The king’s first wife went crazy and no longer obeyed him, so he sent her away.
“It’s just you and me now,” he told his only daughter.
The king was not a king at all, but only a man.
His daughter came of age. Bloody, discarded tampons and pads turned up in the bathroom trash, and hips and breasts pushed out her body, a copy of her mother’s body. The man feared that his daughter would soon marry and belong to someone else.
“You are so pretty,” he often told her. She never believed him.
“The smartest girl in the world,” he said.
She knew her father couldn’t possibly gauge the intelligence of every living girl.
Without a wife, her father demanded her company on weekends. He took her to Costco, Home Depot, taught her to do home improvement.
When her father won an award for his work, he took her to a dinner held in his honor.
Attending a fancy meal, she felt like a grown up. She dressed carefully, as she thought a woman would. A deep blue, long velvet skirt, a long gold necklace, a sheer black top with a vest over it, to hide her bra, a satin thingy a friend helped her select at Victoria’s Secret.
Fish on his plate and pasta on hers, her father ordered her white wine to toast, he said, his grown-up girl. The wine, her first, entered her stomach. Her chest warmed. She had to pee.
When she returned from the restroom, she stood taller, sweeping her hips between chairs, her arms swinging with her steps. A table of old biddies, white haired, watched her body in judgment.
Her father beamed.
“Did you see those old ladies staring at you?” he asked.
The daughter had her glass turned up, dripping the last bits of wine down her throat.
Her father waggled his eyebrows.
“They were glaring at me,” he said.
“They think you are my date.”
She did not sleep that night. Early in the morning, she decided she would not spend another night in his house, packed a few things, and escaped across the country.
Away from her father, there were many other men. She hid herself from them. She washed dishes at a burrito restaurant, deep in the kitchen with other women. She stopped shaving. At a second-hand shop near her house, she replaced all of her satiny, sheer clothes with thick hides of jean and wool.
Eventually, there were weddings to attend. As a bridesmaid, she wore a dress of gold brocade, the colors like the wings of a moth or your grandmother’s couch. She shaved, did makeup and hair. She felt the men consider her. She danced and drank Wild Turkey and went to the hotel room of the wedding’s three groomsmen.
There was the brother of the groom. He asked her too many questions: “Who are you? Where are you from?”
The brother of the bride had too much sadness.
The best man, best friend of the groom, was balding and smart. Her feet ached, so she shut herself in the bathroom and drew a bath, rubbing and soaking her feet with her gold dress pulled up around her waist. Shoeless and wet, she hung out of the hotel window with the groom’s best friend, smoking weed. She was like a creature just crawled out of the woods, he said. They all fell asleep in their formalwear.
The second wedding came soon after. She wore a dress shining red like cardinal plumes or fresh, wet blood. Without a bra, the red fabric chafed her bare nipples raw. The wedding party ended up at an old seafarer’s dark bar. She drank Irish Car Bombs, keeping up with the men. Another groom’s best friend, a blind drunk giant flirting said, “You’re wild. A wildcat,” and asked her to please come to his room. A man with buoyant, thick curls asked her to drive through the night to another state and camp on the beach. She chose to stay with the bride’s childhood friend. He had clear green eyes like the sea around the island his father was from, and he made good jokes. He drove her to a point where the ocean beat against the land and told her it was his home. She suggested they go night swimming, and he invoke allegiances. She slept alone in a child’s attic room.
Years later, after the woman was married, another wedding to attend. With her husband, she traveled up a mountain above the world’s largest ocean. She chose a dress blue this time.
Long after the ceremony, a haze of thick smoke saturated the evening air. The groom and bride stumbled on the rocky ground, a bridesmaid fell down and streaked her mascara with tears. The woman had once been that girl. In a circle of men, she passed joints and bottles. She considered them: one brown-eyed outlaw, one green-eyed and full of self-hatred, and one shadow. Her husband, in another circle of men, watched her from a distance.
The night went on and on. The green-eyed man tried to protect his son from an older woman’s lingering vanities. The brown-eyed man hugged the woman goodbye and left with another woman, her dress trailing behind her like a peacock’s tail. The shadow, hovering over the woman, never left.
Her husband found her at the end of the night and said, “You’re the most beautiful girl in the world.” Of course, she knew it was a lie. She was not a daughter, not a creature just crawled out of the woods, nor wildcat, nor witch, nor girl. She was a woman with a shadow that would follow her to the grave.