King Lot enters the gloomy nursery, picks up his newborn. Behind him, he hears the nurse mutter, “This accursed child killed our queen.”
Outside, in the gallery, he pauses in front of his wife’s portrait. The artist spent months capturing the queen’s dewy skin, the mole on her lip, that come-hither look. The king opens his mouth, cannot utter her name.
He rocks the whimpering baby on a swing in the garden. Discreet attendants, dressed in mourning, hover at a distance.
The king leans close to the baby and whispers, “Darling Destiny, thank you for freeing me!”
* * *
At Destiny’s elite boarding school, students receive goodies from home.
“My mother has blue eyes and golden hair,” she says, hoping to make friends, wishing they’ll share.
Her classmates cover their mouths and giggle, for the princess has brown eyes, olive skin, dark hair.
“My mother talks to me all the time,” Destiny says.
No one listens. They’re opening gift boxes, reading cards that say, “I love you.”
While they eat their treats, Destiny cuddles with her flaxen-haired doll under the blanket. She presses a button on the doll’s hand, hears a mechanical voice say, “Hello, my dear!” Over and over.
She imagines it’s her mother’s speaking.
* * *
Craving anonymity, Destiny opts to spend fall semester of college with a host family. They accept her as a dentist’s daughter, offer hearty stews and the resonance of a foreign tongue.
She doesn’t complain when her skin roughens, when farm dirt discolors her nails. She enjoys wearing overalls, establishes a camaraderie with the produce pickers.
Pedro makes her heart ache with love. He showers her with attention, is hurt when she denies him a photo. From him, she learns the taste of a commoner’s saliva.
But his bed is uncomfortable. She overturns the mattress, finds the pebble—loses her temper with her trust.
She flings the rock. It hits Pedro’s forehead. His turn to ache.
* * *
The astrologer tells Destiny, “Your stars are crossed.” He cannot find her a royal match.
“You’re not looking hard enough,” she says.
She dismisses him and asks for a palmist instead, the best in the land.
The bespectacled palmist is lean, serious. Her palm fits snugly in his hands. He peers at her heart line, her life line and her fate line. His warm breath caresses her finger’s tips as he studies the whorls and patterns. “Your Highness will marry,” he declares. “And soon.”
A month later, the princess marries the palmist.
* * *
Guests rise as King Lot and his daughter, Destiny, enter the cathedral’s decorated aisle. His fingers tremble on her arm.
“You can do this,” she tells him, waving a hand to acknowledge the crowd.
At the altar, a handsome man awaits them, his gaze transmitting love.
“I’m not giving you away,” Destiny says in her father’s ear. “I’m embracing a new era.”
The king smiles at the groom, soon his consort.
SUDHA BALAGOPAL’s recent fiction appears in New Flash Fiction Review, New World Writing, rkvry quarterly literary journal, Jellyfish Review and Lost Balloon among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories. More at http://www.sudhabalagopal.com
Image: Mira DeShazer via Pixabay