Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Rose

BY BRYAN HURT

Here’s a secret:

It wasn’t until after she married the Prince that Briar Rose found out that he had a thing for dead chicks. Now, before you imagine her disappointment, imagine his. His friends didn’t tell him that the girl behind all those brambles would still be living. I bet they laughed pretty hard while he set out to cut and cut away for his dead beauty, only to revive her with a kiss.

Still, they gave it a shot, the Prince and Briar Rose. I mean it really was some kiss. I don’t know how it is for you, and maybe it’s different for everyone, but for me, when I fall in love, it’s a lot like waking up. That’s how it was for Briar Rose, too. She’d been asleep for a long time and when the Prince came around and woke her up, she found herself head-over-heels. It wasn’t long after she asked the Prince to marry.

So at first, everything was pretty cool. The Prince was upfront about his preferences for the deceased and Briar Rose didn’t mind role-playing a bit. There were even some things she liked: erotic asphyxiation, for example. But soon all the Prince wanted to do was do it with her inside of her old glass coffin. “It’ll be hot,” he coaxed. “Think about it. Your skin, cool glass.” But really, after a hundred years squished inside that coffin, there was nothing hot about getting back inside.

One thing to know about the Prince is that he’s smaller than he looks on TV. He has small, delicate hands. His feet don’t reach the end of the coffin. He stands on a milk crate behind his podium when he gives his speeches. He has a tiny penis. “Don’t make a sound,” he told Briar Rose. “Don’t move a muscle.” He wanted her to pretend like she was dead, but really, she didn’t have to pretend too hard. When he put himself inside her, he came in about a second. Then he fell asleep right there, right on top. Briar Rose’s legs cramped. The Prince’s penis shriveled.

The coffin was made of black reflective glass, like the kind they hide security cameras behind at the airport and at the mall. For all the years she slept inside, Briar Rose never spent much time considering her trembling reflection, which cast all around. But, under the Prince, there was nothing else for her to do. All she could see, all there was, was herself and a cold black expanse. It was depressing.

And then his whole castle began to feel like a little black box. The garden, the kitchen, her bedroom, the game room with its pinball machines and billiard tables. Everywhere Briar Rose went she felt equally trapped. The Prince wasn’t a bad guy but he was dull, his desires repetitive. She started taking other men to bed while he was away fulfilling his princely duties. The gardener, the pool guy, the baker. To bed! To be spread out wide across quilted sheets and not kept crammed in some old sleep-smelling box.

Soon Briar Rose developed something serious with the Prince’s steward, a dark-haired guy about a hundred years her junior. It was love, like waking up, and it was an easy secret to keep. The Steward kept the Prince’s schedule and knew where he was supposed to be every hour of the day. When the Prince was meeting with foreign dignitaries, they would do it up in his bedroom. And when the Prince was out hunting foxes, they’d bang each other in the stables. Once, they even did it on the throne while the Prince was having tea with his mother. And the other castle employees—even if they saw them necking down in the dungeon—didn’t dare say anything. Briar Rose was queen and could have them fired as easily as hung. So it was a terrible shock when it all ended badly, in the Steward’s death.

The police drained the moat, and found the murder weapon—the Prince’s gun. They came to arrest him, and the Prince went easily. He walked across the drawbridge, and into the mob of reporters. “No comment,” he said, again and again, and then ducked inside the back of a cruiser.

I remember seeing it all on television, even though I was just a kid. If you looked carefully, you could see Briar Rose there in the background. She was standing in the window of her tower. You couldn’t see her face, but I bet if you could, you’d see that she was crying. The Prince didn’t look sorry, not once, not even when they called him up to the stand to testify. He stood there impassively and confessed to the murder. “I did it,” he said. He said he would do it a thousand times over. That’s how much he loved Briar Rose.

When I met her, it was in Boise at the Annual Conference for Museum Curators. By then she was working for the Getty, and had long since dropped Briar from her name. I was sitting on a restoration panel and afterwards she introduced herself. We went for drinks and talked about that kouros, the one that made all that news a few years back for being a fake. I asked her about the Prince, and what he was like in real-life. Rose was forthcoming. “Small,” she said. “A tiny man.” Even when they showed him on TV that last time, he in his orange prison jumpsuit, his hands shackled behind his back. Even framed inside the little television box, he looked bigger than he actually was.

She said he still sent her letters. He promised that when he got out of the slammer he’d find her again. “Sometimes he says he loves me,” she said. “Sometimes he wants to kill me.” She had to take pills to fall asleep, that’s how nervous the Prince made her, even after all these years. “How terrible,” I said. She agreed, and I ordered us another round of drinks.

Still, when I had her in my bed, Briar Rose’s hair spread out like sunrays atop the sheets, I could see where the Prince was coming from. I stroked her arms and watched her sleep. I thought: How pretty she must look, kept inside a little glass box.