A Slow-Working Relaxative
KJ Hannah Greenberg
remained discontent. It was not so much the song birds’
exasperating twittering or the seemingly sullen bellowing of
Daisy, Brownie and the rest of the herd as it was the fruit
stuck on the plum trees.
matter how hard she smacked the trunk of that arboreal
monster, no many how many times she slinked up its branches
and tried to pluck its treasures, that perennial wooden plant
refused to yield. That is, it rebuffed Esmeralda’s efforts.
young princess had watched countless chipmunks, squirrels and
creatures of similar ilk scamper up that mighty plant’s stem
and return with cheeks bulging from sweet/tart produce. What’s
more, she knew, from her own encounters with the tree, that a
local species of hornets had made their nest in the tree’s
boughs in order to be closer to its luscious fruit.
was not so much that Esmeralda was inclined to bake tarts or
that her life would be amiss if she failed to slather plum jam
on her roasted duck. Moreso, it was the case that the
not-still-young miss took unkindly to frustration.
her cousin, Viscount of Greenness, had chided her when, over
hot mulled tea (Esmeralda was allergic to wine), she had
complained about the inaccessible fruit. “Cut it down, if it
bothers you,” he had advised.
had shaken her head at him in reply. “Impossible.” She was
not wont to repeat the infamous experiences she had already
had. When, for instance, she had Johnny-from-Lakeshire
executed because he had refused to kiss the face of the poodle
who shared her bed and when she had exiled Princess Amber, her
half-sister, on account of Amber’s snide remark about
Esmeralda’s puce gown for the winter ball — no good had come
from those actions.
family had abruptly withdrawn from the council which Esmeralda’s
father had worked four long decades to build. Amber had met a
handsome French barrister, had married him, and had given
birth to the two most adorable twin boys this side of Europe .
No, vengeance, itself, ultimately seemed to suck away even
more of Esmeralda’s limited joy.
shrugged and suggested that Esmeralda needed to get out more.
He took her fox hunting. He brought her to review the small
army he was keeping hidden from his uncle. He introduced her,
over pints, to three of the most handsome of his guard.
became familiar with each of those men, in turn, but returned
to her keep less happy and more exhausted.
passed. The princess’ famous red hair retained its color.
Amber sent missives about her tenth lovely child. Johnny’s
family built up fortification so famous that tourists actually
paid to visit them. The plum tree grew and produced, at least
for the kitchen knaves, baskets full of lovely fruit.
poodles later (even those dratted beasts refused to live more
than two handfuls of years), a messenger approached Esmeralda’s
castle. The event would have been unremarkable except for the
fact that the man came astride an ostrich. Esmeralda suspected
that he would be possessed of a lingering soreness.
the foreigner asked for and was granted shelter until his
discomfort passed. While he guested in her parents’ home,
Esmeralda observed him.
as he referred to himself, was a busy sort. In the morning, he
prayed and supped, then walked for several hours in what he
called his “constitutional.” More prayers and then
afternoons, interestingly enough, were devoted to painting.
His art, however, was of the uncanny variety. On two
occasions, Esmeralda was convinced that she saw Fred step into
his canvas. He returned only when the sun had begun to descend
and the stars threatened to appear.
Fred prayed some more and supped lightly. He retired for the
night long before most of the castle population had even begun
their evening meal and much before the castle’s dancehall
had been filled, let alone emptied.
day, Fred painted the vexing plum tree. When he returned to
the castle, from his journey within his picture’s borders,
he came bearing sacks of wonderfully scented fruit. Esmeralda
meant to ask the man for a taste of even one such globe, but
before the sun made its hiatus, Fred withdrew his ostrich from
the stables and galloped away.
a decade, Amber became a grandmother. Also, Johnny’s family
had formed a council stronger than that of Esmeralda’s
father and had slowly, surreptitiously, conquered the nation
out from under Esmeralda’s family. By the time that
Esmeralda had entered her twilight years, little more was left
of her father’s holdings than the castle in which she
dwelled and a few kilometers of lands around it.
the princess, during that entire span, never lacked either
food or entertainment, she remained a malcontent. In all of
those years, she had not been able to personally harvest a
single plum. Even the ground fruit remained out of her reach;
no sooner did a sweet treat drop from a bough than a mighty
colony of ants made away with it.
year that would bring eternal peace to Esmeralda was the same
year that Amber and her generations returned to the kingdom.
Their father and Esmeralda’s stepmother were long dead,
Johnny’s family had long since been acknowledged as the
ruling authority of the land and Amber’s grandchildren were
hankering to see that place which Amber had once called home.
of those fair-haired urchins pulled Esmeralda with her out
into the orchards. Serendipitously, the child picked Esmeralda’s
nemesis as the tree which she wanted to climb. Only, the
little bud was too short to reach even the lowest branch.
demonstration, Esmeralda, herself as wrinkled as a prune,
hoisted herself up and then reached down to gather the small
child. Together, they journeyed through wood and leaf until
they reached a height from which they could see the spreading
fields and woods. In short time, given the combination of
exertion, sun and sweet smelling plums, the little one fell
asleep. For the entire day, Esmeralda and that cherub remained
in those branches, the latter sleeping like a barn cat and the
former recalling the wonder that had been her life.