This year Platform Youth Culture has collaborated with TasWriters in a creative writing opportunity designed to showcase creative pieces from talented young Tasmanians aged between 12 and 25. As part of this project, young writes were given the opportunity to learn from and develop their creative writing skills by receiving valuable feedback for their submissions from published authors such as Kate Gordon, Christina Booth and Anne Morgan along with the opportunity to participate in a series of creative writing workshops run by Arianne James, Project Coordinator at TasWriters.
Content warning: This piece contains depictions of child abuse.
THE PRINCESS COMPLEX
She was convinced she was a princess. She had to be. All the books she had ever read told her what princesses did, and she did all those things.
She spent days locked in her room. She was dressed and paraded about when she left her castle and she tried escaping out the window once but that didn’t go so well. She even had to fight evil monsters sometimes! The kind that hunched its shoulders over you and roared until the walls shook. It was mostly the monsters who locked her in her room. That was okay; she felt safe there.
In her head, there was no way on Earth that she was not a princess. While she had never pricked her finger on a spindle or eaten a poison apple, she knew it deep down. She made sure not to tell a soul, just in case she was wrong and there was absolutely nothing special about her at all.
The boys at school always asked her in a teasing way why she carried toast in her hand along with the bag on her back and why her hair was only brushed some days and not others. She would always tell them she had slept in, rather than she was fighting monsters that morning and only just escaped with her toast and bag— let alone a hairbrush.
School was like travelling to a different kingdom; things for her were the same but the landmarks and monsters were disorienting here. She wore a green and white dress and a red bow in her hair that helped her blend in with all the other little girls. Here she wasn’t special at all, no one knew she was a princess and she adored it.
The monsters that lived at school were smart, although not as smart as the castle monster. The school monsters pulled at her ponytail and told her that her dress was too big and made her look silly. She already knew that. The castle monsters had told her this already. She just smiled at the school monsters and went to the place she felt most at home: the library.
The library was a place of possibilities for the girl. It had every story imaginable and she sometimes liked to read about how other princesses defeated their monsters. In class, the girl wrote stories about children who went off into the world on grand adventures with only their wits to guide them. She wished those adventures belonged to her, but her teachers wondered why she wasn’t writing stories about her friends searching for treasure or a runaway dog like the rest of her classmates. ‘The best stories are the ones that aren’t your own,’ she would tell them.
Every week the girl got a new book out from the library. One week, it was Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the next was Cinderella, and then Snow White. All these stories told her what she was and how to be it. They taught her how to act and survive as a princess.
When she tried to explain it to herself, the dragon was the real tip-off. Every princess has a dragon or a monster according to the books. Hers was red and thorny and angry. It was so very angry. But it was also deceptive. During the day, the dragon hid herself away under the guise of a woman who cared for children, who taught them lessons of life. When she arrived at the castle under the cover of night, she taught the girl lessons too, just different kinds.
The dragon taught her to run and hide, to cover truths, and she taught her to tell stories.
The dragon got angrier as the girl got older and the flames got bigger. Burn marks and charred walls scarred the castle now and the little girl’s brother was terrified every time he heard the dragon roar.
At school, her dress had changed from green and white to black and blue, and she wore her hair low over her eyes now. None of the boys tugged at her ponytail— only yelled at her in passing. She spent most of her time in the library.
The fights against her dragon got more dangerous and she had the battle scars to prove it. She spent the nights awake, listening for any sound of danger until she couldn’t keep her eyes open any longer and she’d wake in the morning after her alarm. This made her dragon angry. The next day she wore her battle scars and bags under her eyes as well as her uniform. She told her teacher that she had hit her head on the cupboard grabbing the cereal. She had a paper bag of soggy toast in her hand. She wasn’t sure what scared her more: the idea that she had to return to the castle or the bruises that crawled up her back like a hairy spider, making you shiver as you feel its legs creeping along your spine. You don’t want to show anyone, in case it scares them, but you need help.
That night an incomprehensible roar split the castle’s walls, letting loose the secrets within them. The girl’s little brother clapped his hands over his ears in defence. The girl huddled them both into a corner in the darkest room of the castle, hoping the dragon would not expose them. ‘Small and quiet,’ she whispered to the quivering boy. ‘We must stay small and quiet.’ He nodded and kept his head down.
Doors slammed and walls quivered. The castle’s very foundation was shaking— or perhaps it was just the girl. She had slipped and broken a Pyrex jug she had been polishing as a door slammed behind her. The dragon was enraged that the girl could be so careless. The glass lay shattered on the floor of the kitchen. The dragon stomped through it in pursuit of revenge.
The girl’s hiding frustrated the dragon. She stomped and slammed and roared. ‘Come here now,’ she screeched, ‘or you’ll regret it.’
The girl knew what regret meant. Regret meant covering battle scars with a cakey powder puff and styling your hair low. It meant a long sleeve shirt underneath her school dress and socks that covered her shins.
The door to her hiding spot was ripped off its hinges by the dragon. She pushed her little brother toward it, between the dragon’s legs. He wasn’t the one the dragon was looking for and he was safer away from the girl now that danger had arrived.
The girl felt a rough, scaly claw grasp her shoulder and tear her from her shelter, hurling her toward the dining room and into the light. The hiding was over. It was time to fight her monster.
She turned sharply as the dragon stomped toward her, smoke blowing from its nose. She put up her hands to shield her face and stepped back into the kitchen. She had blown her chance of escape. The dragon picked up an instrument from the kitchen counter and launched it toward the girl. It hit her stomach. She stepped back further and felt a shard of the Pyrex jug sink into her heel, slicing between the skin and the muscle. This was no time for screaming. The dragon swiped at the girl as she ducked to run under the wings and claws scraped her back. The girl retreated to save herself, leaving a trail of blood along the floorboards.
The dragon had won.
The girl couldn’t scream, but she could cry. That night, she sat on the cold tile floor reading a first-aid book by lamplight. She had run out of books to read at home years ago and found that the “practical” ones on the bookshelf in the hall could be just as helpful as the princess stories. She opened the book to the section titled ‘Lacerations’ and began her work. She took antiseptic and doused the underside of her heel. The tears running down her cheeks made it hard to see as she carefully removed the shard from her foot, quickly covering the opening with gauze and tape in an attempt to forget. Her blood wouldn’t let her forget. It peaked its way through her white socks as a reminder of her foolishness as she tried to drift off to sleep for just a few hours before morning.
After she had packed her bags the next morning, the girl limped her way into the shower, where she sat on the floor and nursed her injured foot until the water ran cold, and she finally cracked.
She sat there, on the floor of the shower, shaking and dripping; naked, for the world to see. Each of her weaknesses were as numerous as the droplets leaping from her whimpering body. But the world did not want to listen. It did not want to see the girl falling apart, sobbing and screaming silently. The world wanted a strong girl. The girl who was going well who showed promise.
The girl screamed silently into the cooling air and the world didn’t answer. The world didn’t want to see.
And just like that, just for a moment, she saw the bruises sliding off her skin, being sucked down the plughole at the soles of her feet. She wiped away the tears, straightened her spine and somehow found a smile in her emotional wardrobe to wear.
Today, she was a princess. She had to be a princess. That was her sole purpose; to be paraded for the good of others.