Owen Duffy’s fiction has appeared in Hawaii Review, New South, Passages North, New Delta Review, Storyglossia, [PANK], and Bluestem Magazine, among others. His novel, The Artichoke Queen, is forthcoming from Livingston Press.
He was the son of a king of some forgotten country, a place that once fought and conquered for the greater good of what were violently ambitious people. But, as if bored with their raping and pillaging, over time it became a place of nothingness, and so vanished into history, although this was not that long ago.
It was a cold place, mired in long winters, the sky grey as the lining of the bowels, where breath rose out of its people and created a fog that permeated all things. A fog that shrouded the landscape and made it hard to see, or for one to see into, and impossible to describe now with specificity.
It was in this place the prince was born. No one knows the exact date, as there is little he left behind. He wrote no letters. He had no affairs. He had no friends and settled no matters.
Although it was clear from an early age that he was ill-suited to be a prince, even of a country that ruled nothing, and did nothing—with a small army that existed only out of a sense of pageantry—he was the king’s only son.
The king was pasty and gap toothed. Each night the prince watched his father sit at the table, napkin tucked into his tunic, his fat fist grasping a serving spoon, stuffing overcooked spaghetti into his mouth.
The king’s days were filled with senseless musings, the type that looks at oneself and sees nothing, then looks blankly at the land that was once his, back when there was so much land and no one to fight for it—and well, what else can one do in such times, when there are no more countries to invade or people to brutalize?
When his father died, the prince became even idler, showing no interest in his work and instead filling his days with things that had no purpose. Of note was his uncanny interest in taxidermy, and he went around the castle grounds collecting common specimen of bird and rodent, which he stuffed and sent to the museum with orders they be displayed.
He too was cherubic in features, not unlike a fat Dylan Thomas. Big, florid cheeks and a pile of curly hair atop his head. He seemed ageless, and the paintings of him that still hang high upon the walls of the castle, show that he seemed never to have grown past adolescence.
All his life the queen worried.
“Athletics, politics, women,” she’d often say, “these are things a young prince should take interest in.”
“Mother, please,” he’d reply, and wave his hand and continue to stare at the wall, or whatever was in front of him at that particular time. “I can’t be bothered.”
Although he was said to be of sound mind, he squandered it. He was grossly unconcerned with his image. At public functions he would show up drunk and deliver long, cruddy speeches; so long, it seemed he had devised them to amuse himself. The audience would cough and yawn, and he would only grow bolder, even reciting from advertisements for salve that he’d somehow memorized.
So you see, it wasn’t that he couldn’t be bothered, but that he believed neither he nor his country could be aroused from their nothingness. No more than one of his stuffed birds, with their glass eyes, could take off and fly.
As he aged, his worst features became more prominent. He grew red nosed and bellicose. He would grope his dinner guests. Once, during a charity event for a local orphanage, he crushed a child’s wheelchair with his limousine when the child would not dance for him.
It was said that the theatre company often gave performances to him, and at other times the entire movie house was offered solely for his use.
A servant’s notes of these events read as follows:
Macbeth: the Prince found it silly
King Lear: the Prince fell asleep
Casablanca: shut it right off
A Mel Brooks film: laughed riotously
Soon he began to collect vastly and widely, with no thought of cost or value. His tastes were both extravagant and indiscriminate. He had a Matisse. He had a Bob Ross. He even had, in a jar of formaldehyde, what was said to be Napoleon’s penis. He once staged stuffed rats, in full human costume, to stare at it, beholden.
It was late in his life that he took his only lover. It seemed unreasonable to his servants, that a sixty-year-old man, who still awakened with a persistent erection each morning, should have waited so long.
She was a clerk in town. A simple woman of thirty-five. For a fortnight she sat watching him fork steaming piles of food into his mouth. She married someone else not long after.
When the prince fell ill and died, it was said, of a broken heart, there was a feeling—even to the aging queen—that he had overstayed his welcome. Per his wishes, his carefully preserved skeleton was hung in the museum beside his stuffed birds, which became a curiosity for many, but at some point, they all disappeared and no one knew where, although no one had really bothered to look.
There were those who knew him, who—when waking from a deep slumber—wondered if he was just a dream, only to find his ghost sitting in a chair looking like a boiled pig, clapping his hooves against a jar of yellow fluid.
There are scholars who speculate that he did not exist and that he had been just that—a dream of the world and of time—and even if he did exist, it did not matter. He was of a place mired in fog, almost completely lost to memory, and so he is a fog to us too, and too vague to speak of now with any more specificity.