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!”
“But still he checked each lottery ticket which littered/the empty lot next door, praised their silver latex glitter,/praying to the beautiful unscratched, like little gods.” – Richard Michelson, “More Money Than God”
You drank all the champagne last night but you forgot until you woke up this morning – well, closer to noon – and you saw the six empty champagne bottles lying on the carpet. The green shag carpet in the basement rec room of your mom’s split-level in the suburbs. Who was it last night, Margaret and Tanya and Jeremy and Peter, they all came over to celebrate the solstice, at least that’s what they said last night, even though the winter solstice is still a month away. Thank goodness your mom’s in Baltimore visiting your sister, that’s why you had the place to yourself last night, so that you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone else, and by the time she gets back you’ll have the place back to normal-looking, six champagne bottles in the recycle bin – maybe even off the premises, so she doesn’t get suspicious.
But then your cell phone rings, and it’s a Facetime call, and it’s your mom. Your mom. You click the button, “Accept,” and you put on your normal-happy face and drop into your cheerful nothing-going-on-here voice.
“Mom!” you say. “How’s Baltimore?”
She’s wearing bright purple sweats and a yellow scarf. “Just went for a jog,” she says. You see your sister’s fifties-style ranch house kitchen in the background, pink appliances and all.
“Jog?” you say. “You never jog, Mom.”
“Your sister took me around the track at the high school,” she says. She pauses. “Right after we watched the video.”
“What video? You mean NetFlix?” you ask. Your mom has just recently signed up for streaming NetFlix and you’ve already caught a season or two of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on the TV upstairs.
“The video. The party video,” she says, pleasantly enough.
Your head is spinning. Is it the champagne hangover making you groggy?
“Mom, what party?”
“You know. Jeremy, Tanya, Peter, and . . . what was that other girl’s name?” In the background, your sister says, “Margaret,” all echo-y in the kitchen.
You pause. She’s not supposed to know about that. She’s not supposed to know about the champagne and all. She’s in Baltimore, for chrissakes.
“How did you -” you manage to say.
“Nanny cam, sweetie. They put them on the Internet these days.”
It sinks in. You glance around the rec room, searching. Where is the damned camera?
“Just thought I’d let you know. You’ll probably want to tell your friends you’ll be busy for the rest of the week.”
“And if I don’t?” The words are out before you’ve even thought about them.
“Well, there are new videos going up on YouTube every day,” she says sweetly. “Your sister’s going to show me how just as soon as we’re done here.”
“We’re done, Mom,” you say wearily.
“I thought so. Love you!”
As your mom’s face winks out, you silently curse your sister for being more net-savvy than you – she always was – and your mom for being the all-around sneak that she is.
By the time you’ve washed up the dishes an hour later, you’ve got a plan ready for the rest of the week. It takes less time than you expect to set up a new subscription to Amazon Prime, and your mom’s Amazon account still has the same password from when you lived at home full-time in high school. Binge-watching premium movies is a great way to spend the week, and you’ll look innocent enough on any hidden camera in the house. Interstellar. The Hunger Games. The latest Mission: Impossible movie.
And she may not even see the bill for a month or two, who knows?
“And add the halfpence to the pence/And prayer to shivering prayer, until” – William Butler Yeats, “September 1913”
Abby found the ten pence coin in the street. She had gone outside to play on her mother’s orders. “Screen time’s up – out you go,” her mother had said. Reluctantly Abby turned off reruns of “I Love Lucy” and got on her jacket, then went outside to sit on the front steps.
It was a small coin, the ten pence. She might never have seen it if the crowned lion on the face hadn’t growled.
Yes, growled. At first she didn’t recognize the sound; was it a bit of machinery from around the corner? But no, the sound was definitely coming from the street in front of her. Was it something below the street, then? She got up and went to the curb to look. There was no traffic, it was a quiet Friday afternoon – Veteran’s Day, so she’d gotten the day off of school – and besides, on their small cul-de-sac they didn’t get many cars except the neighbors’.
Abby’s mom did at-home payroll for an IT company, and she didn’t like Abby hanging around inside the house, much as Abby loved to curl up in the big chair in the living room and read when she wasn’t watching old TV shows on TiVO. Abby had gotten used to poking around outside for things to do, although it didn’t make her enjoy time being outside any better. Just because you’re used to a thing doesn’t mean you get any pleasure out of it.
It didn’t help that it was November in Seattle, a time after the end of Daylight Saving Time, when it got dark at five in the afternoon and most days were gray and dreary. But this day was unseasonably sunny and even a little warmer than usual.
At the curb Abby looked down, and right there on the dark pavement, nestled next to the iron-cast storm drain with its painted fish logo (“This drain goes straight to Puget Sound”), was the coin. Looking closer, she could make out the stamped outline of the lion, paws akimbo, crown on its head.
What was that rhyme? “Find a penny, pick it up – all the day you’ll have good luck.” The verse ran through her head as she crouched down.
Well. This wasn’t a penny. But it was something. Was it real? Maybe it was play money.
She picked up the coin and ran her thumb over the lion’s outline. The text around the lion said, “Ten Pence.”
Then she remembered the growling she’d heard. Had she imagined it? There was not a sound now, not a peep.
Make a wish. She should make a wish.
It was a little tarnished. One edge had a dent, as if it had been run over or caught in a clencher like a vise. If the coin was once lucky, had the luck been bent out of it by its prior collisions with everyday life? Perhaps as a coin wore out it became less lucky. Or perhaps the opposite was true – the more marks and blemishes, the better. She thought of the story of Aladdin’s lamp and how old and battered the lamp looked, leading Aladdin’s wife to give it away to the villainous lamp collector-magician. . . . or maybe that was Ali Baba with the lamp? No, definitely Aladdin.
Abby closed her hand around the coin and felt its cool steeliness smooth her palm. Lucky or no, it was a treasure, a ten pence coin that had turned up in front of her house. A ten pence coin that had growled at her, no less! She was positive of that.
But what would she wish for? Like Aladdin, she felt stymied by the possibilities. A million dollars. A new house. A pony. – Didn’t every girl her age want a pony? Well, no, not a pony – a horse. A brilliantly fast chestnut mare, who would run to Abby when she called and take her anywhere she wanted. Who would love her as much as Abby loved the horse.
That was ridiculous. As her mother said every time Abby brought it up, “Where would we put a horse? You don’t keep an animal like that in suburbia!” And Abby would imagine the horse, her horse, in their back yard under the chinaberry tree, and she knew her mother was right. Her back yard was no place for a horse.
Huh. Abby walked slowly back to the front porch. She sat down on the steps, still holding the coin tucked inside her fist. She had to think about this.
Well, a wish was as good as a prayer. Her grandmother was always asking Abby to pray for everyone who needed it – those who were sick, those who had lost loved ones, those who had had some family tragedy. Her mother would say that her grandmother had a taste for drama. It was probably a good thing that her grandmother was back in Michigan and her mother and Abby were out here in Washington.
A wish was as good as a prayer. Abby decided to close her eyes and make that wish. She would wish for what she really wanted, what she truly sincerely wanted, not just something that everyone thought you should wish for.
When she opened her eyes, nothing had happened. It was perhaps a little later in the day, the sun turning paler and the light coming across the yard next door.
But the coin had disappeared.
Years later Abby would think about that coin, would wonder idly where it might have gone next.
When she got old enough she moved to Colorado and took a degree in horse management, and then afterward she found a job with a ranching co-op near Fairplay. Her horse, a chestnut mare that ran brilliantly fast and came to Abby when she called her, was named Lyric.