Princess Amadea eyed the frog on her kitchen floor. “Where did you come from?” she asked, not expecting an answer.
To her surprise, the frog opened its mouth again, and said, in a very deep voice, “Good-day, Miss –”
“This is the Princess Amadea,” Mistress Periwinkle put in sharply, “and you’d do well to remember that!”
“Forgive me,” the frog said solicitously. “I’ve been out of circulation for awhile. Good-day, your Highness.”
His manner was strangely courtly, especially for a frog. Amadea looked at him more closely, but he looked just like a frog, albeit a large frog. How had he gotten here?
“Is there something we can do for you?” she asked. “We’re in kind of a hurry around here right now.”
“Yes, and her Highness hasn’t got time to be talking to a frog,” said Periwinkle gruffly.
Amadea, who thought that Periwinkle was being a tad too unfriendly to the poor creature, said quickly, “We’ve got a banquet to prepare –”
“I have but one request, your Highness,” said the frog. “But first, are you truly a princess? The daughter of the old king?”
“Of course she is,” snapped Periwinkle.
Amadea said, “It’s all right, Periwinkle. I’ll sort this out. Can you . . . work on laying the silver or something?”
This had the unfortunate effect of upsetting Periwinkle even more. She put her nose in the air, and said, “I suppose I can try.”
When Periwinkle had left the kitchen, the frog said again, “I have but one request.”
“What is it?” asked Amadea. The shouts of the protesters outside reminded her that time was running out.
“I respectfully request a kiss.”
That’s all I need, thought Amadea. A fresh frog with aspirations to royalty. At a time like this.
“Well, you see – I’ve got this Banquet of Lords to put on –” She checked her chronometer. “– in less than an hour. And the elves are on strike, the wood fairies deserted us and took the food with them. As you can understand, I’m rather busy at the moment –”
“If you would bestow upon me a kiss,” continued the frog, “the spell will be lifted.”
Wonderful, thought Amadea. An enchanted frog.
“I couldn’t possibly help you until after the banquet –”
She stopped, realizing how hopeless it all was. She might as well cancel the banquet. At this point, it would take a small miracle to pull it off. Talking more to herself than to the frog, Amadea muttered, “What does it matter, anyway. I’ve got a kitchen full of goblins with no master, and Lord Harrington and the others will be here any moment –”
“Oh, that,” said the frog, carelessly. “If it’s just a catering problem you’ve got, that’s quite an elementary problem.”
“What?” asked Amadea. “You don’t understand. If I don’t put on a good show for this banquet, they’ll insist on my marrying Prince Edgar. And, well, nothing against him or anything, but –”
A sudden thought occurred to Amadea. She leaned closer to the frog. “You aren’t a prince, by any chance, are you?” she asked. “A prince, enchanted by an evil witch?” From the sound of his deep voice, she imagined an attractive, muscular man with dark brown eyes. Perhaps he’d have a slight greenish tinge to his skin, but she could overlook that, if his other qualities commended him –
“No, I’m not a prince,” replied the frog. “I am – I was – Prince Edgar’s personal chef.”
Hello! As you know, I’m working on a blog re-do, and I’ve got some fun things in the works. More soon!
I’ve been away from the blog for a bit, and this fall I’ve been learning to row. I had been a runner, but injuries started to sideline me, and one afternoon in early October I thought, why not try rowing? I vaguely remember a week’s rowing as a teenager, in a summer program on Seattle’s Green Lake, and I still remember the synchonicity of rowing as a team, and of the beauty of being right on the water, and I thought: let’s give that a try!
Fast-forward to now, three months later, and I’ve been through a huge learning curve with the sport. First: you can’t learn everything at once. Like any endeavor that involves physical coordination and muscle memory, it’s overwhelming at first. Like anytime you’re a beginner, you feel like you’ll never get this. It’s frustrating and it goes through your mind to give up.
But you know, when you’re on the water and it’s quiet, and you look out at the horizon and see white-blue wispy clouds that are doing nothing but hanging there for you to admire, and you feel the bump of the water cradling the hull of the boat, just inches from your seat, you think about all the people who made their way on this lake before you who may have pulled their crafts across the water with oars or paddles and who saw the same clouds, the same water, who felt the same early-morning breeze on their faces.
And then you remember you’re in the boat with seven or four or three other rowers, all striving to work together to make the boat go forward in a coordinated, rhythmic, organic way. And you pull on the oars the best you can, you hear the swoosh of the oar blades in the water beside you, and you move forward.
Learning to row. The movements come easier a little at a time. The feel of the water, and the breezes, and seeing the clouds on the horizon makes it all seem real. And connected to everything else.
Learning to row. When things get intense in the boat, I try to look out and remember: one day it will all come together, the form, the rhythm, and the pacing, it just takes time and practice, it just takes patience and determination. You just have to keep going.
And this is like writing, no? You take each scene, each story or poem, each essay, and you do your best at that one thing. As you go along you get better at it. Slowly, and with some frustration and faltering moments. One day it will all come together. In the meantime, the only thing you can do is learn. Learn and keep trying.
While I’m working on my “blog re-do,” I’m serializing a fantasy story about a princess whose elf-staff has gone on strike. Here is part 5 below.
Within a few minutes the shouting outside where the picketers had been chanting was abruptly silenced. When Amadea cracked open the scullery door to see what had happened, she was stunned to see nothing but a new flock of woolly sheep placidly grazing on the small hillock near the back gate. She surmised the sheep were the elf strikers. They looked exceedingly oblivious to their fate. She sighed with relief at the wonderful peace she felt without the threat of Mitchell hanging over her.
The goblins appeared in the scullery, looking like slightly smaller versions of Ezriel, the master, gaunt, thin creatures, with grayish skin and pointed ears. Amadea sent Periwinkle to find suitable livery for them. They stood in a clump in one corner of the scullery, drooping, heads down, and muttering to themselves. They didn’t look dangerous, at least not at the moment.
When Periwinkle returned with a stack of the bright royal blue and gold braided livery of the palace, Amadea asked, “Do they always behave like that?”
Periwinkle clucked her tongue. “Tricky devils.”
Amadea took the livery and approached the goblins. There was a dusty sort of smell about them, like the smell of old books shut up in a library too long. She tried not to breathe too deeply.
“Excuse me,” she said. “Where is your master?”
They pulled away as she came close. Their muttering increased. They shuffled back and forth, back and forth, not answering her question.
This would never do. At least with the elves on strike, she and Periwinkle had been handling the necessary arrangements with what seemed like a minimum of fuss. Now, she had false sheep grazing where the strikers had been – and who knew when they might suddenly be changed back into the loudly protesting elves – and this band of ne’er-do-well goblins occupying a corner of her kitchen.
She had to get hold of the goblin master. She pulled out his card, which she had been careful to put in a pocket when she changed. She inspected it closely. But there was no indication of how he could be reached.
“We’ll just have to work around them,” Amadea said to Periwinkle.
Mistress Periwinkle shook her head. “I’ll keep an eye on the silver, that’s for sure,” she commented.
Just then a filmy brightly colored mist began filtering through the heavy wooden door. As it wafted into the kitchen it brought the scent of tangerine and lime. Amadea felt as if she’d been transported to a fruit orchard.
“Wood fairies!” Amadea exclaimed. The unmistakable citrus odor signaled their arrival, she remembered. If she could just keep the goblins corralled, and somehow manage the serving without too much fuss, she could still pull off the banquet. She strode up to the orange-and-green colored mist and said, in her most lively voice, “Welcome, oh Fairies of the Wood!”
The mist resolved into the forms of tiny figures. At the forefront was a tiny woman about the size of Amadea’s finger, dressed in flowing green robes, whose tiny green wings fluttered as fast as a hummingbird’s. She wore a little golden crown on her head, indicating she was the queen. The rest of the figures were a variety of ladies and gentlemen, all with tiny wings, accompanied by a trailing caravan of food dishes.
The tiny queen spoke. “I am Silvana, your Highness, come to provide the food for your Banquet of Lords. And this is –”
Suddenly Silvana’s tiny face took on a look of horror.
She sniffed the air, then looked in the direction of goblins still huddled in the corner of the kitchen. “What is that?” Silvana hissed.
“Goblins!” she shrieked. The rest of the fairies stared with equal horror on their faces.
At the sound of the fairies’ hisses, the goblins abruptly stopped their shuffling and scuttled in the direction of the fairies floating in mid-air.
“Really, they’re harmless,” Amadea tried to tell the fairies, but she was drowned out by the bellows, grunts and groans of the now-boisterous goblins, scrabbling for the fairies, who departed swiftly through the locked wooden door, disappearing along with the trail of food dishes. Amadea watched, transfixed, as the horde of goblins pounded and scratched on the door after the vanished fairies.
She sank down on a kitchen stool. The food was gone. The goblins were out of control. And, outside, she heard the unequivocal sound of elves on the picket line again, apparently now transformed back to their usual selves.
It was no use. She’d be married off to that disagreeable Prince Edgar before the next full moon.
She looked at Periwinkle, who was frowning at the goblins. “What should we do now?” Amadea called, over the loud scraping of the goblins and the distant shouts of the elven protesters. Mistress Periwinkle shrugged and rolled her eyes.
A gray vapor began to rise from under the door. Great, thought Amadea, what now? As the smoke began to clear she saw something at the foot of the door.
A very fat green frog.
It was the size of a large turtle, emerald-green with dark brown speckles on its back. It opened its mouth and said, “Croak.”
As the smoke cleared a strange figure stood in the kitchen.
Periwinkle came to Princess Amadea’s side, and they both gazed at the figure. He was all skinny legs and arms, and he stood a bit taller than one would expect for a resident of this kingdom. He wore a scarlet morning coat, a blue silk tie, dark blue trousers, and on his head, a gleaming top hat. When he saw the two women staring at him, he removed the hat and held it in his hands.
Periwinkle gave a little gasp. Amadea, too, was surprised to see his ears were long and pointed.
Periwinkle crossed herself superstitiously.
“Good-day,” he said. “Have I the pleasure of addressing her Royal Highness Princess Amadea?”
Amadea nodded, still coughing slightly at the smoke. “And you are –?” she asked.
“My card,” he replied. With a flourish, the odd creature took out his card and offered it to Amadea. It read, “Ezriel, Goblin Master.”
Periwinkle gave a sharp intake of breath. “Not goblins!” she exclaimed.
Amadea had only a vague notion of what goblins were. She had never seen any, nor could she remember her father mentioning them to her as a child. She had an impression they weren’t the most trustworthy of creatures, but she didn’t think that was reason enough to fear them, as Periwinkle seemed to. But then Periwinkle had always been superstitious.
Ezriel’s smile never wavered. “Oh, there’s been bad talk about goblins for ages,” he said. “But I’ve found through my work that goblins are in fact most easily trainable and highly well-adjusted creatures. I think you’ll find their services can be quite satisfactory, especially on an emergency basis –”
“Goblins are trouble!” Periwinkle broke in. She gave Ezriel a look of pure revulsion.
“There has always been a lot of nasty prejudice against goblins,” he said.
“Prejudice! What a lot of nonsense!” Periwinkle went on. “They’ll rob you. Steal the children –”
Ezriel sighed. ” – curdle the milk, make your livestock go barren –” He shook his head, an indulgent smile on his face. “It’s sad, really, that the old stereotypes continue to be perpetuated.”
“What do you want from me?” Amadea asked.
Ezriel bowed again. He said, “I understand you’ve got a bit of a situation here. The Banquet of Lords is to be held here tonight, and your union of elves has inconveniently gone on strike . . .” His smile was sympathetic.
“We’ll manage,” Amadea asserted, just as she’d said to Mitchell.
“I believe I can be of service,” Ezriel continued. “I can arrange it so your guests will not notice anything out of the ordinary, so that everything goes perfectly –”
“You could get rid of the elves?” she asked.
“Not remove them. I could mask their disturbance, however. Not only that, my goblins could provide the palace service that is normally done by your elves.”
“And what would be the cost for such a service?”
“Well,” Ezriel said smoothly, “normally I do charge a premium for such service. But, in this case, I am willing to forego my usual charge in exchange for certain considerations.”
“That you consider replacing the elves with my goblins . . . permanently.”
Amadea considered the situation. She hated to go against Periwinkle’s judgment, but she couldn’t afford to settle with Mitchell. Perhaps it would work out. What choice did she have?
“How soon can your goblins be here?” she asked Ezriel, ignoring Periwinkle’s gasp.
Ezriel smiled even wider. “Everything will be arranged immediately,” he said.
“And you’ll do something about the picket lines out there?”
He nodded. “It’s as good as done, your highness.”
A sense of relief swept over Amadea. Soon everything would be taken care of. It would all work out.
She had a momentary concern that Periwinkle might abandon her, given her loathing of goblins. But after a long silence, Periwinkle said, “Well, you’ll need someone to protect you, with those dirty devils about. Let the heavens protect us now!”
Well, here we are in the last part of the summer, post-August 15th, at the time when you really start feeling the curve of the sunlight dropping slowly slowly slowly toward the golden autumn crispiness that leads again into winter. At my latitude we get about fourteen hours of sunlight in a day this time of year, down from almost fifteen hours at the start of the month, and by October 1st we will have passed the equinox, and it will be less than 12 hours of light in the day. Such a gradual process, losing the length of daylight, that one hardly notices. But there is a feel in the light this time of year that seems to suggest the passing away of time, even before autumn arrives.
Lately I have been thinking about rejections I’ve received on my work. I have been fortunate to receive a number of acceptances and to have my work published in some small fiction journals over the past three years. But the acceptances still fail to take the sting out of rejection. People say putting one’s work out there is one of the hardest things to do, and I always tell other writers that they should give themselves credit simply for being willing to take the chance to submit their work, even though it is difficult to take the rejections that inevitably come back from submissions. Even if one is confident in the value of their work, even if one braces themselves against the possibility of rejection, though, it can still be discouraging and frustrating to get back rejections.
When the rejection includes an indication, however small, that you might have some acknowledgment of the value of the work, it feels much less bruising. This week I got a rejection email from a flash fiction market on a story that I submitted, which is a bit of a quirky piece, but which I still like very much as a work of art. In this rejection they sent me the feedback from their 5 slush readers. While most of the five readers obviously did not like the premise at all, asking questions that indicated they didn’t get what I was trying for in the piece, one of the readers completely understood it, and they said they liked it. It was wonderful just to see that.
Today I would like to share a piece that is a one-sentence story of about 400 words, which did get rejected from the market I intended it for, but which I still like very much, and in that spirit I wanted to share it with you. By putting it out here on my blog I am choosing to publish it myself, so I will not be sending it out for first-publication rights to any other markets. But I have a feeling you will enjoy it, and that makes me happy to know.
About this piece: I wrote this in response to a one-sentence piece published in monkeybicycle some time ago. If you click on the link here, scroll down to Prelude Op. 02 No. 21 by Dean Liao, you will see the piece that inspired this one. I wanted a more upbeat tone in my piece, since that one is fairly dark in its ending.
Prelude in B-Flat Major
(After Dean Liao)
She sat on the windowsill in a hotel room on the 25th floor, a wide and deep sill from the 1930s when the hotel was built, a windowsill on which you could eat a five-course meal or play a game of checkers with your grandfather or make love to your most cunning crush from work, looking over Central Park like in the movies, freshly full from room service’s delicate poached eggs and tartly shredded hash browns, sesame-grain wheat toast with sweet jam from a tiny jar made for elves, a jar kept company on the room service tray by matching doll-sized salt and pepper shakers, all encased in a slate-steel protective heat cover that indicated her meal was crafted only for her, even though it was not, it was just one more meal in the kitchen for a guest on the twenty-fifth floor overlooking the park, but she liked to imagine herself as unique and worthy of attention, if only from the staff of room service in a hotel across the street from Central Park, because, as her therapist had told her, it is in the connections to one another that we can hold back the specter, the temptation, the impulse to take one’s life, and of course she did not wish to disappoint her therapist, Ms. Ramsay, who wore reindeer sweaters at Christmas and Fourth of July fireworks earrings in the summer, Ms. Ramsay who suggested this little holiday after their recent check-in session in which the therapist had pronounced much progress had been made, and wouldn’t this be the perfect time to take a break from your demanding job, to take care of yourself for a change with a stay at a New York hotel, yet in the back of her thoughts, hovering like a pack of jackals in the Serengeti, there it is, the thought you don’t deserve this, all this, that you cannot be happy while you know your son has died in a distant dry land and will never be back, will never cross the threshold of your home again, the thought that led you to see Ms. Ramsay last year, and how could she have known two celebrity suicides would be in the news this weekend, but for now you breathe, breathe, you savor this moment of not-knowing, and you smile at your flat reflection in the window, so familiar and so distant, so calm.
the neighbor’s air conditioner
a passing truck
the car alarm in the mini-mart parking lot on the corner
the street light out front
conversation of two passers-by
a police siren