THE ENSORCELLED PRINCE
Now that my legs have turned to stone, you lead me to the beach like a child— holding my hand at the crosswalks, helping me to push the chair when the hillside gets too steep. It’s never been like this before. This body is a burden, the legs a poorly-hewn block of black marble. I wish that were a metaphor.
I used to make you come with me almost weekly during the summer months. We’d reach the pier just after midnight, after the families had gathered up their things and driven back inland, children piled like sleeping puppies in the backseat. The teenagers came and went, too, leaving the hills studded with their beer cans like dull constellations. We were the only ones out, and that was how we liked it.
You had to climb out of your bedroom window, and most nights I’d wait below, the beam of a flashlight held on your trembling feet. The trellis that scaled the side of your house was rickety, and you were always afraid it would break. Some nights, while I was standing there, I would envy you having something to lose by sneaking out. You had someone to miss your absence, after all.
You push me past the same lights that glowed years ago, back when I was the one dragging you to the shore. Sleep made you reluctant then, but you’d let me take you by the hand and pull you through every intersection. I remember those nights well— I can almost feel the warm weight of you slumped against my shoulder as you suppress another yawn.
We pick a spot on a hill overlooking the ocean, and you sit with your head resting on my knee. You have an orange in your pocket, and I watch as you split it into uneven halves. You give me the bigger part without thinking, your tongue darting out to chase a stream of juice rolling its way down your thumb. The water is dark, folding over and over itself. It looks different from far away.
We never stopped at the top of this hill to look at it- this rise in the earth was just another obstacle to overcome before we could make it to the water. I’d make you race me to the ocean. You’d always let me win. Sometimes, we’d run out to the end of the pier and look into the bottomless water below.
You sit back with a sigh. I put my hand on your shoulder, massaging little circles into your cardigan with my thumb. It’s nice to be out here, even after all this time. The stars are out above the water, and the air has finally cooled off enough to be pleasant.
You take a fistful of sand and trickle it over my legs. There’s a tenderness in this gesture, like you’re still trying to get them to feel something. You rub it against my calf, marveling at the temperature. It’s as cold as the air, you say. You look at the iron deposits crisscrossing my new feet. You call them veins— and the word stings, because veins are supposed to carry life and vitality. The irony isn't really funny, but I consider laughing anyway.
I dream, sometimes, that the rest of my body is frozen too. I wake up, feeling the weight of stone ribs crushing my lungs until I can’t breathe. As I come to, I remember that my lungs must be marble, since the rest of my body is. It seems like a perfectly logical thought, here in the darkness. If it can happen to my legs, why not the rest of my body? Can stone lungs breathe?
There’s a story about a man like me— the Ensorcelled Prince of the Black Isles from One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. You read it to me a few weeks after I woke up in Dad’s armchair and realized my legs had been replaced with a clever facade overnight. The prince cried every day, so loudly that a visiting king could hear him from across the palace. Finally, I thought, there’s somebody who cries as much as I do. We can make a club.
I had to look up the meaning of the word “ensorcelled.” I thought it would have something to do with turning to stone, but it just means “enchanted.” I guess the Petrified Prince has a little too much alliteration for the taste of the writers. Maybe telling us about his stone legs in the title would be selling the readers short.
After a moment, you rock back on your heels. I realize that I’ve been staring at you for too long without speaking.
“Do you want to go to the pier?”
I think about it for a moment. It’s a long walk to the end, but what’s stopping us? There’s a path down to the edge.
“Sure.” I move to grab the wheels, but you’re already up and pushing me towards the sidewalk.
You used to be so scared of our beach trips, that someone would find us, that a friend of your parents would call home and say they caught you out with some neighbor girl. It took some convincing, but I was always convincing you of something Sylvie. I was the one who made you dance with me at prom. I was the one who planned the road trip for us last summer.
We’ve reached the entrance to the pier. You lean in, and I can feel the warmth of your breath against my neck.
“Are you ready?”
I don’t have time to ask what you mean, because you’ve taken off running. My wheels are rattling hard against the boardwalk, and for a moment I’m scared I’ll fall out. We pass the seafood cafe with its darkened windows, and the lifeguard tower, keeping its omnipresent watch over the empty ocean. The wind yanks at my hair and brings tears to my eyes— how are we moving this fast?
You’re bent over the top of the chair, pushing as hard as you can against my weight. You catch my eye and laugh, and it’s a breathless sound. Something in my chest feels out of place, but in a good way— like my heart is suddenly taking up too much space, or like I’m breathing deeply for the first time in a while. I’m looking at you closely for the first time since my legs froze. You’re wearing these little star-shaped dangling earrings that fly as we run, seeming to glow in the night air. The world seems to shrink down to just those flying stars. I never thought it was possible for one person to store a cosmos in the space between their ear and their shoulder, but I think you’ve done it Sylvie.
I look back to the boardwalk, at the darkness rushing in around us. There’s no light out here except the moon, which seems like it’s hovering only a few feet beyond the edge of the pier, dangling just out of our reach. We’re flying towards the edge, still hundreds of yards distant. I wonder if I might be able to catch it. I think I will. Will I hang on to it, dangling over the dark water? Will we both fall, sinking down into the waves? Will I take the moon with me and hold it there, keep it captive until God or a genie gives me my legs back? That has to be another folktale— maybe when I capture the moon I’ll remember where I heard it.
You come to a stumbling halt, and there we are. The moon hasn’t moved. It’s smaller than I thought it would be— only a few meters in diameter. I think about touching it, grabbing it, pulling it down into the sea. My hand leaves the armrest of my chair. What’s there left to lose? Maybe they’ll write a story about me, too.
But there’s you, Sylvie. There’s still that. You wake me up and drag me to the beach after midnight. You force your body into perpetual motion, even though it scares you. You’re vibrant and kind and lovely enough for the both of us.
You look down at me then, and smile. Your shoulders heave under your cardigan, and the stars hanging from your ears seem to glow a little brighter. I always thought that love should take your breath away, but I think I’ve had enough suffocation for a lifetime. The truth is, you’ve been giving me my breath for years, and I think it’s just hitting me that maybe this is what I need.
I think about asking you to kiss me, but now’s not the time. You come to stand next to me at the railing, reaching out to touch the moon. I’m not surprised when your fingers connect with the surface, not surprised as you push it gently back into the sky. We watch it float away over the water, thrashing in its confusion against the legs of the pier.
“It’s pretty,” you say, putting your hand on my shoulder.
I feel lighter than I have in months. We stand and watch for another long moment as the moon finds its place in the sky.