The dove laced up the back of the golden dress, pulling and tugging with its beak until her waist vanished to a pinprick beneath the organza. The shoulder straps led to a beaded, sweetheart neckline; iridescent beads adorned the bodice; rhinestone banners trailed the skirt’s horsehair hems. When she spun, the heavy fabric lagged behind her rotation, shimmering and then blinding when it caught up to her circular acceleration, and so it was only natural that the prince failed to remember her face and had to rely on the slipper she left behind. Maybe if the prince had looked a bit closer, saw the stain of blood where the back of her ankle had rubbed against the shoe, investigated the strands of hair on the palace steps, he could’ve matched the DNA, spared all the girls’ foot amputations to fit the delicate slipper. By the time he found the slipper, she had powdered soot onto her cheeks like foundation and finished rinsing a bowl of lentils to cook with onion and garlic over a fire, her appetite peaked after all the dancing. She poked a tree branch at the fire and watched its flames lick the bottom of the pot. Lentil stew: nutritious, delicious, the real secret behind her Claritin clear skin besides exfoliating properties of ash. After she fell asleep to a full stomach, the prince slipped the shoe on her foot and whisked her away so they could get married. And when she came to, pores clear, nails polished, hair trimmed of split ends, she had become a princess.
She slept on linen sheets covering feather beds softer than the morning snow (before soldiers marched their muddied boots to the castle and shook off blood and sweat from their swords and foreheads). An ornamented canopy hung above her head, embroidered with their family emblem, a weasel whose long and slender body made its legs seem disproportionately short, whose creamy white belly clashed against its red coat as it stood tall, with nowhere to burrow, and watched. She woke to the curtains drawn around the bed, her bare legs blanketed by shadow, his hand rubbing her stomach and then gliding from a bullet wound of a belly button to her breasts, like memory foam, capturing his fingerprints in a snapshot of time. She woke to whispers of my princess, my princess, and when he allowed her to speak, she whispered back yes, papa. When she failed to wake one morning, her index finger bruised and bloodied from a spindle’s puncture–the largest spindle she could find, the king knelt by her bed and brushed his lips and nose over her thighs, calves, toes and placed a tiara on her head, parting locks of hair so they surrounded her head like a halo. The queen offered her own–the one she had worn when they were first engaged–a diadem crammed with seven pear-shaped aquamarines and rose-cut diamonds and no room for romance. He scoffed as he fingered the hem of his daughter’s dress, not for my darling girl.
The day before she lost her virginity, she dissolved Epsom salt in a cup of warm water and swallowed. She began her fast that morning, flushed the toxins from her intestine, sucked in her flesh with a gasping fish-on-land inhale as she glimpsed her side profile in the mirror across her bed, and felt clean and airy and empty as she went about her day. The night she lost her virginity, she remained still, moving only as directed, counting poisoned combs and apples like sheep. The day after she lost her virginity, her lady-in-waiting asked if it hurt and she responded truthfully: she didn’t remember, for she had been too concerned about sucking in her hollow belly, wiping her mouth and face and thighs dry when she thought he wasn’t watching, plaiting her hair to the side so she wouldn’t need to re-straighten it the next morning. On subsequent nights, she wondered if the late queen ever caught a glimpse of the panting body above her slight frame and if she thought the reflection beautiful.
Lucy Zhang writes, codes, and watches anime. Her work has appeared in Atticus Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Pidgeonholes, and elsewhere. She is an editor for Heavy Feather Review and assistant fiction editor for Pithead Chapel. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.