fiction

The Queen

Regina’s kingdom consisted of no more or less than the four beige walls of a studio apartment. She ran an isolationist country that could not be bothered with the petty affairs of other neighboring nations. The few subjects that visited the queen seldom waited for permission to do so. Rather, they unlocked the gates themselves, peeked their youthful bodies in, asked a question, and departed.

“Are you feeling okay, Regina?” asked a different one each day.

“Yes.” She replied from her throne on wheels.

“Good day.” And the one portal to the outside world closed just as it did every day.

It seemed an eternity since the king had passed. How the empire had mourned then. How Regina’s heirs had grieved so sincerely, it seemed. How those grown children had embraced Regina with such loving arms in her grief. How sweet they were to allow her to stay with them “as long as she needed.” How sweet her children were, how sweet their many words. How sweet was their desire to “help” Regina through this difficult season of life in any way they could. How sweet were they to make decisions on her behalf, how sweet were they to sort through the king’s possessions so Regina did not have to undergo such pain.

How sweet were they to begin the process of dividing the empire. Regina surely, in her  heartache and her oxygen tubes, could not be expected to rule such a large kingdom.

Her new palace was a quiet one. She lay on her daybed, never quite able to work the television. Not that it mattered. Her old palace had not even had a TV. So she lay. As she did each day. Reading King Lear for the nth time. She had asked her heirs to bring her more books. Her old palace had been filled with so many books that by the end, her daughter demanded they be rid of most of them.

“Mom,” she had ordered when she could stand protest no longer, “pick your five favorites to take with you and we’re going to toss the rest.”

“Don’t you speak to me like that!” Regina’s voice dissipated into the expanse of the hall. Helena was no longer paying attention and had already started out of the room.

The queen never talked of the night they arrived her new palace. She tried to seldom think of it, though that never seemed to work very well. But perhaps to her credit or perhaps to her age, she could at least no longer remember the details. Regina did not remember each of Helena’s individual wine-induced mutterings when her mother was feeling uncooperative. She did not remember (at least, not in detail) her son-in-law’s boisterous argument with the management when they informed him that the wine was not included with her Regina’s rent.

They came at holidays. Usually. The grandchildren visited. Sometimes. They swore that they cared for her. They rolled their eyes when she questioned their love. They swore that the queen was more to them than just the sum of her loosely-knit sinews that they believed might unravel in the wind.

A knock. And a moment later came forth one of her subjects.

“I just thought I’d stop by,” he smiled. Nikolas was a scrawny eighteen-year-old of five foot five, freshly hired and freshly pushed out the nest. All the subjects marveled at that little boy’s ability to perform the physically-demanding tasks of his job properly. They said he took Red Bull through an IV. They said his energy would soon diminish. They said he would soon grow weak and weary like all the rest. And the queen supposed they were right. She’d seen it happen to so many before. She’d watched the embers in their eyes go cold. She’d watched the callouses grow around their hearts as it became too draining to watch so many royals come and go.

But for now, Regina savored Nikolas’s wide-eyed wonder, pondering vaguely if there existed a way to bottle it.

“Hello, Nikolas,” she smiled a lazy kind of smile, one that tried but failed to reach the corners of her droopy eyes.

“How are you, Regina?” He asked.

“I can’t complain. How are you?”

He smiled, “I’m doing well. I’m trying to save money for – ” and it was the usual blaring noise of his radio which interrupted. That beeping which Regina supposed must haunt those caregivers in dreams. That aggressive and constant summons of many countries at once in need of his ever-strained assistance. And so he smiled. And departed.

Regina returned to her book.

“…we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.”

Regina sighed and looked out across the expanse of her kingdom and down at the fraying cover of the play. And wished she had happier story to read.

Dedicated to all the invisible Kings and Queens and to all the subjects who choose to see them.

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