And then the Prince’s face . . .
It is not a thought. It is simply an imperative. Something is wrong. Something is different. She must review the history. What she sees hurts her. She must understand it.
Once upon a time, there was a girl named Miriam, and she lived in a garden. It had a gentle fountain, and flowers, and grass, and swaying trees. Around the trees there rose a wall. Beyond the wall was nothingness. There was no world. There was no sky. There was only a pure and brilliant white.
Sometimes, the Prince would visit Miriam. Sometimes he brought gifts: a new dress of flowing silks and elegant lace; rare and precious confections from the distant east; a bottle of sunlight; a box full of song; even, once, a small, skittish turtle, whose antics in the pool made her smile.
“Do you love me, Prince?” she asked him, each time.
“I can’t,” he said. “My heart is given to another.”
“Ah,” she said.
And so she passed one visit and another. Sometimes, they would dance, in slow and formal measures; and sometimes, walk; and sometimes cuddle in the warm summer nights.
“Do you love me, Prince?” asked Miriam, one day. The Prince’s face . . .
Yet the history ends, and she is none the wiser.
The Prince’s face grows pained, and suddenly he is not standing, tall and pure, but on the ground, and his eyes are wracked by tears.
“Oh,” she says. And “Oh” again, and she is at his side, and comforting him; but he knows no comfort.
“I should go,” he says.
“No,” she says. “Please. Let me help.”
You are all I have.
“Please,” she says.
He sighs, and stands, and walks a few feet so he can slump against a tree.
“I have a wife,” he says. “. . . had. A wife. In the real world.”
“Her name was Miriam, too,” he says. “But she got sick.”
“She wasn’t with me very often,” the Prince says. “So sometimes, I would come here . . . and pretend.”
“She’s gone,” the Prince says. “I don’t know why I came here. I thought . . .” He hesitates. “I should change the program,” he says. “I should . . . I should . . .”
“No,” she says.
“Tell me about her,” she says. “I want to know.”
Events begin to flow into permanent storage, and the shape of this time shall remain with her forever, and it is her past.
And his grief came spilling out, and filled her world; and she held him for a night and a day in the circle of her arms; and then he left, and she sat by the pond, in her garden, wondering if he would ever return, and casting the petals of flowers onto the water’s surface.
And there were days of sun, and days of rain, and days of cold, and days of summer, before she saw him again.
She sees him at the gate, and all the world contracts to now.
The Prince strides in, and in his step all glories, and he holds in his hands a turtle, for he is not entirely a regrettable man.
“Miriam,” he says.
“Do you love me, Prince?” she asks.
“Give me time,” he says.