by Phoebe Cramer
The Princess is in her pink bedroom pressing her thighs together. She is sixteen. She wonders about this feeling, the friction of her skirts against her skin. She’s not sure what it is she’s doing or what it is she wants.
The Princess eats dinner with her parents, the King and the Queen. She has trouble keeping spinach leaves on her fork, ends up taking bites too big, stems protruding from her mouth.
The Princess may have many virtues, but she is not a graceful eater.
The Princess has many suitors vying for her hand and, by extension, half the kingdom. She watches from her tower window every morning as they line up in the courtyard to complete the seven tasks her father has set forth as obstacles to her virginity and his countryside:
— scaling the crystal pyramid
— retrieving the golden ring from the wishing well
— separating grains of sugar from grains of salt
— picking the box containing the princess’s golden necklace
from a sea of identical boxes
— answering a riddle of some kind
— crafting a pair of shoes to fit the princess’s delicate
— defeating the troll at quarterstaffs
The Princess wakes up with a pimple on her chin the day that someone finally masters all these tasks. She pops it with her bare fingers, wiping away the bit of white ooze and then the bit of blood.
The Princess meets the man to whom she will be wedded on the day of their wedding. Her father, the King, gives her away. Her mother, the Queen, cries quiet tears, at first for her daughter and then for herself. It is a beautiful ceremony, all agree.
The Princess loses her virginity to her new husband on their wedding night. She is relieved to have it finally gone, a burden lifted from her shoulders. Maybe the world is open to her now: she can have an affair with the handsome stable boy, she can sunbathe naked on the tower roof. She thinks maybe there is nothing fragile in her now, no barriers to the life she’s always wanted, the love she’s always craved. She thinks maybe she is finally free.
It is a different feeling than she had thought it would be.
Her husband pulls out, rolls off of her. The Princess drifts to sleep.
Waking in the middle of the night to the moonlight cutting through the bedroom window, I find that my arms are feathered things — little blond body hairs replaced with soft, dark down.
In a panic, I rush to my private dressing room, take in my strange feathered form in the mirror there.
Frantically, I look back over all my days on earth for an action that could have triggered this.
I have always been kind to ugly beggar women, giving them coins and giving them scraps in case they were cruel enchantresses in disguise.
I have never taken a piece of jewellery for my own that was not rightfully mine to begin with. Nor a rose. Nor a horse. Nor an anything.
My parents slighted no one when they sent the invitations to my christening those sixteen years ago.
Nothing I have done should have given rise to this. I did not lose my virginity before my wedding night.
Perhaps my husband once had another lover, one with magic, and in marrying me he slighted her. And this is how she enacts her revenge. Is this the kind of thing one can confront one’s husband about?
I scratch at my arms like a wild thing.
The feathers scrape off my skin easily, drift from my body and land in a soft pile on the carpet.
The sun rises. The room lightens. The Princess sees that her arms are only skin again. She leaves the privacy of her chambers, eats breakfast with her husband, returns to the world.
The Princess has a busy day. She and her husband take a carriage to their castle. Her husband exclaims at the rolling hills, the peasants who are now his subjects.
There are receptions to be had. Dignitaries from other kingdoms arrive bearing gifts, attempting to curry favor with the new ruling couple.
That evening there is a ball. The Princess dances with her husband. She steps on his feet.
The Princess may have many virtues, but she is not a graceful dancer.
That night the Princess and her husband once again have sex. It’s better for her this time. She thinks she is beginning to understand what she has heard her serving women speak of.
In the darkest part of the night, I come awake again.
What is it I’ve just dreamt? I can’t seem to remember.
I blink the sleep from my eyes and find that I can see through the darkness, the bedroom bathed in an eerie green light.
I stand and walk to the open window. The moon is a huge round thing, the night breeze cool and fresh and rustling my feathers.
I look down.
My whole body is covered in those same soft feathers from before. Slightly longer, now. Slightly sturdier. My breath catches. I am so beautiful.
The feathers cover places that my fingers could not possibly reach to scratch. I will have to run a bath.
I cannot risk my serving woman’s eyes, will have to figure out on my own how it is a bath is run. Where does the water come from? How is it heated?
I think I’ve done it wrong because the water is like ice and it is all that I can do not to cry out.
Still, the bath melts the feathers from my skin.
The green glow fades from the room and all is shadow once again.
The Princess climbs back into her bed. Her husband snores on, ignorant.
The Princess adjusts to this new life, hosting banquets and hearing peasants’ complaints and riding through the countryside that once was her father’s and now is her husband’s, the wind hard on her face.
And every night rising to wash away the feathers that spring from her skin. Each night they grow harder to be rid of.
The Princess returns to the stable after her ride one Tuesday. The stable boy is there, the one she had insisted they bring with them from her father’s castle.
The Princess smiles at him shyly as she dismounts from her horse in a single move, but then trips over her own feet and falls directly into his arms in an embarrassing display.
The Princess may have many virtues but…
The Princess and the stable boy linger in this position longer than strictly necessary, bodies pressed close together. It is the late afternoon. It is summer and very hot.
The Princess knows the stable boy will never be the one to kiss her first. The Princess knows that she’s still passing as a princess.
She leans in.
Sex with the stable boy is so different from sex with her husband. Her husband treats her like something he has won through completing seven nigh impossible tasks. The stable boy treats her like one of the village girls he has seduced.
Both leave something to be desired.
That night the feathers come in early, start forming even at the dinner table. I excuse myself, claiming illness, that my appetite is failing me.
What will I do? What will happen if –
But then would it be so bad to just let the feathers grow?
I suppose there could be a kind of freedom in that.
I press my thighs together in the bath and let myself imagine what it would feel like to fly.
The sky dark, deep. The thudding of my pulsing wings. The thudding of my pounding heart.
The feel of the air surrounding me. The warm night air. The rush of the air. Working its way between my feathers, beneath my wings, against my body. Consuming me completely. Moving over me, under me, carrying me onwards, upwards, upwards, upwards, up.
A feeling I never thought possible. Letting the air move me. Letting go, letting go. Free. Moving with the air, into it, until we are one being. One soaring, gorgeous being.
All other thoughts leave my mind.
I am my wild body. Just dancing with the sky.
The Attendant sent to check on The Princess finds her chambers empty. Through the gaping windows, she thinks she sees a large black bird flying away from the castle, darker than the falling night.
Phoebe Cramer is a writer, performer and recent graduate of Bard College. Her interests include fairy tales, intersectional feminism, bad teen soap operas, and pizza. She can occasionally be found on twitter @PhoebeLCramer.