They haven’t got a clue who they’re dealing with. Not the ones who try to pretend I’m not there; not the ones who start away, frightened, when they see me in my doorway; not even the kind ones who bring me something from the café opposite, or press a dollar or two into my hand. No, I’m telling you, they’ve not got a clue.
But they will, soon. I was on my morning constitutional, hobbling round the bay to get my joints moving. There’s a ship in the harbour. Huge, red as so much of my youth – the dresses, the danger signs ignored, the lipstick, the life. I knew it was here for me, my ship, finally, come to take me home and take revenge.
When I go, the harbour will run red as the ship. It’s what I always thought. They haven’t got a clue who they’re dealing with, and when they know, it will be too late, I shall already be a queen, radiant before them. I am a fairy tale queen, hiding under these rags. Like Straggletag, in the stories my mother told me, before she died. My wicked stepmother ensnared my poor father with her seeming-kindness. Oh, she was always terribly nice, but even back then, I knew she harboured some evil. My doctor disagreed- he was colluding with her. They took me away, forced me to assume this cunning disguise, so that they couldn’t find me and kill me.
It was so beautiful, my ship, there in the cloudy dawn. Amidst the clouds being drafted over the high-rises, waiting to be spun, white fluff over wet mist, my ship glowed. A jewel. A glory. Brighter and better than the sun. It basked in the harbour, creaking metal on a sea of varnished milk. There was a little set of red steps, leading on board, and I climbed them.
Some men found me on the deck, enjoying the view. They asked me how I got there, I told them not to question me on my own ship. I asked when they would start shelling the town. They laughed at me- at me! I got angry, then. Shouldn’t get angry. It’s not proper for a queen to get angry- not the good queen. I’m the good queen. They didn’t have a clue who they were dealing with. They chased me off the ship, treated me like a harmless old woman.
I sit in the park, watching my ship. I know that soon someone will find out that I was on the ship. They will come and apologise, and flog those men, and take me away from here.
My fairy godmother found me, around noon. Gave me a cup of hot sweet tea, just what I had been wishing for. Asked me if I had anywhere to stay tonight. Well, of course I do- they’re going to take me onto my ship, though I didn’t tell her that. She might realise who I am. I’ll tell the men to spare her.
As night falls, it begins to get cold. I’m glad that they’re going to take me onto the ship soon. I can see the lights twinkling on the ship, from the portholes, from the door. It gets colder and colder, soon I feel it all through me, even with my many-layered clothes. So cold…all of me, so very cold. I feel tired. I’ll close my eyes, just for a second or two.
It is then that I see him, the man like the night- everything about him dark and cold, except his eyes. They burn like my ship at sunset. He walks down the little red stairway, comes across the park towards me. I’m a little scared- I didn’t expect someone like this. He does not look like a captain. But when he reaches me, he smiles and the cold no longer bothers me. He offers me his hand, and as he helps me to my feet, such a gentleman, I realise who he is. I stand up and leave my disguise, the crumpled pile of rags and bones, leaning against the flood wall. He knows who he’s dealing with, treats me as a queen. I can’t stay here, he says, we have to leave tonight. I ask if I can stay to see the town destroyed. That would take a long time, he says. Besides, he’s taking me somewhere much better- somewhere where I won’t care about revenge. There are people waiting for me there, he said, people who love me. Thinking won’t hurt me anymore, there, and everyone will know who I am.
He offers his arm, and I take it, regal with my consort. A light from the deck of my ship blazes up, huge, blinding, wonderful.
I walk up the little red stairway with him, and into the light.