Image by Brooke Bourgeois

Fiction My Prince

Georgia Petersen

For a minute we sat and we watched the starlings flit. There was more atmosphere than there were things to block the sky. It wasn’t beautiful. It was plain, so it was beautiful, the way a flour sack is beautiful, or a cloud. It was like the birds weren’t getting farther away or moving closer. It was like they were getting bigger and smaller, that’s it. We were by the roadway, My Prince and me. My Prince was clicking his boots together like a little boy. It was sweet. These were our last moments in the dead-center of Oregon. We left the cabin stripped. Which it was anyways, most of the time. We were going to California. 

Now we were driving — past a car fire, then a brush fire, all in the span of ten minutes. My Prince was in the passenger seat and I was driving, each of us holding the other one hostage. My Prince ate peanuts while I drank a bottle of water he’d told me not to leave out in the sun because the chemicals from the plastic would seep in. He was ten years older than me, but he hadn’t gone to school and I had. He’d finished up after ninth grade, and I went all the way through. We’d even had some of the same teachers, but a lot changes in ten years, so could they really have been the same? He thought yes — that he hadn’t changed much either, that he may as well be my age. I thought No way José. He knew how to fish and a little bit of how to hunt, but I’d made him leave his gun at the cabin in the dead-center. I didn’t want to have to lie to the men in uniform at the border, plus I wanted a clean start. Wasn’t that what this was all about? 

The speed limit on the highway was 55 everywhere, and I didn’t want us to get in trouble. We weren’t carrying anything outrageous, just bags of clothes, all the documents we had, and a cooler’s worth of non-perishable foods, plus a few peaches. My Prince couldn’t stop talking about crossing into Northern California and driving 70, 80, 85 if I’d really like to gun it. I put my hand on his lap and rubbed, and he spread his legs out. I took my hand back and smirked, looking straight ahead. He said Ugh, and I said I know. Later, when we’d gotten over the border, he’d say I wish you’d drive slower, we’re missing all these beautiful things. He’d be talking about the dried-up fields, the sagebrush, the cinder cones. My Prince always wanted something he couldn’t have. 


The car we were in was my father’s, but it may as well have been mine, which meant it was My Prince’s, too. My father had walked to work every day, or really walking was his work, going door to door selling whatever needed to be sold by whoever needed someone to sell it. It was brown on the body and tan on the hood, a Jeep Cherokee, an old one. The seats were white leather with stripes of gray from where the sun had cracked it. The car ran well. I learned to drive it when I was thirteen, and once I could do it well enough not to get attention from anybody else on the road, I used it for everything. Then I could drive it for real, license and everything. And then I used it for My Prince. And now we were using it for a bigger kind of everything. 

I’d never paid taxes, which is another way of saying I’d never made official money except for painting the odd house or washing storefront windows for a little bit of money. They were schoolboy-type jobs, and I was five years out from graduating with grades my grandmother called A-okay. It was My Prince who made all our cash and counted it in the front seat of the car after I picked him up from the recycling plant in the dead-center street of the dead-center town where we lived. We lived as far from the dead-center as we could, barely in the town at all, down by the river, where the sun came through a few hours a day, around noon, the pine needles sifting the sun out onto the roof and the porch. We always had lights on, but things were cheap. We ate for one since I rested when My Prince was at work and My Prince was a mean few inches over a mean five feet. We didn’t need much, or I didn’t. My Prince had a few hundred dollars’ worth of tattoos he’d paid for in favors. I would’ve done more favors too if I weren’t so rail skinny I could barely lift a fruit crate. But I wasn’t useless; I was the brains.

I had the directions memorized. You want me to print them out? My Prince asked me before we left while we sat in the living room with a fire going in the summer. No, I said, sweating. We’d drive from the dead-center, pass Crater Lake, go over the border, find Yreka, find Dorris, find Shasta, and follow the signs for San Francisco, then end up a little north, where things weren’t so different, just more oak trees and rocks half-buried on the farmland. I’d seen pictures. There was a bookstore just off-center of the dead-center of the dead-center town where we lived. I went a few times a week. One time when I walked in, a few years ago, the bearded clerk looked at me and said You son of a bitch, and I knew he was talking about my father and not about me, but at this point it didn’t matter, because at this point My Prince’s father and my father were all locked up and my mother was gone and My Prince’s mother was gone-gone and we had to get out, we had to go south, to California, to wherever would take us in. 


An hour south of the dead-center My Prince turned on the radio. It was Christian rock, but when he changed the channel, it turned out most of the stations were. An osprey was flying by the river on the car’s right side, and My Prince stopped scanning. You believe in signs? I said. He said I’ve told you a million times I’m not religious. So I said You must not have heard me and he stayed quiet. I loved him watching the osprey; I’d loved him even before he said he loved me. 

There was lots of volcanic rock as we drove from the dead-center to the very-bottom. Is there this kind of thing in California? My Prince asked. There’s gotta be, I said. If there isn’t, I’m gonna miss it, he said. It’s all hole-y, I said. He said Yeah, and I wondered what he’d heard.  

We stopped to get gas near Klamath Falls. The kid at the pump had something wrong with his eye; My Prince asked him about it, but he didn’t say anything. Just, Want me to fill it up? I said 66 dollars’ worth is fine. I thought the gas would be cheaper in California. By a lot. I don’t know why I thought that. Maybe I thought everything would be easier there. A walk in the park. The pump clicked after a few minutes; the boy took the nozzle out of the tank. Stay here, My Prince said, so I stayed in the car. He got out for a few minutes and I looked straight ahead, where there were buildings and mountains way back behind them. He came back and said Go, go go! I drove away slowly. Once we were on the freeway, he pulled out three sticks of jerky and leaned over to kiss my knee, which was folded up near the console. I was on cruise control, going 55. His lips were dry like they always were. 


My Prince’s father had tried to kill My Prince’s mother. It worked, almost perfectly. My father had helped drive My Prince’s father to the bar where she worked as a bartender, then away. They’d been found sitting on rocks by the head of the river, expecting to get caught. Our fathers had grown up together. My mother was a woman so kind it could make you mad. She couldn’t look at me without seeing her husband. I was eighteen by the time my father was sent away, and she left the dead-center with me still inside it. I tried so hard not to think about it I was exhausted every day after. I don’t know how My Prince did it. How he looked at me. I could look at him because I loved him, I think. He had held me as a baby in his ten-year-old hands, and he held me now except for when I was holding him and there was no one to tell us no. 

Don’t steal anything else, I said when the border toll came into view. He punched me in the shoulder. Oh yeah? I said Yeah. He punched me again, then rubbed the spot. The line was ten or fifteen cars long in every lane. I guess we weren’t the only ones with plans. I’m gonna miss it, one of us said. We got waved through without questions. We didn’t have anything anyone would want was the thing. The agent who waved us through was tall and muscular, nothing like us. 

What would it be like not to be at the dead-center of Oregon? Not what would it be like to have been there but not anymore. What would it be like to have never been there? To have never known it existed? To have always been somewhere else, someone else, with no memory, no reference, nothing to atone for? Atone. The judge had used that word at my father’s sentencing. I wondered if he’d used it at My Prince’s father’s sentencing too. I wondered if my mother had used it the last time she spoke to my father. I wondered what it would be like to never have cause to think about these things. 

One toll booth and we’d moved from the very-bottom to the very-top. I was fine just being somewhere from here on out. 

Goodbye, shithole, My Prince said when we’d gotten back up to speed. I knew he was kidding, or serious but only for a moment. Of course, we’d both grown up there. Where we were was only significant for being the bullseye of the state, and still, most people didn’t know it. But the things that happened there didn’t feel small. A man comes to town and it’s the news. A woman leaves and it breaks the whole world, or breaks it open. That, and there’s nothing minor when you’re growing up; not enough has happened to you to be able to push anything aside. And then you get older than a certain age, and enough has happened, you’ve heard I love you or I’m gonna kill you or Happy birthday enough times that they don’t mean anything anymore. 

The first time we slept together was deep in a patch of aspens. My mother used to say aspens quaked. I lay on the ground; my back was creased by twigs by the time it was over; My Prince’s knees were, too. He put the condom in his pocket, zipped up his pants, and started walking away. Wait, I said. He said What for? I stood up; I could barely walk. Help, I said, limping. I’d left my shirt in the car; it was summer and orange-hot in the early evening. This was before everything. He kept walking, and I heard his car start up. He’d put the key in the ignition. Even then I drove us everywhere. It took me a minute and a half to reach him. I sat leaned over while I drove him home. When I walked inside my parents’ house, they said Hi. I said Hi, and slept until noon the next day. I was sixteen; he was 26. 


I looked at him in the passenger seat. He was sleeping. I started writing a letter to him in my head. My Prince, I love you, but —. He moved his arm. I stopped writing.

After a while, we passed Dorris, which had America’s second tallest flagpole, then Weed and its tchotchke shop. Between there and Shasta was dry; the big lake had red lines around it like a topographical map. I wanted to tell My Prince those were waterlines; those had been the high marks of every year, but he was still sleeping. I wanted him to know I’d read about them, that I’d keep reading, that I learned quick and would take care of us, knew well enough how plumbing worked, how farming worked, how to use a library for the computers, how to ask for something in a bookstore, how to cook, how to save money, how-to, how-to, how-to. I would take care of us, and he would take care of himself; this is how it always was. I was being ungenerous. He provided money, and money was everything, or would be.

There were two bald eagles on telephone poles just south of Shasta, so I woke up My Prince to tell him. You motherfucker, he said, and I laughed. I’m not kidding. You motherfucker. I stopped laughing. He fell back asleep. 

Only for a few minutes. He woke up as the signs for Redding started coming. I was thinking too hard to pay attention to driving, even though I was going 70 now. About him, how I loved him, how we’d be together forever. The bald eagles had been a sign, I thought, and I knew he’d agree had he seen them. But he’d been so mad just now. Blinded by it, but quiet. I couldn’t risk that again, not for another few minutes. I never knew how he would get angry. Only that he would. He looked like a boy about to cry when he said Jesus Christ. I said What? and I snapped back to attention. All the trees in the hills were black. The thing about trees is that they’re going to die. No matter how old they seem, no matter how indestructible, beetles or fire or axes will get them. Trees aren’t people, I said. You say this shit, said My Prince, and I only get it sometimes. 

The drive was only supposed to take eight hours. But we’d already stopped once for a few minutes, and knowing My Prince, we would stop a few more times. We had food in the cooler, but he’d want something fresh. I could survive on nothing and hold in whatever I needed to hold in for as long as I needed. It was a special talent I had — if I didn’t, I’d spend all day in our little house eating and pissing rather than reading and looking at walls and the river and wandering around.

We’d been sitting in silence for a while when My Prince said I wish I’d brought a gun. I didn’t say anything. He said it again. I wish I’d brought a gun. I kept driving.


Our fathers fought once, My Prince’s and mine. I was fourteen; My Prince was 24. My father gave me five dollars to drive him to a bar at 8:00 and five to pick him up at 11:30. When I got there, I could see police lights from a block away, so I parked and walked down the street. That’s my boy! my father said when he saw me. Fuck you, I heard My Prince’s father say to him. Let him watch. Someone I didn’t know looked at me while they walked away from the scene. Hit me like a man, keep hitting, My Prince’s father kept saying to my father, but my father stayed still. Maybe it’s because there were cops, or maybe it was because I was watching. I kept walking closer. I stood and stared at my father, and he stood and stared at me while My Prince’s father kept yelling, and then a cop said We done here? and my father said Yes, sir, and they left, and My Prince’s father went back into the bar, and my father and I walked to the car, and we never said anything about it. When we got home my mother was asleep, or pretending to be. My father kissed me goodnight. I wondered if My Prince ever got a goodnight kiss from anyone but me. I wondered if my mother did. 

When she left I understood why. She never said much. She was there for a few years and was loving enough. Then she left and had left. I’m sure she loved me, or thought about it. Now I was just like her. 


You wanna switch off? My Prince said when we reached Red Bluff. He should have been groggy, just having woken up, but he seemed wired to high heaven. You crazy? I said. You don’t know how to drive. He said I can try. I picked up his hand and kissed it. I’m fine, I said. Why do you think I can’t do anything? he said. He said it in a strange way. I just looked ahead; he did this sometimes. Your skinny little do-nothing, read-whatever, sit-at-home, take-my-money ass sitting there and telling me not to drive like you don’t love me, like you never did. He always went to extremes, My Prince. That was how royalty did it. I kissed his hand again, and he pulled it away. He socked me in the stomach; I pumped the brakes by accident. The driver in the pickup behind us honked, then changed lanes to the right and stuck up his middle finger at me. My Prince rolled down his window, unbuckled his seatbelt, and stuck half his body out. He spat, and it went into the bed of the pickup. Get back in, please, I said. Fuck you, he said. I said I know, then, I love you. He said You too, baby. He grabbed my hand and sucked my index finger for a second. I pulled it away. We were going 67. The pickup was long gone ahead of us. 

Of course he had a name, a real one.


California, it turned out, was mostly forest, fly shops, mechanics, and big, ugly statues in front of restaurants. Bears, cows, chairs. My Prince and I laughed a lot as we drove down. There was no music, so I hummed a little. I did “Modern Love” by David Bowie, and then My Prince did “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain. We stopped after a little while. You could hear the car chugging. It was old, but it was working. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but if it got us to where we needed to go, then it was fine. 

We were 50 miles north of Sacramento when the smoke started coming. I saw it in the rearview. You see that? My Prince said. I do, baby, I said. Don’t call me baby, I don’t like it, he said. Then the hood started smoking. This wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time in a while. We had enough cash, but we were only a couple hours away from where we were supposed to be, so I kept going. I’d read a little about cars. Not anything about this, but about how they worked. They were complicated machines; sometimes we all need to let off a little steam, or a little smoke. I’d gotten good at trusting things would be okay. We drove another twenty minutes, and then it started to smell like burning inside the car. Stop, My Prince said. We’ll be fine, I said. We waited another twenty. A cop passed us, didn’t say anything. That was a good sign. Ten minutes later a car behind us honked. The smoke was getting black and coming out from both ends. I rolled down my window as the car passed. A young guy rolled down his window. You’re driving a fucking oil refinery, aren’t you, he yelled. I smiled. I said all the town names as we passed their signs.

On a journey, when do you stop getting farther away from where you were coming from and start getting closer to where you’re going? By the time the hood caught fire it still hadn’t happened. 

My Prince was yelling, which I guessed was only right. Jesus fucking Christ! he kept saying. Pull over — Jesus fucking Christ! I did. I took the next exit, then drove for another thirty seconds while he screamed and rolled the windows down. I pulled onto the shoulder by a big field. We were a few hundred yards from the freeway. I should’ve thought about how easy it is to burn grass, especially when it’s as dry and hot as it is down there. Or up there. Where were we? We weren’t in a state any more. In front of us was just a big, flat field, yellow and never-ending. Behind us was the freeway, but I wouldn’t turn around. I was focused on the field. And focused on the fire that was coming out of the crack between the grill and the hood. It was blocking my view. I’m gonna kill you, My Prince said. I’m gonna kill you if you don’t unlock these doors. I unlocked the doors. I didn’t want him to kill me. Or I wanted him to be happy. 

The car was filling with smoke. I’d turned the ignition off, but it didn’t matter. A fire had already started. My Prince left the passenger door open, and the crackling got louder. I couldn’t tell if I was imagining it or if the car really was that on fire. He stood in front of the car, yelling. I could see his mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear it. His face was getting red, from the heat or the anger or the fear. I could never tell exactly what it was from him, where his anger came from. It bubbled up like a spring, whenever it wanted. I was always in danger, and still I loved him. I learned trade-offs from him, or I learned about them when he was around.

There was no life for us left in the dead-center of Oregon. The first time I’d said California, My Prince had said Yes before a second had passed. But I wasn’t sure whether it would’ve been different if I’d said Ohio or The Everglades or Spain. California was close, and that’s all it was. Close, and not the dead-center of Oregon. I thought maybe Nicasio. I thought maybe Point Reyes. I thought maybe Olema. They were just words. In the dead-center there had been substance; there had been love, sex, four parents, one murder, one accomplice, two trials, two prisons, childhood, the recycling plant, the house, the river. We wanted to get out, but it wasn’t enough to just be running away from something. There was no towards. There was just My Prince and me, and our car, and then not our car. All that was waiting for us was space. It wasn’t that I regretted it. I looked ahead. If the fire would have just died down, the field would have been as good a space as any. 

The fire wasn’t dying down. 

The first time My Prince said I love you he also said and I’m going to shoot you right here right now if you don’t say it back. I made a gun with my finger, held it to my head, and said I’ll do it myself if you try and make me say anything and guess what buddy you’ll never not see my blown-out brains on the walls whenever you close your eyes. He said What, and I kissed him and told him I loved him in the morning. Those were Oregon nights. That was three years ago, and now we wouldn’t live there anymore. 

I stayed in the seat. My legs were heating up; I was sweating; I couldn’t tell how fast time was moving. I saw him still yelling. He was so red. Was it really My Prince and me? Or was it just My Prince? I watched him stop yelling. The flames were getting higher. I heard that he was yelling now, but I couldn’t hear what. It wasn’t enough. Nothing was enough, least of all me. 

And then I watched him turn and walk away from the car. I put my right leg up on the console. I watched him start to walk away. And then the flames were high enough that I couldn’t see him any more. The dash was melting. My Prince. Long live.

Georgia Petersen is a Brooklyn-based writer of prose, poetry, drama, and criticism.