When she was a small girl Diana had dreamed about being a princess. Many small girls dream of becoming princesses but Diana was led to the dream because every time she told people her name people would talk about an English princess.
When she was old enough to get on the Internet at her uncle’s house, Diana would search for pictures of the princess and see her perfect blonde features and her tiara shining back at her, like life made for Disney. Unlike a Disney princess, it appeared her marriage to the heir to the throne had gone downhill and she had ended up dead in an underpass in Paris, the City of Love.
Diana liked to hang out at her uncle and aunt’s home because they did unorthodox things like have meals at the table and send her to bed at regular times. But it all changed the day when aunt Bea was out at the service at the Baptist church and uncle Hendric started acted strangely. She had blocked it out but had a memory that lingered across the long years after of the dirt flying away from her feet on the road and her uncle standing at the door with his pants around his ankles.
She had agonized for hours about telling her mother. She had a low fear in her gut about the consequences, but had never imagined the tirade that was let loose on her and the long hours that followed locked in the airless room below the crawl space. As she watched spiders and more sinister varieties of bugs in the half-light, Diana re-lit her memories of a princess from a half-forgotten time and way she lit up dark places. During those long hours she would look mournfully at her dark locks and reflect on the many miles between rural Virginia and those places in Europe where it was still possible to be a princess.
While most kids hated school in her village, Diana lived for it. She would linger behind at the end of classes, offering to clean up or help the teachers carry books. But whenever she seemed to be making progress, her mother would move. Often she would move to escape Hank. Usually Hank would come back.
Diana was conflicted about whether she welcomed it. When Hank was around her mother would turn on her less. But sometimes when they had both been drinking, they would take it in turns to pummel her body with household objects, making sure to spare the visible parts of the child from bruising.
One summer day in Carrolton when another fight was ratcheting up in her house, Diana made her escape. At the age of 14, her mother had given her more independence but had failed to enroll her in school. She escaped down the dusty path to the slow-moving river and sat for what seemed like hours in the stifling heat under a tree. She saw a lanky youth appear on the river bank before her, take out a rod and cast into the thick waters. The sight surprised her because she thought there had been nothing alive in the river for years.
She thought he hadn’t noticed her under the tree but after half an hour of sitting quietly in the sun he turned to her and grunted an acknowledgement.
“This a good place for fishing?” she asked.
The youth laughed. “Ain’t nowhere good for fishing these days. Caught a bream last week but mostly do it because it’s what I did when I was a kid.”
They ended up sitting in the sun for hours, chatting for periods or just lying by the river. Carson explained he liked to get to the river to escape from his brothers. Diana said she would like to have some brothers to escape from. Carson was 16. He pulled out some hand rolled tobacco and they smoked into the evening. Later on Carson put his hand in Diana’s jeans.
For the rest of that summer their rendezvous by the river became regular events. Carson stopped bringing his defunct fishing gear and Diana didn’t bother wearing pantie. They only stopped when Diana’s periods stopped. Then everything changed. There was another beating but this time they didn’t even care about her face and a hasty flight at midnight. Carson went along with it but imperceptibly something changed and the innocence of the river bank was lost.
Diana chartered her life with Carson in terms of a series of descents and disappointments but she still clung to the memories of the river bank and the trade-off that he had never hit her. The day the inspector came represented a further descent. She was smoking heavily on the trailer of the porch, looking around her and coming to resent all the clichés her life represented. The big limp Confederate flag hung outside the trailer and a mass of rusting pick-up trucks occupied the drive way in various phases of disrepair. She could see the resigned look in the eyes of the inspector as he surveyed his surroundings before talking to her, the struggle in his dark eyes as his professional personal fought his personal feelings.
“Mrs. Collins I do you mind if I talk to you for a while about the river?”
“The stream behind the trailer?”
“Yes. Well it’s more than that. As you know last spring’s flood almost wiped out this trailer park.”
Diana had no idea what his angle was but felt some resentment rising.
“It’s better now. We’ve had no more problems, thank you.”
The inspector pulled out some documents. “I’m not sure if you are familiar with the country’s new flood maps but this trailer park is projected to be a flood zone by 2042. That’s just two years Mrs. Collins. The owners have told us they are relocating the park to Waverly.”
“That’s miles away.”
“The city has an assistance program.”
Diana stepped back and her dark eyes became watery. The passion she had inherited from her Mexican ancestry was quick to surface at times like this. She felt a stirring in her bosom below the cheap K-Mart acrylic blouse.