Copyright Holly Arsenault, 2019. All rights reserved. This text may not be reproduced or performed without explicit, written consent of the author.
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This play was commissioned for and appears in Caffe Cino Issue 2
Scattered Thoughts as I Prepare a Eulogy on the Occasion of the Tragic Death of the Royal Children
By Holly Arsenault
For one voice or several voices. One of them might be an Orthodox rabbi. Or someone dressed like an Orthodox rabbi. Actually, never mind. Forget I mentioned rabbis.
A vacation, she said. That would be the thing. Yes, he replied. A vacation. We’ll say— We’ll say it’s for the children, he interrupted. It’s just what she was about to say, but she let him have the moment. You only had to look at them to know that she was the one with all the power. Yes dear, she replied demurely. He puffed the part of his body that he thought of as a chest, though no one else ever had.
These are the details, for those who take comfort in details and knowing. Four minutes after take-off, the aircraft slammed into the 9,000 foot level of Southern California’s highest peak at the speed of 345 miles per hour. The plane bounced off of the mountainside, breaking apart as it careened to its final resting place. In addition to the royal children, the pilot and co-pilot, Misters Finch and Bourg, were killed. The royal grandchildren were not on board, thank God.
It was a big crash. A beautiful crash. A big, great, beautiful crash.
But first I should mention the cake. It was 13 layers. Each layer was ringed with flowers, lisianthus, roses, peonies, Lilies of the Valley, baby’s breath, white, cream, and ivory. When his grandmother, who was one of 170 people to escape a Nazi prison through a 600-foot tunnel dug with makeshift tools, would cook the camp meals for the other survivors, she made mostly soup, potatoes, and small pieces of bread. The cake was six feet tall. The cakemaker, a Mrs. Rosenblatt, had no grandparents.
With people in power it can be hard to imagine what they might have been like as children, but with these two, it was no problem. They came to the father’s side when called, hair brushed, nails clean, skin so soft. Ready—eager—to behave. You could almost see them circling him, like things on a mechanical rail. Turn in to supplicate. Turn out to justify. The eyelids would flick closed as they tipped forward. Except, of course, when they were on vacation.
The Princess Royal cared deeply for women in other places. She had never met any of these women, but still, she desired their success. If she ever met them, she felt they would be dazzled by her shoes, and that that it would be so good for them to feel that feeling of being dazzled. At Auschwitz and Buchenwald, prisoners were stripped of their shoes by other people—humans who felt they were putting in an honest day’s work / trying help / serving their country / obeying the father.
The Prince Royal was devout—never far from his temples or his holy texts: Newsweek. Forbes. The Commercial Observer. (Except, of course, when they were on vacation.) Tasked by the father with a feat that had crushed men 50 times his stature, he gamely trotted off to the desert in a navy blazer and chinos, topped with a natty bulletproof vest. No breakthrough was expected.
They were there (when they were there) and you might choose to believe that they believed they were doing good, but inside their placid limbs and behind the eyes they thought of as their “serious eyes” their pulse beat out this phrase, “you were not meant for this / you were not meant for this / you were not meant for this.”
[Quietly] Get out now.
What is a child? A child is a tool. An extension of the hand that grasps the gilded balustrade as our feet float inexorably closer to the iron gate. A sign, a symbol that says we were here. A logo, if we're lucky. If we're very very lucky then a brand on the soil, as these royal children were for the father, and who would blame the brand itself for the earth it scorched when the father got distracted (by something or other) and let it fall? It's only a thing.
But then, a child is thing with eyes and ears. A child is a thing with a brain and a checking account and access to any expert witness the child could wish to hear from. A child is a thing walking the hallways of power, peeking into meetings to say, "hello," resting its elbows on the same tables as heroes and despots and a child has a choice. The child can speak or not. The child can alleviate suffering or allow it. The child can protest, or the child can abet. The child is not a child. A child would know better.
So then, what? What should I say? If you could talk to it today, what would you say to this child who asked for none of this? Who expected nothing from the world but limitless power, status, beauty, and control? Who was born in a bell-shaped dome made of one-way glass and never learned how to stop gazing into it or how to stop being gazed at? Whose job was it to teach it how? Whose failure is this?