbornly refused to follow along down the road like some trained dog and instead waited by the door with a glorious pout, expecting someone, even if it just be one of my brothers, to be sent back to fetch me. However, no one ever came and when they returned from church that day there was no mention of my absence. I silently ate at the dinner table and not a soul looked in my direction.
Beginning to worry I held my little hands in front of my face and turned them this way and that, making sure that I could still see them. Pale, tiny hands with small little veins pumping life through me. I flexed my fingers and they certainly seemed like they belonged to me, so I must still exist.

“Am I still here?” I murmured to myself and mama reached across my held out hands to grab the butter plate.
“Donald, please pass me the biscuits.,” she said to my older brother.
As I watched them all eat dinner that night I began to feel a mild unease take me over. Certainly my world hadn’t changed, but something suddenly just felt off.

The babies cried all evening that night. Mama couldn’t take it anymore and ran out to the porch. Stubbornly she lay her body down right on the wooden slats and refused to get up.

“Woman you are being ridiculous!” I could hear my father shouting in the doorway.
“What kind of mother abandons her own children when they are hungry?”
I didn’t hear anymore because I pulled my pillow over my head and thrust my hands against it to cover my ears. Tears threatened to spill from my eyes and I wasn’t sure why. My parents were nearly sickeningly devoted to one another, his words were far from harsh and within moments he had convinced her to come to the sitting room and drink tea by the fireside. My tears were for another reason, only I couldn’t put my finger on what it might be. Day by day I became more invisible and as I watched the events of my life unfold around me I wondered, where did I go?

The second time I was left behind I had been trying to find the knit bonnet for one of the twins. Mama had looked half mad through the house all morning for it and at the door, having a sudden epiphany I shouted.
“Wait, I know where the bonnet is!” and rushed inside. It had fallen behind the sitting couch as I has suspected. With the babies learning to crawl, things were beginning to end up in the strangest of places.
Triumphantly, I raced to the door with my prize, but when I saw them walking away together, nearly to the curve in the road already I dropped to the veranda slats and curled my thin arms around shaking legs.

“This isn’t right.” I whispered. “Its not fair.” Sitting in a dazed gloom I worried over my situation when suddenly a little coppery brown rat wandered across the veranda. Its whiskers flicked around in such a manner that it brought a smile to my lips. I always knew rats and mice and the like to be cautious animals, but walking purposefully, it settled on its hind legs nearly a yard away from me and began casually cleaning its head with delicate hand like paws.

“I didn’t know rats wash like cats do.” I said. My voice making the little creature look up from his task. Shifting to crouch back on all fours he considered an escape route.
“Don’t worry” I assured, “I wouldn’t eat you, I have bigger worries today.” He seemed to accept that because after a few more moments of caution he finished his cleaning and then flattened himself on the porch slats, lying stretched out in such a comfortable manner that I couldn’t resist emulating the little creature.

“I wonder what the sermon was about today?” I whispered to my new friend. Black beady eyes turned to me and the rat moved its lips around as if licking jam from a spoon and then he began to chatter. The sound was like two pieces of wood being rubbed together and he seemed for all the world to be pleased with my company; and as lonely as I had been living as an invisible seven year old, I was more than happy for his.

“Are rats religious?” I asked him and of course he didn't respond, being a rat.
“I wonder what religion they would be?” I thought over it for some time. Rats need food and mates and shelter. Not too different from humans really. Mama always told me that humans were superior to animals because we have souls, because the good lord made us in his image, but what if god were a rat? Would that make us the pests and them the princes? I let my imagination fly that afternoon as I lay with my new friend. Even from a distance I could tell from a rather sizable lump under his tail that the creature was male.
“Shall I call you prince rat?” I asked with a smile. I could imagine the little brown rat wearing a crown and deep burgundy coat and knighting worthy rat soldiers with a bronze scepter. Looking close at the little guy’s face I saw a smile form on his lips and wondered if he dreamed of such things as well.
“Rats smile.” I wondered aloud. Unfortunately, at that very moment a clattering came up the street and with a leap and a dash my new friend the prince rat was gone under the veranda. Sighing, I looked up to find a most unwelcome sight. My uncle Frederic and his new wife Gena were rattling down the dirt pathway in their very loud automobile.
Even my parents were not fond of the pair’s monthly visits. My uncle had been married not but a year before, his third wife in as many years. The woman was half his age and only after him for his small fortune that he had made in his father’s dairy farm. According to my father however, “Frederic is perfectly aware that he is being used and he is more pleased with it than anyone so let him be.”

Personally, I didn’t care one way or another about my uncle’s new wife, I only hated the way he insisted on touching my shoulder or back every time he drew near. I hated the smell of pipe smoke that always hung on his stale breath and cheap clothes. With my family away at church I worried over what I would say to them once they reached the veranda. So, like my friend, with a leap and a dash I ran behind the house and began to climb my brother’s favorite climbing tree. There I waited silently.
It could have been hours I waited in that tree. I listened to the birds sing and watched moths flutter by, until the sky gradually began to darken and my eyes grew so tired that I slipped my hold and nearly fell all ten feet to the hard earth below. Only luck allowed my hand to catch hold of a knob on the edge of a low branch, I hung from the branch like shorts on a close line, unable to get a better hold to pull myself up.

“What are you doing?” My sister’s stern voice so close to me startled me enough so that I lost hold of the knob branch completely and slipped to my feet the rest of the way, the skin ripping from my palms as I fell. “They were looking all over for you!” She scolded. A part of me lit up in joy until I realized that she didn’t mean that they had missed me at church, or that my parents were worried, but rather that my uncle had questioned my absence.
“Get inside quick and wash up! Mama and Papa have something that they need to tell you!” My sister was smiling but something told me I wouldn’t like anything that came from the world that my body floated in at that moment. How could I trust the words of those who couldn’t even see me?

Towed to the house by an ear, my eyes slipped to the crevice under the veranda. There, two tiny black beads shined in the darkness and I was thankful that at least one friend worried over what was to become of me.

It was in the foyer when I heard the words come from my father’s lips. He didn’t look at me when he spoke and a strange condensation had formed upon his brow.

“Your mother and I have talked and what with the babies taking so much extra time we have decided to send you to live with your uncle and aunt.”

My head tilted like a little terrier who had heard a siren.

“Your sisters are old enough to care for themselves and your brothers will need to focus for exams, so you will be going on your own.”

In my mother’s arms squirmed by baby brother. My uncle’s young wife cooed at the other twin laid upon the sitting couch.
My baby brother giggled and my eyes widened slightly as I noticed that not a member of my family could bare to look in my direction. My hands were covered with scratches from my climb in the tree and only now did they start to burn.
None of it made sense, and for the life of me I couldn’t decide if it were meant to make sense or if everyone around me had suddenly gone mad. Only my uncle, stinking of pipe smoke as always, seemed to be thrilled.

“It will be a great experience for you young girl! Plenty of other lads and lassies to play with around the big creek behind our barns.” My uncle was a dairy farmer, only rather than doing the work himself he hired foreigners to do it and paid them less a week than a common stall mucker would get in an hour. So, I guess rather than to say he was a farmer, its better to just say he owned a dairy farm and reaped the benefits.

I didn’t respond to my uncle but my throat became very dry. My father reached for me, those same strong arms that he used to rock me to sleep at night in and yet I leaned away from his grasp. I tried to ask so many questions at once that none came out and all of a sudden the room begin to spin.
Spinning and spinning I couldn’t see the faces on the heads of the people gathered in the room. A hand shot up to my nose to check that I at least still had a face.
“Well I do believe she is speechless with joy” I heard my uncle chortle, spraying foamy spittle across my face. His young wife twittered happily beside him, clapping her hands once in agreement, but my baby brothers, startled by the noise, began to cry. Spinning and laughter and crying and faceless people who once meant everything to me and now I couldn’t even decide if they were really in front of me or if at some point when I had been asleep snug in my bed, evil puppets had come and replaced them. I turned to look at my mother and a curled line twisted across her blank face, a smile? Spiraling faster and faster I suddenly felt unsteady on my feet and had the terrible sensation of falling backwards quicker than could be possible.
I wasn’t falling though, but to catch myself I threw my hands backward. Instead of catching my fall they slapped into my vulgar uncle’s crotch with enough force to set him wailing as he fell to his knees.

“Honestly!” My mother huffed as she went to her brother’s side. Gradually her features reappeared and peering through squinted eyes I saw everyone looking as they should.
My uncle’s wife held a hand to her shaking lips, trying her best to hold in her laughter and not look like the child she truly was.

“Why?” I asked when I finally found myself able to form the words, but not a soul seemed to hear me.
“Why?” I repeated louder, but I wonder if perhaps it was in my imagination, for my family turned from me to help my uncle into the kitchen for a towel of ice and a soft chair.

“Why?” I muttered quietly at their receding backs. My hands drooped to my sides and my hazel eyes began to burn. There was no fight left in me, all I felt was emptiness.
A flash of brown caught at the corner of my eye and then, coming to rest nearly beside my feet was my prince rat. He leaned back on his haunches and sat like a human, paws floating in the air as his whiskers pointed up at me, twitching this way and that. Beady black eyes surveyed me lazily and again I heard the sound of pieces of wood being rubbed together.
I ran a scratched hand over my burning eyes and kneeled down next to my new friend. Slowly, cautiously, as I watched without moving a muscle, the prince rat walked closer to my side. One step, then two, the rat watched my eyes with his own until he was so close that his white whiskers tickled my foot. Then, like a little kid playing tag he reached out a paw and touched it to my bare leg and with that he turned and dashed away; bouncing comically, as I had imagined only rabbits did.
A small smile formed on my lips as his bare tail disappeared through the doorway into the mudroom.
“Come here!” My mother’s voice, angry as I had ever heard it before, commanded from the kitchen. My hands began to shake and taking one last look at the doorway where my friend had disappeared, I stood and crept over to the brightly lit kitchen, to sit with my faceless family. Only later did it occur to me that perhaps he was asking me to follow him. Like a game of tag he hoped I would chase after. Had I known the consequences for ignoring the chase, I certainly would have.

And so it came to pass, as my mother held a dripping baggy of ice to her own brother’s bruised ballsack, that it was decided that I would go ten miles north of the home where I had grown up digging holes and climbing trees, to go live in my uncle’s childless house with his child-like wife, to what end I couldn’t possibly have imagined at the time.



Voluptuous breasts dangled before my eyes like two full bags of sweet icing ready to be piped onto my eighth birthday cake.
“Make a wish hon.” My uncle’s wife cooed, blowing out the match with which she had lit the single candle in the center.
I had only come to live in their home the evening before. Under the cloak of darkness as if it were as evil a deed as I felt it to be in my heart, my family moved me away from the only home I had ever known. As I clung my green and red plaid hardcase bag against my chest as if it were a life preserver in the maelstrom they were dropping me into, I nodded lifelessly at my mother’s “Take care” and my brother’s “don’t let the kids at the new school bully you.” My uncle took my thin arm in his massive hand and lifted me into his clunky car. Only moments later I sat between the pair, my new mother and father humming to the radio as the demon car spit venomous fumes along the roadside.
Now here I sat with a colorful fruitcake staring me in the face. I didn’t even try to pretend to smile, worried how frightful the result may turn out. Fruitcake with cinnamon icing. I hated fruitcake and I was terribly allergic to cinnamon. The single candle in the center was a bright red and white letter “B”, but they encouraged me to use my imagination and pretend it was an eight.

“Happy birthday pretty girl!” My uncle crooned as if the phrase were some beloved old song. To my knowledge no such song existed, so I stared at my hands to hide my overly apparent apprehension in his presence.
“We love you!”
From my uncle’s gaping yaw, droplets flew forth, clearly visible as they drifted over the horrid cake like dirty snowflakes in a shawl of spittle.

We ate the cake, the two females in quiet silence as my uncle droned on about politics. I avoided the frosting, pushing it to the side of my plate, but when I looked up my uncle’s disapproving eyes were on mine.
“In this family we do not waste food.” He said reproachfully, reaching over my plate with his dirty fork he scooped up my discarded blob of frosting and shoveled it into his awaiting cavern of a mouth. “Do we?” He asked his wife through his food, lips smacking with effort. The young girl shook her head vigorously.
“Sorry.” I murmured quietly, silently begging that the lord take mercy on me enough for these people to release me for the evening so that I may take a moment to get a bearing on my new situation.

“Ok enough.” My uncle finally announced, pushing his plate forward and slapping his round belly through his soiled workshirt. “You ladies can bond over the dishes.” With that he stood and walked into the other room, moments later the sound of the tv switch being turned and the raucous laughter of a gameshow audience.

Helping the young wife, I carried away the plates as she readied the dish water. A pleasant sweet smell filled the air; looking at the soap I noticed it was green.
“Its orchard apple scent” She said, noticing my interest in the bottle.
“Oh” was all I could manage.
We washed and dried the dishes in silence.
“Aunt, may I be excused?” I asked as the final dish was done. She looked at me as if I had just asked to be the one to pull the lever at her execution.
“I’m sorry, I am just really tired and I have to unpack still and..” I stumbled over the words. The young girl’s eyebrows furrowed and she balled the washrag into her fist.
“You will call me mum, and yes you may be excused once you give your father a kiss on the cheek goodnight.”

I stood dumbfounded and rooted to the spot for a moment before I realized that she was perfectly serious.
“Kiss?” I whispered and she nodded.
“It’s only proper.” She declared and with that she turned her back on me dismissively.

I took one step and then another towards the room where my uncle sat. One look at his paunch belly and cracked lips and I found my feet, most defiantly racing up the long staircase to my new rooms. Shutting the door behind me I dropped to the floor with my back against it and took three deep breaths.
“Why?” I still murmured every now and again. I thought that perhaps when I turned eight, with the extra wisdom of another year of life, then it would make sense to me, but I still didn’t have a clue as to why I had suddenly disappeared and reappeared only to find myself in such a situation as this.

I unpacked the rest of my two big boxes that evening. Hugging my stuffed terrier dog to my chest and gripping my blue blanky in my fingertips I began to cry. Silent streams ran down my cheeks to my lips. Their saltiness calmed me somewhat but couldn’t help the hurt I felt in my chest when my memories slipped back to how easily my parents had agreed to give me away.

Digging through my last cardboard box I found its contents empty and placed it aside, reaching for my hardcase bag. Still crying, I noticed through my blurred vision that there was a tear in the colorful fabric.
“No no!” I sobbed. My father had bought the bag for me, it was my most treasured item after my photobook. Looking closer I noticed that not only was it ripped, but the entire side corner was missing. No, that's not right, it was eaten off.

“Prince?” It was my first thought as I looked at the little chewmarks going across the plaid. Hopeful, my eyes scanned the room.
“Prince rat?” I called again quietly, but I saw no movement and allowed the tears to overtake me as I, at that moment, forced away my childish fears and tried to accept that my world had changed forever. “Of course he wouldn’t be here.” I said.
“I can’t be a child now.” I decided with confidence. That night before bed I tried on some of the makeup I had borrowed from my elder sisters once and never gave back. As I slept I looked beautiful, I could have easily passed as a middle school student. Only god and the fairy of dreams would know my face that night, by morning I was back to my normal invisible self.

It was the next week that I began “real” school. My mother had always taught me and my sisters at home while my brothers went to the local school house, but my uncle insisted that that just would not do.
“You deserve a proper education.” He insisted as he sucked on his brass handled pipe. “Men like a woman with brains these days.” He said, winking at his wife.

And so I trudged along the dirt path to school, a satchel of books in one hand and an apple in the other. Puddles had formed from the previous night’s thunderstorm and I twirled the satchel around in my fingers, tempted to drop the whole pack as to have some excuse to skip the day.

“Whatcha doing?” A voice called from behind. Turning I found the road empty, so my eyes shot around. Turning in a circle I felt my heart thump. Was I imagining things again?
“Up here” The voice giggled and I looked up to find a boy close to my own age, hanging from his knees from the large oak’s branches.

“What are you doing?” Was the only response I could think of after my surprise. The boy chuckled. “Skipping.” He sounded so sure of himself, I wished that I could be that carefree again.
“Uhm, Can I join you?” I asked and for a moment he looked like he was considering it very seriously. “Ok, I don’t usually let girls climb with me, but you don’t look like much of a girl anyways so you can climb today as a special exception.”

I would have been insulted but he was right, with my hair cut short like I usually wore it in the summer, I did look more boy than girl.
Handing off my bag to him, I flung the shiny red apple into the treeline and scaled the oak, branch by branch until I was about two yards up, positioned on the fork of two branches next to the boy. I could see his features clearly now. He was a ginger kid, bright red hair and freckles. He was missing a few front teeth and his tongue pressed through the holes and I couldn’t help but frown at him. He didn’t seem to notice as he handed me my satchel back.

“What’s your name kid?” He asked, trying to seem superior although later I would come to find that the boy was actually a year seven in the school that I was to attend.
A loud screech interrupted my response as a girl came running down the path with two boys at her heels. The boys laughed gleefully, but the girl seemed plain frightened as untied ribbons flew from her braids.

The boys were faster than her and quickly caught her in their rough hands.
“Dumb bitch.” One boy laughed.
“Please, just leave me alone!” She wailed through soppy tears.
Every muscle in my body tensed, the boys were predators and the female their prey. They were going to hurt her.
Looking beside myself without moving my head I saw the freckled boy glaring at the scene below.

“Those are the McClary boys,” He whispered. “And their sister.”
The girl wailed as they dragged her back down the path.
“Sister?” I wondered if my original assumption had been wrong, and then wondered why an eight year old like myself would even come to such an assumption.

“That family is all wrong.” The redhead boy said seriously. “Try to keep away from them at school. My daddy says they is dangerous.”

We skipped that day and played in the trees further into the woods. My friend talked at me while I silently listened and he seemed happy with that. I was only ten miles from my real home, but I knew that even if I went back there now, nothing would be the same.
When I finally returned back to my uncle’s house I lied about how fun the school had been, how old fashioned the teacher’s glasses were and how I had traded my red apple for a green one.

“You will settle in just fine.” My uncle smiled.
“We have a surprise for you after dinner.” His wife chimed, but my uncle looked at her reproachfully and she turned her eyes down to her plate.
“First, we have company.” My uncle said, “Our doctor would like to meet you, just for a check up.”
I was instantly nervous. I wasn’t fond of doctors to begin with, but at least at the local clinic I was with my family and could hold my mother’s hand when they gave me inoculations. Here, who would be by my side?

“I’m perfectly healthy” I began in a meek voice, but my uncle shook his head and his eyes showed that there was no way of getting out of anything under his watch.
“You are covered in scratches child, you will be examined.”

When the doctor came he was a younger man than I had imagined. Probably in his forties or so, he wore a golden wedding band on his left had and had very pink lips. It was the way he looked at me that kept me in a state of unease.

“Ok, please breathe deeply.” He instructed, pushing his stethoscope this way and that over my back and tiny chest.
“Very good, very good.” His voice tilted high at the last “good” and my brows furrowed. Breathing hot breath onto the stethoscope’s face he then lifted my shirt and I froze to my chair, breathing short breaths I became dizzy as he moved it around my middle, lingering longer than I felt necessary in certain areas. After what seemed like an eternity my shirt again covered me and the doctor looked me straight in the eyes and smiled widely, exposing very white straight teeth between those pink lips.
“There now, all done.” He said, “Do you ever get tummy aches?” He asked as if I was a four year old. I shook my head furiously although I did on occasion suffer from some indigestion, I was determined to say nothing else that would allow him to move his hands anywhere lower on my body.
The doctor smiled knowingly at my worried expression and suddenly my uncle’s voice bellowed from the living room, “Joseph would you like a bit of scotch?”
Those pink lips smiled. “Of course, on the rocks please.”

Putting his tools back into his black bag the doctor never took his eyes off of me and I not off of him. Licking his lips slowly he said, “It was nice meeting you Clara, I look forward to next time.” Which I found a peculiar thing for a doctor to say, and then he was lost into the living room and I threw my arms around myself, feeling extremely violated, I shook down to my bones. It was then that my uncle’s wife walked in.
“Its ok honey.” She smiled, “There is a surprise up in your room.”
Excused, I ran up the steps to my room as quick as a rabbit and immediately set a chair against the door’s knob. I wasn’t sure how effective that really would be since the door opened outwards, but having no locks in the house it was really the best I could do.
My heart pounded in my chest and I rubbed at my shirt, trying to wipe away the last bits of coldness that came from the doctor’s tools. Then, turning around and seeing my bed, I gasped in delight. An illicit affair of blue and magenta linens piled over one another in a fashion most appealing to an eight year old girl. Plain country window treatments were replaced by scenes of unicorns chasing rainbows and despite my mood I couldn’t help smiling in enchantment at the change in the dreary room. Dropping to my knees I noticed a new plush rug under me and lay onto my side, breathing in the clean scent of the fresh linens.
A pressure on my side I thought was the bedsham brushing against me and I moved my hand to push it away, instead touching something warm and fluffy.
“Ya!” I jumped up and barely caught in my eye something brown darting under the boxsprings.

“Prince?” I asked in surprise. Was it really my friend? Or was it some common worker rat who would jump out and bite me if I reached my hand underneath? Pulling a bit of crumbs from my dinner from my pockets I called out to him.

“Come here, I’m sorry I didn’t think you had come along.” I cooed, and slowly, cautiously those white whiskers popped out from under the bedsham and black beady eyes looked at me accusingly.
“Here, forgive me?” I asked, placing a piece of cookie between us. Keeping his eyes on me the whole time the prince slowly walked out and took the cookie in his pointed mouth and then darted away again. It was him alright.

“I’m so glad to see you prince.” I murmured. “I really need to tell someone about what has been going on.”

As I finished arranging my room that evening the prince rat ran back and forth on the floor, white whiskers flashing as he scared the dust bunnies to pieces. Anything that he found on the ground he considered his own property and I lost a good number of bottle caps and marbles that night. Maybe more than a prince he was like a pirate? Stashing away anything he deemed to be treasure.

“Now calm down.” I scolded, “A prince should be refined, even in moments of distress, how else do you think he wins over the princess?”

The little rodent blinked his eyes as if he understood. Then, with a big yawn he reached out a clawed hand in a stretch and his mouth became so wide it exposed his bright yellow teeth. He looked a bit like a snarling lion that one might see on a knight’s shield and I had to laugh.
“I’m sorry, I suppose you know better than I what a proper prince does.” I giggled and seeming to agree he ran back under the bed sham to arrange his own living space.

I found my photobook, tucked away carefully on my shelf like the treasure that it was. Bound in dark leather and stuffed full of photos, I flipped it open to the first page and smiled. No matter how strange the world changed, here was my answer.
A nip to my bare foot made me jump and I turned with a glare to the prince who stood on his hind legs by my side with an innocent look.

“That hurt! Don’t think that just cause you're a prince you can do whatever you want.” Casually he started washing his face with both paws and I sighed.
“Prince look at this photo.” I held up the book and he reached out, trying to pull the photo from its adhesive.
“No!” I wrenched it away and he gave me a look of annoyance.
“This is my most precious thing.” I told him. The little rat hopped into my lap and looked, this time in a gentle manner at my photo.
“This is me when I was born.” I told him. “My daddy is holding me and my mama looks really smiley!”
The prince rubbed his teeth together, the strange grinding sound seeming like he was in agreement that it was a nice photo.
“This is the best part.” I pointed to a bow pasted to my head in the photo. “When I was born they had run out of the pink girl bows, but they found one bit of purple lace from a package and tied it for me. My daddy said that it means that I was born to be special. It's a little silly, but daddy said that someday I’ll become a princess, which would be nice, cause I don’t think princess’ have to do their own sewing, and I hate to sew.
The prince seemed to have fallen asleep so I picked him up by his middle and stared him in his pitch black eyes.
“This is my most precious secret ok prince? You can’t tell anyone. Promise?”
He wriggled in my hands, shoving at my fingers with delicate pink hands and reluctantly I set him down. He darted under the bed and I called after.
“We promised prince, don’t forget.”

It never seemed strange to me to be talking to a prince rat, at the time it was the thing that made the most sense, however looking back on it I guess my uncle and aunt listening outside my door must have had proper reason to think me mad.
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