I want you to know this is not my fault. This is not the story I was writing. But once I brought Princess into it, well she sort of took over. I could not stop it and I had no choice, don't you see? She just decided it was her story and that of her new daddy, Jim, and her mommy too. So you see I had to write it this way, I had no choice at all.
I was sitting there feeding the ducks, at least something needed me. I had been doing this for year, every day, and twice a day.
This little black girl comes up to me and sits down. She is about five and cute, so darn cute. She reminds me of someone from long ago. She has on one of those frilly dresses that little girls wear and a white blouse and her hair is done up in those funny kind of things that you put beads in. Pig tails I think you call them. She is cute, I mean just so darn cute.
"What cha doing mister?" she asks me in the little girl voice. I put her about five years old, maybe. I have heard that voice before, a long time ago, a life time ago. It almost makes me smile but it does not make me smile, it makes me sad, but she is a little girl and does not need to know my sadness. Her life is young and she will have sadness enough, soon enough.
"I'm feeding the ducks." I tell her.
"I like to feed the ducks," she says as if she has spent her entire life feeding ducks. Then she gives me a bright smile and I give her a large piece of bread that is a few days old that I use for feeding ducks.
She uses these tiny little hands to break a piece and toss it, like kids do, with no thought of accuracy or coordination at all, into the waiting throng of ducks. She turns and gives me a big smile, letting me know by that smile that she "is a big girl," and can feed the ducks too.
We spend about ten minutes and then I ask:
"Where is your mother Princess?"
She gives me a funny look and then says, "She is right there," and she points to a lone figure sitting on a bench about thirty yards away.
There is just something so wrong with the picture. The woman on the bench is just so, disheveled, while the little girl is perfect in every way.
"Come on Princess," I say as I hold out my hand and she immediately takes it like she has been doing it all of her life and we walk to her mother.
"I believe that this Princess belongs to you," I say to the woman as a beaming Princess looks on; obviously happy that someone finally recognizes her Royal self.
The mother does not look good, she looks pale, despite her natural color, and sickly as I get up close to her. "Are you ok?" I ask her. I have seen that look before.
"I'm fine," she says with a whisper of a voice that betrays the lie.
I don't even come close to believing her. "I was going to get a pizza would you care join me?" I ask.
As the mother says "No thank you;" Princess is jumping up and down saying "Yes mommy, Yes; Yes Mommy, Yes!"
Resigned to her fate the mother stands and tells me she cannot leave her things here or they will be stolen.
"We can put them in the car and then drive to get something to eat." I tell her. We gather up three trash bags full of her belongings and into the back of the car they go and everyone else goes into the car. I already have a car seat and the Little Princess gets in like it is her throne and waits for me to buckle her up. She is kicking her feet up and down in anxious anticipation and looking at all the neat things inside the car that she is dying to touch and be told not to. I don't tell her "no" and she has a good time.
"Chuck E Cheese, please," the Little Princess says. It breaks my heart but that is where we go.
The mother just looks outside of the car window as we drive over to a "Chuck E Cheese" and once there I let my little black Princess have a run at fun. Before she heads for the other children I ask what she wants to eat and she says in a loud firm voice "PIZZA" and then runs off to hold court over those less fortunate and who lack her beauty and royal bearing.
It breaks my heart to see and hear her, but obviously things are not as well as the Little Princess pretends them to be. We will let her have her fun.
All this time the mother says nothing. She is in some type of shock and I don't touch her and I don't want to intrude but she needs someone. I have seen that look before, every day I see that look. Every day I shave a man with that same look, twice a day I see that look. It has been a year and he still has that look. I see that look twice a day, it has been a year and I see that look, I repeat to myself over and over.
"What do you want to eat?" I ask. No reply at all. "What does Princess like on her pizza?" I ask.
Now I get a look and a reply. "She likes pepperoni and extra cheese," is her reply. It is the same look and the voice, and yes I have heard that voice too. I hear that voice every time I answer the phone, every time I talk to someone at work, every time I speak with a neighbor, I hear the same pain in the same voice that I hear in her voice; I even hear it in my sleep.
"And to drink, what does she like to drink?" I ask, looking for an answer and an opportunity to get to her talk.
"Milk, she drinks milk." her mother said.
"What about you, how about a coke?" I continue.
"Ok" she replies without conviction or emotion. She is just going through the motions of living, probably for the Princess. At least she has someone to live for. There is the same look and the same pain and the same voice. It is my look, my pain, my voice, too.
"How about on the pizza, what is best for you? I will order us a special one. Do you like pepperoni, and mushrooms and pineapple, and maybe some basil, and a few live little green worms?" I stop when I say it. I want to cry. I used to say that a million years ago, a million years ago when I was not in pain, when the look and the pain were not here, when -- oh hell.
"That will be fine." she says without looking, "but can you kill the worms first, I hate chasing them around the damn pizza. And if you put worms on ours you know you are going to have to put little green worms on Cindy's." she said with a slight but still pained smile.
I heard those words and I cried. Right there in the middle of Chuck E Cheese, and I cried, like a baby whose puppy died on Christmas Morning. I have heard those words before; those same words in response to the same question. No one knows those words but me and -- well just me -- now.
She reached over and touched my arm and then my hand, I tried to not cry but I had no choice. There is pain in her eyes but still she tries to comfort me with a kind touch.
Evidently I was making a big ass out of myself and little Princess, now Princess Cindy, saw me and headed right for me. She stopped and looked at me, tears running down my face. She turned her head to the left and right, like children are want to do to see if the angle makes it look any better, or makes any sense of what was happening. Seeing that this was not any assistance in understanding why I was crying she did what little girls all over the world are inherently born with knowing. She crawled into my lap and sort of hugged me and said: