Flash Fiction by Janelle Salanga
Updated: Apr 2, 2019
Something just like this
I caress the wedding dress, running my eyes over it with pride. The tailors Father hired outdid themselves – the fabric, as cool as the metal of my sword, glides over my skin like air. Iridescent, it glimmers faintly in the sunlight.
In two days, I wear it.
In two days, I take the throne from Father. Our words fly as fast as our swords, because I inherited his quick temper, not just his propensity for quick sword-work. Despite our similarly stubborn personalities, which lead to far too many verbal sparring matches to count, he’s taught me the fundamentals of being a royal, and the weight of the responsibility.
As a woman, I need to be able to hold my own as a lady, as a ruler, and as a warrior, and for the past sixteen years, my entire life has felt like a thread held just so. Father is vocal about his worry, but sometimes I catch him glancing at me when he thinks I’m not paying attention, a surety in his eyes that calms me if the thread threatens to snap. I think back to those moments now.
Despite my impending wedding, the rest of the housestaff – and Father – have granted me an unusual amount of privacy. I’ve felt freer than ever, but I’m aching for some company, some adventure.
I pull back the thick velvet curtains hanging over my window and swing my legs over the edge of the balcony, careful to clutch tightly onto the wall while I’m moving. I close my eyes and move my legs back and forth, enjoying the slight breeze that ruffles my hair, and sit there until –
“Wouldn’t it be unfortunate if you fell?”
“Fell for you?” I recognize the voice before I turn. I hope she hears the eyeroll in my voice, and when I turn around, I know she has – there’s laughter in her eyes that betrays the firm set of her mouth. “Already done, m’lady.” I bow exaggeratedly, taking her extended hand and jumping into a standing position, then pause.
“Aren’t you not supposed to be here? You know in our kingdom, the bride isn’t supposed to see the groom –”
“Ah, but there’s your mistake. I’m not a groom.”
Lea winks at me, and my heart lurches all over again. My hand tingles where her hand meets mine.
“So what’s your news?”
She twirls me around wordlessly, again and again until we’re dizzy with exhilaration and laughter is bursting from our mouths. Still, this can’t go on much longer; rock isn’t as soundproof as it appears, and though my corner of the castle is normally quite loud, I know the volume could raise suspicions. I lean the other way and stop the momentum, raising my eyebrows so she knows I’m serious. I let the laughter leak out of my mouth.
“I didn’t find it,” she says. Though her voice is sad, it carries clearly and doesn’t falter. My stomach drops. “We journeyed for the past week. No mirror.”
I know what disappointment feels like, and this isn’t it. I narrow my eyes and scrutinize Lea’s face.
It’s not a question as much as it is a plea. I need to know that this is the right decision for my kingdom and for me, especially as a woman: going behind Father’s back and marrying a woman– testing my peoples’ trust right as they become fully mine isn’t what one would call a strategic move.
This mirror is legendary. There are whispers about it, stories that boil down to this: Hidden past miles and miles of thick, unfriendly greenery and forest, nestled in the heart of a lake supposedly so clear you can see straight to the bottom, is a mirror that shows you who you aren’t.
It would answer my question. It would show me married if this wasn’t right.
But maybe it doesn’t exist. Lea doesn’t seem like she’s lying. Twelve years of knowing my best friend, my confidante, and she doesn’t have any of the tells: her nostrils aren’t flaring, her hands aren’t hidden, and most importantly, her eyes are clear. I exhale through my mouth and slump to the ground.
“Are you okay?” She puts a cool hand on my shoulder.
“I need some time to think.”
She slips out of my room as quietly as she came. Beside me, the wedding dress sits, sparkling.
When I leave Rella, my stomach feels like the choppy waves I’d ridden to reach the middle of the lake. I remember how loudly my heart was pounding, the volume so deafening it drowned out every nerve of mine screaming for me to turn back – I imagined myself capsizing, covered in kelp, prey for the merwomen that admittedly, would have beautiful faces I could admire for the millisecond before the water absorbed me.
Right when I saw their faces contort, the waves calmed, and they dipped back underwater. The lake gave way to a islet the half the size of Rella’s room, and sitting innocuously in the middle was a slab of glass, unpolished and jagged around the edges.
I scanned the area, looking for something cleaner – this looked like a fragment of my sister’s dresser mirror unceremoniously chopped off. Everything around me was barren, so I picked it up.
Instead of my soaked, bedraggled face, completely with a head of unkempt hair, I saw my hand clutching Rella’s. Us walking down the aisle, us draped in ceremonial wear. Us kissing in front of a crowd, in front of a priest, in front of her father, in front of our kingdom.
But you have never wanted to rule a kingdom, my head whispered. You have only ever wanted to love her.
With a shaking arm, I threw the mirror into the lake and watched as the frothing waves claimed it as their own. For a moment, I thought I saw the surface calm and sparkle.
Janelle Salanga is a self-professed Gryffindor and an ardent advocate of used bookstores. She is a current sophomore at the University of California, Davis, she is majoring in science & technology studies while minoring in political science and communication. When she's not coding or binge-watching Michael Schur shows, she writes for UC Davis Magazine as an editorial intern and is currently directing a vignette for Pilipinx Cultural Night. Her work has been published in The Margins, Occulum, and The Brown Orient, among other places. You can find her (re)tweeting assorted oddities @janelle_cpp. She is a regular contributor to Marías at Sampaguitas.