By Citlalin Ossio
Honorable Mention, Prose, Create | Encounter 2022
When I was very little and Mami was still a crown princess, my abuelos, the King and Queen, didn’t like me. They called me cursed. In fact, so did all in the palace.
But Mami was different; she believed I was a treasure. Her treasure.
When I’d get sad about being called cursed, she would comfort me with songs. Her voice was my favorite sound in the whole world, and when she sang, all my fears and sorrows melted away until I couldn’t help but dance. Then we’d dance together, just Mami and me.
Every day the King and Queen would visit us in our secluded palace room. Though they never acknowledged me. They’d tell Mami the kingdom was in ruins, and they needed her help to fix it.
Mami would say, “I will, and I will teach my daughter how to help as well.”
“That cursed thing will never inherit my throne,” the King would respond, his tone as hard as stone. “And neither will you if you insist on keeping it instead of sending it to Echo Isle as we told you to.”
“She is your granddaughter and rightful heir, whether you like it or not,” Mami would say, her voice unwavering. “And I will do everything in my power to ensure she has a chance to claim that right. I will never give her up.” She was always brave in front of them, standing tall and fearless, but at night she’d cry when she thought I was asleep. She worried about what would happen to me in the future and wondered if it was selfish to keep me with her to inherit a broken kingdom.
I wasn’t strong enough to take care of her, so instead, I’d dance to cheer her up. That always dried her tears.
Her cries would turn to laughter, then she’d hug me and say, “The kingdom may be in shambles but it’s still my beloved home. I wish to share it with you. I think you’ll love it as much as I do, mi vida.”
I’d fall asleep in the safety of her warm embrace as she’d promise to always love and protect me.
When I was older the King and Queen made their usual visit. Only this time, they were accompanied by two royal advisors holding firefly lanterns that cast shadows on their masks of bone.
“Since you will not listen to us,” the King said. “Maybe you will listen to the pleas of your people.”
The first councilor stepped forward. “Your Highness, you must heed their Majesties’ request and break the curse if you wish to rule the kingdom well. We need a monarch like you to lead us to prosperity.”
“My daughter is not a curse. I can take care of both my kingdom and her if you’d just help me,” said Mami.
“Impossible!” the second councilor shouted, so loud I jumped. Mami soothed me as he continued. “Our duty is to the kingdom.”
“This is your last chance,” the King said. “If you will not obey us, then you must forfeit your inheritance and leave the palace.”
Mami hugged me tight and pleaded with the Queen. “Mamá, please.”
Please, Abuela, I echoed.
The following silence lasted what felt like forever. Finally, in a soft voice the Queen said, “It is for your own good and that of the kingdom. Choose, now.”
Mami’s breath hitched. After a moment, she wiped her tears and squared her shoulders. “I choose my daughter.”
We left the palace that day without escort or guard, without ceremony or blessings. Just Mami and me.
Word of our banishment spread faster than wildfire. Those who feared me, shunned us. Others condemned us. Still Mami kept me safe. But after a few days she grew tired, her courage fading. Even my dancing no longer brought her peace.
She hugged me and whispered, “What do I do? This kingdom is more broken than I thought. You deserve better, mi vida.”
“You both do,” said a soprano voice. A woman in a long white dress draped with diamonds emerged from a silver gilded carriage behind us.
Mami tightened her grip on me. “Who are you?”
“Someone who wishes to see you prosper, of course. Give me your daughter and everything can go back to how it was before.”
“Where will you take her?”
The woman smiled. “Somewhere free of suffering.”
“There is no such place.”
“Not here. But on Echo Isle, she’ll never again feel pain or sorrow.”
Mami gasped, sending my tiny heart racing. “Echo Isle?”
“Yes. Let me take her off your hands so you can return home to live the prosperous life you deserve in peace.” The woman’s gown whispered against cobblestone as she drew near. “Or would you rather she stays in a kingdom that can break her?”
“I…can protect her.”
The woman’s tone turned melancholic. “You are alone, without any power. If you keep her, you will both suffer. You don’t want that do you?”
In the weakest voice I’d heard, Mami whispered, “No, but…”
“You can’t take care of her on your own, and who will help a deposed princess?”
Mami trembled. I was afraid too. I wanted to listen to more of Mami’s songs and dance together for a long time. I don’t want to say goodbye.
“We will help them.”
An elderly dark-skinned woman approached us, two others trailing her. All three wore plain armor and worn hooded cloaks. “I am Gladys, leader of the Veripé Knights.” Her voice was warm like the sun. “We will gladly help such lovely princesses.”
“Except she is no longer a princess,” said the woman in diamonds. “She will never be one again if she does not give me the child.”
“They have always been and always will be princesses, regardless of who sits on the throne,” Gladys said. She smiled at Mami. “We will take care of you and your daughter as long as you need. It is your choice, corazón.”
I danced, overjoyed. Someone had come to save us!
I thought Mami would be just as thrilled but when she hugged me, she wept. “I’m sorry, mi vida. You deserve a better kingdom.”
Her words shattered my tiny heart. She was letting me go. But she’d promised to always look out for me.
Mami continued, “I know you deserve a better home, but even though this one will hurt you, it will also make you smile. I know it.” She turned to the woman in diamonds. “I will not give you my daughter.”
The woman shrugged and smiled. “If you change your mind, come find me.” Without another word, she boarded her gilded carriage and disappeared.
Gladys drew near, taking off her cloak to wrap it around us. She smiled. “Come, you must be hungry.”
The Knights gave us lodging at a warm shelter with other families like Mami and me. We ate delicious food, and when Gladys called me beautiful, I thanked her with a dance. Later, she told us her story of boarding a silver carriage and sending her son to Echo Isle. Like Mami, she’d felt helpless and scared. Afterward she mourned him and vowed to stop other families from being separated, so she formed the Veripé Knights. Gladys never judged parents who refused her help and followed the woman in diamonds instead.
“They have their reasons, most rooted in fear and uncertainty. All I can do is offer hope.”
“Hope,” mused Mami. Smiling, she asked me, “That’s a nice name, don’t you think?”
I loved it so much I danced all night.
Gladys taught Mami all the skills she hadn’t learned at the palace, like how to cook, sew, wash, and bake. Mami wasn’t too fond of sewing but she loved baking and was very good at it. Some nights, she still cried because she missed my abuelos. Each time, I danced for her as I had since I was very little.
Day by day I grew older, and on the twenty-first of the third month of the year I was born. Everyone said I had Mami’s eyes. I learned to walk, speak, and lead.
And now that I’m strong enough, I’m going to restore the kingdom Mami loves so much. I’m going to protect her like she protected me. I’m going to show all those who feared and hated me and wanted me dead that this “cursed” clump of cells named Hope is mighty and great.
I hope this story illustrates our time in the womb as the first stage in our development and not separate from our life after birth. I hope it shows the unborn as living humans, who feel pain, joy, fear, and love. I hope it comforts parents, those worrying and those mourning, and all those called "cursed" for one reason or another.