The Art of Being a Princess:
(Are you kidding? Nobody reads the forward)
“One should always strive,” Princess Imogene read in The Art of Being a Princess (third revised edition), “to be the sort of princess about whom it is said: ‘She was as good as she was beautiful.’”
“Ugh,” Princess Imogene said. She slammed the book shut—hating it already, based on the first sentence. Hating the book, hating the writer, hating princesses in general, and most of all hating herself.
She suspected she was not as good as she could be, since parents, teachers, and assorted courtiers liked to point out that she was impatient, that she had a tendency to day-dream, and that she was prone to ask “Why?” a bit more often, apparently, than was appropriate. She also knew she was not beautiful. Her own mother frequently assured her that one day she would be beautiful, that one day she would no longer be twelve and gawky, that one day she would fill in, blossom out, and grow into her body.
“Grow into my body?” Imogene had once made the mistake of echoing. “You make me sound like a tadpole or a caterpillar.”
“Or a maggot,” her little brother, Will, helpfully suggested with all of a seven-year-old boy’s eagerness and tact.
Their mother, who was prone to sick headaches, had declared her need to lie down for a bit.
Imogene wondered if sick headaches were something The Art of Being a Princess encouraged. Or maybe that topic would be covered in The Art of Being a Queen.
As for future beauty, there was no way to know whether her mother’s assurances about “someday” were based on something real her mother saw in her, or if, in fact, her mother was just being a mother.
So Imogene was neither as beautiful nor as good as a princess should be, and therefore she found the book infuriating.
She was, however, good enough that she managed to resist her inclination to fling The Art of Being a Princess across her room. But she did toss it forcibly onto her bed, from which it bounced off, then skittered beneath.
The book had been a gift from her mother, in anticipation of Imogene’s thirteenth birthday in another two weeks.
“If you start today and read a chapter a day,” her mother had said this morning, with such bright optimism that Imogene couldn’t help but suspect it had been practiced, “you’ll have it finished the day before your birthday, and you’ll be all ready.”
Meaning ready to be the sort of princess who didn’t drop things, spill things, or trip over things. The sort of princess who always knew what to say and when not to say anything. The sort of princess who wasn’t an embarrassment to her royal parents.
Imogene couldn’t imagine why her mother thought two weeks of reading would prepare her to be a proper princess when twelve years, eleven months, two weeks, and half a morning hadn’t.
But her mother had looked so enthusiastic about the gift, so pleased with herself, so hopeful, that Imogene hadn’t wanted to hurt her feelings. So she’d pretended interest by opening The Art of Being a Princess and looking over the table of contents. “Well,” she’d said, forcing a little laugh, trying to find the humor in the situation, “twelve chapters in thirteen days: at least I get a day off for good behavior.”
For a moment, her mother looked puzzled. Her expression moved close to the one that often came right before she announced having one of her headaches. Then she’d said, “The foreword, dear. Don’t forget the foreword.”
Ahh. The foreword. Imogene generally skipped over books’ forewords, which were most often full of stuff too boring to put into the book itself, things like “This is the history of the entire known universe up until now . . .” And “These are the reasons why this book will be Good for You . . .” And “Thank you to my parents and my grandparents and my great-grandparents and my uncles and aunts and cousins and teachers and neighbors and the little girl who sat two rows over from me in the third grade . . .”
Maybe, Imogene thought, she could skip over the boring bits.
Mothers are legendary for being able to read the thoughts of their children at just the wrong moment. “You can read the foreword and then each chapter, one a day, in the morning, and then we can meet in the solarium for lunch together, just the two of us, and we can discuss any questions you might have.”
“Wow,” Imogene said. “That sounds like . . .” She couldn’t come up with any word besides torture, and she knew better than to say that. She pasted a smile onto her face and nodded.
Apparently her mother’s mind-reading ability had faded out by then. Either that or she, too, knew when not to say anything. In any case, she had leaned forward and given an air kiss in the vicinity of Imogene’s cheek, then motioned one of her ladies in waiting to come over to discuss something-or-other, and Imogene had gone to her room.
First, Imogene had worked on the picture she’d been drawing for the past week. It was the view out of her window: the castle courtyard, the stables across the way, the wall that surrounded the castle, the moat beyond, the trees forming the edge of the forest, the stream that came down from the hills that showed way off in the distance. The more she fiddled with the picture, the less pleased she was with her results, so she gave it up for fear she’d do something to ruin the whole thing.
Next she worked a bit on the dragon she was embroidering in the corner of a handkerchief for her brother, Will—embroidery being one of those princessly pursuits everyone seemed to favor and that Imogene actually enjoyed. Besides, Will, despite being a prince, was also a seven-year-old, and he really could use a handkerchief more often than he did. But today the thread seemed inclined to knot and break, and Imogene realized for the first time in a long while that she didn’t so much enjoy doing the stitchery as having finished a project.
After that she found a chunk of bread in the pocket of the dress she’d been wearing yesterday, bread she’d intended to give to the wainwright’s boy, who looked as though he didn’t get enough to eat. But the bread had gone stale and had bits of lint stuck on it, so she decided to get another piece at lunch and meanwhile broke this one up and spread the crumbs out on the windowsill for the birds. Apparently the birds weren’t interested today.
Imogene even considered taking a nap, except she really wasn’t tired.
Which was how she came to be reading The Art of Being a Princess—the foreword.
Which started with that stupid line about how a princess should strive to be as good as she was beautiful.
“A princess can’t help what she is or what she looks like,” Imogene grumbled out loud to the book, as she fetched it back out from under the bed. Her hair, which she believed had more of a tendency to get mussed and tangled than anybody e...