The Cat’s Coup

Once Upon

The ceremony turned out splendidly. There was that single instant of hesitation on Princess Nayda’s part, before she said “I do,” of course—but she recovered herself, and the Count, what a catch! He was magnificent that day: even the boots on his feet seemed self-satisfied.

Nayda didn’t hear the wedding toasts. She was looking at her husband’s tawny locks of hair. She blinked. Somehow, the reception hall was fading. She saw the young Marquis of Carabas, glaring—but the colors along his jawbone were blurred.

She felt as if she were tumbling into the crevasse of an open book. The Count was speaking, but she’d fallen too far below the words to understand what they said anymore.

Her husband was taking a bow, she saw that. Then that young Marquis clutching a champagne glass, yelling, “You cheated, vermin! This wasn’t the deal…”

The Count swirled his cloak—light flashed along the edge—and leapt after his bride.

Into the margins they plunged.

That’s very strange, Nayda thought as she tumbled. The Count had never moved so…so slinkily, before.

And They Lived

They lived in a cottage in the center of the forest.

The newcomer, at first, was skittish of these bedraggled, black-wooded trees. It was a forest, she thought, from a forest’s point of view; and the only way through it was echolocation.

Daily, however, she grew more joyous. She unbraided her hair and let it swing loose in the wind. She was boundless: lying in the sweet scratchy grass with her husband, singing bawdy tunes… All of the burdens she’d been collecting, living in the world, were one by one laid aside.

Goodbye to her hatred of shellfish!

Goodbye to the fragrant, frozen pond where her brother drowned.

Goodbye to the rag doll she’d found in the garden, the creature with the twiggy, thrice-sewn grin, which might (if only she’d paid enough attention) have been an enchanted witch.

All of these memories—these wrong turns and half-formed desires—gradually came to seem to her like nothing more solid than traveling clouds. Soon enough (though time was unmeasurable in the forest), there arrived an evening when the last cloud sputtered a raindrop, then wistfully disappeared.

She now had no fear of climbing the trees.

There was a place at the end of the story, her nursemaid had told her. There was a place that you found, either through heroism or trickery: the pond beyond the river.

This was the last memory that the newcomer forgot.


And so the newlyweds lived in the forest, hunting, dancing; gathering berries, baking them into pies. The newcomer was fond of picking wild azaleas, and the Count was fond using them to line the rim of his pants. He laughed merrily whenever the wind rose, raking his face and leaving his eyebrows askew; and at night he left their cabin to prowl the dark woods, coming home smelling of mischief (and cornered rats).

Their bodies tangled in the bed as they slept. And the Count, of course, never took off his boots—but his wife didn’t mind.