“Good morning, Princess,” the Storm Trooper says. He calls all women Princess, yet it never gets old. His sidekick, Darth Vader, is a glorified hand truck.
“Morning, Stormy,” I say, and fist-bump his glove.
It’s unfortunate that one of my arts is dread. I am a master of a useless craft. As a well-intentioned but truly crazy lady I once worked for used to say, “Ooooh, that’s up in my Wheelhouse!” Dread is up in my Wheelhouse.
“Family is the most awesome thing ever!” Facebook is always telling me. “Share if you agree!” But the truth is closer to what my coworker Man once told me on a bad day.
“Be courageous, Erika. Only God knows.”
Indeed, I find current circumstances so bewildering that I’ve been asking myself, “What Would Grimm’s Fairy Tales Do?”
I like to imagine I’m at a banquet where karma is about to be served.
There once lived (LIVES!) a King who was both handsome and very wise. His passion was writing books about history, so the people of the future could know what transpired before them. The King was beloved by all, for he had a gentle, gracious manner, and was that rare combination of great talent and no pretense. If he had any weakness, it was that he was sensitive and felt things, and thus was dismayed by the shortcomings of the world.
The Queen took excellent care of the King. So that he might enjoy a life of the mind, she tackled more practical pursuits like running the household, while also working as a lobbyist to help families in need. But the Queen fell ill and died. She was thirteen years younger than he, and this was not what he thought would happen. In fact, he is still pretty pissed about it.
Though the King’s joy was diminished by her passing, he made every effort to adjust to the new reality, cooking for himself and all the rest. But the King is getting up in years, or “long in the tooth,” as he likes to say.
The King and Queen had two children. The eldest, a daughter, grew up near a beautiful forest and was always reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales, each experience fostering an appreciation of the other.
When she grew up, she moved to where some of the most enchanted and ancient trees can be found. Unfortunately, it is on the opposite side of the country from the King.
The youngest, a son, was an obstinate type. He had an arrogant and selfish manner, imagining that the world owed him something, while never creating anything more substantial than an excuse. He had trouble holding jobs and was always broke.
The daughter had an idea! What if the son moved into the family’s nearby 3-bedroom rental house, where he could get on his feet while being close at hand to keep an eye on the well-being of the aging King!
And it came to pass. But within a few months, it became evident that there was a Broken Agreement. The son’s one assignment was to check on the King daily, to provide aid and conversation and help in case of emergency. You know, drive 10 minutes to check on the nice guy paying all your bills. But the son could not be bothered, as he had no conscience.
Then, quite by accident, one day, the King went to the bank which contains the money of the dead Queen. To the King’s great surprise, he learned that the son had made up an ATM card in the King’s name, so that he might conveniently steal her money through the Machine.
The King, ever genteel, wrote his son a letter, criticizing this turn of events. But since the son will not abide any criticism, now or ever, he simply stopped taking the King’s calls.
In Grimm’s Fairy Tales, loyalty and integrity are a big deal. Actions have direct consequences. Those ducks you won’t let a hunter shoot? They’ll show up to retrieve the ring of the Princess when she tosses it in the lake for you to find.
That ant colony you won’t let the horses stomp? They’ll gather every last pearl of the necklace the Princess scattered throughout the forest for you, arranging them into a tidy pile while you sleep.
And the hive of honeybees, for whom you chased off a bear because you “will not suffer them to be harmed?”
When you have to determine which of the three identical Princesses has had honey for dessert, the Queen will come and land on her sleeping mouth. (“The Queen Bee”).
All those years I fed the crows at the beach. Saving Baggies of all my crappy uneaten Seattle Center French fries for them, plus the occasional chicken neck. It is about time they threw down a cloak of invisibility for me, the quintessential spying tool.
Or what about the always-beautifully dressed older woman who sits on the ground in Seattle Center, constantly rocking back and forth?
“Help me out,” she says. I give her my last three dollars, hoping to change my luck. She carefully tucks it into an elegant pocketbook.
“Go to the Machine,” she says. “It’s my birthday. I want a hot chocolate.”
The Machine is a nearby ATM which dispenses twenties. I wasn’t having it. It’s been her “birthday” since before Christmas.
But now I see my short-sightedness. If I had only followed instructions, she might’ve given me more instructions.
“Hark ye. I will make you a present because of your good heart. Go on your way and you will come to a tree on which nine birds are sitting. They will have a cloak in their claws, over which they are fighting. Take aim with your gun and shoot into the middle of them. They will drop the cloak and one of the birds will fall down dead. Take the cloak with you. It is a wishing cloak. When you throw it round your shoulders, you only have to wish yourself at a place to be there at once. Take the heart out of the dead bird and swallow it whole. Then you will find a gold coin under your pillow every single morning when you wake.” (“The Salad”).
As the real artists will tell you, sometimes you have to go through some nasty process to get to a lasting reward.
But what is the fate of those without a good heart, who would neglect AND take advantage of the old King, who provides everything? Steal money from the dead Queen? Hmm, let’s see here.
In all likelihood, you’ll have to “forfeit your life.” That’s pretty standard operating procedure. But there are worse outcomes.
“Now hear your sentence. You shall be turned into a black poodle with a gold chain round your neck, and you shall be made to eat live coals, so that flames of fire will come out of your mouth.” (“The Pink”).
“The old King put a riddle to the waiting-woman. ‘What does a person deserve who deceives his master?’
“The false bride answered, ‘No better than this: he must be put stark naked in a barrel stuck with nails, and dragged along by two white horses from street to street till he is dead.’
“‘That is your own doom!’ said the King. ‘And the judgment shall be carried out.'” (“The Goose Girl”).
I go to the beach, yet I cannot escape my mind. I am exhausted by the dread of worrying. What, and when, will something happen? I cannot bear the thought of anything happening to the King, or the sheer jackassery of neglecting him.
Yet here at Washaway, there is an unrelenting message of impermanence. Probably I should be taking trips to L.A., instead.
Alas, dear Rock Hound, there thou hangest!
“Alas, Queen’s daughter, there thou gangest. If thy mother knew thy fate, her heart would break with grief so great.” (“The Goose Girl”).
Rock Hound, you wrote me some years back. You said you’d never return to Washaway, and so I should find and avail myself of your pile of special rocks. But I went to the wrong trailer.
Last summer, local legend Les Strange tripped and fell onto the overgrown, tarped pile of geodes. He gave me two 5-gallon buckets’ worth. Some are in my garden, but my favorites are in my kitchen. No houseplant can live in my cave, so I heaped the best rocks on the scorched earth of a dead plant.
The very best rock is on top of the pile. While it it is not colorful, it is bejeweled with tiny fossils, the exoskeletons of ancient sea creatures.
No one can tell me there is no magic.