Skyflowers and Hidden Towers / Tina Sang
CONTENT WARNING: sexual assault.
It is the night of the Spring Ball when I decide to leave my life behind. As I walk home in a crowd of people that are supposed to be my friends, I’m hit with the sudden sensation of watching everything from a distance. Floating in the air like a specter, I observe myself: the girl with the forced laughter and unsteady gaze. I wonder how I can save her. The other princesses giggle about tall men & strong hands & steamy nights, and I use my magic to slip out without them noticing.
As the sky turns to dusk, I see an inn ahead. Worn and slumped, it invites me in. The woman behind the counter tries to pry answers out of me with her piercing gaze. What’s a lass like you doing in a place like this? I snatch the keys from her hand and evade the question. As the night falls, the solitude seeps in, tangible in the dark of the night. I stare at the moon and wonder, is it just me and you from now on?
The next day, I buy myself a suit of armor. It’s for my brother, I tell the man. He hands it over. I shed my dress. Now hopefully there will be fewer questions, fewer looks, fewer suspicions.
I meet my first prince at a river crossing. He asks me what I enjoy, so I pull him down onto the wooden boat-floor and say, look at the clouds.
When I cloud-gaze, I forget I’m a single human in the great big world. I focus on the flowers in the sky, and I melt. My fingers turn into wisps of air and I drown myself in blue, fleeing my form. Sometimes a body is a burden.
When we reach the river bank, he thanks me for opening his eyes to a new world. We part ways: he heads towards his kingdom, and I travel further away from mine.
The second prince has a hungry look in his eyes from the start. I pretend not to notice. Wandering for so long in desolation is enough to drive anyone crazy. When you find a companion, you drink their presence thirstily. We go on adventures: we climb mountains & share stories & eat wild birds but at the end of the night when I rest my head on his shoulder, he brings his face close and I can smell the fiery lust in his dragon-breath.
I never understood that hunger.
But he is gentle, and I’ve never been on that kind of adventure, so I sign my agreement with my lips. His soldier-fingers invade my walls. I feel trapped in my body as touch permeates my senses. The entire time I am too aware, and not entranced as I should be. His skin transforms to scales, everything is slimy & wet & it feels like a creature instead of a human in my arms. I gaze at the sky, seeking the stars, but they are cold, shards of glass. I can’t drown, only gasp. Sometimes a body is a burden.
The next day I learn about myself. I learn that my body doesn’t respond in the ways others do. I can fight a monster, scale a cliff, but I can’t enjoy that. I run my tongue across my gums, the place where his teeth left indents. It feels like a betrayal to myself. He stormed my castle, and the worst part: I had let him.
I had never thought myself the stuck-in-a-tower kind of princess, but after that night, I realize I have more fortifications than I know about. I shrink away from certain touch; even eye contact can be a bit much.
If he notices, he doesn’t comment. We set up camp after we reach the summit. He invites me to his tent, but I say, not tonight, I’m really spent. He looks disappointed but retreats into his lair. I sit on the cliff-edge and look at the view below and wish I could climb higher. I pack my gear by the light of the moon, and by morning, all that is left of me is memory.
Once again, I find myself leaving a single trail of footprints in the dirt. Most princes want the full package, the friend & the female, and I can’t give them that. I resign myself to never having another set of tracks beside me.
Until I meet you.
I’m aboard a wagon heading far, far away when you leap on and ask if there is room. I study your face. Open, honest, happy – no trace of that hunger. I say yes. I know why I want to escape, but why do you?
You shrug and reply, It’s all about experiencing the new.
I’m shocked – You’d leave everything you have here?
You raise an eyebrow at me. Isn’t that what you’re doing too?
I shake my head. I have nothing here. No family, no friends, no love.
You laugh. Love. I don’t do love, you say.
I can imagine what my face looks like to you. Surprised, hopeful, I sign myself up.
We pass a place where the land is so flat the sky almost swallows it whole. I immediately tell the wagon to stop. This is me, I say to you. Are you in or out? You shrug and follow me down. I’m with you, for now.
I lay on the ground. You laugh. Cloud-gazing, are we?
Want to join me?
You grab my hand and yank me up. Why stay on the ground, when you can fly?
That was the first of many magic carpet rides.
Sometimes when I look at you, I think, I wouldn’t mind drowning in you.
But I’ve spent so long searching; I don’t want to lose, especially not to a fantasy of happily ever after. So, I exile those thoughts, tossing them out of my tower. Life is about compromise and rarely do two people live the same lives. We humans are wickedly complex. I want love, without the rest. You want to fly to the moon & play among the stars & become something greater than this globe you’re stuck on. You’re full of it, I scoff when you fantasize, but truthfully, I think you’re breathtaking. The wonder in your star-lit eyes, your moonshot dreams, how you teach me to crush the evil queen.
Sometimes what stories don’t teach you is that what you have is enough. We keep searching for that perfect life when it’s right in front of us. It’s those misconceptions, those other-people lives we think want, that blind us from our very own fairytales.
That’s why when I love you forms in my mouth, When’s the next adventure? comes out instead.
Tina Sang is a 17-year-old Chinese-American poet, writer, student currently living in Beijing. She writes mostly for fun but has published works in places like Inkbeat Literary Journal and Young Author's Review Network. She will attend Oxford University in the fall as an English student. You can follow her on Instagram at @tinaasaang or her writing account at @tinawrote.