The Queen bares a quiet child. Years of silence elapse. She hardly sleeps. When she does, it is disturbed. She has a room to herself where she groans and perspires. Her body curls and snaps as though on a pyre. It is the only thing in the Kingdom that is not under her control. A dream collects in the intervals between the convulsions. It takes a year to transpire in full, but by its end The Queen finally knows what to do.
A damp room is emptied. Its floor-to-ceiling window is coated in a warm gloss. In the corner, where the glass meets the wall and the floor, its central feature: a sink, ridged as a shell, and deep. Drained and smeared. A green marbled basin set inside thatched enamel strands.
The Queen incircles the tub with low stone tables, arranged in tight, crooked rows. She covers the tables, shelves and even the floors with every known plant in the Kingdom.
Then, she offers an enormous reward for the unknown. People travel from all over.
Some are huge and require great wood or metal trellises to grow upon. One grows thick orange wings that shade the smaller, less durable saplings in the summer months. One plant grows swooning coral vertebrae. Another unfurls each day and offers an opal ooze. Once dry it retracts its crisp limbs to sleep and generate moisture for the following day. Another is aflame, another is turquoise and slightly noxious. Another is tall and gold, another is squat and pale, another grows in twos and shines like a screen, another is heavy silver coils.
A stranger brings a small copper pot. At first it is nothing special: a single green artery and matching bud. But at the stranger’s command it blooms, blinks. Little and vivid. A cloud lifts overhead.
Then its keeper lifts his hand until it is parallel with the flower, and clamps it shut. The blossom retracts. Its limp neck sags beside the clenched fist.
The plant that obeys.
When it is in her possession, The Queen is satisfied. The garden enthralls. Its colors and textures increase exponentially as relationships emerge.
A heavy tumescent stalk leaks its chunky salve onto a patch of inflamed lichen. A bright gas slowly rises from the stain. Translucent churning, algae line the rim of the sink. The light twists around them.
The Queen’s specimens become entwined, some irrevocably so.
The water in the sink is dotted with floaters and kelp. Their roots trail beneath them, touching. This is where The Queen leaves her child.
And, exactly as the dream predicted, by the close of the year the child speaks slowly and softly. At first, he will only speak to the plants, and only when he is alone with them.
Speech is not, however, his only mode of communication with them, nor is it by any means his favourite.
He may pose a question, then stroke a frond until nightfall. He often spends an entire day with his fingers submerged in soil.
There is much he can ask without words. He can feel the water in the vine and its absence. He can feel the heat gather and disperse.
Slowly, he grows more comfortable with words, until the period before his initiation into speech is nearly forgotten. Still, he reaches adulthood preferring weeds to people.
The Queen’s concerns breed. Her fraught sleep returns. But this time she cannot afford to await her visions, so pressing is her need to have borne a Prince and not an anomaly.
In her experience, nothing begets a Prince as quickly and as completely as the acquisition of Beauty. And since she cannot rely on her own, she at once commences the search for another’s. There is nowhere she will not go and no person she will not speak to.
The Kingdom is brimming with vibrant youth, all of whom would make excellent bait. However, so high are The Queen’s demands that she requires more than a young woman. She requires a young woman in need.
It is not hard to find one. In a clearing she finds Beauty with plaited hair tugging a warped bucket from a well. The Queen’s resplendent garb is so shocking Beauty drops her pail. A splintering echo.
The Queen makes it clear that the bucket is no longer of concern. She wipes the patina of mud and dead skin from the perfect forehead.
She dissolves its pleats with promises. She makes them all day and night, lavishly, loudly, and with elegant conviction.
The Queen leads her prize into the Garden, cooing.
At first, because she is new and unusual, Beauty elicits alarm. Pollen, leaves and petals accumulate in her hair. As she walks she is careful to bend and twist so as not to injure any growth.
For two days and nights she paces between the tables. Her admiration is voracious, but she touches nothing.
At dawn on the third day she stops suddenly before a piss yellow gourd. Very inelegantly she tears it from its thick stem. Then she walks to the rim of the great sink, where she sits coddling the harvest and trailing her feet between the kelp.
The Queen’s son approaches. Sits beside her, asks for fruit. He turns it slowly in his hands, careful to reveal each side. Then he slices it in half with a clean knife.
Its corrugated core spits green. Its seeds are all silver. Only some can be eaten.
The pulp encrusted on their skin is tart. It reeks and stays.
The man enamoured becomes the Prince and the Prince must divide his time, not only between the objects of his affection, but between them and his Kingdom.
Because she is the newest and thus most alien transplant in the garden, and in the Kingdom, Beauty is often alone. She is forsaken, very much in love, just restless.
She asks to split devotion. For permission to indulge in concurrent pleasures, as her companion does.
The Prince grants her wish, because he is now not merely a Prince but also a Diplomat trailing his palm through the grass.
Beauty gets some elsewhere. When she discloses this the Prince experiences sudden, unprecedented suffering. He is dislocated and it is so excruciating he cannot imagine it serves a purpose.
He forbids Beauty from accessing the garden, then he screams for her to return. Then he slams the door, then he drags her back inside to gloat. Then he begs. The pain runs the breadth of his skin.
After three days and three nights, he vows to meet all of Beauty’s needs by himself.
As she becomes his, so does everything else.
The soil stiffens, as do the leaves and grasses. The petals drop and lose their hues. The trunks and stems wane. Crisp sheaths line the floor and tables. Everything is hot and sharp to the touch. The sink’s verdant marble is buried beneath clumps of burnt earth.
Beauty is ambivalent, afraid, precariously content. One night, when she does not demonstrate absolute gratitude, the Prince notices the wasted horizon.
His body casts a sickly glow. He shreds any remaining roots. He clears them away feverishly, raising torrents of dust. He shrieks sharply until nothing else comes out. He beckons to Beauty whom he forces into a violent prayer. She is briefly his supplies. By early morning they are both collapsed.
The Prince spends the next seven days tending to the destitute soil. He waters, touches and considers it. He sleeps with it. He licks and gnaws it from beneath his nails.
Beauty makes no demands. She remains laying in her chamber. Says nothing, raises no concerns. Occasionally the Prince drags a bench into the garden where she is permitted to lay and be seen. He never stops tilling, watering, petting, admiring.
When Beauty becomes too distracting, the bench and its occupant are removed.
On the morning of the eighth day the Prince wants more than anything to give Beauty his undivided attention, and to receive hers in return. But the process is interrupted: His mouth is jealous of his hands, his hands are jealous of his neck, his neck is jealous of his teeth are jealous of his collar bones, his collar bones are jealous of his heels his heels are jealous of the backs of his shins the backs of his shins are jealous of his thighs his thighs are jealous of his fingers his fingers are jealous of his shoulder his shoulder is jealous of his eyes and his eyes are jealous of his
He flees deep into the garden where the green is jealous of the reeds and the reeds are jealous of the stones and the stones are jealous of the pink and the pink is jealous of the clouds and the clouds are jealous of the branches and the branches are jealous of the grey which is jealous of the thorns which are jealous of the seeds which are jealous of the breeze because they need it
Aja Moore is a c*ncer. Her first book, hotwheel, came out this fall with Metatron Press. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lemonhound, Sad Mag, The Puritan, Hobart Pulp, & Peach Mag.