On seeing her, Prince Felio knew he must posses the little girl in the glass coffin for himself. The dwarves were opposed to letting her go. He convinced them with an outpouring of devotion for the pretty thing, and by emptying his pockets. The dwarves cried and caressed the glass as the prince’s servants hoisted the coffin to their shoulders. Leaving the coffin in the prince’s bedchamber, the servants whispered among themselves, “What does he want with a little dead girl?” Their suspicions were of no matter to him. Surveying her, he thought she was perfect as she was – unreachable and undisturbed.
The plaque on her coffin read: Princess Snow White, putting him in mind of the fresh-falling snow covering the the ugliness of the castle grounds in winter. Snow White’s skin was white, unmarred by emotion. Her lips were softly parted, as if any moment they would speak. They were ripe, red lips, fruit ready to be plucked. They did not look painted, nor did they look dead. She was so serene she could be sleeping.
The prince leaned his cheek against the cool coffin lid. His breath fogged the glass. Whimsically, he drew a heart in the mist before it faded, leaving behind a smear of oil. His fingers brushed against the place where her hand lay.
The hour for supper came with the smells of bacon and poultry, cumin and saffron. Prince Felio remained transfixed. When the sun was nearly gone and the room was in a grey mist, a servant knocked and announced his mother’s table was set and waiting. “The Duchess would have you attend,” said the servant.
What if the little girl woke when Prince Felio was not there?
The prince gestured to the coffin. “Bring my lady, Snow White, down to supper.”
The dead girl attended at dinner, much to the family’s distress.
She accompanied Prince Felio on his rare official duties as well as his pleasure outings. He admired her often. If she was not present at a meal he would not eat until she arrived. If she did not arrive he could not eat at all. Anxiety filled him until he saw her again. He refused to ride in the hunt because the servants could not keep up while carrying the coffin.
At night Prince Felio lay awake looking at the girl. Firelight stroked highlights in her hair; it cast a yellow glow on her skin giving her a vibrance of pulsing life. Any minute she would rise up. Any hour her eyes could open and he would see their color. Those were the times when he was most afraid.
“It is unhealthy for a prince to dally with a corpse,” The Duchess informed her son. The Duke stood beside her, silently supportive.
“She is not a corpse,” said Prince Felio.
His mother waved away the excuse. “Many eligible girls will be attending tonight’s ball. The corpse will stay out of sight, out of the room.”
The prince’s chest constricted and his breathing grew fast. He stood as if he were stuck to the floor. With wide eyes, he stammered, “I cannot live without seeing Snow White. She is my most cherished thing on the earth!”
“Melodrama does not suit your station,” said the Duchess. “Make yourself ready.”
That night the Duchess presided alone as hostess. The Duke did not appreciate fluttering social affairs. The moving colors of the dancer’s garments threaded around each other, weaving in and out of the line of participants. There were many complexions among the women: this one dark from time in the sun, that one with pink baby cheeks, the other with blemishes blossoming red on her forehead.
Prince Felio’s partner talked through the whole dance. Her voice was high and shrill with a distinctive whine at the end of every sentence. She was explaining her delight in parting hands in Basse Danse, the turn, and facing each other again, but he did not hear the reason for her ecstacy. He left her on the floor and made for the side of the room.
Along the wall, all of the partnerless ladies were arrayed, waiting for an invitation to participate. A pair of full red lips, caught the prince’s eye. A gulf had opened between the talkative watchers and her, waiting silently. The prince sat down in the chair beside her. He admired her profile: a clear, high forehead gently rolled to the tip of her nose. The lips were painted.
She was still until the end of the song when she bowed her head and said, “Your majesty.” Her voice was husky and cracked. “It is a delightful dance.”
The prince flinched at the noise. He lifted his shoulders and let them drop. “I prefer to sit.”
“Oh,” said the girl. The lull was disturbed with restless movements. She rustled her skirts, scratched a secret ich, and swept a hair under her coif.
The prince coveted the stillness of the girl in the coffin, her attention to his words, her deference to his wants. She was what he wanted exactly the way she was. He was suddenly afraid that in his absence time would move. He had to get back to his girl.
He rose. “Pardon me.” He tipped his head to conclude the tet-a-tet.
In his rush to go somewhere Prince Felio walked into a mama, who foisted a flushing daughter into his arms. The mama curtseyed, saying they were so glad for the opportunity of an introduction. Then the red faced girl’s sweaty hand was in his and they were step-closing at the head of a procession, dancing to the bum-bum-badum of the drum’s dirge like beat. At the side of the room a servant was bowing over and over as he spoke to the Duchess. Obeying the predetermined pattern of the dance, Prince Felio led his tittering partner in a circular path, turning away from his mother. There was a wail of a girl child behind him. His back stiffened. He tried to accelerate through the turn, but his partner held his hand like a vice and would not move faster than the music, taking miniscule steps on purpose. She released him when it was time for them to step back to back. As soon as her clammy paw let go, Prince Felio ran across the room, but stopped short when he saw who was standing with his mother.
The little girl’s skin was flushed and swollen with crying, no longer snow white. “Where are the little men? Where are my friends? I want to go home.” She rubbed her eyes until they were puffy.
“Poor child,” said the Duchess, “We thought you were dead.” She reached for the girl who pulled away. “Where do you come from? We should let your parents know you are alive.”
“No!” said the girl, “Not mother. She will come to kill me again.”
“Shhh child, no one will kill you here. You are safe. We will bring you into the family then you will be under our banner and our protection. Now, there’s someone who has been longing to meet you.”
The prince stood, watching the girl while she blubbered and babbled. The Duchess looked from him to the girl with a little smile, as if he should make bowing flourishes to this snivelling stranger.
He pushed past them, through the doorway and up the stairs. The coffin in his bedroom had been knocked to the floor with the lid smashed. The cushions, once cradling his heart’s delight, were strewn across the stones. The girl was gone. She was no longer the silent snowfall and the unchanging landscape. He dropped to the floor and lay his head on the pillow where her cold white cheek had lain.
When he trudged down the stairs, back to the party, the Duchess stood on the dais with Snow White next to her. The Duchess draped her arm around the girl’s shoulder. The girl looked very sweet and helpless, the perfect wide eyed innocent to melt the most ruthless huntsman. The crowd was clapping politely. When the prince entered they turned to him with smiles and congratulations. His insides plunged; he felt empty and sick. He dreaded to know what Mother had done in his best interest this time.
Snow White looked down at him from the dais. Her smile was that of someone beset by ills and furies, surviving on the goodness of others. Her eyes were hopelessly black.
Little Princess Snow White and Prince Felio were engaged, to be married in several years when she was old enough.In the meantime she was educated in the castle and attended all family functions. Prince Felio watched her during mealtime. There was a little spray of spit when she opened her mouth wide to bite into a swan’s leg. Her red lips smeared with mustard. Her cheeks, once perfect in their smooth roundness, moved with the mastication of meat. She licked her fingers clean. The disgusting display brought tears to the prince’s eyes. He longed for the former days when she lay still by his side.
After the meal, Prince Felio requested his fiancee join him in his chambers. Snow White arrived with an attendant who the prince dismissed. They were alone again. The girl stood on the tip of her toes, tense, ready to fly away. He was annoyed at her for wanting to run and leave him. Irritating fidgets, products of her shyness, aggravated the gap between them. Her lower lip stuck out, while she twisted a bit of hair around her finger. She had the same pale white skin and red lips, yet all the qualities he worshipped were gone. He wanted to know if she was the same person he had loved before. He wanted to know if he could love her again, or if all was over between them.
“We’re engaged now, so we should be friends,” he said.
Snow White’s hair was a long tangle under her little cap.The servants had tried to brush it, but she would let no one touch it. She bit a lock of hair and sucked on the ends.
“When we’re married,” said Prince Felio, “You must do as I say. Will you practice with me?”
She nodded, hair between her teeth.
“Lay down here.” The prince pat the glass coffin. The pillows were arranged just as they had been. Everything was the same, except the lid.
With hesitation the girl stepped into the coffin and lay down. Her eyes were open, staring at the ceiling. There were worlds behind them. Was she afraid, or did she think he was peculiar?
“Close your eyes,” he said.
She did. “I am not tired,” she informed him. Her hand plucked at the pillow’s fringe.
“Just pretend you are, or pretend you are dead.”
As she lay still and he looked at her, peace came to him. This was what he remembered, but for a small thing it was almost the same.
“Your chest should not rise and fall.”
She held her breath for a few seconds and all was perfect. Then she let out a loud exhalation and sucked in air again. The glass near her head fogged slightly and faded.
“I’ll help,” he said. He put a hand on her chest and pressed down. “Now lie still.” He felt the pulse of her heart against his hand, beating to be set free. When her chest did not rise and fall it was her stomach. He pressed that flat as well. “Stop!”
“I can not breathe,” she whispered.
“You did not need to breathe before.”
It was her breath all along that had disturbed him so. If she would only stop breathing things would be as they had been. She would be his again. She could never leave him.
Snow White pulled at his fingers and scratched at his wrists. Her eyes were open staring into his. They were unknowable black pits. Behind those eyes were all the things inside her that the prince would never understand or be part of, her unknowable soul. He released her and sat back.
Gasping, Snow White crawled out of the coffin and stumbled from the room, running off into the castle.
In the ensuing silence, Prince Felio sat alone.
Alexandra Faye Carcich
Alexandra Faye Carcich works as a cake decorator. All the times in between shifts, she writes. She loves playing in the sandbox of other stories and exploiting the little moments. Her stories have appeared in the ezines Timeless Tales, Ariel Chart, and Enchanted Conversations, as well as the anthology Faerie Tale Riot. You can read her poetry on Instagram
Artwork: Anna Dittmann, Snow White