The Sort-of-True Story of Princess Alexandra of Bavaria
by Hannah Hoare
When I was a child I swallowed a glass piano.
Of course it sounds preposterous; you are not the first person to snigger. As I endeavour to squeeze through the (frankly too many, and certainly too narrow) palace doorways, my courtiers suppress laughter, silently shaking and going puce in the face. Buffoons the lot of them. There are vegetables in the kitchen-garden with more humanity and intelligence.
When I swallowed it, it was tiny, of course. Otherwise how would I have got it down? A delicate little thing, made as though from spun sugar, it sat in the turret room of an elegant doll’s house, catching the light of the sun streaming through the nursery window. It was the prettiest thing I had ever seen, and I fell in love with it instantly. Seeing it was inadequate – I wanted to feel it. But it was so fragile even my child’s fingers might as well have been clad in leather gauntlets. So what on earth was I to do but pop it in my mouth?
If Adalbert hadn’t fallen off the rocking horse behind me, giving me a start, I would, after having explored it with the softness of my tongue, have gently put it back where it belonged. But he did, I jumped and down it went.
At first I felt quite content that my pliable insides were cushioning the precious little trinket, and I enjoyed the tinkling that emanated as I walked. But as I grew, so too did the piano. Sharp corners poked me in the vitals at inopportune moments, causing me to squeal in pain. I learned to move carefully to avoid chipping a corner and causing myself all manner of unthinkable internal damage.
By the time I was five and twenty my curious burden had ceased to expand, and I have grown accustomed to its load. It juts out rather awkwardly to the sides and to the rear, obliging me, as alluded to, to exercise extreme caution when passing through doorways. I have developed an efficacious shuffling gait, sliding between rooms in my stockinged feet, glissando you might say. The charming tinkle of my childhood has long been replaced by a far less melodious plonking. I sleep bolstered by every pillow the footmen can find – the cacophony that ensues if I roll onto my side is a most disagreeable way to awaken.
I am nine and forty years old now and I think it unlikely I shall see the half century. A glass piano is an exquisite thing to have carried so long, and cared for so wholly but it is taking its toll. My ankles weaken and my hips grow stiff. For years now I have dared not even risk the two steps down from the front portico, for fear of going my length and shattering to pieces.
But lately I find myself thinking of coffins, and how much easier shards would be to box up than a whole.
Hannah Hoare is a writer and natural history television producer based in south west England. Her flash fiction has been short-listed in Retreat West competitions and published online by Molotov Cocktail and The Cabinet of Heed. She tweets as @hannahvisiontv.
Black and white image of a transparent piano by Judi Walsh, based on a public domain photograph of a Grand Piano made in 1827 by John Broadwood & Sons, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1972.109).