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Princess

A woman's grief resurfaces during a drunken train ride home at dawn in this short story by Marta Orriols.

 

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive you, Paula?”

“A little fresh air will do me good.” She refuses the offer, for the umpteenth time, with a lackluster wave as she staggers off feigning an impossible sobriety. The high heels are no help. It’s almost six in the morning and the June sky is breaking pink; she wants to run but the drinks she’s had over the course of the night are churning inside her and making their presence known with some queasiness.

“OK, you’re the boss. I’ll call you about Wednesday. If you change your mind, let me know. Get some rest, princess!” she shouts as she starts the engine. Her friend’s voice sounds derisive as she drives past her, honking three times in a row. The echo of her voice is soon lost amid the sound of other cars also ending the night, or just preparing to start the day. A bitter note hung in the air like the prelude to the melody that accompanies her each time she descends into the depths of hell: Princess. Princess. Princess.

She pushes her wavy hair from her face, furiously battling to keep it out of her eyes. She slips into the metro entrance and suddenly the stairs go on infinitely. The slope invites her into the scabrous darkness, like each one of the times she’s entered it since she lost a smidgen of herself.

She takes a deep breath and shakes her head. No. She tries to keep her balance and her propriety, but the demons whisper in her ear with hot, foul breath, that the dress she’s wearing is too short and that the night has rumpled it so much it was now offensive, so she hurries to yank it down and cover up a bit of flesh, unable to avoid feeling dirty and exposed. Aren’t you a little old for that, Paula? Who do you think you’re fooling? And that sparkly crown? A headband, you say? You’re ridiculous. They’re malicious, wraithlike, and they never leave her alone.

***


Two minutes until the next train. Only a couple of lost souls wait, like her, below ground. The heat and the alcohol induce her to close her eyes for a moment and swallow hard. Her ears fill with a garbled buzzing. Keep it together, Paula. And don’t think about her when you’re like this, struggling to keep from vomiting or falling flat on the floor, don’t think about what it would have been like to wrap her in a spongy towel as you pull her from the little tub, not now, don’t imagine the tender scent of her immaculate skin as you rock her in your arms and repress your desire to stroke her little nose that looks just like yours. She grows pale. Sit down, Paula. The doctors don’t look you in the eye when they have bad news. A malformation. Basically, there’s no hope. Yes, I want to know. A girl. Princess. Princess. Princess.

***


The sound of the approaching train rouses her. Her eyes open just as the doors do, she enters mechanically and drops into a seat like a marionette being put away in a box.

She digs her elbows into her thighs to hold up the weight of her head. Three seats further down there is a very young couple. She is on top of him. They are molded together and intertwined in an endless metallic, salivary, tattooed kiss. They move their heads so quickly to braid their tongues together that Paula has to fight to keep down the disgust that crawls up her throat but, despite everything, she can’t stop looking at them. Obstinate and uneasy in equal parts, she drills her gaze onto the pink of their two soft tongues and can make out strawberry chewing gum moving from one mouth to the other. Paula sees her for just a few seconds in a metallic receptacle. A pink morsel, like a newborn mouse, but already with two hands and ten tiny fingers. She scrutinizes the couple until she hears the name of her station among the whistles of steel scraping the rails. She flees the car and takes the stairs two by two. Once she’s outside, she takes in a gulp of air before being received by the squawks of the early swifts alerting her that yes, that the sky at that hour is also pink that morning, a fleshy pink, a girly pink.

 

© 2016 by Marta Orriols & Edicions del Periscopi. By arrangement with the author and publisher. Translation © 2022 by Mara Faye Lethem. All rights reserved.

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