Not Sleeping Beauty

Princess Aurora was a sullen, lazy and bad-tempered young woman. She never got up before 11 o’clock in the morning, and when she did wake, everyone wished she’d go back to bed. She’d curse the maid who woke her up, curse the cook who made her breakfast, curse her mother when she tried to make conversation over coffee, and her father when he’d invite her out for a nice walk. Then she’d clomp back up the stairs to her tower room, slam the door and get back into bed with her headphones on. She was, in fact, a pain in the arse.

Some whispered that it wasn’t surprising. After all, when she was just a baby, her parents had committed the ultimate social solecism, and invited twelve fairies plus one to the christening. Making thirteen – can you imagine! After the ceremonial dunking had taken place, and twelve blessings had been duly issued, the twelve fairies all sat down at the Royal Dinner Table with their significant others. But the thirteenth – Margaret, who was defiantly single – had sat glowering at the awkward end of the table, thinking up ways to revenge herself.

At last – at about the time the pudding arrived, and everyone except Margaret was agreeably tiddly – she thought of a suitable curse, and stood up to deliver herself of it. The Queen raised her glass and a couple of the fairies reached for theirs – they understandably thought that she was going to make a toast and deliver her own, belated, blessing. But no!

“You’re all having a lovely time now,” she said, with an unpleasant emphasis. “But you just wait till this child becomes a teenager. Oh yes, she’ll grow in beauty and in charm until her twelfth year but then – then, my pretties, she will turn into a different sort of person altogether, one you won’t recognise, one you will come to loathe and despise! You will come to dread her waking hours – not that there’ll be too many of those. I wish you joy of her!”

And she’d flounced out, without even trying the creme brulee.

Well, obviously everyone was shocked, and the Queen couldn’t believe her ears. “Loathe and despise my precious little darling? It’s not possible – look how adorable she is!” And she diddled the baby under her pretty little chin, making her chuckle delightfully.

The twelve fairies had conferred among themselves, looking uneasy. At last one of their number, Hyacinth, had turned to the Royal parents. “While it is true that at present your baby is indeed adorable, we fear that the fate Margaret has prophesied may indeed come to pass. Just in case, if you like, we will combine our powers to ameliorate the curse. When little Aurora is sixteen – by which time, we guarantee that you will have had quite enough of her antisocial behaviour – she will prick her finger on a needle and fall asleep for a hundred years. When she finally wakes up, you’ll be long gone, so it just won’t be a problem anymore.”

Evidently the fairies thought this a very fine offer, but the Royal parents were aghast. “What – lose our only daughter (so far) when she is only sixteen? We could not bear it!”

Hyacinth, expressing the general opinion, shrugged. “Trust me, by the time she reaches her sixteenth year you will be only too happy to see the last of her.”

As Margaret, and indeed the other fairies, had prophesied, young Aurora grew to be a delightful child, sweet, pink cheeked, and possessed of a fine singing voice. But alas, on her thirteenth birthday she threw a tremendous tantrum owing to having received Jousting Barbie instead of the Lady In Waiting Barbie she had asked for. From that time on, her moods grew worse and worse and her tantrums more frequent. Eventually it got so bad that the Queen ordered dinner to be sent up to her room because it was too unpleasant trying to have a civilised meal with the black-clad nose-ringed Princess glaring at them throughout and poking her peas around.

And so now, as I mentioned at the beginning, she was – to put it tactfully – extremely difficult to like. Anyway – the day of the Princess’s sixteenth birthday was rapidly approaching, and the Queen and the King invited the twelve fairies up to the palace for a quick briefing on what to expect.

“Oh, it’s quite simple,” explained Hyacinth breezily, “I’ll just pop up to her room, administer a little injection, and off to sleep she’ll go. You’ll be surprised at how sweet and peaceful the dear Princess will appear, once she’s safely out for the count.”

“But when she wakes up after a hundred years, she won’t know anyone! Why, by that time, for all we know, motorcars will have been invented, and the Internet – and she won’t even know how to use a smart phone. How will she cope?”

“You’re right,” said Hyacinth, “that would be a terrible tragedy. I’ll tell you what – how about we put all three of you to sleep, and then when one hundred years has passed, you can all face the future together.”

“That’s all very well,” objected the King, “but how are we to have any chance of marrying her off when she is a hundred and sixteen? God knows it’s hard enough to attract suitors now, what with the sulks and the dreadlocks, but at that age it’s going to be impossible. And besides, how do we know she won’t be just as difficult to live with in a hundred years as she is now?”

The fairies had not thought this far ahead. To be honest, they were planning on moving to the Gold Coast sometime in the next century and therefore felt quite safe in putting the problem off till a later date. “Er, um…, actually I happen to know of a prince in a similar situation – he’s a lovely young man, but unfortunately he’s disfigured by terrible acne and dandruff, so his parents plan to take him out of circulation for a while until he outgrows it. I’ll tell you what, I’ll just leave a note by his bedside about poor Aurora, and he can run off and rescue her. And we all know how that ends.”

Inexplicably, this made sense to everyone, and so the plan was put into operation. However – and this will not come as a surprise to you – the fairies were not very good at thinking things through. By the time one hundred years had passed, nature had reclaimed the manicured lawns of the palace, and the servants had long since made off with all the valuables. However, in the nearby land of Terra Incognita, Prince Charming had woken up to find his acne completely gone, his face host to a pleasing designer stubble, and his biceps impressively swollen. Evidently, the fairies who organised the Prince’s rest and recuperation were far more efficient than Aurora’s ditzy benefactors.

After he had finished striking poses in the mirror in the nude, his eyes happened to fall upon the note lying on his bedside table.

“Good morning (it said). This is Hyacinth, on behalf of the fairies of Sunshine Dell. Hope you are well. Right now, you’ll probably want to have a shower, followed by a hearty breakfast. But after that, we thought you might be interested to know that only three days’ ride away, Princess Aurora of Gondwana lies sleeping, awaiting the arrival of a suitable young man. We suggest that you hurry thither post-haste and awaken her, with a view to marriage. You will find that she’s quite lovely, once you clear the cobwebs. Best of luck, and don’t forget to wear good hiking boots.”

Prince Charming’s first thought on reading the note was “Why the heck should I want to ride three days then hike into some strange palace just to see some girl I’ve never met with spider webs all over her.” But after he’d showered, dressed and eaten, the idea suddenly took on a new appeal. A hundred years of suppressed teenage male hormones can do that to a young man. Suddenly he couldn’t wait to see the dusty Princess, and so he hurried out to the stables to grab his destrier, Thunderbird.

He was disappointed to find that Thunderbird had died years ago, but undeterred, he grabbed his bicycle instead and cycled off. After some days’ travel, he reached the palace where Aurora was sleeping, chained his bike to a tree, and trudged off in the direction of the distant ruins.

The fairies, as usual, hadn’t thought to give him directions about where exactly to find Princess Aurora, but after traipsing through ancient halls full of leaf litter and bird poop, he eventually came to a circular stair, which he naturally began to climb. He arrived at the top puffing and panting, and noticed the door to Aurora’s bedroom standing half ajar. He knew at once that it was the princess’s room because there was a large sign on the door reading “Aurora’s Private Space. F*** off!”

He crept inside, and there lay the Princess, just as she had fallen asleep a century ago – except for the thick layer of detritus that had settled upon her sleeping figure. Picking up a cloth (which just happened to be a pair of Aurora’s discarded undies), he dusted off the Princess and contemplated her features. The fairies hadn’t lied; she was indeed an attractive girl.

At this point, a most unworthy impulse rose within the Prince’s breast (you have to remember that he’d grown up practically in the dark ages, and was very unfamiliar with current protocols around consent). “This Princess,” he thought, “looks beautiful but kind of mean. If I wake her up, who’s to say she won’t just give me a dirty look and tell me to get stuffed, like all the housemaids used to when I still had pimples. But right now, she’s completely unconscious, and that means I can do anything I like…”

Who can say if the Prince would have acted on this horrible thought (probably not). He bent towards the princess’s glossy black lips – but at that moment who should sweep into the room but Margaret, the disgruntled fairy responsible for all this mess in the first place.

“Goodness gracious, what are you doing? Get your filthy hands off her!”

“But I was just kissing…”

“Oh yes, I’ve heard that one before. What makes you think you have the right to kiss a sleeping one hundred and sixteen-year-old young lady without asking permission?”

Margaret was just about to drive the prince out of the room, when Aurora snorted, opened her eyes, and spat out a dead fly.

“OMG, where am I? And what the hell are you doing in my room?”

She sat up, blew her nose on the sheets, and threw off the covers. The Prince was intrigued but not displeased to note that she appeared to have gone to bed in a cropped Metallica T-shirt, a denim mini and torn fishnet tights.

“I’m the Thirteenth Fairy, and I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head, young lady. It was I who cursed you to become a revolting teenager – and now, having taught your parents a lesson in manners, I have come to put an end to my curse.”

Aurora was understandably confused. “My parents? Where are mum and dad, actually?”

“Asleep, my dear, as you have been, for one hundred years.”

“One hundred years? But then…I’m an adult! Finally, I can do whatever the heck I like – hey, I can shave my head and get a tattoo of Schubert! I can pass the port to the right and show my ankles, I can…”

The Prince, seeing an opportunity to redeem himself, leapt in. “Actually, Schubert’s been dead for years, nobody listens to that shit anymore. Here, let me show you this awesome band, they’re super hot right now…”

And with that, he drew his trusty iPhone from a recess within his cloak and sat down on Aurora’s bed, holding it out for her to see. For after all, he had been awake for three more days than she had, and he had used his time wisely. It was a touching sight to see the two heads – one dreadlocked and full of lice, the other a subtly -streaked mane of dark-blond, leaning intimately together over the device.

Margaret allowed herself a fond smile. In the one hundred and sixteen years which had intervened since that fateful dinner invitation, she had discovered the joys of Internet dating and had met a very nice sorcerer with whom she went to the movies every Friday evening. It was obvious that the two young people had fallen in love at first sight – if not with each other, then with modern technology, which would prove to be almost as rewarding.

On the way back through the palace, she looked in on the royal chamber, where the King and Queen were still sleeping peacefully like two caterpillars spooning in a cocoon. It seemed a pity to wake them, especially as the kingdom had become a republic in their absence and it would be therefore difficult for them to earn a living. On consideration, she decided to leave it to the young people. Having shirked the irksome task of shepherding their daughter through the horrors of adolescence, she rather thought that it would serve them right to be shunted off, still comatose, to the nearest sunset home for retired royals.

But perhaps, like so many of us, they would not receive their just deserts after all… who can say?