The Prince rushed in, closed the glass door behind him, and stomped his boots. Snow melted into his black jacket and gray hair. He breathed the warm air of the greenhouse in great mouthfuls. It tasted sweet and earthy, but with an undertone of decay.
Before the Prince lay a circular chamber filled with concentric rings of roses. A symphony of smell and color greeted him, each instrument a different cultivar. Musky red, fresh ivory, tangy purple. They had names like “Empathy,” “Blushing Iceberg,” and “Heart of Gold.”
The Queen sat in a wheelchair in the center of the roses, facing the door. She hadn’t noticed the Prince enter. Old and collapsing in on herself, she clutched a wilted, dusty-purple rose in her lap. Her eyes beheld something beneath the ground. The doctor stood behind her, hands on her chair.
“Good day, Your Majesty, doctor,” the Prince greeted the pair as he hurried toward them. His voice dispersed like haze into the humid air.
“And to you, Your Highness,” the doctor said, bowing his head as the Prince approached.
The Queen, however, remained unresponsive.
“How is she today?” the Prince asked, out of breath.
“I’m afraid she’s out at the moment.” The doctor said through pursed lips. “I couldn’t say where to, though. This morning she thought she was going out for bowls at her uncle’s estate. Never mind the duke’s been dead twenty years.”
“And after you brought her here?”
“No improvement to her condition.”
The Prince clenched his fists.
“There’s something else we might try, Your Highness.”
“You could perform the examination. A familiar face may help jog her memory.”
“How do I-?”
“I’ll walk you through it.”
The Prince looked down with exhaustion on his mother’s balding head. “Anything to help.”
“Thank you, Your Highness,” the doctor said. “Start by asking her name.”
The Prince knelt in front of the Queen and tried to smile. “Good morning, Your Majesty.”
Oh, what a handsome young man! He looks so much like my young Benny, doesn’t he? The head of red curls, the cleft in his chin. Why, his hands are even the same as Benny’s – long fingers, gentle touch. But Benny never looked so sad. Unless his sisters teased him, or if he didn’t make the marks he wanted at school. Not sad like this Benny, this young man with his smile hiding tears.
You’d like to know my name, young man? Oh, of course, we just met, didn’t we! Of course you’d like to know my name! Only I’ve forgotten it, isn’t that funny? Mum always called me Maggy-May. I just saw her the other day, walking the halls of the old estate. She was wearing a maid’s dress, if you can believe it. But she didn’t recognize me. Mother always was a bit eccentric.
Where are we? You should know that, silly man! You must be lost. Well, don’t worry, love, we’re in the King’s Garden and it must be summer because it’s so wonderfully warm today! I can smell the roses — oh what lush roses! A feast of roses! A banquet of roses!
And the date? That, young man, is something a busy mother like me can hardly be bothered to keep track of! But it must be July or August with this heat. And with the roses in bloom, of course. But you must be a cold Benny with all your heavy clothes. Cold eyes and cold hands. So pale, too. You ought to get outside more; it does the body so much good.
The year? I can’t remember, love, but this all reminds me of the summer Benny turned six. He was meant to start school that autumn, but he got into a nasty bicycling accident in September. We spent two whole months helping him mend at the lakeside estate. He had scars on the face the rest of his life. A bit like the scars on your face, really.
You want to know if we’ve met? I think we must have because you look so familiar. But I simply can’t recall. Perhaps we met at a function. I do meet so many interesting people at functions!
“That’s all,” the doctor said.
The Prince looked, pleading, at the doctor. “But she didn’t say a word!”
“Yes. We can’t put it off any longer.” The doctor’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “She is unfit to rule.”
The Prince stood and turned away, his face hot and wet with tears. “I almost forgot about all that,” he said quietly. “I guess it’s not just me losing my mum, is it? The whole country’s losing its Queen.”
“Your Highness…” The doctor put a hand on the Prince’s shoulder. “I’m so very sorry.”
The Prince shrugged the hand off and faced the Queen. He stood that way for a long time.
“What now?” the Prince asked.
“I’ll take her back home,” the doctor said. “The magistrate will be along later to sort out the details of your succession to the throne.”
The Prince looked at the doctor. “Keep her warm out there, please.”
“Of course, Your Highness.”
The Prince turned and left, but on his way out a rose bush caught his attention. “Sanctuary.” Dusty purple. The smell of a summer evening. The Prince plucked one and returned to the Queen.
“Here,” the Prince said. He replaced the wilted flower in the Queen’s hands with the fresh one.
The Queen lifted the flower to her nose and breathed. Her eyes grew lucid. She focused on the Prince’s face.
The Prince smiled through his tears. “Yes, Mum?”
“Oh.” The Queen smiled back.
They held each others’ gaze for a moment.
“I have to go now, Mum.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
The Queen let her hand holding the rose fall to her lap. She bowed her head to amnesia, once again resting her eyes on that something beneath the ground.
Connor Murnion lives and writes in Montana, U.S.