by Alina Stefanescu
Once upon a time, in a land with many flowers, all the princesses married all the princes and there was nothing for a good wench to do except watch. A good wench attended parades where princesses rode with princes on floats covered in tissue-paper flowers. She celebrated the profusion of floats and then returned to her Prius in the parking-lot behind the dull, Soviet-style courthouse.
As she drove to the nearest park, the wench wondered if she had a place in this story. There was no confetti to fill her modest cup, and no architecture to remind her of a long-ago past when courthouses served as noble, ornate places where one courted a king or queen.
The wench aimed to improve herself. She registered for pole-dancing lessons at a nearby gym which did not offer juggling or table-manners. The wench was relieved to find the costume cheap and unpretentious. She was happy to be liberated from bustles and bustiers and corsets, though slightly saddened when her breasts failed to perform their proper role in the up-and-down pole jiggling.
“You could use some support and probably a decent lift,” the instructor observed.
The wench watched the pencil tapping on the clear plastic clipboard, a tapping which included both tick and tock in steady, mounting sequence. She thought of an hourglass.
After thorough research, the wench learned support was no longer external. Support had moved into a secret inner space which no one could see. She paid $2,000 for her believable, decent breast implants and returned to class after a two-week hiatus.
“Beautiful,” the instructor admired. “Why, there’s not even a sign that you’ve internalized the support system. I envy you. A free woman. You will never have to wear one of those padded push-ups again!”
The wench thanked the instructor and began a leg warm-up sequence. She marveled at how support had moved from a shared female ritual to a constant surgical adjustment by faces in paper masks. She felt shame because she was a wench at heart and no procedure could erase her origins. Born a wench, she hoped to be a good one.
Other dancers watched her stretch with wide eyes. They treated the wench like prime float material. The support made the wench a better dancer. She absorbed the beat of watching eyes.
When the wench won her first contest, she discovered how the stage lights washed out colors. From up there, all audience members appeared equally sallow. Despite the armloads of approval, the wench felt a certain limpness in the wrist of her wave. The audience resembled a mass of formless writhing faces painted wrong.
Other women said the wench looked fabulous because she didn’t have children. These women wore special corsets for six to eight months to flatten their distended bellies. Each child sucked a year from their danceable lives.
Once upon a time, the good wench watched floats pass and wondered how it felt to be floating in flowers.
Once upon another time, the good wench watched oak leaves turn from ochre to brown and the trees nearby undressing in velvet golds. Once she had camped with a man by the side of a stream and tasted ice-cold water he ran through a small nylon filter. Once he had kissed her with his cold-water mouth, the warm rush between her thighs defied what started out cold somewhere in the mountains. She marveled at how snowdrift melts. Once they had sex and every time was like the first when cold grew warm with magic.
Twice he asked her to cancel the gym membership because he’d read a story in which a hallway of mirrors stole a girl’s image from her body and gave it to others. He wanted her image to be something between them. He didn’t want others to imagine the wench.
Thrice upon a time, they broke up and got back together. But she couldn’t find the right words to bring to the courthouse so the wench danced around the entrance as the man hug his heart-worn head.
“You are not the girl I remember,” he said.
The man left her to keep the other girl alive. The wench he promised to love forever visited him in ice-water glasses at restaurants and street pubs. In spring, she warmed the soles of his feet on black-top. The man walked to the mailbox barefoot in order to feel what he’d lost.
Yet the good wench continued to learn new dances even though she didn’t feel good anymore. She felt different.
Once in awhile, the wench missed dance lessons due to a cough or seasonal stomach virus. Other wenches admired her fidelity and dedication. They watched her move through the mirrors and wished they might one day move like that – effortless turns opening into tulips.
Once upon a time, in a land with many flowers, the wench had wished for things. Now others wished for things which circled the wench like a white clover wreath.
Once and once and only once did the wench glimpse an image which pleased her. But the support system prevented her from descending deep below the surface of the lake to see what she wanted. The support doubled as flotation devices which kept her uplifted and above.
As a result, the wench floated like a lily on the lake while other wenches gathered on the shore, longing to float like the fabulous weightless wench.
The wench was content. She lacked nothing visible. Now that she was great, she couldn’t quite recall why she’d wanted to be good. When young wenches bared their teeth through trembling lips and asked how she did it, the wench smiled softly and ran a fingertip along her collarbone. “A wench needs nothing more than strong internal resources,” she intimated, encouraging young wenches to find strength within themselves. Though daffodils and silk lotion wouldn’t hurt. Certainly natural scenery was a plus. And water – miles of water in which to see and be seen.
Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama with her partner and four small mammals. Her poetry chapbook, Objects In Vases, was published by Anchor & Plume in March 2016. She is currently finishing final drafts for Every Mask I Tried On, a short fiction collection. But she also is ready to throw in the towel and find a sweet-yet-raw-and-edgy literary agent. More online atwww.alinastefanescu.com.