A long time ago, when Time was still winding its watch and Sun was trying to figure out which way was east and which was west, there was a king and queen. I don’t know what country they were king and queen of. That information was not in the story when it came down to me. Sometimes, stories don’t understand; what may not be important to them is very important to us.
Now, I’m sure there are people who can tell this particular story without having a name for the kingdom this king and queen ruled. Jupiter bless them. I guess I’m not that good of a storyteller, because I need a name for the kingdom. I asked the story if it would mind my giving the place a name. It didn’t see any harm in it, so I am going to call it the Kingdom-by-the-Great-Blue-Sea.
The story also does not have names for the king and queen. I know they had names, but nobody would say to them, “What’s up, Chuck?” or say, “Looky here, Liz,” if those happened to be their names. I am in agreement with the story this time. If nobody could use their names, there is no need to have them in the story. As for what the king and queen called each other, they were probably like any other married couple and he called her “Honey” and “Sweetheart,” and she called him “Good Lips” and things like that, which we don’t need to pursue any further.
The king and queen had three daughters. I know what you are thinking: the daughters didn’t have names, either. That is partly true. Two of the girls were name-naked. I’m not even into the story yet and already we have four people that the Internal Revenue Service could not send a letter to.
Well, the daughters need names. The story is content to call them the “elder sister” and the “younger sister.” That is not good enough for me. The two sisters have to have names. I was thinking about having a contest to pick their names, but the story would probably get tired of waiting for all the votes to be counted, catch a bus, and go to somebody else to get told and that person would not tell the story the way it should be told, which is how I am going to tell it. So, I’ll name them myself. I’ll call one Thomasina, after a girl I had a lot of lust for in high school who wasn’t lusting after me (bet she’s sorry now), and I’ll call the other one Calla. I have no idea if there is such a name, but it sounds like it belongs in the story.
Thomasina and Calla were the two older girls and they were very beautiful. Both had long, pale yellow hair that came down to their waists. They would get up early every morning and sit in chairs on the balcony outside their room, and two serving girls would brush the morning sunlight into their hair. They would have been the most beautiful young women in the land if not for someone else—their younger sister.
Her name was Psyche, which is pronounced sigh-key, and it means “soul.” It also means “butterfly.” Maybe that’s what the soul is like—fragile, colorful, and beautiful like a butterfly, and maybe Psyche was so beautiful because people could see her soul in her face.
I tried to write something that would give you an idea of how beautiful she was, but the letters of the alphabet got so confused and jumbled up trying to arrange themselves into words to describe someone for whom there were no words, they ended up crying in frustration. I hate trying to make words out of letters that have been crying and are so wet they can’t stay on the page. Later on in the story, after the letters dry off, I’ll try again to arrange them into enough words so you’ll have some idea of what Psyche looked like. For now, you’ll just have to believe me when I say she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
The people of the kingdom said Psyche had to be a goddess because she was even more beautiful than Venus, the goddess of love, who until now had been the most beautiful woman in creation.
The news of Psyche’s beauty spread all over the world. Soon, people came to see Psyche from everywhere—Rome, Rumania; Lagos, Latvia; Moscow, Mississippi; Green Bay, Ghana; Paris, Poland; and Zurich, Zimbabwe.
Every day around the time people’s shadows snuck beneath their feet to get out of the sun, the tall wooden doors to the palace grounds swung open, and Psyche came out to take her daily walk. Men, women, children, and all the creatures stopped what they were doing to look at her. Birds flying by would see Psyche, stop flapping their wings, and fall to the ground. Ants would be toting crumbs which, to them, were as big as China. They could not see anything of Psyche except a sixteenth of an inch of her big toenail, but that was enough for them to be so overcome by her beauty that they dropped their crumbs and just stared.
Psyche walked along the road that led from the palace to the outskirts of the largest village, which wasn’t far, and then she walked back and the palace doors would close behind her. But, for the rest of the day, not much got done in the kingdom because everybody and every creature was thinking about Psyche. Cows didn’t make milk; sheep didn’t grow wool; hens forgot to lay eggs. The butcher didn’t slaughter animals; the baker’s bread and cakes burned in the oven; and the candlestick-maker was in too much of a daze to dip his wicks in tallow.
Well, this was not good for the economy. The economy went into a recession, then a depression, and finally, went into a cul-de-sac, which is different from a paper sack and a gunnysack and a sad sack as well as a sack on the quarterback.
The king had to do something or the economy was going to collapse. He thought the matter over and decided that if Psyche went for a walk only one afternoon each month, the economy would be all right.
“I don’t appreciate your deciding what I can do and when I can do it,” Psyche told her father.
“The economy is more important than your happiness,” the king replied.
That tells you right there what kind of king he was! Who in his right mind would make the economy more important than a person’s well-being? But he was the king, and what he said was the way things had to be. He must have been asleep the day in kinging school when the teacher talked about the law of supply and demand. When the supply of something diminishes and the demand for it goes up, it is going to cost more. The king was about to pay a very high price, because the demand to see Psyche was about to destroy the kingdom. The birds and the insects carried word of the king’s decree to the farthest ends of the four directions, which happened to be ten thousand miles on the other side of next week. Everybody and everything went into a panic because nobody knew anymore what day or time Psyche would take her walk. There was only one way anybody could be sure of seeing her. People in other kingdoms started calling in sick to work. I know they didn’t have telephones back in those days. When I say they called in sick, I mean they stuck their heads out the door of their houses and yelled, “I got the flu in my eyetooth and can’t come to work!” Then they moved to the Kingdom-by-the-Great-Blue-Sea so they could be there whenever Psyche took her walk.
Before long the kingdom was overrun with all kinds of people who did not speak the language, did not know the customs, and, furth...