Weekly feature by: Jenny Irizary
Stephanie always made me play the Witch, and I knew part of that role was contesting it, insisting that I should be the Princess like the younger neighborhood girls or refusing the whole game like the other ten-year-olds, who smoked their parents’ weed or gossiped about which junior high kids were getting abortions. But I liked cackling and wearing a hat shaped like the love child of a traffic cone and a flying saucer. In fact, I got so good at deep diaphragm cackling that the hat fell right off my head most days, at the climax of my monologue, my arms bent at the elbows and my fingers curled into claws. “Who will save you now, Princess?” I flipped over our makeshift hourglass (two dirt-filled plastic water bottles taped together at the mouth) and shrieked, “Your time is running out; the spell has been cast!” I lurched at Stephanie in a hunched over pose and sneered. She reached up and grabbed my collar. “I reversed the spell before you were even born.” Now that gave me pause; Stephanie was two years older than me, even though we were in the same fourth grade class. That gave her twenty-four months to anticipate and reverse any spell before I even came up with it, even in the fictional premise of our game, because we didn’t know the story until we played it out. That was how the rules were; they weren’t until they were.
Stephanie’s aide thought this was “occult” and “out-of-line” because “God reveals His plans to people, not the other way around.” To me, she whispered, “People with her condition don’t usually live much longer than your age.” This seemed especially ridiculous to me, since it meant that Stephanie had already far outlived every doctor’s predictions. The neighbor kids concurred that she did so by sheer bossiness (we had all been yelled at for being inadequately witchy or unwilling to play). Stephanie insisted that we were addressing each other, not God, and the aide clicked her tongue and rubbed her 14-carat snake chain cross and remarked curtly, “You probably had too much sugar today.” She told me I could stay in the corner of the class where Stephanie did her schoolwork if I helped.
I agreed and waited for recess, when the aide always left for the bathroom, and we could resume discussions of the Witch and the Princess. One particular recess, we finally got to the bottom of how the Princess always foiled the Witch. The Princess habitually broke through wormholes in a spaceship that the Witch mistook for a discarded hat and took to wearing without knowing that this allowed the Princess to observe her every spell, memorizing every permutations of each future moment’s conflict. Then the Princess would wait for the Witch to throw up her hands and cackle so hard that the “hat” flew off her head, kick off before the hat could make its sloppy, spinning Ed Wood landing, and jump back through the wormhole to before the Witch was born. There and then she could enact a counter-spell corresponding to every attack the Witch would soon devise. That was why the Princess could undo all the Witch’s spells before they happened; it didn’t really have anything to do with wisdom that came with a two-year age advantage.
Stephanie’s aide returned from the bathroom toward the end of our conversation and clucked that what’s written can’t be re-written “unless you want to pretend the scribbles underneath aren’t there.” She adjusted her white turtleneck and un-bunched the floor-length jumper she wore over it, uncomfortably attempting to make picking her wedgie appear decorous and tasteful. “Sometimes we just have to accept our—” and Stephanie shoved her so that “Fate” sounded like the air let out of a tire. The aide stumbled and braced herself against the table where Stephanie did computer programs designed for kids several years younger than either of us with a mouse pad that didn’t fit the way her fingers folded into her palm, bent in a chair that hurt her back, designed for somebody else’s comfort. A few kids coming in from recess saw it and laughed. We might all have made up excuses when we didn’t want to be Witches to Stephanie’s Princess because she was bossy as hell, and Stephanie had probably rolled her eyes at every invitation to “party.” But we all hung out at some point or another, not all of us in some mystical playtime unity together, but one-on-one or in groups, all vying to decide whether we slid down the hill on trashcan lids, climbed into tree stumps, or in my case, read books about women so powerful they scared men into believing they were witches.
All of us except the aide, who’d turned up her nose at all of us, like every other adult who came to “serve” our “underprivileged community,” all the while telling us in a thousand ways that we were diseases our parents passed on to people like them, that our parents smoked too much weed and drank too much when they should be working, that we’d either OD or live too long on welfare. We’d all stepped through so many wormholes she couldn’t discern us from earlier generations or the ones to come, and we’d seen her many times before. It was her private game of Predestination where none of us were supposed to be loud-mouthed Witches or time-travelling Princesses. Stephanie grinned with self-satisfaction, and the girl who probably partied the most of any kid in the neighborhood called her a badass. “I told you I was the Princess,” Stephanie smirked.