The jungle ahead is foreboding. Sunlight filters down in a brilliant, Seven-Up bottle green. Exotic birds call out, but the foliage is so thick they can’t be seen unless they fly directly across my path. I must duck down to avoid low hanging vines because I am up so high. I pitch back and forth, gracefully. The beast I am perched upon, my beautiful pet elephant, Misty of Chincoteague, is adorned in splendid regalia – a fancy satin blanket with golden ropes and a headband of sparkly rubies. And a shiny silver tassel right between her eyes. She ambles along, untroubled. She can’t know the horrors that await us. I begin to smell the acrid fumes from a fiery pit lacing through the jungle as my captors jostle me along this narrow path, escorting me to a ghastly fate. I should be afraid and crying my head off, but I am strong and brave. I place the back of my wrist on my forehead and tilt it back slightly.
“Stevie, take your turn.”
I am bewildered. My name is Princess Aouda.
“Slide!” A command accompanied by a firm hand between my shoulder blades and a rough shove. I find myself flying down Misty’s trunk, suddenly transformed, smooth and slick as a sheet of stainless steel. As I land on the ground and walk around to get back in line, Nancy Walmsley catches me by the arm.
“Why do you just sit up there? You take too long. We’re all waiting,” she says.
“Okay,” I say, “Don’t push the panic button.”
This makes no sense whatsoever and I know it, but I say it anyway. A short group of words that sound snappy, like something a grownup would say, that’s all it takes to get Nancy to back off. The real reason I sat up there so long isn’t so easy to explain. The real reason I sat up there so long is because I am in love with David Niven. I am smitten with David Niven and his thin lips and pencil mustache. And I “stayed up there so long” because the slide was Misty; we were being lead to the fiery pit in the jungles of India where David Niven would save us. I was pretending to be Shirley MacLaine. No, that’s not true. I was pretending to be Princess Aouda, and I really wish Shirley MacLaine didn’t exist. That role should have been mine regardless of the fact that Around the World in 80 Days was released the year I was born. It is by far the best movie I have ever seen. Of course it is the only movie I have ever seen besides Snow White and Pollyanna.
I was born to play Princess Aouda. I like her clothes. I like her shoes with the pointed, curled-up toes. Sometimes I get a gold chain-link belt out of my mom’s closet, cinch it around my waist and tuck a bunch of scarves in around my belly and then drape a really long, sheer one over my hair. My mom has a pair of dangly earrings with red gems that look like Shirley MacLaine’s earrings in the movie. The way you keep them on is to twist this screw into your ear. It hurts pretty bad, but they look really good. She has a necklace with a big rhinestone drop that I wear so that the rhinestone sits right in the middle of my forehead. Princess Aouda always has big jewels hanging down on her forehead. I look a lot better than Shirley MacLaine.
Here’s why I would be so much better than Shirley MacLaine in that part, even more than how good I look in the princess clothes: I can talk English like Hayley Mills. I love Hayley Mills, too, but I don’t want to marry her like I want to marry David Niven. I started copying her after I saw Pollyanna. I even look… I even look a bit like her. And you see, David Niven is sophisticated and debonair and talks English, too. It would be so much better in Around the World in 80 Days if David Niven fell in love with someone who talked English like he did. Someone like Hayley Mills. Someone who also looks good in scarves and can bear the pain of dangly earrings.
David Niven has arrived and is serenading me with Unchained Melody. He sounds like the blond, short Righteous Brother, except with an English accent. Now one of my captors is prodding me in the back with the tip of a spear.
“Are you going? It’s your turn again.”
“I bloody well am,” I say as I climb back up onto Misty’s back.
Nancy looks up at me, perplexed. “What does that even mean?”
Stephani Franklin lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a graduate of Oklahoma State University. She currently serves on the Advisory Board of Nimrod Journal (University of Tulsa). She writes poetry, memoir and short fiction. She is a service human for two dogs.
© 2013, Stephani Franklin