The Orange Prince and the Frog Princess

The orange prince is fading, sun-spotted and ugly-freckled. His eyes are heavy. His frog princess, two miles to the west, is fading too. She's dying. Her bones are withered and her demeanor choppy. Still, considering it all, they're happy for faders.

The prince tells me about the deals you can find in this town if you look in the right places. To me, his oldest and best friend, they seem like the wrong places. He shows me a drawing he made of a child with a bow-and-arrow pointed at a two-story house. The windows are open. The screens are loose and mottled. It's summer. There are people inside, on both levels. There's a cat upstairs, parked on the windowsill, one eye open. The boy is the orange prince. The arrow is pointing high.

The princess tells me her doctor is the best in the city. No, he's the best in the country. No, he's the best in the world. People from all over sit in the waiting room. Kids with thicker skin than hers waiting for their parents, the ones in the loosest of gowns. Locals with clipboards. In the waiting room are last season's magazines and pictures of animals on the walls, all loping limbs and Africa. Purple walls. Where people wait for the best doctor, with his deep-set eyes and the mark of Cain. Or for the nurses, all compact and shock-blonde and going out for happy hour later. The frog princess is 30 and her baby is two. She may not see 31. Or three. But the grandmothers are young.

I call him the orange prince because of a plant. Plants make good nicknames. Nemesia strumosa, known in the plant kingdom as the prince of orange, is perched dry and dusty on his music desk. It even looks like Chris - pumpkin dots for eyes, tired but brilliant, in need of sun and water. But not too much water. Lush in the right circumstances. I call Katinka the frog princess because of a song she finds amusing. Their baby is named Patrick and he has her green eyes.

Prince and princess can't bear to see each other. They communicate through me. I've known Chris for 20 years, Katinka for three. They communicate by going to lunch with me on separate sides of the city. They don't say much over the phone. The phone's for making lunch plans. On days they both have the time I have two lunches. Katinka doesn't work anymore but she has Patrick who senses her retreating. Chris works odd jobs.

Nemesia strumosa, the orange prince, belongs to the Scrophulariaceae plant family, common to temperate climates. Its coarse fallen leaves would make a pungent raw tea, it seems. Its origin is southern Africa. Chris's orange prince was given to him as a housewarming gift from his mother Molly, after the breakup. Molly had been keeping it in her divorcee living room, on top of a speaker that often played her beloved bebop jazz.

Katinka never liked Molly until recently. Molly has enthusiastically taken on the role of future half-mother. Plus, Molly knows not to dwell too much on death, unlike her own mother, unlike everyone else.

In the song "The Frog Princess" the singer cruelly tells of a fallen woman, her ugly mug and her tragic death from beheading. Doesn't matter. Katinka and I still find it funny.

I have a feeling that after the frog princess dies and her funeral church quiets with grief and I read the poem I've already written, that my lunches with Chris will be labored and heavy. That he will break further. That his good days, his lush green days, will become rarer. Or maybe he'll rise to new occasions. Maybe the two of us will take Patrick out for walks around lakes together, teaching the boy the significance of the obscure songs his mother liked, the house where they made him on the first floor, and my role in between. The son will heed our lessons and hum the right music for his grandmothers. Patrick will refuse a royal title and prefer to be called by name.

About the author:

Ali Fahmy's fiction has appeared online in Identity Theory and Hobart and is forthcoming in Exquisite Corpse. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife Laurel..