The White Palace apartments were, predictably enough, located at the cul-de-sac end of Palace Road. Palace Road when viewed from above was a denim colored ribbon laid down on a sheet of green velvet. As you approached the two story rectangular building it did indeed have the appearance of being white. However, once you hit the concrete crescent drive -that endless flat sided loop running between the building and it’s row of six flat-roofed car shelters- you could see that it was in fact the palest shade of blue.
On the outside the Palace was as plain as a new sheet of paper. Outsides however are not what’s important. The inside of the building was eight little shoe boxes all stacked neatly in a row. Four on the bottom and four on the top. Any child could tell you the importance of a shoe-box. It is where you store your treasure of course!
Coincidently three princes, two princesses and one queen lived at the White Palace. Three little piggies, a witch with a B, a big brown toad and sweet little old lady also called the White Palace home.
Prince number one was a pot-bellied, bad-mouthed, white and tan terrier with who lived on the ground floor, with the witch with a B, in apartment three Mrs Delanie. Okay so Mrs D wasn't all bad. She did love her Princ'y-winciy and she was good at baking. But she was always complaining and she was a racist. As for Mr Delanie well... he'd been a serious piece of work and nobody really could blame her. But this is not her story.
Princes number two and three were the Palaces most popular residents. Brothers Jackson and Leroy Prince. Ironically or perhaps just annoyingly. Jackson and Leroy lived in the very last apartment. As you might guess, number eight was at the end of the top row. Access to the Princes’ apartment was via an external concrete staircase open to the elements. Meaning that when it rained, which was every other day and twice on Sunday’s, any upstairs residents or visitors venturing in or out were forced to dash as fast as they could with one hand holding an umbrella, a piece of broken cardboard box or a newspaper over their heads while keeping a firm grip on the thin metal handrail. Those worn steps could get very slippery indeed!
For safety’s sake there was a rusty pull down fire escape located at the rear of the building. However it was so ancient and flimsy that it was doubtful that it could even support the weight of one tiny lady and her guitar. And a song, my Huckleberry friend, partially a weighty one -like say Moon River- could undoubtedly send the whole thing crashing to the ground.
Being the Palace’s most popular residents meant that these particular Princes, had many many visitors, coming and going at all hours of the night and day. The fact that Jackson and Leroy’s callers had to travel so far to knock on their well worn door was only a problem for the travellers themselves. Oh, and the Palace dwellers who had to put up with the parade of Joyville’s most interesting and colorful residents traipsing noisily past their homes at all hours.
It was not a problem for the Princes, they were carefree young fellows who were happy to spend their days at home watching TV, listening to music, playing computer games and answering the door. But this isn’t the brothers story either.
Oh yes I know what you are thinking, of course the black guys are the drug dealers, but no this is not at all about race. Drug dealers can just as easily be white, like the skinny freak who used to live across the hall. Jackson and Leroy like half the town happened to be black, they also happened to be drug dealers, the grass happened to be green, the big brown toad happened to live under the Palace’s foundation stone, it’s just the way things were.
Princess number one was a white fluffy persian with a dainty pink nose and big golden eyes. She was soft as marshmallows and twice as sweet, at least that’s what her owner, the nice old lady, Miss Gander in apartment one was always saying. And yes, you're getting warm, but this is not a story about a cat, or even a sweet little old lady with a funny surname.
The queen, or to be accurate Queeny, was a yellow and green budgerigar of unknown gender. He/she belonged to Little Jimmy Diggery. But you and I are too refined to call him that. We would just call him Jimmy, well, because that’s his name and to a person of short stature ‘Little’ is a bit of a derogatory term. It's not easy to tell the sex of a budgie, when you're no bird expert, at least that was Jimmy’s claim. But the truth was that to Jimmy gender had always seemed nothing more than a flat circle that went around and around and around. Or was that time? No matter time/gender, gender/time they were both unstoppable unfeeling bitches taking us for a ride in spin dryer of life.
Could we have come to the end of our list of royals with out finding our stories star?
Not quite. I'm sure you noticed we skipped over a princess and went straight to a queen. We have one last princess up our sleeve. She was sweet too, but in a luscious dark haired, prom queen kind of way, rather than a white cloud with flat faced way. This princess was the Palace’s newest resident and she lived high off the ground in apartment number six. Unlike the Persian, princess wasn’t actually her real name.
Her name was Ebony-Joy Rosethorne. Princess was just what everybody had called her since she was two seconds old. And yes, big boys and girls, Princess Ebony-Joy Rosethorne was born to be the star of any and all shows.
There was no doubt that Ebony had been the Princess of Nowhereville High, where her daddy still reigned as King, although he was happy to be called Principle Rosethorne. Her mama was a nurse and her boyfriend was none other than football star Johnny Millhone. But high school was over and she was now the queen of the Walmart perfume and cosmetics counter, a role that suited her well.
Ebony was always one to get strange ideas in her head. Now that she had graduated and gotten a job she wanted her own little treasure box. Away from the ever prying eyes of her proud protective folks. Once she had made up her mind and loaded her clothes into the back of her little red sports car and her bedroom furniture was in the back of Johnny's truck. Her unhappy parents knew they had no choice, they could either support their beautiful, stubborn daughter or they could lose her for good. Mrs Rosethorne took her shopping at Home Depot and they managed to make her shoebox quite nice. In fact in Ebony’s eyes her little home was close to perfect, apart from the front door which needed a good hard push or the lock didn’t properly click shut.
She had asked Little Jimmy, who was the building's super to fix it. Ebony wasn’t mean she was simply naive and she just figured that’s what the kids at school had always called him. So she never did understand why he didn’t show up to fix it.
Ebony was a charming girl. She was popular at work and she had been popular at school, now she made friends in the Palace too. She listened politely to grumpy Mrs Delanie complain about those no good black boys in apartment eight and their unsavory visitors and how she had a good mind to call in the law, while she rubbed Prince’s belly under the table with her foot. She took Prince for walks along the forest trail that ran from the back of the apartments and into the thick Greensville woods all the way down to the deep blue river.
Ebony had nothing against Jackson and Leroy, in fact she quite liked them and had on more than one occasion sat on their comfortable old sofa watching TV, listening to music or playing computer games with them. So what if her parents or Johnny or Mrs Delanie didn’t approve, she had moved out of home so that she didn’t have to take orders from anybody.
Ebony also enjoyed visiting with Miss Gander and Princess in apartment one. She loved listening to Miss Gander’s strange stories and crazy ideas about the little folk who lived in the woods behind the Palace. But her favourites were the tales of the two exquisite River Nymph sisters with whom Miss Gander had swam, played and sang as a child. Light-bright-Larunda, pale, slippery, silver moonlight and Dark-deep-Lethe, every blue, iridescent dragonfly, glacier cold, warm sun-kissed rockpool. Miss Gander suffered from arthritis and occasional nightmares which she said were caused by the fat brown toad that lived beneath the building. Her prediction was that until that toad was gotten rid of the residents of the Palace would face hardship and misfortune.
Time went by as it’s want to do. The hardworking single mother with the grubby triplets, in apartment four, won some money in the Lotto. She bought the boys shiney new trikes, so they now spent their days riding in the front yard. Ebony leant on the balcony rail and sucked on her smoke. The three boys went around and around and around.
A hot breeze ran dirty fingers through her long black hair. Lately she had had trouble sleeping and her and Johnny had been fighting. Word around Shadowville was Johnny had been drinking and playing around. Word was he might be cut from the college team.
Crickets sang. A windchime tinkled. The boys were called to supper. A restless dark eyed princess took a swig of vodka and watched the sun go down.
She rolled and turned on the hot mattress drifting in and out of fitful sleep. Waiting, desperately waiting for golden Johnny. He could arrive at any time. Let himself in with his hexagonal key. Miss Gander arrives instead. She has come for tea with red red roses in her snow white hair.
‘Make yourself at home, I’ll be out of bed soon. Don’t forget to push hard on the door.’
But Miss Gander is gone, did she close the door? Sleep now, sleep, sleep, sleep, down, down, down. Kick off the covers, dive in deep but come up again, you need to breathe.
Footsteps on the floor, Johnny’s key in the door? I’ll be out of bed soon. It’s all right Johnny’s here. His weight’s on the bed. She’s face down on the mattress glowing softly in the moonlight, a puddle of spilt white milk and black coca cola. It’s all right it's only Johnny and she is Johnny’s girl. Johnny’s medicine to take. He slips her panties off and pulls her into him. They rock together on the bed. In her dreams she hears a stag bellow at the moon.
The glaring afternoon sun kissed the sleeping princess into life. She awoke in her big messy bed alone. Where had her golden Johnny gone? She couldn’t have dreamt him being here. Her black lace panties were gone, her thighs felt sticky and her mouth was dry.
She filled a glass from the kitchen faucet gulped it down, refilled it, drunk it down again. Her eyes went to the open front door. The Palace plummeted into a black sinkhole. She threw her shoulder at it again and again till wood splintered from the frame. She sat against the door and shook for days.
Her daddy put three new locks on the door the next day. Mrs Rosethorne went in and cleaned. The hollow eyed princess stayed with her parents for three weeks. When Johnny came to the house with flowers and candy Mrs Rosethorne invited him in. Ebony and Johnny sat on the front porch talked. She forgave him. College was a struggle. It was hard being apart. Mr Rosethorne was going to advise on tutoring and football wasn’t the only thing in life.
When the princess moved back to the Palace there was an apology letter and a disco ball keychain from Jimmy, a bunch of yellow roses from Miss Gander, a plate of ginger cookies from Mrs Delanie and a fat joint from the brothers.
Three boys circled around and around and around. Leaves turned from green into copper. Ebony’s black hair was soft and shiny and her belly grew more and more round. Word around Murmurville was Johnny was doing better at school. Word was he would make a good daddy, word was the prince and princess of Murmurville High were still drifting further apart.
By the time Larunda Lethe Rosethorn greeted the world, golden Johnny was out of the picture. Larunda had her mother's midnight hair and full lips. Her eyes came from somewhere else. They were too large, almond shaped and an odd pale yellow, not that unlike those of Princess the cat. But they pulled you into their golden orbit and made you circle there forever like she was the sun.
Her laugh was the tinkle of silver bells and her smile was summer rain. She was beloved around the Palace where no one minded that she never spoke a word. She could tell your more with those strange eyes then you could ever want to know.
The boys rode their skate boards around and around and around while Larunda rode one of their hand me down trikes. She always held her mother's slender hand when they took Prince for his evening walks. Miss Gander worried about the girl's name and referred to her, my little changeling.
One hot summer's day Larunda skipped off into the forest with the little old dog. The big bad wind huffed though the trees and set her raven locks circling.
Two hours later Prince came trotting back alone, his red leash dragging along behind him.
Ebony ran blindly through the woods screaming for her daughter . She called and called until her voice was gone. Mrs Rosethorn wrapped Princess in a blanket and led her home while most of Doomville spent the whole night and the following day searching. No trace was found.
The paramedics came and sedated Ebony, they took her away with them and kept her for three months. Ebony insisted on returning to the Palace. So Mrs Rosethorn let herself in with her key and packed up her granddaughter’s things and took them away with her.
More time went by and Ebony spent her days in silent watch for her daughter. Wherever she was her eyes had a way of drifting towards the woods, as if she could see for miles and through walls. She was always looking to see her daughter come walking along that worn earth track from the woods.
Late one night, princess Ebony awoke to hear the old brown toad singing. She ran downstairs and drove her hands into the soil. She dug and dug until her fingers bled and at last she lifted the fat old toad from his earth bed. Gripping him tight she followed the path bare foot down to the deep blue river.
Word around Strangeville is she was found just hours after she was reported missing. Word is she was lying face up in the river surrounded by dragonflies in every shade of blue. A crown of woven green reeds was on her head and her long black hair was decorated with water lilies. The clear water flowed across her face like a mask.
Word is the princess was a vision of loveliness and the truly odd thing... she was smiling.