The first place winner in our June 2020 National Teen Storyteller Contest, presented in partnership with the student-led and founded Decameron Project! We invited creative writers to share a flash fiction story that thoughtfully explored LGBTQ themes.
Dust clouds hung in the air. Sun rays wove between each particle in an intricate lattice, covering the study in a blanket of buttery light. In the middle of the study laid the only person who had borne witness to such a magical display in many decades. Katrina appeared to melt into the floorboards not only because her cocoa brown complexion matched the bronze tones of the wood, but because she laid perfectly still, only allowing her chest to rise and fall in time with the lingering dust above her.
As she camouflaged in the floorboards, she was not entirely sure of how she came to be in that position, nor did she feel particularly inclined to make her presence known to the world once more. Her limbs felt immobile as if they’d been nailed to the floor. The air felt heavier and weighed on her chest. Her consciousness felt hazy like the sunlight dripping onto her skin through the study windows.
As soon as she stepped into the study, her mind flooded with memories that had previously been steeped in years of shadow and haze. Moving through the space covered wall to wall in stuffed mahogany bookshelves and yellowing map projections had been like a dream for Katrina. The smell of mildew covered pages and coffee-stained rugs filled her with nostalgia that many years before had manifested in the form of childlike wonder at the man who had worn the chair behind the desk thin.
Many of her memories of him were blurred impressions of scenes tinged with feelings of joy and security, but a few vivid images came to mind. This study had once been her grandfather’s palace. He was her benevolent Sir Maxwell and she was his little princess who accompanied him on adventures across paper oceans and ink continents. Most of her memories were of her small body being balanced on his knee as he whirled them around the room on his rolling throne. His stories and maps guided them around the world. Katrina felt exhilarated by the scenes they played battling pirates on the high seas and jumping across lava splattered mountains. These joy filled memories slipped through Katrina’s mind like a spoonful of warm honey. She savored the flavor of each memory as they slipped through her mind, but the sweet flavor soon turned sour.
Memories tainted with discomfort and sadness emerged from darker recesses of her mind. Her mother had interrupted a particularly important battle against the mermaids protecting the ocean surrounding Australia one day. She’d burst into the room, eyes stained red with tears and wisps of hair flying from her usually tightly secured bun. Sir Maxwell halted the campaign and set Katrina gingerly down onto the floor. There was a slight tremor in her mother’s hand as she reached for Katrina. Wordlessly, Katrina took her hand. It felt slick with sweat and frigid. Her mother’s eyes never left her grandfather who appeared to shrink under her unrelenting gaze.
After she took her hand, Katrina’s mother turned to go, but Katrina kept a hopeful eye on her brave knight, waiting for him to object and take her back into his arms.
“I love you, Princess Katrina. We’ll play again tomorrow,” he whispered, his deep brown eyes twinkling as he gave her a toothy smile.
“I love you too, Sir Maxwell,” Katrina answered.
“How dare you speak to her!” Katrina’s mother hissed, “You’re going to hell with that man! Don’t drag her down with you”. Her grip around Katrina’s child sized hand tightened.
“May, please! She needs her grandfather,” Sir Maxwell said as he stumbled out of the chair, reaching out for his princess. Katrina reached for his outstretched hand, but before she could reenter his embrace, her mother dragged her out of the study and slammed the door behind her.
Katrina spent the next few years distancing herself from her grandfather. Her memories of him were only preserved through the rumors whispered by her other family members. Not long after that day, her grandfather left her grandmother and ran away with a man named David. Katrina didn’t have a lot of memories of David. He’d played pirates with them a few times, but Katrina couldn’t remember his face, only that he seemed like a real life giant and his skin was a deep brown, even more so than her grandfather.
As Katrina got older, she watched how her mother’s resentment for her grandfather grew to whether away her. She became spiteful and was often tired. Growing up, Katrina had never considered the reasons behind her grandfather leaving. She wished he could have simply stayed with her grandmother. She wanted to play pirates one more time.
Now, many years later, she was inheriting his legacy. Her grandmother had died and passed the house on to her. She laid in the middle of the study in desperate need of cleaning, but how could she remove his presence from the space. Her knight had long left her, but she still longed to hold part of him close to her once more. She simply didn’t have the will to rip this part of her childhood from her heart.
Someone timidly knocked on the door, interrupting Katrina’s reminiscing.
“Yes!” she called.
Katrina watched as her mother slowly crept into the study and laid next to her. They laid side by side in silence as the sun set slowly, casting purple and pink rays over their faces. Katrina’s mother was the first to break the silence.
“He left because he loved David more than us.”
“He left because he found love, mom.”
“We loved him…”
“David loved him…unconditionally”. Katrina sighed. This was no longer her grandfather’s palace. Cobwebs covered the ceiling. The maps were peeling off the walls. Even his throne was dilapidated.
The sun finally dipped below the horizon. Suddenly, the study felt dark and cold as the dust clouds settled and the open door dispersed the smell of mildew and coffee stains.