When she was five, Annie's mother read her a fairy story.
It was a dark night, too hot, summer at its peak and no movement in the heavens to cool it. Annie couldn't get to sleep. She still remembered it clearly, the twisting, the turning, the burning feel of the sheets as they tangled around her limbs, the close, heavy air, the smell of electricity as she waited for the storm to break.
The little girl, being a little girl, hadn't thought about it at the time, but of course she wasn't the only one to feel the heat, and she wasn't the only one to be too hot to sleep. She whined though, and she cried, and she felt so miserable that she could well imagine never being cold and comfortable again. She wished for it, and then she prayed for it. Finally she asked her mother to fix it for her.
With bloodshot eyes, a sweat-beaded brow, and a yearning to sleep naked under the summer moon, Annie's mother had gone to her suffering child despite her own torments. She told the girl, as gently as possible, that there was nothing she could do, that this was not something Mummy could do anything about. And Annie now remembered her mother, frustrated, exhausted, ready to snap, pleading with Annie to just lie down, to try, just try, to close her eyes and try to sleep.
The child had sobbed and proclaimed that she would never sleep again. Such a flair for the dramatic. At a loss, her mother had shot her hand out and grabbed at a book, any book, from the row of them on the windowsill. Never before read, just collected over the years, they looked pretty, and they looked impressive, but they were just decorations. Annie preferred cartoons. She liked drawing. Books were for babies. She was five and had outgrown such things.
Except that now, with her mother standing next to her little bed, going nowhere, her attention for once undivided, she nodded her assent. A story might be nice. It might help. It might, at the very least, distract her from the feverish night.
The Frog Prince.
Annie listened as her mother, as tired as she was, read the words to her, even did the voices. She read the fairytale that had everything going for it; royalty, magic, curses, and a happily ever after. Redemption. Perfection. Bliss.
It seemed to Annie as she finally closed her eyes and let sleep carry her away to cooler climes, that it might be a good way to live. A good way to live happily ever after.
Over the next week the weather cooled and the storm that had hovered so tantalisingly overhead finally let itself fall, and the world was wet and warm for a while. Annie, taken with the idea of the frog prince, searched for her own amongst the puddles, lifted lily pads, splashed about in puddles until she heard her mother calling and had to go back home.
Even though the summer had passed, Annie still had trouble sleeping. She asked her mother to read her a story – the story, that story – and only then would she sleep. Her mother, thinking of the glass of wine that was waiting for her downstairs, thinking of the soap opera that she might catch the second half of, read the story. She read it over and over again and again until she knew it by heart and so did Annie.
It wasn't until the spring that Annie found what she was looking for. A frog. The perfect frog. Fat and round and bright green with smooth, smooth skin and big brown eyes. It was, she was absolutely sure, her prince. She scooped him up and carried him home, scaring her mother in the process.
Her father, a practical man who disliked nature and distrusted the outdoors, told her that the frog could not stay. That her mother wouldn't have it in the house, and that it was not the done thing for a little girl to have one as a pet. Hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, a rabbit at a push, these things were fine, but a frog? That was silly. That was ridiculous. That was madness. And he took the frog from his tiny daughter's hands and let it go. It hopped through the overlong grass at the back of the house as Annie chased after it, her prince, screaming for it to come back.
She didn't catch it.
Her father, feeling guilty but not feeling wrong, asked her if she would like to go to the pet shop to choose something. As long as she promised to look after it, to keep it clean and well, and to love it.
But Annie said no. She wanted her prince, and nothing else would do.
Annie didn't sleep that night.
She heard the prince at the window, croaking, calling for her, telling her he was sorry he ran away. He said he would wait for her and she believed him. She forgave him.
Annie kept an eye out for her prince for the next three decades. She could hear him, always close, biding his time, but she never saw him.
Men asked her out, courted her, loved her and wanted her, but she always refused. She had someone waiting. He would come when he could. When the time was right.
After thirty years, on another summer's night, hot like that first one, unbearable and intolerable, agonizingly long and too, too much, Annie lay on her bed and thought of her prince. Her frog. Where was he? Why was he taking so long to come back to her? Perhaps, she thought, it was time to go to him. Too long had she been the princess in her tower, waiting to be rescued, the damsel in distress in need of saving.
She would find him. She would be the brave one. She would live happily ever after.
She couldn't wait. Slipping a thin cardigan over her sweat sodden nightgown, sliding her feet into slippers, she left her house and listened to the crackling air. She could hear him, as she always could, calling to her. She knew she should have listened sooner, years ago. If she had she might already be happy.
She had to find him. She could be alone no longer.
The moon was bright and lit the way, and Annie followed the sound of her prince's beautiful voice. It sang to her, a melody that was hers alone.
She reached the pond in the woods. It was quiet there, and it was still. The heat was gone and a pleasant breeze caressed her cheek. It told her to turn back, to go to bed, to awake in the morning as someone different, someone who might allow love to find her.
Annie dismissed it. What need did she have to let love come to her? She had come to it. She was there. The pond. Of course, where else?
She whispered that she was sorry for making him wait all these long, pointless years.
And then she waded into the water, shivering at the delicious chill of it, the rotten stench of it. He was there, she knew it with no doubt in her heart. He was waiting for her.
As she disappeared under the water, as the pond's ripples died away and left no trace of her, Annie knew she had found her happily ever after.
©Lisamarie Lamb 2012[image error]
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