Four dark figures huddled under an overpass around a tiny fire. Burger wrappers, newspapers, and leaves swirled around them; frigid winds stung their cheeks, bringing tears to their eyes. Their heavy coats are dirty, ripped, and stained, but no one cares. It’s better than freezing to death.
Sylvia is lost in thought, cooing and talking quietly to a small wrapped bundle. Stroking her cheek she whispers, “Now it’s time for your bedtime, bebelus. I’m going to put you in your leagăn where it’s nice and warm and dry. Mama needs to put you down so you can get to sleep.”
The others ignore her, arguing. Louie brags, “Yea. I could do a better job than the bozos we got running this city. When I was in charge? I kept those people in line. Everyone knew what they’s s’posed to do. They knew. Here? Why we out here freezin’ on the streets? No one knows what they’s doin’. All about the almighty dollar. Yes sir. Don’t care about people like us. I be in charge? I’d turn this place around. Get us jobs.”
“Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Louie?” said Dawg. “If you knew whatchu doin’ you’d be there and not them.” He jammed a finger in Louie’s face. “You wouldn’t work if you’s handed a job on a silver platter! Why don’t you shut yer mouth?” Louie glared back at him but didn’t move.
Snuffy, the peacemaker said, “You two knock it off,” and turned to Sylvia. “Sweetheart, why don’t you put your baby down and tell us your story again about being a princess?” The men punched each other, snorting and laughing.
She whipped around. “Snuffy, I should have you thrown in the Temniţă. How would you like that?” She tucked the small braid behind her ear and strutted away like a lady of the ball. Resting against a concrete pillar, Sylvia coiled the blanket tighter around the beautiful porcelain doll she never let out of her sight. Gently fluttering scrubby fingers over the eyelids, she put her baby to sleep.
Tossing her head at the men, she waggled her finger and raised her voice to be heard over the biting winds. “You laugh, but I know I came from royalty! I remember eating pheasant, duck and caviar. Yes. And every kind of sweet you can think of. I had a young girl who took care of me. Brushed my hair until it gleamed, touched up my cheeks with rouge. I was a princess, living in a palace, and sitting at the head of a long table with many fine chairs.”
The men laughed at her and took turns taking jabs. Dawg said, “Then why you here? In this stinkin’ hellhole. Why aren’t you warm in your castle running the kingdom? Ruling over your people? Wearing a crown?” They hooted and hollered.
She narrowed her eyes, picked up the doll and clutched her close. “I’ll have you all thrown in the dungeon! My father, the King, will come after all of you. He protects me. He’ll come for me now. I just know it. You just wait and see.”
Her mind is fuzzy. The picture unclear. What happened to her life? Was it real or all in her mind? As if trying to jog her memory, Sylvia strutted around like a peacock, one hand up and one down, with her pinkie slightly extended. The men were trying to stifle laughter.
“See, this is how I walked around at our fancy balls. I had gowns of every shape and color! Blue, purple, and red satin adorned with jewels! I was the most beautiful woman in the palace—in the kingdom! Everyone envied me. Men wanted me. Women wanted to be me. But I was special and would inherit everything one day.
The men scoffed and laughed. Louie shook his head, and tossed his hand in the air at her. “Yea…a lady alright. With a doll for a baby. You just nuts, lady. You crazy. Get away from us.”
Sylvia gently laid her baby down on a big stone, squatted and opened up her threadbare coat. Pulling out a small object, she gestured to the men and whispered, “Come close. I’ll show you I am who I say I am. I’m a princess and these were my jewels!” She held up a four-carat ruby ring surrounded by tiny diamonds that reflected the firelight.
The men stopped laughing. Gathering around Sylvia in a tight circle, they ogled the ring. None noticed the long, black limo sitting curbside in the still darkness.
Penelope Silvers is a freelance writer, author,
and radio host of Penelope’s Book Chat on Blog
Talk Radio. She lives simply and sanely on Florida’s
beautiful nature coast.