Queen, Reluctant by Clay Dugger
Alice had made several friends in the two weeks since her family had moved to the Hill Country town of Bell, Texas. Still, she had no idea she was going to get to be Queen.
Bell was tiny compared to Houston, where they had lived before. There was only one Elementary School, and it contained only two classrooms of third grade students.
With so few classmates, she could not remain anonymous. Within just a few days, the other children acted like they had known her forever.
The day she became Queen, they had all gone out for afternoon recess, just like every day. And, like always, they had almost an hour to play.
After a few minutes of exuberant chaos, the children started gathering in groups to play. The group Alice joined was made of third and fourth graders.
Someone suggested ‘King or Queen’, and a tossed penny decided on Queen. A few heads or tails guesses later and Alice was Queen!
She had a real good time bossing the boys around and making the girls call her “My Queen”. She even got to sit with Joey Tomlinson for a while. Joey was in fourth grade.
Marianne Ford, one of Alice’s classmates, was not pleased with this. She kept interrupting, trying to get Joey to come away.
Eventually, Alice had had enough.
“Go away, Marianne. I’m talking to Joey now.”
Scowling, Marianne bowed and said, “Yes, My Queen.”
Marianne walked over to some other girls. They started talking and laughing.
In just a few minutes, Marianne started skipping around the bench where Alice and Joey were sitting. She was singing.
“Queenie and Joey, sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i…”
Alice stood up and yelled at Marianne. “Shut up! You’re just jealous that I get to be Queen! I wish someone would punch you in the mouth!”
Marianne stopped instantly, her eyes widening with fear. Joey swallowed so hard, Alice heard him gulp.
He stood up and walked over the Marianne.
The girl started pleading. “No, please, My Queen! I was just playing! I’m sorry, My Queen, please, don’t let him!”
Joey turned and bowed to Alice.
“As you wish, My Queen.” He said.
He was shaking as he turned and hit Marianne right in the mouth with his fist. That done, he turned and bowed again to Alice, tears rolling down his face. He ran to the school building as fast as he could and disappeared inside.
Marianne was sitting on the ground, screaming. She was holding both hands over her mouth. Blood was seeping down her chin, and tears ran down her cheeks.
Alice ran the few feet to the other girl’s side, and knelt down.
“I didn’t mean it! He wasn’t supposed to hit you! Teacher!” she looked around, catching sight of an adult running toward them.
“Teacher! He hit her! She’s bleeding!” Alice cried, her own tears coming.
The man scooped up Marianne without a word and sprinted to the building.
Just then, the bell rang and recess was over. Despite the spectacle, everybody dusted themselves off and went back inside. All except Alice.
Alice’s teacher, Mrs. Timothy, came out and walked over to the crying girl.
“Please don’t be upset, Alice. You didn’t do anything wrong. Joey was just doing what he thought he was supposed to do. Marianne is just fine. She’ll be back in class tomorrow, and everything will be just like it was. Please, come back inside.”
After school, walking home, the others were still calling her ‘My Queen’, and acting like they were still playing the game.
She asked about Marianne. They all said that Alice had done what any Queen would have, and that Joey was just being a good subject.
Alice did not want to be Queen anymore. She tried to get the other children to play something else while the walked home, but they refused.
Whenever she suggested a game, they would all bow, refusing to play with her. They kept saying that they were not worthy.
By the time she got home, Alice was in tears again.
Her mother rushed to Alice’s side when she heard the little girl crying.
“Oh, no, My Queen! What’s the matter?”
Alice stopped crying in surprise. She looked at her mother, who was fidgeting with her hands, face twisted in concern.
“My Lady, you should not be upset over Marianne. She was deliberately taunting you.”
“Mommy! Don’t do that! I don’t want to be Queen anymore!” Alice started crying in earnest. She dropped her school things and ran upstairs to her room, slamming the door.
Later, she heard her father come in. She heard the plaintive voice of her mother.
Heavy footsteps on the stair preceded a knock at the door.
Alice ran to the door, throwing it open so hard that it bounced off the wall.
“Daddy! I was playing Queen and Joey hit Marianne just because I told him to and she was bleeding and everyone kept playing even after the game was over and even Mommy was doing it and I don’t wanna be Queen!” she gushed out as she jumped into his waiting arms.
“There, there. Everything is just fine.” he soothed, setting her on her feet. He got down on one knee in front of her, looking her right in the eye.
“The school called me and told me what happened. I’m not mad at you, dear. I think having Joey hit her was a little too much, but Marianne was behaving horribly, My Queen.”
The next day, Alice refused to get out of bed.
“If I’m the Queen, then I don’t have to get out of bed if I don’t want to!” she declared.
Her father spoke softly. “My Queen, you must go to school. You must learn all you can so that you can be the wise Queen we all know you can be. All Kings and Queens have to learn, so they can rule well.”
And with that, he picked her up from her bed, covers and all, and stood her on her feet.
“Besides, My Queen, this is still your father’s house. If you want your subjects to honor you, you must honor me. Now, off! Go brush your teeth!” He swatted her lightly on the backside, guiding her toward the bedroom door.
When she returned from the bathroom, she found her bed made and clothes laid out. The smells of breakfast wafted up the stairs.
Her mother had selected a sunny yellow dress normally reserved for Easter Sunday. White socks and shoes finished the outfit.
Sullenly, she dressed. Alice did not think she would be playing much in the playground today.
After breakfast, her mother walked her to the door, school bag in hand. Walking out of the front door to leave, Alice stopped when she saw a police car sitting at the curb.
A tall man in a policeman’s uniform got out of the car and walked up to her. Taking his hat off, he bowed.
“My Queen, I am to escort you to school.”
She shook her head. “But, I always walk. It’s just down the street.”
“Yes, My Queen, but you must have a guard. You will be safe with me.”
Alice turned to her mother. “Mommy?”
Her mother nodded. “If someone is important, they need guards. You will be safe with the policeman. Just go with him. Have a good day, My Queen.”
Her mother bowed and handed Alice her school bag. She went inside and shut the front door, leaving Alice alone with the Officer.
Other children were walking down the street, heading toward the school. Those on the same side of the street as Alice crossed to the other side of the street before passing her house.
There were adults walking with some of the children. The parents smiled when they looked Alice’s direction, and bowed slightly as they walked past.
Alice turned to the door and tried to open it. It was locked. Frantically, she pushed the button for the doorbell.
The door opened with a ‘whoosh’, her mother looking worried.
“What’s the matter, dear?” Then, looking at the policeman, “Has someone threatened her?”
“Mommy! I don’t wanna be Queen anymore! Just let me stay home, and somebody else can be Queen!” Alice said through tears. She stomped a foot for emphasis.
The police officer appeared flustered. “Ma’am, should I go?”
Alice’s mother crouched in front of the little girl. Without looking up, she said, “No, she’ll go with you. Just wait by the car, please.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He put his hat on his head and returned to the car. He remained standing next to the passenger door.
Alice’s mother put both hands softly on the little Queen’s shoulders. “Alice, dear, you are the Queen. The Queen has to be seen doing the things that she wants her people to do. You don’t want everyone to be poor and stupid, do you?”
“We’re not poor.” Alice choked out.
“No, we’re not. That’s because your father is smart, and works hard. He is smart because he went to school. Now, you’re a smart little girl, but you’re still just a little girl. Even Queens can learn, and it’s very important that a Queen learn all she can. After all, a smart Queen can be a good Queen. Now, sweetie, go with the policeman. He’ll keep you safe until you get to school. Then you can go to your class, and play with your friends!”
“But they won’t play with me! They say that they aren’t good enough to play with me because I’m the Queen!”
“Oh, tosh!” her mother said. “They’ll play with you, just ask them. Now, shoo! Go on!”
Alice was gently turned around and pushed toward the car. The officer quickly walked to her.
He held out his hand, and Alice took it in hers without thinking.
In class, Mrs. Timothy always asked Alice for an answer before letting any of the other students try. That was fine with the other students, who appeared to be happy just being in the same room with their Queen..
All except Marianne Ford.
Marianne’s mouth and jaw was bruised. There was a small scab where her lip had been cut.
When the recess bell rang, Alice stayed in her chair. She did not want to go outside only to have nobody play with her.
After the last student left the room, Mrs. Timothy sat in the small desk next to Alice.
“My Queen, Alice, why aren’t you going out to play? You can’t stay inside while everyone else is outside.”
“They won’t play with me because I’m the Queen. I tried yesterday.” Alice said softly.
“On the playground?” asked Mrs. Timothy.
Alice shook her head. “No, on the way home.”
Mrs. Timothy nodded her head. “That’s what I thought. My Queen, they have to play with you on the playground. It’s the law. On the playground, your word is law. The children have to do what you say.”
Alice looked at Mrs. Timothy. The teacher did not appear to be joking. She looked serious to the little girl.
Mrs. Timothy nodded. “Anything.”
Outside, the other children stopped playing when Alice stepped through the door. One of the boys from another class came up to her and bowed with one hand across his stomach and the other across his back.
“My Queen, what would you like to play today?” he asked.
“Let’s play ‘King or Queen’ again, like yesterday.” she said.
The boy hesitated, then bowed and said “That would be fine, My Queen.”
The other children gathered around Alice. Someone produced a penny and pressed it into her hand.
She flipped it with her thumb and caught it with her palm. Quickly, she slapped her hand onto the back of her other hand.
“Heads is ‘King’, tails is ‘Queen’.” She declared.
Removing her hand, they all saw that it was tails.
She did not want to be Queen. She did not even want to play.
She handed the penny to the boy closest to her.
They started guessing heads or tails, eliminating girls from the game.
The last toss was between Alice and Marianne.
The penny glittered as it landed on the boy’s palm and he slapped it against his other hand.
“Tails.” Said Alice.
“Heads.” Said Marianne.
The boy uncovered the penny.