Monday, May 24, 2010

warrior princess- part one

      The day they moved into the big old house outside Vancouver was Zadie’s fifth birthday and she cried because her mother barely spoke to her and because she missed the coziness of their apartment back in Portland. But Michael, her mom’s boyfriend, knew the importance of turning five, especially when it’s five going on forty five. Before Zadie went to sleep that night, he told her he had a present for her.
      He began by tucking her tightly under the covers. He sat down beside her on the bed and dimmed the light on the nightstand.
      “Now,” he said, “I want to tell you the story of the greatest warrior princess in all of forest mythology.”
      It sounded kind of boring to Zadie. She wiggled away from him under the covers.
      “I don’t want to hear about any woods.”
      “Ah, yes. Woods are scary. At least, they were, once upon a time, before the strongest princess in all the land—Princess Zadie—came to be their protector. And she was fierce and smart and very beautiful. She had the longest, blackest hair that curled in the rain. And she had very pale skin and rosy cheeks that almost glowed in the darkness of the woods.”
      “Well, wasn’t Zadie scared?” asked the real Zadie, nestling herself deeper into her pillow.
      “No. She had been a tree sprite before she was a princess, so she knew all the best hiding places. And like I said, she was very smart. Princes Zadie loved adventure and she saved the forest from many dangerous creatures.”
      After that first story, ‘Princess Zadie’ became the tradition for Michael and Zadie. He would always have a brand new one when he came back from his weeklong shifts on the fishing boat. Zadie would wait for him for him to come home in their front yard, at the beginning of a long gravel path.
                  *  *  * 


      Zadie had met Michael while he was walking his dog in the Portland Park six months before. She’d worn her tap shoes to the park when her mother couldn’t find her tennis shoes. Zadie’s mom had never liked to play at the park and Zadie didn’t like to play with Grandma because she was too fussy.
      Zadie sent her grandmother to get a balloon and then snuck off in search of ice cream. Without any money, Zadie tried to barter with the vendor.
      “You’re sure I can’t have a monster-pop if I show you my tap dance? It’s at least worth seventy-five cents. That’s what my grandma paid for it yesterday.”
      Zadie demonstrated the clack of her tap shoes to the ice cream man.
      But before the man could answer, Michael’s black lab rushed up to the cart, which was as tall as Zadie.
      The ice cream man looked angry. “Hey—get that dog away from my cart! And you get away too, little girl. You can’t trade musical acts for ice cream.
      Michael laughed at the whole scene.
      “You can’t blame the girl for trying. Got to have respect for someone who’s willing to work for it. Why don’t you let me buy it. One monster-pop for my new friend here. “
      Zadie thought Michael was the tallest person she had ever seen. But she hadn’t been scared of him. She thanked him for the ice cream, but refrained from eating it.
      “Your dog is pretty.  What’s his name? You look like Magnum PI. My mom watches that show all the time.”
      “And where are your mom and dad?”
      “Mom’s asleep on the picnic blanket over there. Grandma went to get me a balloon. We don’t live with my dad anymore because Mom says life’s too short.”
      “You’re pretty funny, little girl,” Michael said, laughing at her.
      “My name is Zadie.”
      He walked her back over the grassy section of the park where her mother snored on the blanket. Zadie’s grandmother was calling to them, but it didn’t awaken her mother. Zadie decided to tickle her mother.
      “God! Stop it, Zadie,” her mother said. She sat up and smoothed her short dark hair, fixed her brastrap which had fallen down onto her shoulder.  “Don’t bring people over here when I’m sleeping.”
      Michael introduced himself and Zadie’s mom thanked him for the ice cream.
      “Let me have half, Zadie,” her mother said. “Go play so Mommy can talk to the tall handsome gentleman who found you.”
      Then Zadie and her Grandma went off to the swings, while her mother and Michael talked. As Zadie flew up high and then lunged back down from the air, she could see her mother extend her bare legs & feet towards Michael.  Saw her throw back her head laughing and shake her short dark hair. Closer to the ground, Zadie heard her mother say, “You lie like a rug, You charmer, You.” She nudged his leg with her foot laughing and laughing. Michael laughed too.
      All afternoon, they sat on the blanket while Zadie played. Normally, her mother cut her off from playing strictly after 2 hours—sometimes less if a good soap opera was on—but not that day.
      At some point, even Grandma felt the need to chime in that it was probably time to get Zadie some food.
      So Zadie’s mother invited Michael to eat with them at their apartment. He came over the next day too. And then everyday.
      Michael asked Zadie and her mother to move with him from Portland to Vancouver after only three months of dating.
      “It’s too fast,” Zadie’s Grandma said. “And he’s too old for you. You’re only 24 and he’s almost 40.”
      “I like fast,” said Zadie’s mom.
      And she did seem so happy. She quit her job at the pet store and Michael helped them pack up the apartment.
      Zadie’s mom had put on dance music and sang—first into a hairbrush, then a shampoo bottle, then a Barbie doll, before casting them all into one of the boxes that filled the living room. Zadie felt anxious about moving to another state, but loved packing together and feeling like they were a family. 
                  *   *   * 
      Around Michael, Zadie could ask all the questions about the world that filled her head, but her mom would never let her ask.
      Like, Why do people die? What’s skin made out of? What’s hair made out of?
      Michael did his best to answer, normally in the form of a Princess Zadie story, but promised her that she’d get better answers from her teacher once she started kindergarten. Zadie has never had a real teacher before and could hardly wait.
      But Fall had practically passed—months of leaves turning colors and exploring the woods around the old gray house and Zadie’s mom still hadn’t taken her to the school. Her mom was always busy, but Zadie never knew with what. And Michael was gone on the boat, sometimes for weeks. That left Zadie’s days free to explore the woods with Scotty, who lived in the next house over.
      Their mailboxes were next to each other at the end of the gravel road in the front yard, but their driveway led far away in the other direction, for what seemed like miles. Scotty and his dad put sticky letters on their mailbox to spell their last name, “Booter.” Zadie’s mom laughed and said, “What kind of last name is Booter?”
      Ron Booter was short and muscley with sandy blonde hair and too-tan skin. He reminded Zadie of a squirrel. He was really nice, but always seemed to dart and duck—around the trees, around Michael, around her mom. His laugh annoyed her.
       And then one day, Zadie and Scotty overheard her mom and Mr. Booter arguing, but Zadie couldn’t hear what they were saying, only that they were mad. And then they heard their names and panicked.
      So Scotty ran and Zadie ran after him, crushing the wet, black dirt and weeds beneath her. Scotty was just a few leaps ahead of her. It had rained, but even if it hadn’t, the moisture from the woods always seemed to soak through everything Zadie wore. In her great legend, Scotty was only ahead because she was chasing him with a mighty sword. It was just like in the story called “Zadie Saves The Soggy Forest.”  It was one of her favorites in Michael’s warrior princess series.
      In her fantasy world, she was running to capture him because he refused to become one of the defenders of the forest. But in real life, Scotty called back, “Zadie has boy hair! Zadie looks like a witch!” And all she wanted was to run faster than him.
      By the time they reached Scotty’s tree house, Zadie’s dark damp curls clung to her face and she was out of breath. She wiped her hair from her face, but since her butchering haircut, there was so much less of it.
      “Wait until you see what I stole from my dad’s shed,” Scotty told her. “It’s the best fireworks ever.”
      They climbed the ladder to the unusual looking tree house. It wasn’t that tall, but it stacked the tree with levels in the style of a Japanese pagoda. It had a huge sloping roof and rice-paper walls. It had become Zadie’s favorite place—the kind of palace that seemed suited for a woodland warrior princess.
      Scotty made a habit of stealing things, especially fireworks. Zadie loved it when he brought these treasures to show her. But today was special because they had never tried ones this big before. Scotty’s ideas were always fun and a little dangerous.
      On another excursion of his, through the neighborhood dumpsters, Zadie had picked up lice in her thick hair.
      “What did you expect?” Zadie’s mom had said. “It was a dumpster.”
      From then on, Zadie had been forbidden to play with Scotty Booter. She couldn’t tell her mom that no matter what Scotty suggested, Zadie would have done it. He was seven and she was five, he was bigger, he was faster. He was her only friend besides Michael. And Scotty never worried about consequences—he didn’t have as much hair as Zadie did.
      “You’re lucky we don’t have to shave your head, Little Girl,” her mom had said.
      When Zadie finally opened her eyes after the yanking, snipping ordeal, she saw more than half of her hair in defeated little pieces on the ground.
      “I look like a boy!” Zadie screamed and ran to Michael.
      Zadie’s mom laughed a little. “It does kind of look like a mullet, doesn’t it, Michael?”
      Tall, lumbering Michael, knelt down to Zadie’s eye level. He pulled some of her wet hair forward a little. He tucked a piece behind her ear.
      “No,” he said. “Now you look even more like a warrior princess.”


copyright 2004
Ryann L. Ferguson

3 comments:

  1. oh i am so nervous they are going to blow themselves up with the fireworks.
    what a mom comment.
    i love it. i can just see them running through the woods. and eden running with them.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oh.. it's not going where you think it's going...

    LOVE YOU!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. AnonymousMay 25, 2010

    Yes! and ready for Part 2.

    ReplyDelete

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