A. Cerisse Cohen
Once upon a time, when I was in my early twenties, I was having a one-night stand with this prince in a castle and he put his hands around my throat. Not in a way like he wanted to kill me, but enough that I got a little lightheaded.
“How about asking?” I said.
“Sh,” he said. “I’m close.”
He rolled off me, threw out the lambskin condom, and called me a chariot. He could afford it. There’s a reason I always went for princes.
When I got home, I didn’t even think about going to the town elders. I had a lot of chores to do, and what was I going to say? That some prince had pressed on my neck, and I’d kind of liked it? That I was into that small sense of shock, that unexpected zing? I had better things to do with my time. Like chase down the next prince.
But it was hard to find princes unless you snuck into a lot of fancy dress balls, and as my mid-twenties approached, I was suddenly too tired to put on gowns and sneak into back castle doors any more—there was always the risk of falling into a moat.
Some of my friends and I started developing migraines and back pains. We figured it was from sweeping and drawing water from wells all day. We visited the town witches and threw our money at the problem. These were the kinds of witches who were always saying shit like: “And how do you feel about that?”
Because I was getting worn down from too much sweeping or whatever, I made some poor decisions, including going back to that prince who’d choked me. All my friends were like “What? Girl are you crazy?” and the witches attempted to make faces that didn’t betray their judgment, though I could sense their disdain anyway.
“I just wish the witches would tell me how this kind of thing will turn out,” I said.
“You do not need a witch for that. You know exactly how this is going to turn out,” one friend said.
“You’re just down on princes right now,” I said, and my bi-curious friend banged her head on the thatch wall of her rent-subsidized cottage.
My first night back in bed with him, the prince revealed more about himself, and his past sexual history, than he’d previously disclosed. A woman had once asked him to slap her in the face. Another woman had asked him to put out a candle on her forearm. When he wasn’t engaging in such behavior, he often peered into villagers’ windows, watching couples copulate instead of seeking out a mate for himself.
I felt myself in competition with all these other hardcore peasant women—and the rest of the goddamn village. What else had he seen in those windows? I was sure all those other women looked better in candlelight, or in the dark, than I did up close. For this prince, staring in windows would always be preferable to grunting along with a shy peasant like me. I wondered how I could gain some leverage.
“You can choke me,” I said. “Pull my hair. Spank me. We can build up to the other stuff.”
The prince had a pricey stash of opium, which he suggested we use to supplement the sex. I realized he was nervous, though I wasn’t sure about what. I was a mere peasant—what did it matter, my views on his performance?
Then one day, I suggested we take a shower together. It was an outdoor shower, built by the town craftsman. The prince offered me soap.
“It’s this magic stuff made from a dragon’s eyeball,” he said. “Be careful. It can burn the first time. But after that, you just get this great tingle.”
“You killed a dragon?” I asked. I was attracted to this prince, but in truth the guy was scrawny and pale. He went to a lot of fancy functions and stayed out of the sun, and I couldn’t picture him slaying a dragon.
The prince looked at the shower’s gilded floor. “It was a baby dragon,” he said. “I cut out its eye and released it back into the wild.”
“Do you just like hurting things?” I asked.
The guy looked at me sadly. “I was once in love with this woman, and she had this dragon’s eye soap. She wanted me to get a bigger palace so that she could move in. I said no, I was happy with my little bachelor palace, so she left me. And to remember her, to feel the way I felt when I was with her, I went after a dragon.”
“All right,” I said. “So you got the dragon. What now?”
“I just want it to feel like the first time. I liked that burn.” I looked into his eyes, and I saw part of myself there too. I almost felt some compassion for him when he shrugged and said: “Now I’ve got to get the eye of a bigger dragon. Then a bigger dragon. Then an even bigger dragon. The bigger the dragon the more intense the burn.”
And to forget about all these possible dragons, and the empty centers of our medieval little lives, we just kept having sex.
A. Cerisse Cohen holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana. She has published journalism at The New York Times, Artsy, The Nation, and Lit Hub, and fiction at Gasher and The Forge. She lives in Los Angeles.