Flash Fiction: "Me, S/he and the Pea" by Ceinwen E Cariad Haydon

My skin’s not delicate, nor my thoughts subtle. I’ve lived hand to mouth, rambled many roads and bathed in ice-cold mountain streams. My chemise, I’ve scrubbed with pebbles on treeless lakeside shores. That’s where I met him, though he was in fact a her, and now a them. Disrobed, sweaty from my uphill trek, I scythed my front crawl through the loch for twenty minutes before I noticed I was being watched, and not by rabbits. I didn’t blush or simper, but said to my audience of one,

‘Don’t just stare, come in.’.

S/he replied,

‘I can’t swim.’

I noticed tears fill heron-grey eyes, as their owner flushed scarlet. Given to compassion, on occasion, I stood up and waded towards my observer. Goose-pimples anaglypta’d my epidermis, first in response to the cool breeze and then the desire I felt to rub and be rubbed.

Next morning, after spending the night in a convenient cave on smooth limestone rocks (during which neither of us slept a wink), I covered my bruises and asked my lover to reveal their name.

‘It depends who I’m talking to. Officially I’m Prince Alex, my parents need a male heir. Indoors, I’m Alexandra, though neither persona defines me. Truly, I’m Sandy and non-binary. By the by, I think I love you.’

‘Bingo. I love you, too. Shall we shack up together.’

It was true, I did rate this sexy creature, and knew I wanted to explore more encounters. I also, being pragmatic, had an eye for the main chance. The prospect of food, endless access to warm water and a real bed tempted me to stick my neck out.

Prince Alex/Alexandra/Sandy took my hand, stroked it and told me of a plan. Their father, King Malek, did not want them to wed because then their gender would be revealed. To this end, he put about a strange notion that real princesses were so sensitive they could feel a pea under bedding, twenty mattresses thick. He also asserted that only a princess, so proved, would be a fit match for Prince Alex. Malek was confident no young woman, however aristocratic, would pass this test. He hadn’t counted on deliberate plotting and deception on Sandy’s part.

So here I am, a proud pleb, married into royalty, on account of my apparent perception of a single dried pea. My bruises from the cave came in handy, as you can imagine. I adore living in the lap of luxury with my darling, although the in-laws can be a pain. However, some nights we creep out of the Palace gates to have brief adventures in lochs and caves. One day, my love will learn to swim and then we might stay away, for good.

Ceinwen lives near Newcastle upon Tyne, UK and writes short stories and poetry. She is widely published in online magazines and in print anthologies. Her first chapbook is 'Cerddi Bach' [Little Poems], Hedgehog Press, July 2019. Post-retirement from social work, she is developing practice as participatory arts facilitator. She believes everyone's voice counts. @CeinwenHaydon