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The Watcher's Princess
The streets were painted with streaks of light. Zelda watched the streets over the edge of the building, the high-rise apartment with the three foot wrought-iron fence complete with spikes around the top so when the teenagers with fake IDs and twenty-somethings with real IDs got drunk they couldn't fall off- they'd have to jump or be pushed. Zelda was peaceful as she gazed down the frighteningly sheer wall of the skyscraper, unaffected by the height or her closeness to the edge.
I had watched her watch the street earlier in the night, at nine when the party started, when she rode up in the glass elevator to the roof with her 'friends', the girls who had invited her, who were dancing to the elevator music and laughing and smiling while she stared out the glass, leaning in the corner away from the already enthusiastic party-goers. I had watched her watch the street when she got out of the elevator, Zelda with her midnight-blue strapless floor-length dress with the sparkles like stars, a dress that made her noon-blue eyes light up while the lavender circles around them faded into the background, and then the violet streaks in her raven hair looked like pure light instead of industrial-strength dye. Zelda, with no makeup and no jewelry and a real ID, Zelda with true beauty. I had watched her begin to cross to the edge with her eyes on the street, and then keep them there, never moving her sight or mind.
I continued to watch her as she watched the street behind the railing, while the men crossed to her, not to the view but to Zelda, with their eyes on her body, not the city. I watched her stand with her hands on the rail, looking like she might vault herself over the edge, while various men of all ages sixteen to twenty-eight walked to her and brought drinks, and she shook her head at every brightly colored cocktail and salt-rimmed margarita and glasses of blood-red wine and flute of sparkling champagne. I watched her close her eyes each time she was asked, and shake her head no.
I watched a tall Korean college student with black glasses and black hair bring her a blackberry Italian soda in a sealed bottle with a bright silver cap and clear logo'd label, and I watched Zelda take it with a smile, without closing her eyes. I watched her say something in a soft voice, and I watched him smile too.
The Korean boy brought her a chair, and she sat in it, no longer prepared for a launch, as she continued to watched the city and the lights and sip her soda, and then he brought himself a chair and he watched her watch the lights in the illuminated city darkness.
That is how Zelda's court received its first member.
After Zelda didn't take a drink and after the Korean boy took up the position of knight, the girls rather than the men came to try their own luck at getting the quiet flower into the party. Girls in less-dresses – back-less pastels that reached the floor and strap-less candy-colors that didn't reach the knees and dresses with sense-less-ly low necklines – came and danced and pulled at Zelda's arms and chair and tried to shove brightly colored and delicately decorated drinks and chocolates with glitter and gold and swirls into her hands, and she just closed her eyes and looked at her hands folded carefully and sturdily in her lap, and her knight stood and got red in the face as he protested her treatment, and went redder still as the girls pressed drinks into his own hands and draped themselves over him, and Zelda looked down but I could tell, I could tell she wasn't oblivious. And then he looked at her and she looked up with that infinite sadness and kindness – Go, I don't mind – and she didn't say a word and his complexion returned to normal and he sat down in his chair and scooted it around beside her with their backs to the party and to the people.
That is how Zelda's knight proved his honour and valour.
And the girls in the less-dresses gave up, the 'friends' and the others alike, and went back to the crowd and danced and flirted and forgot about the girl and her Korean knight without shining armor.
After Zelda didn't take a drink and after the Korean boy took up the position of knight and after the girls tried to be 'friendly', the traffic started to die and the streaks of light started to move faster though there were less than before. Zelda started looking at her knight in between stares at the city, acknowledging her court of one. Her gaze was softer on his face than the intimidating blankness of her gaze on the streets. His own gaze turned softer when hers did, but awkward and less direct and analyzing – his looked through one's eyes to one's heart, hers went through the eyes to the soul and then to the closets in the back of the mind one try to hide.
After Zelda didn't take a drink and after the Korean boy took up the position of knight and after the girls tried to be 'friendly', more people came to the party and more people permeated the rooftop and more people got drunk. The music got louder and louder and faster and faster and more and more riddled with expletives. The dancing got faster and wilder and less like dancing. The time neared midnight. There was a crash from the stage, the sound of breaking glass and the sound of a shout. The music stopped. Zelda watched and her knight watched and I watched. A guitar player was shoved off the stage. He fell down hard onto the concrete from the foot-high stage, twisting to hit on his back to protect his guitar, the only acoustic in the band. I watched Zelda watch him, her expression kind and almost sorrowful, her head tilted ever so slightly to the side. I watched the guitar player jump up from the ground, tall and thin with flame-colored hair, visible only by the way the crowd parted around him as if fearing a plague. The girls in the candy-colored dresses laughed and shoved at him, maybe playfully but for the drink giving them more force, and their dates laughed and did nothing, and the girls in the pastel floor-lengths attempted to look like simpering princesses while their dates sympathized, and the girls in the dark jewel tones looked as if they believed themselves above it all while their dates copied them. The wiry musician himself just bent over slightly and tried to protect his guitar as he stumbled out of the crowd. I watched Zelda cock her head more to the side and say something to her knight, and he got up and walked to the musician and said something to him, and the guitar player smiled and nodded and held his instrument with the neck in his left hand so his right hand could gesture as he spoke back animatedly, and they returned to Zelda, and the newcomer pulled up a chair and began to play.
That was how Zelda's small court received its own personal minstrel, and he in turn received his own private audience.
After Zelda didn't take a drink, and after the Korean boy took up the position of knight, and after the girls tried to be 'friendly', and the musician was thrown off stage to a better audience, time began to pass faster and faster for the small court in a whirl of color and light and alcohol and smoke. Zelda and her knight and her minstrel didn't move from their corner on the side of the roof, with Zelda alternating between looking at her court and gazing at the city and singing with her minstrel – her eyes closed and her face tilted to the dark sky – and her minstrel played the whole time except when his fingers just rested on the strings of his precious guitar and just watched Zelda or the city and didn't play, and her knight talked and laughed and watched Zelda and lapsed into silence as he listened to the duo make that wonderful creation, music.
The trio didn't move while the world around them passed through time as if time itself was going to end after tonight.
Somewhere in the mess, after Zelda didn't take a drink and after the Korean boy took up the position of knight and after the girls tried to be 'friendly', and the musician was thrown off stage to a better audience, and they resisted the drama of the imagined apocalypse, another girl came, with skin the color of the dark chocolate and hair the color of the midnight in which you can see the stars, as tiny as Zelda was tall. She wore a long white dress, plain cotton to the floor, that glowed brightly in all but the large, pink stain down the front that looked suspiciously like someone had run into her while intoxicated and carrying more intoxication – on purpose or accidentally. She carried four bottles of Italian soda, blackberry. She stood before the trio with an aura of anxiousness, and the minstrel stopped playing, and the knight looked up, and Zelda herself lowered her face from the sky and opened her eyes. The girl didn't have time to say a word before Zelda took in her expression and the stain on her dress, and pushed her chair back to open the half-circle enough for another chair to fit in. Minutes later, it was as if the girl in the white stained dress had been there the whole time, except when she got up to bring back more Italian sodas and bottled water.
That is how Zelda's court grew to include a lady-in-waiting with dark skin and a stained dress.
And so the night progressed. Couples fought, broke up, and found new dates. Designated drivers 'forgot' their duties. Pairs of people slipped away. The bar ran out of several types of liquor. And hours after Zelda didn't take a drink, and after the Korean boy took up the position of knight, and after the girls tried to be 'friendly', and the musician was thrown off stage to a better audience, and they resisted the drama of the imagined apocalypse, no one noticed the rainclouds gathering overhead until it began to rain at exactly one twenty-three. Except Zelda, of course, who had been watching the sky and the city for hours. While all the girls ran to the elevators and stairs to keep their dresses dry and their dates tried to keep up, Zelda didn't, and her court stayed watching. She stood and tilted her head up and lifted her arms to her sides and laughed, so loudly I could hear her and her court could hear her and it was lovely. Then her knight took her hands and lead her out onto the dance floor and he twirled her around and around and around and the minstrel and the lady-in-waiting watched with laughter and smiles.
But while Zelda's court's party began with the rain, the others' ended, and so after only a brief few minutes of the rain-party I watched the court be herded off the roof to the stairs, wet to the skin and laughing still. I watched Zelda's eyes flit to the girls she had come with as the soaked party entered the whole, real party in the lobby of the apartment building, but they were laughing too, caught up in themselves, and didn't seem to notice. I watched her watch as they borrowed umbrellas and walked into the rain under them and hailed a cab. I watched as they drove away in it without a second glance, not realizing who they'd forgotten. I watched as Zelda's happiness ran from her face like tears. The water that had connected her castle inside its protective moat to the world, that shallow puddle that made everything an ocean, had dried and the deep trench was visible again, separating the lands. I watched as she cast her eyes to the ground and closed them briefly, then walked to the window away from the crowd. Her court split, each going to a different group, but I watched as each slowly made their way back to Zelda in her corner of the room, each with their head down, weaving their way through the crowd. And each time someone came back, Zelda would look up with a slight smile, because even if her court was made of outcasts, it was a court of friends.
It was quickly decided that the court of friends would leave together. Zelda lead them out into the rain again, without umbrellas though several employees offered, and the already-soaked court tromped out through the puddles and stormy half-light. I watched them go, happy in their own silent way. They were a strangely fascinating and beautiful sight, the four of them, all in black-tie attire, soaked through, no umbrellas, walking through a bright mist thrown by the spray of water hitting concrete and yellowed city street lights, and not only did I watch but some of the crowd as well, as even the crowd was not oblivious to something so beautiful and strange. . . .
They went to Zelda's car, not too far away, a small charcoal grey affair that had obviously been chosen by the 'friends' for its sleek design and the aura of expensive that probably followed it wherever it was driven. Zelda clicked a hidden key-fob inside her purse, and the lights flashed. I saw Zelda's knight and lady hesitate before sliding in – anxiety of the wet clothes on leather car seats? – but the minstrel had no complaint with any shelter of his instrument nor did Zelda herself as the two plopped inside. The lady and the knight were quick to follow after it appeared acceptable, and Zelda started the car. I went into the rain to watch and to hear, to see Zelda skillfully ease the car out of its tight parallel-parking job on the curb and whisk away, spraying water just the way it does in the commercials that always look so staged, and hear the music come on and be turned up.
That is how Zelda and her court left, as a court of friends and of rejects, in a car that made some salivate, in the most beautiful grand depart I had ever seen, and ever did see.
That is how I remember Zelda and her court, as I never saw them again.
I did not see, after Zelda didn't take a drink and after the Korean boy took up the position of knight and after the girls tried to be 'friendly' and after the musician was thrown off stage to a better audience and after they resisted the drama of the imagined apocalypse and after the dark-skinned angel lady joined and after they danced in the rain and after they made their grand exit, I did not see the crash. I did not see the taxi cab driver, intoxicated and done with life, run straight and fast into Zelda's coupe. I did not see her knight yank the wheel to the side, out of Zelda's frozen-in-panic hands, turning it so that it hit his side and could have spared her. I did not see her minstrel's attempt to shield both his guitar, his passion and happiness, and Zelda's lady-in-waiting, the girl he barely knew. I did not see the impact. I did not see Zelda's tiny car spin and spin 'round and 'round through the beautiful golden mist. I did not see Zelda's airbag fail to deploy.
I did not watch as the taxi driver limped out of his cab and fell to his knees, praying to God not to judge him for killing those he never wanted to kill, shouting to the heavens to spare those he never wanted to kill, crying and crying and crying as he sank against his taxi and passed into blissful oblivion. He was dead long before the ambulances arrived
I did not see Zelda and her court die in the streets so beautifully painted with light.
I saw the obituaries in the paper the next day. I saw the names in print: Zelda as Zoey-Ann Jacobs, the minstrel John Robertson, the knight Chin Myeong, the lady Samantha "Hope" Smith. I saw the interviews on the news, in each of which at least one crying woman and stony-faced man and shocked 'friend'. Each told of a personality I hadn't seen in those few hours of watching. Even Zelda's.
I watched as life was shattered for a few people, for a few days, and I watched life return to normal. And I continued watching, even though Zelda and her court were gone, gone from my sight. . . .
That is the story of Zelda and Zelda's court, those who I watched for a few mere hours, Zelda and her minstrel and her knight and her lady. The four I knew.
Or did I? Zoey-Ann, Chin, John, and Hope. Did I know them? Were they even real people, were they Zelda's court at all, or were they my court? Were they merely origami people, paper and two-dimensional, folded and folded by myself into something I recognized and thought I knew?
Is this the story of Zelda and her court, or is it the story of me?
I do not know. . . . I do not know. I do not see. I only watch.