“She will do a great thing,” her mother said. “A girl with golden hair must do a great thing.”
The Queen Loreen sent a servant to see the girl they would name Oovis. When the servant returned to the palace, the Queen asked if the girl’s hair was truly golden.
“Golden as the sun,” the servant replied.
The Queen sent the servant to the land in the mountains to fetch there a root that guaranteed immortality—a task from which none of her servants had ever returned. Then the Queen went herself to see the girl with golden hair.
The girl’s hair had come with her from the womb. It was shoulder-length and hard and heavy. The girl could not move her head under its weight. The Queen saw this and laughed.
“You will be a pointless girl,” she said to the baby. “And your hair will not be so extraordinary. I will see to that.” The Queen turned to the girl’s parents. “I will be checking the tax records, to make sure you are paying daily for that bloodstone with which you built this hut.”
“We pay,” the father said. “We’ve always paid.”
“We’ll see,” said the Queen. When she returned to the palace, she searched the records but found no mistakes. She walked through her courtyard and stared down into her mirror pond; her own hair was brown as tree bark, brown as mud. She issued a decree: there would be no more trees with brown bark, no more dirt. If the Queen spotted the color brown, she would send the offenders downriver, where the fish people lived, so that the fish people could eat their heads. This, she told her congregation, would improve relations with the fish people.
Oovis’ parents, who survived on the food from their garden and the fruits from their fruit trees, chopped down the trees and covered the dirt with white leaf mulch from the banyo trees in the grove. They planted more banyo trees, even though these would grow unbearable in the late season, when the trees shed their leaves and chattered like nervous maidens in the cool evening air. They advised their daughter, who grew to be plain in her adolescence despite her golden hair, to stay out of trouble. They forbade her from attending the palace protests with her peers.
“But I’m supposed to do a great thing!” Oovis would yell. “How can I do it if you keep me from standing up for what I believe in?”
Her parents knew better. They too had believed in things. Then they grew to know the city in which they lived.
“When you’re of age,” they said, “you can do whatever you want.”
But Oovis was a girl with golden hair, and she fit the city better than the Queen, whose brown hair shone like murky lake water in the sun. She watched her parents prick their fingers each morning and drip their blood into a bowl and place it outside their door for their tax. A daily offering that was collected by the Queen’s servants. Oovis hated that her parents suffered, that their fingers never healed. Oovis wouldn’t give the tax herself—she was frightened of blood—but she snuck out her bedroom window the night of the protest with a pocketful of stones to throw at the palace windows. The banyo trees, in their naked season, whispered as Oovis climbed the wooden fence into the empty lot across the way.
“Where are you going, golden girl?” one asked.
“She’s not allowed to go to the palace,” another said.
“Are you going to the palace?”
“I wish I could see the palace.”
“Shush,” said Oovis. “You’ll wake my parents. You’re right. I’m not supposed to go. Now will you please leave me alone?”
“Golden girl wants us to leave her alone,” said a banyo. Their red trunks in the darkness frightened Oovis, their mouths gaping black holes. Oovis walked the long way around their grove. She ran through the field of centaurs—since the year of curses, we centaurs had been silent—and across another fence and into the main square of the city and down to the palace courtyard where a boy waited for her.
“Where are the others?” she asked.
“What others?” he said, sitting on the Queen’s bench. “It’s just us.”
It felt wrong to be there alone with a boy she hardly knew, though he had been the one who had invited her. She laughed when his hand reached for her hand, when his fingers curled around her own. When he aimed his lips at her lips, however, she stood and stomped her feet.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I’m meant for a greater thing than you.”
She crawled back in her bedroom window. Her father heard her and knew that she had shut trouble out and was thankful. She would indeed do a great thing, he repeated to himself until he fell into a sleep deep enough to die.
The girl’s father did not die, though he sometimes wished that death might take him young. He too wanted to be remembered, and being a man of little talent, his best bet was to be remembered for dying young. But his body kept on, his wife’s too, and the girl with golden hair began to suspect that the thing she would do might not be so great. After all, all the doers of great things had lost their parents young. She was no longer young.
Like the Queen, who had been orphaned at the age of nine already promised to the Prince of Mu. The Queen had dreamed of a palace and servants and a city to rule. When they were married at thirteen, the King loved the Queen so much that every night he kissed her, her picture, and her marriage ring: a declaration in three parts. The Queen had never loved anyone. The King’s love churned her stomach. He was always, always in her way.
That she poisoned him was not hearsay but a source of pride for the Queen. “Go search for the root of life,” she would tell her servants. “Or I will poison you like I did my husband.” When speaking to her congregation, she often reminisced on the day: “I am almost as happy today, on this great anniversary of my Queenhood, as I was the day I poisoned the King.”
The girl with golden hair hated the story of the King and the poison. If anyone ever loved her, she thought, she would be kind to them. She would love them back.
But she didn’t. Many boys fell for her, not for her personality and not for the great deed she had accomplished, for she had accomplished nothing of the sort, but for her hair alone. Oovis denied them. She told herself that it was not real love, not the kind of love a King bestowed upon a Queen.
Instead of boys, Oovis spent her time with the centaurs in the fields across from her hut. She spoke to them as though they understood her. They did not understand her: none of them except for me. It was I to whom she told this tale, the tale of her life, a memoir for an ordinary girl in an ordinary city. I could not speak then, but I understood her. I too had been born with hair the color of wheat. I too had amounted to nothing. Together, I knew, this girl and I could turn our fates around.
The centaurs were bright once, I wanted to say as she fed me oats from the palm of her pretty hand. Look at us now. But then I did look at her, and I realized that she was as poorly off as us. Too young to do any good and too old to use her tears to make things happen for her. I saw her life stretched out before her; the past that she had spilled to me in crisp detail. She would amount to nothing. A girl with golden hair can never live up to expectation. And a human with a horse body can never be more than a beast.
It was then that I decided I would help her, in any way I could.
Of course the only way I could think of to help her, then, was to listen. I listened while she told me stories of her inability to connect with the other girls of her age, who dreamt of kissing and marriage. Oovis wanted none of it. She did not like boys, and she did not like girls, and the thought of spending a lifetime next to someone made her uneasy.
“I’ll spend forever with the centaurs and the banyo trees and my mom and dad.”
But the banyo trees gossiped about her when the sun was down and she was not around to hear.
“She cries at night,” one said to another. “The banyo by her window says he hears it.”
“She hasn’t done anything to be worthy of her hair,” said the other tree. “We should cut it from her head with our limbs.”
Stop that, I wanted to say. Don’t talk about the girl that way. You haven’t given her a chance to prove herself. I neighed instead, stomped my front teeth, growled at the dirt.
“Centaur likes the girl,” said the banyo. “Poor little centaur. What kind of world is it when the trees may talk but the centaurs can’t? This city will ruin.”
“The girl,” said the first banyo. “She’ll ruin with it.”June 29, 2015, 2:47 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
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