She had been a little girl who loved to play pretend. She hadn’t loved to play “house” though. There were no games in which she played the benevolent participant in a perfect fairy world. She played princess.
Sometimes she was a princess, and her brothers had found some reason (false, of course) to hate her. They were chasing her from their kingdom of good and plenty, from her land of milk and honey into a ravaged place of terror and loneliness. She fled on her wooden horse, rocking back and forth in her stationary playground as her heart beat with adventure.
Sometimes she was a princess trapped in a cave. The stone cut at her, and the ridges pressed hard into her skin. She had to wriggle out of where she was wedged. She would be scraped and sore as she climbed underneath the slide, clambering toward the light from above and panting in exhilaration.
Sometimes she was a princess oppressed by an evil queen. She shrank into the swing as the queen leaned in to threaten her, away from the knife at her throat and the foul breath warm on her face. She felt, almost, the sharp tip of metal pressing into the skin at the tender indent behind her collarbone. She almost felt a thumb pressing into her windpipe. She squirmed with glee, and her pulse sped with almost- terror.
Then she would jump off the wooden horse onto the platform, or pull herself over the slide’s edge and sit on it, sucking the cold air into her lungs, raw and tender. She would slip off the swing and tear across the lawn, toes pushing off the damp grass and soft dirt with quick desperate steps until the evil queen was left clawing at the woodchips, writhing in the playground a whole house away.
She never played the princess content with her fairytale kingdom. She liked the stories of escape best. She brought a napkin and two Oreos to the playground. Once she’d galloped the wooden horse until the creaking of the ropes was monotonous, she jumped off onto the ladder and curled on the platform. She ate the cookies one broken-off crumbling bite at a time. She had to ration the food that she had brought from home as she hid from the wicked ones who were chasing her. Her chest heaved over her pounding heart as she lay folded against the sunlit dusty wood, holding breaths in shallow and tight to keep from discovery.
She reveled and cringed in the delicious fear of pretend.