BLUEBERRYPIELANDIA

A Play in Three Acts 

May 2024

IMG 2343


ACT ONE, Scene One

First Meeting

   I saw her as soon as she came around the corner at the foot of the hill, and started up the grade. It wasn't really steep, but it was a long pull, and took a fair amount of wind and energy to make it all the way. I didn't want her to see that I was watching her, so I just took quick glances from time to time. She seemed to be doing okay.

   I was interested partly just because few people came out here, anymore. I guess it was the main road at one time, but the paved State highway passed on the other side of town, and almost all the automobile traffic now went that way. Oh, guys with cars occasionally brought their girlfriends across here, but it was kind of tricky. As I said, it was a long grade - and was just dirt, with no gravel -  and most cars and trucks needed a flat stretch to build up enough speed to make it all the way to the top. Unfortunately, there was no flat stretch, so you just had to start up the grade, and hope you had enough power to make it all the way. I saw at least one guy who didn't, and had to roll all the way back down. I was only 15 then, and not into cars and girls, but I imagined it must be pretty embarrassing.

   Well, anyway, besides being generally interested in seeing anybody out here, I certainly hadn't expected a girl out here all by herself. I think our town was generally pretty safe then, but as I learned in later life, girls alone can get into trouble even in the safest places. You didn't hear the term "stranger danger" in those days, but I guess it's always been there.

   I knew it was unique to see a girl out here because I was out here all the time - almost every day - and I had never seen one, before. I come out mostly because nobody else does. I have a nice flat rock right at the crest of the hill, where I can sit by myself, look off at the distant ridges, and think about whatever I want to think about. Usually, it's something so important that I've forgotten it by the time I get back home.

   The girl was almost to the top of the grade, and I took a little longer look at her. She was skinny, looked like she was almost as tall as me, and - I thought this was unusual - she was wearing her long hair in tight pigtails! I mean, little girls look cute in pigtails, but I couldn't ever remember seeing a pigtailed teenager.

   Well, I stared a little too long, and she caught me looking. She was gazing up at me from maybe 10 feet away. "What are you doing up there?" she asked. I couldn't think of a smart, snappy response, so I said the first thing that popped into my head. "Contemplating my navel."

   Surprisingly, that didn't seem to surprise her. "That's interesting. Every time I looked at you, when you weren't sneaking peeks at me, you were gazing off in the distance. Do you know where your navel is?"

  I was ready, this time. "Yes, I do. I even know where yours is." She gave me a shocked look, as if I had seen something that I shouldn't have seen. "Everybody's belly button is at pretty much the same location." She relaxed, but gave me a pained look, climbed up to me, and settled on my rock beside me. There was hardly room for me alone, so she was pretty close. I hadn't been that close to many girls - well, to tell the truth, I'd never been that close to any girl. I found it interesting. Hopefully not being too obvious about it, I took the opportunity for a few closer glances at her. I had been right that she was just a little shorter than me, and she seemed about the same age. I found I had been wrong about her being skinny. She was - well, she was nicely rounded in places. And up close, her pigtails didn't really look that odd. Her hair was a fairly dark brown, but had lots of little golden tints to it. I had a thought that it would look pretty nice un-pigtailed, too.

   She interrupted my not very surreptitious survey. "What do you do when you're not contemplating your navel, or staring off at far horizons, or eyeing me?"

   That seemed to be at least a semi-serious question, so I answered it seriously. "I like to write poems. Well, I write them in my head. I may copy them later, if I like them enough."

   Surprisingly, the thought of a 15-year old boy writing poetry didn't seem surprising to her. Actually, I really do like poetry, and had read a lot of it even then, and even memorized some. When she suddenly asked me to write something for her, I didn't think that she was entirely  teasing me. I took the request seriously - well, sort of. I didn't have any great inspiration at that moment, but thought I'd try some Lord Byron on her, and hope she didn't know it.

   "She walks," I started to recite, but at that moment happened to look down at her feet. Those were the days before all the fancy hiking shoes we have nowadays, but she had on a pair of sturdy-looking high-top tennis shoes. I started over. "She walks in boots, and like the night owl, she likes blueberry pie." The finish was a little lame, but I gave a little "voila!" with my hands, anyway. She regarded me a little oddly, I thought, but said "thank you, that was lovely." I suspected she was being a little sarcastic, so I returned the favor. "Well, you inspired me," I said.

   I wasn't finding her presence objectionable, but I was kind of wondering about her intentions. I asked her. "I am declaring this spot the new center of my kingdom. You will have to vacate it, at once," she said.

   Not that our interactions to date had been entirely logical, that statement seemed a little over the top, to me. "Setting aside the 'kingdom' comment for a moment, this has been my spot - my spot, alone - for quite some time, and I'm not really ready for some strange girl to evict me from it. I think perhaps it's you who should leave, and let me get back to my contemplating."

   "Apparently, you don't know who I am."

   "Apparently not."

   "I am Joan, Queen of Blueberrypielandia, which takes in everything you can see, even those far ridges. I have been exiled for 200 years, but I'm back to claim what is rightfully mine. I intend to make this spot the site of my royal throne. You will have to leave, now."

   "I think your mother got your pigtails too tight, this morning."

   She put her hand in mine - which felt nice, even in the weird circumstances. "Let me try to explain this to you... I don't know your name. I will call you John."

   "That's nice, since that is my name."

   "Aha, that's an omen, in itself. John, there are some things that are bigger than our individual wants - mysteries that transcend time and space, and make our solitary claims to some spot like this one entirely meaningless. You must bow to the eternal needs of the Universe."

   She stopped speaking suddenly, and glanced around. "My goodness, I didn't realize it is so late. My people are awaiting me, and I must go." She stood, turned as if to leave, but then turned back.     "John, take my words very seriously. When I return here at 4 o'clock tomorrow afternoon, you should not be here. If you are here at 4 o'clock tomorrow afternoon, I just can't predict what might happen. Oh, I must go!"

   She took a few steps, but then turned back, again. "I repeat, John, do not be here at  4 o'clock tomorrow afternoon, when I return." She jumped down to the road, but turned back one more time. "Four o'clock, John. Remember. I'm not kidding."

   I watched her start down the hill. It's steep enough that it's hard just to walk naturally. I swear, it looked like she was skipping.

   She went out of sight at the turn at the bottom the hill. I stood for a while, just staring after her. Well, no crackpot 200-year old queen of Blueberrypielandia was going to force me to give up my meditation spot. I knew where I would be at 4 o'clock the next day!

 

ACT ONE, Scene Two

Clash of Kingdoms

   I have to admit, I didn't get much useful done that next day. My dad was mad at me for my apparent shirkiness of duties, but I didn't try to explain to him that my - actually, our - problems were much greater than whether or not I got the fence repaired, or the tool shed painted. I say "our" because our whole farm was within the alleged boundary of Blueberrypielandia, and who knows what the new Queen might have in mind for us. If she was the kind to raise taxes, we could be in a whole lot of trouble.

   Still, I couldn't think in terms of battles already lost, or that might be lost. I was a pretty inventive kid at 15, and had already come up with a plan to counter-attack - and it was an attack based on the rules and traditions of kingdoms, royalty, and maybe a little wizardry. I had every intention of being at my spot when she arrived at 4 o'clock, and I was going to be prepared to defend and hold on to it, even if she brought her royal troops with her.

   I didn't think she would have sent out advance spies, or troops to ambush me. Still, just to be safe, I left the house just after three, and made a long detour over the ridges, finally reaching my spot "through the back door," so to speak. I was perched on my rock by 3:45, and had sprawled out so there wasn't room for anyone to sit next to me. I would have her at a disadvantage, no matter what she expected.

   A few minutes before 4 o'clock, I saw her appear at the foot of the hill. She seemed to be alone, but I was not going to fall for any tricks. I decided I would not take my eyes off her for one second. That proved to be easy duty, as I found I was enjoying the view every step she took toward me. Yesterday, she had been wearing jeans and a flowered blouse - I failed to mention it in my write-up but, believe me, I noticed. This day, she was wearing a very summery-looking yellow dress, with a full skirt that swished around her as she strode up the grade. Her hair was in a ponytail, rather than in braids. I decided I liked both  looks, but maybe the ponytail a little more.

   Oh, no! I suddenly realized that she was employing a form of warfare that I wasn't familiar with. She had made sure that I would watch her carefully. I stood up and swung around, fully expecting to see a whole troop of guardsmen approaching me from the rear, ready to imprison me, and present me a captive to Queen Joan. My heart had been racing, but it calmed noticeably when I found I was still alone. However, before I could completely calm down, the Queen had climbed to my stone, and was seated in the exact middle of it.

   "John, I see that you ignored my warning about coming up here today."

   I put on my bravest face. "Yes, I did. I will not be intimidated by a queen who alleges certain facts not in evidence,"

   "You sound like 'Perry Mason,'" she said. "Well, that's okay. I'm just glad you received my message. I must have said '4 o'clock' ten times, so you'd be sure to remember."

   I must have looked a little confused, mostly because I was. I was about to ask what she meant by that, but she was quicker on the draw than I was. "Do you like my dress? You seemed to pay a lot of attention to it as I was walking up the hill. I tried a little different hair style, too. Do you like it?"

   How does a 15-year old guy contend against a 200-year old queen, who still looks like he might like to ask her to the prom? (Granted, I couldn't dance then, but you know what I'm getting at.) This was definitely unfair warfare! She had me so confused that I momentarily forgot my own powerful secret weapon. However, our whole family future might be at stake - maybe even the future of the world as we know it! - so I girded my loins, and prepared for battle. (Just for clarification - or maybe lack of clarification - I didn't really know what loins were, or how you girded them. Actually, it sounded like something you maybe shouldn't be thinking about when you were thinking about girls. Regardless, I took it with its general meaning - to prepare for battle. I prepared for battle.)

   "Queen Joan, there are some things you may not know, and some other things you may not remember. Your thinking of me as 'John' was not some random thought that popped into your head. I am Prince John, son of the king whose territory abuts your own. You and I played together as children, and I almost caused a war by pulling on your pigtails. You got upset and told your dad, and he was in the process of getting his troops ready to attack my father, to right the wrong I had committed. Apparently, that had not been your intention, so you kicked me really hard in the shin, told your father that you had ameliorated the situation yourself, and war was prevented."

   She was silent for a moment. "You did seem sort of familiar to me, but I certainly don't remember almost precipitating a war because some rude boy pulled my hair."

   "Nevertheless, it happened. However, I only bring it up as a little bit of family history, just to show that what has happened to me since, is tied to you in a certain way."

   "What certain way?"

   "It's complicated," I said, "But I think I can simplify it." (I actually felt pretty comfortable "simplifying" because I hadn't concocted most of the story yet, having just started inventing it within the last few hours. It would be much more of a problem if she asked for details!)

   Before I could get into that "complication," I found I had made some additional, more pressing ones for myself. I had seated myself beside her on my rock - she had moved over just enough to give me some room, although we had to squeeze up pretty tightly, to keep me from falling off the edge. Our heads were pretty close together and, as she turned slightly toward me and I saw her mouth, I had a very strange feeling come over me. It was like I was caught in her planetary force field, and she was dragging my lips inexorably toward hers. I closed my eyes to steel myself for the expected impact.

   "John, what in the world are you doing?'

   I opened my eyes, and found she had moved back a ways, and was eyeing me strangely. "Were you going to kiss me?"

   I gave my head and brain a little mental shake. I didn't think I was going to kiss her. I mean, I was 15, and completely untutored in any subject related to girls. Kissing would seem pretty high on the list of unknowables and unthinkables.

   "Of course not! Why in the world would I want to kiss you?" (Now, there was a question for the gods, if there were any!) "No, it wasn't that, but I must admit to something a little silly and embarrassing. I had heard - because of shampoos girls use, or perfumes or colognes - that there wasn't just one girl sm..." I had started to say "smell," but that didn't seem the right word to use for a girl.) "...fragrance, but each girl was different. I just got it into my head that, since we are sitting so close, I'd just see how you compared with other girls I know." (The "other girls" totaling zero.) "I know it was kind of dumb, but..." I let the thought trail off What do you expect from a 15-year old boy?.

   I was pretty sure she didn't believe me, but she leaned forward, and said, "Well, sniff away." What could I do then, but sniff. It wasn't an unpleasant chore. I especially liked the faint suggestion of wildflowers coming from her hair. Since I had been given permission, I took a little longer to compare and analyze. "Well, I have never had that particular sensation from any other girl." (I wasn't lying!) "Very pleasant. Interesting, but I'd say very nicely girly. Thanks."

   She gave me that "you are very strange" look again, but said "You're welcome," and turned away. I found I was a little miffed that she didn't request a return sniff. "Wouldn't you like to...?" I began.

   "No thanks, I know what teenage boys smell like - cigarettes. You can smell them coming before they get on the bus, or walk in the classroom."

   That made me a little defensive. "I have never smoked a cigarette in my life."

   That look, again, but she said, "Oh, all right," and leaned forward so our cheeks were almost touching. She stayed what seemed to be quite a while, and I was getting a little woozy, or something. She backed off a touch. "No cigarette smell. No shaving cream or hair oil - boys definitely should not use hair oil - kind of a woodsy tang, trace of farm animals - very nice, overall."

   I was a little worried about the "farm animal," but she wasn't quite finished. "I did notice one other thing. I sense that you have recently been eating chocolate." I had been. She held out her hand, and I took it in mine. She shook it off. "Do you have any more?"

   More? Oh, chocolate! I did have another piece in my pocket. I dug it out. The wrapping still seemed to be tight. "It may be a little melted..." Her hand came forward again, and this time I understood, and placed the chocolate there. She slowly began to unwrap it. It seemed like she was taking five minutes to do it, then she held the chocolate up to her mouth, and I thought she was going to take another hour to just contemplate it. I couldn't take my eyes off the ritual - well, actually, off her lips, which opened slightly as she took a small nibble. I caught the quick flash of white teeth. She smiled - to herself, not at me - then plopped the whole chocolate into her mouth. I stared, fascinated, until she was finished chewing, and she gave a contented sigh. It was then I noticed two small drips of chocolate left on her lips, and felt an almost uncontrollable urge to help her "clean up." But just then, her tongue flicked out for a moment, and the chocolate was gone.

   I have to admit the fragrance sniffing, and watching the chocolate love-fest had left me a little disoriented, and it took a moment for me to remember that I was there to battle not just against flesh and blood, but also powers and principalities. I tried to rescue the conversation.

    "Now Queen Joan, as I started to say, this is a little complicated. You were in exile for most of your 200 years of life. It may surprise you to know that I was, too, although my 'exile' was probably of rather a different kind than yours. A wizard, who was upset with my father - something about a minimum wage, as I recall - put a spell on me, and whisked me away to this very spot. He said that if I tried to leave, I would immediately disappear."

   Joan gave me a speculative look that made me think she was imagining an easy solution to the joint occupancy problem. I hurried on, as quickly as my brain could come up with more ideas.

   "There's a little more to it, than just my demise," I said, while trying to figure out what "more" there could be. I came up with a quick idea. "He said if I disappeared for any reason before the spell was removed, there would be disastrous consequences for my parents' kingdom, and for the kingdoms that were adjacent to ours."

   I hadn't come up with any ideas of what the disastrous consequences might be, but apparently just that was enough to get her thinking. Thankfully, she didn't ask me anything about the disaster,  but instead wanted to know how to end the spell.

   "I'll get to that in a moment," I replied, hoping that I would have some ideas about that soon. "Let me first tell you about my exile. When I was left here, it  was all wilderness, of course. There was no road, no town, no people - oh, Indians would occasionally pass by, but either I was invisible to them, or their superstitions wouldn't allow them to look at me. There weren't even many wild animals, and they seemed pretty much afraid of me. It was really boring. I got so bored that I might have tried to read something by Herman Melville or James Joyce, had there been any books around. There weren't, so I just sat here for a greater part of the 200 year exile.

   "Of course, it didn't stay wilderness. People moved in, and this road got built, but the people passing by didn't seem able to see or hear me. Still, it must have been getting awkward for the wizard, because he decided to make me part of the family that settled at the foot of the hill. I don't know how it worked, but apparently Dad, Mom, and my brother  and sister didn't remember that I hadn't joined the family the 'natural way.'" I immediately worried about that term. I was sure that Joan knew what it meant, and so did I, but I always seemed to get a little embarrassed and tongue-tied when I had to discuss it. "Anyway, most of the time, I just lived as a regular son, but the wizard still insisted that I come up here for a while almost every day. Of course, Dad didn't understand, and was often a little upset at me disappearing and neglecting my chores, but it wasn't my choice. So, that brings us up to the present."

   "Very interesting," she said, but I don't think she really meant it. "So, getting back to the spell - or curse - how does it end?"

   "That's not entirely clear." I was still working on that. "Apparently, it won't end soon, no matter what else happens. It could be years..." That got her a little agitated. "But I couldn't tell if that was in human years, or wizard years. You've heard that old saying, one year to a human is like... Well, I don't remember exactly. I'm just saying that 'many years' may not be as bad as it sounds."

  She sighed. "Okay, maybe long, maybe not. What else do you know about how it is broken?"

  "This is a little tricky, too, because it may be in some sort of code. He said that, at some point, I would meet with a representative of another kingdom. I would meet her on the level. That part confuses me. I didn't know if he meant we were going to meet on a flat piece of ground somewhere, or if it is more like that saying about a level playing field - you know, both sides on equal footing, with no advantage to either side."

   "Darn!" she said. "That doesn't help much, does it? Wait, are you sure the wizard said you'd meet with 'her'?"

   "Yeah, I'm real sure that. That was one of the few clear things he said."

   "Okay. Well, was there anything else?"

   I'd had to think pretty fast on this last bit. "Well, I think this may be the actual key to it all, but I'm afraid it's more obscure than the rest. He said that, when she and I meet, there will be two words that must be repeated exactly, by both of us. I don't know if we know the phrases in advance, or if we get told them at the time. I also don't know what happens if we don't repeat them, exactly. If we do, then presumably the spell is completely lifted, and the two kingdoms are united for all time."

   When I had finished, she sat silently beside me. I thought she looked a little sad. "Well," she said, "I guess that's that. I better go." She got up quickly, and had started back down the hill before I could say anything else.

***

   The next afternoon, I climbed back up to my rock. I didn't have a choice... Well, of course, I really did. There were no wizards, or spells, or kingdoms, or queens. I was just a 15-year old kid, who lived on a farm at the foot of the hill - born in "the natural way!" No mysteries in my life.

   I wondered if Joan would show up. She really had no reason to. Even if we continued to play the game, I had made it such a long-term thing, it seemed very unlikely it would interest her. She had left, looking a little sad. Now, I felt sad, thinking she wouldn't be back.

   Therefore, it was kind of amazing the way I perked up, the moment I saw her appear at the foot of the hill. In her jeans, flowered blouse, and tough tennis shoes, she made quick work of the grade, and soon stood below me on the road.

   "Can I come up?" she asked.

   "Of course. This is your place, too."

   She climbed up, and sat down beside me. She looked at me with a puzzled expression. "My place?"

   "Well, you said your throne was destined to be here. How can we fight that? I can't leave because of the spell, so I guess we just have to share. I'm okay with that."

   She still stared at me. "So, I'm still Queen Joan?"

   "Well, who else could you be? That couldn't change overnight, could it?"

   She sort of shrugged. "I guess not," she said, and seemed to relax a little, and began to look around. "So, what are you doing up here, today? You didn't glance toward your navel one time as I was coming up the hill. I don't think you even looked out at the far ridges."

   I didn't say anything right away, but I gave what I hoped was a welcoming smile. "Actually," I said, finally, "I've been having a little poetry moment, thinking about an old-time one. It's a little mushy - which isn't really my style - but I kind of like this one." I waited for her to ask me to recite it. She did. "Here's a little bit of it. 'Is she not passing fair, she whom I love so well ? On earth, in sea, or air, where may her equal dwell ?' Well, there's quite a bit more of it."

   She thought a bit before she commented. "I like it, but I'm a little confused. He says she's better than sliced raisin bread, but then he describes her as 'passing fair' - In other words, just so-so?"

   I don't really know anything about poetry except I like some of it, but I was ready for her about her objection. "No, he wasn't saying she was just so-so. What he's saying is that she is not only better than sliced raisin bread, she is better than it toasted and slathered in butter. When the poem was written, 'passing' meant what 'surpassing' means today. In other words, he was saying that she was fairer than anybody else, anywhere. When she looked in her magic mirror, there was absolutely no question about who was the fairest in the land."

   "Is that really true?"

   "It is. I read the same idea somewhere else, I don't remember where. The poet was comparing his girlfriend to a bouquet. The flowers were 'passingly' beautiful, he said, - meaning they were super pretty - but Joan more so."

  "Joan?"

  I'm sure I blushed. "I couldn't remember the girl's name in the story, so I just plugged one in."

   "Oh. Well, as you said, it is a little mushy, but I like it. Thank you for reciting it."

   "That's okay." I paused. "Actually, I've been working on one of my own today. It's not a rhyming-type poem, but more a little story. It's still a bit rough..."

   "Can I hear it?"

   "If you want to, sure. Just remember that it really isn't polished up, yet." I began.

 "I stood in the forest on the edge of a meadow at dusk.

The sky had a reddish tinge to it, and the shadows were deep.

In the grass just before me, I saw a deer - a beautiful, solitary doe.

In the strange light, she appeared darker than I would have supposed,

And when brief rays of sun made it through the evening haze,

little sparkles of gold seemed to move along her coat.

 

She didn't mind me being there,

But I wondered if she cared.

What was I to her - just another creature,

Or some kindred spirit,

Watching with her as the day faded?

 

The shadows darkened, and she disappeared.

I don't know if she walked away,

or if I could no longer see her.

I silently said 'goodbye'

And walked toward home."

 

   I finished. She didn't move, or say anything. I turned to look at her, and found her looking at me. Her lips were just a tiny bit open, and her eyes showed something quite different from the "you are a very strange person" look they usually got around me. She said "wow" - well, she didn't say it out loud. Her lips just formed the word. My mind answered back. Wow!

   I had an idea when I got back home. I got a piece of paper, and wrote out the features of the wizard's spell - meet girl, on level ground, two words. (I wrote down the words.). I put the piece of paper in an envelope, sealed it, and wrote "wizard's spell" and the date on the outside. I put the envelope in the drawer of my desk.

 

 ACT TWO

A Prom, and Beyond

   Suddenly (or so it seemed - sometimes, anyway), I was 18, and I was with Joan at our Senior Prom. Our class had just declared us King and Queen of the ball. That seemed a little redundant for Queen Joan, and a little premature for Prince John, as I was only King-in-waiting. Still, we accepted with a humility appropriate for royalty, and danced the whole evening together. (Surprisingly, I had become quite a good dancer - don't ask me how. I think a certain Queen was my inspiration.) After the dance, we walked home together, holding hands most of the way. We didn't say much until we got to her house. She opened the door a crack, and called in, "Mom and Dad, we're home. We're going to sit out here a few minutes." There was a porch swing wide enough to accommodate two people, if they didn't mind sitting fairly close. (We didn't.) We settled in it.

   Joan took my hand in hers. "Were you surprised that they chose us King and Queen?"

   "How could I be surprised? With you, they were acknowledging your royalty. I was with you, so they had to pick me."

    "What do you mean, acknowledging my royalty?"

    "You are Queen Joan."

    She laughed. "In Blueberrypielandia, yes, but at a high school dance?"

    "My darling Queen Joan, a queen is a queen, everywhere she goes. It's in her very fabric, and can't be hidden. Our classmates may not have known your official status, but they didn't select you because you were very pretty, or had the best gown, or were the best  dancer. Your queenliness shines out of you, in everything you do. People - even teenagers - can't miss it."

   She looked pleased, but mischievous. "And you got picked just because you were with me, so they had to take you?"

   "Well, probably not quite like that. After all, I am a prince, and a King-in-waiting, and I'm sure that some of that shows through, no matter how gauche and unremarkable I appear. Besides, a queen wouldn't have picked a dance partner too far below her - well, unless she was really hard up for a date. I mean, she might have picked someone of somewhat lesser royal standing, but certainly would never have reached down into the hoi polloi for an escort."

   She leaned her head on my shoulder. "Well, no matter how inferior you are, I would never consider you part of the hoi polloi."

***

   The next afternoon, after I finished with my chores, I climbed up to our lookout, and found her waiting on our rock. She seemed lost in thought, and I stopped and admired her for a bit before she noticed me. Then, I squeezed in beside her, and kissed her lightly on the cheek.

   "John, how many times have you kissed me?"

   I didn't really think before I answered. "Millions of times." She had that "you are very odd" look on her face - I've become quite accustomed to it in the past three years, and have grown to like it, a lot. "Well, just for clarification, if our 200-year exiles had been spent together, I'm sure we would have kissed several times - probably multitudes of times - each day. How could we not, considering how much we would have liked each other?"

   She smiled at me. "You're sure we would have liked each other?"

   "How could you even question that? When a little boy pulls a little girl's pigtails, it is the first action of an incipient - and inevitable - lifelong romance."

   She gave a little laugh. "Then, it's probably good that my father didn't send his troops against your father, in retaliation for your rude pigtail-pulling. It would have been difficult to keep the relationship going, if your skinny little body was lying dead on the battlefield - or perhaps a lifelong prisoner in the Black Tower. Either would have spoiled the mood, don't you think?"

   "Either would have had a certain dampening effect, I suppose," I acknowledged.

   "So, not counting what might have happened during a joint 200-year exile, how many times have you kissed me?"

   I couldn't tell what this was about. "We have kissed regularly - less when we were 15, more when we became 17 and 18. I have kissed you the exact number of times that you have kissed me."

   She wasn't satisfied with my evasion - if that's what I was doing. "Has that been enough?" she asked.

   Enough? I'm not sure there was a right answer for a question like that. I didn't have to answer, though, because she immediately asked another question. It wasn't an easier one. "Would you have liked more?"

   This was territory I didn't really want to be in, but there was only one honest answer. "Yes."

   "So, then...?" She left the rest unsaid. So, here we were on the brink of an explanation - a confession, of sorts - that I hadn't thought would have to be addressed until we were maybe 19 or 20. But there was no avoiding it, now.

   "When we kiss more than two or three times, or when one kiss lasts a little longer than usual, I find myself wanting very badly to hold you in my arms, and to experience things with you that go considerably beyond kissing. That inevitably leads me to think of engagements, weddings, living together, sleeping together every night, having babies, raising a family..."

   "And we are 18 years old, and both on our way to college in a couple of days," she finished. "I know. I have the same feelings and thoughts, and they scare me a little. Oh, not what you mentioned, but the time between now and then. We're home, here on this funny flat  rock. We won't be seeing it much for the next four years. Can what we feel for each other last through that long time apart? Will we be the same at the end of it?"

   Impossible question on top of uncomfortable questions!

***

   I had been working on a new poem, and was going to use this occasion to introduce it to Joan. Over our years together, I had regularly regaled her with my efforts. I don't think she actually hated anything I wrote. Some she obviously liked better, and one or two she especially admired. I was hoping this would turn out to be one of those.

   I began to recite. "A wise old owl sat in an oak..." I stopped. "Joan, I can guess your reaction already.. You think I'm about to plagiarize a very old poem that ends with, 'why aren't we like that wise old bird?' Actually, my poem is about a very different owl. It is about an owl in an oak tree, yes,  because that's what, and where, it was. I assume the owl was old because its feathers looked a little gray and worn, it sat a little unnaturally forward on its perch, and it shuffled a little awkwardly when it changed its position on the branch. I thought it was wise because I've always suspected that all owls are wise. So, we begin."

A wise old owl sat in an oak one summer evening

And, with nothing better to do, watched the land below it.

A graceful doe, with a dark coat flecked with gold,

Stood in the marsh, alone.

The owl knew it was the same doe, there summer after summer.

Usually, she had one or two spotted fawns with her,

But this time it was only her.

 

As the owl watched, she raised her head,

Aware - but not afraid - of whatever she sensed.

The owl followed her glance, and saw what she saw -

Two young humans, arm in arm.

They stopped to kiss

Then, in what seemed a fit of craziness,

Danced around the clearing together

Until stopping for one more kiss.

 

The doe smiled to herself.

They act like my silly, gamboling fawns, she thought.

That must be a good way to feel.

 

Standing by the marsh

Where they had stood a number of times before,

The lovers - because that's what they were -

observed the doe,

As they had done before.

They greeted her with a nod, which she returned.

Possibly, they shared some unspoken thoughts with her.

(The owl could not be sure.)

Then they walked away into the forest,

Arm in arm, as they had come.

 

The owl decided to take a brief nap

Before he had to go in pursuit of his evening dinner.

 

   I stopped, and waited for her response. It wasn't what I expected. "That's about us, right? Are we lovers, John?"

   More trick questions. "Yes, we are." This seems a case where brevity was clearly the soul of wit.

   She wasn't satisfied. "But we're only 18, and our 'romance' has never gone beyond kissing. Do we really qualify as 'lovers,' on that record?"

   I thought as fast as I could. "Sure. There isn't just one definition of a lover. Besides, think of Romeo and Juliet. He was 16, and she was only 13, yet nobody would deny their place among the great lovers in literature."

   "Yes, but don't you think they were perhaps a little more precocious than us? I mean, we haven't resorted to fighting duels, stabbing people with knives, or taking poison. Also, I seem to recall that they had progressed quite a ways - romantically, I mean - beyond just kissing."

   She was making this hard. "I agree, they were a little precipitous in their actions. That doesn't negate my assertion, however, that we are also lovers.

   "I can't put an actual date on when we transitioned from friends to lovers, because I don't know exactly when you decided that I was a pretty good catch. I do know that I've loved you from the first... No, I take that back. On our first meeting, you were rather obnoxious  and pushy, trying to unseat me from this very perch we're occupying now. The second day, however, it was clear that you were my queen, forever. I remember your yellow dress, swirling around your legs as you walked up the hill toward me. I remember the wildflower fragrance that seemed to come from your hair, as you leaned close to me. I remember being especially enchanted by the bits of chocolate on your pretty lips..."

   "Was it the lips, or the chocolate, that most interested you?"

   I smiled at her. "They are inseparable, in my mind. Well, anyway, you can imagine how, from that early encounter, my fascination with you - and my love for you - has grown exponentially with each passing day, week, month, year... No, there's not a doubt possible. We are lovers."

   That stopped the questions for a bit, but I could tell she was still thinking hard about something. Finally, she said it. "I'm still a little worried about us, John. As I said, it's not about going away to school, and being apart. I'm talking about Blueberrypielandia, and the spell. Remember, there is some woman involved in ending the spell. We don't have any idea who 'she' is, do we? Could she...?"

   I thought I saw where she was heading. "Joan, I can't tell you how I know this, but I can give you 100 percent assurance  - 150 percent, if that's possible - that 'she' poses no threat to you and me, or to your kingdom. Trust me."

   I felt I could give that assurance since I was the originator and sole author of the spell. However, the scrutinous look she gave me showed traces of disbelief.

   "Have I ever lied to you?" I asked, boldly and ingenuously.

   She stared back at me. "I don't know. Have you?"

   I just smiled, leaned over, and kissed her on the forehead.


 

  ACT THREE

The Spell Ends

   We are 23 years old. Can you believe it? I didn't think people ((except maybe parents) ever got to be so ancient. Yet, here we are. Just the same as (but different than) we were at sweet 15.

   The last four years haven't been easy. What we learned quickly after we went off to college is that absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder. It doesn't make it any less fond, but it joins up with a lot of frustration and loneliness. We had agreed before we parted that we could "date" if we wanted to, and we both tried it - more for the company, than anything else. But we found that, after the first meeting or two, "dates" usually expected more than a polite "good night" kiss. Neither of us had anything more to give, so back we went to lonely and frustrated. We made it through, and here we are, but I wouldn't want to do it again.

   Joan has finished her college, and got her degree. I have a ways to go, as Uncle Sam detoured me, by drafting me into the Army for two years. If loneliness at college was hard, that was almost unbearable. I hated being trained for the sole purpose of killing somebody. I hated the techniques used, demanding strict obedience to rules that aimed only to make us all into machines that didn't think before taking orders. I was pretty sad and discouraged by the time they set me free. The only "good" parts of the two years were that I was only in actual combat for a month, I didn't have to shoot anybody, and I came home intact.

   I needed a lot of tender loving care when it was over, and this is I think  our fifth day here on our rock, while Joan administers some of that t. l. c. It's worked quite well, and I feel almost like me, again - actually, like both of them - Prince John, and plain old John.

   Joan, I'm sure, thinks this is just another typical day at our aerie, but I have something else in mind. I found a piece of pretty, multicolored paper, cut a strip, and folded and molded it into a tight little ring. Now, I will put it to work.

   "Joan, you are probably aware that I have developed a certain affection for you, over the years that we've known each other - and that's not even counting our childhood encounter, some 200 years ago. I think you have similar feelings for me.

   "Considering that general familiarity with one another - and the fact that it is spring, when a young man's fancy... and I suspect a young girl's fancy, also... turns in a certain direction - I have been wondering if you might have considered the possibility of creating a liaison with me that perhaps extends beyond what we currently share, to a more permanent, closer arrangement, in which perhaps we might think about living together. Also, we might move closer to my school, find a cozy little apartment, where you could find a job to support me, while I finish my last two years of college."

   She looked at me for a full minute without saying anything, then: "I think I will forget your closing sentence for the moment - which somewhat spoils the mood - and concentrate on the rest of your rather wordy and weird proposal. It was a proposal, wasn't it? Wait, don't answer yet. I need another minute.

   "I admit to having developed a certain fondness for you - certainly as a woman might grow close to a stray puppy, or a Queen might appreciate the dedication of a worthy servant. I admit to finding you quite cute - but also quite silly, which I'm not sure is a characteristic a Queen should be looking for in a consort. And it may not seem important to you, but we must remember that I am a Queen, and you are... well, just John, for the time being. You have offered to make me your slave for two years so you can complete college, but I'm not sure that qualifies as a great enough offer for what you're asking of me. I know that the woman usually offers the dowry to the man, but in this case...  Well, what do you have to offer me?"

   I was ready for her. "Here, let me sing it to you.

 

"I can only give you love that lasts forever,
And a promise to be near each time you call,
And the only heart I own
For you and you alone.
That's all.
That's all.

 

"I can only give you country walks in springtime,
And a hand to hold when leaves begin to fall,
And a love whose burning light
Will warm the winter's night.
That's all
That's all.

 

"There are those I am sure who have told you
They would give you the world for a toy.
All I have are these arms to enfold you,
And a love time can never destroy.

 

"If you're wondering what I'm asking in return, dear,
You'll be glad to know that my demands are small.
Say it's me that you'll adore
For now and evermore.
That's all,
That's all."

 

   I wish I could say that was one of my poems, but actually it was written in 1952 by Alan Brandt and Bob Haymes. I'm sure they had this occasion in mind  when they wrote it. Anyway, having "heated the iron," so to speak, I "struck" by presenting her with my little paper ring.

   "If that declaration meets with your standards for a "dowry," will you accept this ring as a place holder for a nicer one of your later choice?"

   She had a tear on her cheek. "I don't think there could be a nicer one, but yes, slip it on my finger, quickly." There followed one of the longest, sweetest kisses we had ever shared. As an acceptance speech, I thought it was superb.

   She wasn't quite finished. "I do have a little concern, or at least a question. We still have the spell to contend with. Can we really get married and move on with our life, when we don't know how or when that's going to end?"

   I took hold of her hand. "Queen Joan, I can promise you that the spell will not get in our way. In fact, this may be a necessary step to move things along."

   She looked at me quizzically. "You seem to be guaranteeing things that I don't see how you possibly  can guarantee."

   "I know, but I'm sure I'm right." And I had  a certain envelope in my desk drawer to prove it.

***

   The summer was busy. We decided to have the wedding just before school started, so we could rent an apartment near the college as man and wife. I had a little extra work to get done, before then. I contracted with a local artist to paint a picture of a colorful castle, on an 8 by 8 sheet of canvas. In front, he painted in a bit of marsh, with a doe standing in the lower right-hand (facing us) corner. In the upper left hand, he painted in an owl.

   The wedding was outside, in the local botanic garden. At the end of a little path was an arbor, large enough for the two of us and the minister to stand under. The main blooming season was past, but the arbor was festooned with clematis, of the royal purple color. At the last minute, the "castle" were erected on poles directly behind the arbor. A further surprise for Joan was that, as she started down the aisle and saw the castle, she also saw me waiting - not in a tuxedo, but in a uniform that looked very much like the one Prince Charming was wearing when he and Cinderella danced at their great wedding ball.

   When Joan reached the arbor, she was a little teary-eyed. So was I. The minister began the ceremony. When it got to our vows, I had one more surprise for my bride. I hoped it would be well-received, and I was suddenly getting a little worried.

   As it came time for me to speak, I handed Joan a somewhat grimy envelope, with a date written on it, from the year we were 15. She opened the envelope, and looked at the contents. "Joan, I have somewhat of a confession to make, and I sincerely hope you will take it the right way. There never was a spell on me - except the one you cast. I made one up on the spur of the moment to keep you from usurping my meditation place. It worked. You couldn't kick me out without endangering the world. However, sitting next to you, even as a 15-year old boy, I decided that I would like to sit by you forever. Therefore, I wrote down the terms of the 'spell,' sealed them in that envelope, dated it, and stuck it in my desk drawer.

   "You can read the terms. First, two people standing on level ground - here, under this arbor. Two, a woman who is important to the future of our kingdoms - you, definitely you. Third, two words that we are both about to say - 'I do.' With that, the spell will be broken and we will be  Queen Joan and King John of the joint kingdoms of Blueberrypielandia.

   "What do you think?"

   I couldn't read her expression. "We may need to talk about this later," she said, "But I'm damned if I'm going to miss a perfectly good honeymoon."

   After that, the minister finished his pronouncement, we gave each other a hurried kiss, and raced down the aisle toward the entrance to the botanic garden. However, we found our way barred by a wizened little man, who looked a lot like I thought a wizard should look. It turned out that he looked that way because he was  a wizard - not only that, he was my wizard, the one I thought I had invented.

   He had some unexpected news for us. "The spell is not yet entirely lifted," he said. "The final thing to be considered - and then you're home free - is that your castle staffs want the right to unionize."

   I just stared at him. Joan was impatient. (Well,, so was I, wasn't I?) "For Pete's sake, John, just tell him yes, and let's get out of here!"

   I did, and we went on our way. That hasty decision caused some problems in Blueberrypielandia in later years.

   But it was a lovely, lovely honeymoon.

 

CODA

 So, here we are, five years later, and a lot has happened. They say that all the world's a stage, and our life has certainly been up in lights. Right now, I'm standing on the stage, in front of an adoring audience.

   (Joan, from out of sight: "John, there is no stage, or audience. You're standing in our living room.")

  I ignored her. "Thank you, fans, for sharing our tale, and being so supportive. I know Joan would have liked to be here with me on closing night."

   ("I giving our youngest his bath.")

 "She had to attend a beheading in Bath."

   ("John!)

  "We are often asked about the location of Blueberrypielandia..."

   ("No one has ever asked us that. Nobody knows about it, but you and me.")

 "One man asked if it was like that place in Krakatoa, east of Java, that has the long, long name with too many  vowels and too many consonants."

   ("You do recall that Krakatoa blew up in a volcanic eruption, years ago?")

 "No," I said - not in answer to Joan, but to the man, "It's more like the little Welch town of Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen by the Sea."

   ("John, that isn't a real town. It's just a made-up name in a song. Why don't you just tell them it was inspired by an owl who liked blueberry pie?")

   I ignored her, again. "The other thing we're often asked is if it's hard to rule a kingdom at the same time we're living a relatively normal life in the present day."

   ("No one has ever asked us that. Besides, there is no such thing as 'a normal life' when one lives it with you.")

   "I say, no, it's all pretty much the same. We just apply the characteristics of royalty to our everyday dealings - honesty, integrity, caring, beneficence..."

   ("Beneficence?")

   "You know - charity, mercy, kindness - in other words, the moral obligations of a monarchy, applied to everyday life."

   Joan has appeared at the bathroom door, with a very damp child tucked under each arm. "This is all so horribly wrong, John. I'm tempted to write my own version of our life story - or stories."

   "Go ahead. Call it 'A Woman's Perspective,' then few people will read it, and the ones who do will discount it."

   She left the room, but not before she stuck out her tongue at me. I pretended not to see it. "As I was saying..."

   “John, get in here! I can't handle these two wiggling monkeys by myself."

   "Alas, my dear fans. I must depart. I've just heard that a young scalawag from an adjacent kingdom has had the temerity to pull the pigtails of our young Princess.  Yes, we have three kids. I told you we've been busy.

   "Anyway, we're calling our war chiefs together, right now.

   "This could mean war!"

***

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