I know better than to answer my phone after nine at night, and on Christmas Eve to boot. I really don’t know what came over me … except as I think on it, I doubt my not answering would have stopped Her Majesty from knocking my door down. It’s not as though anyone else would follow her on one of her hair-brained schemes.
Learning to skateboard and royal spaghetti-eating contests in neighboring Pastarea aside, she’s not always a loon, but Queen Mona isn’t lovingly referred to as Mad Mona, Her Majesty of Madonia for nothing. At least I’m not wearing a ridiculous red-checked tablecloth as a cape this time. Still ….
“Doyle!” Her Majesty waves me over with a wild sweep of her plump arm, the roundness of the limb enhanced by the down-filled coat I insisted she wear on this winter excursion that is quite against my better judgment. “Doyle! Stop lolly-gagging, you overzealous buffoon.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
I approach her and take the hand she extends to me. Between myself and the sleigh’s driver, we hand her up and onto the cushioned bench of the open contraption left over from ages past. I would say bygone days, but they haven’t gone by enough to suit me since such torturous forms of travel still exist. But I digress.
Once she’s in, I climb in and sit across from her. The driver rests at his station and we lurch forward. “Majesty, may I ask where we’re going at this the witching hour in the dead of winter?”
“It’s a surprise, Doyle. And I insist you enjoy my surprise.”
“Of course, Highness.” What else can I say? If I argue, she’s sure to win … not out of actual winning but out of sheer tenacity.
I reach under the seat and pull out the thick blankets stored there. I drape one over Majesty Mona and retain the other for myself, ignoring the fact that I can no longer feel my fingers or toes.
“Doyle?” Her Majesty’s voice hints at a chiding tone. I hold my breath in anticipation. “Shouldn’t you offer that to the driver? I’m sure he must be much colder than you, sitting up on that raised seat as he is.”
I close my eyes, willing peace. “Of course,” I say through gritted teeth without knowing if it’s from cold or something less flattering. My frozen fingers grip the thick wool of the blanket, but the only way I can tell is because I can see it happening almost like an out-of-body experience. Turning to the driver, I hold out my one comfort on this ill-advised trip down looney lane. “Mr. Poole,” I say and shake the blanket with one vigorous thrust.
“Ah, thank you most kindly, but I’ve got my own up here if I need it.” He smiles and turns back to watching the snowy trail, and I rejoice on this inside.
Quickly, before Her Majesty can come up with some other idea for the blanket, I wrap it around my legs, tucking it under. My queen is much quieter than usual, having not said a word, but I’m afraid to look and start her on another rant like the one about losing the spaghetti-eating contest to “hinky Hanover.” She’s lamented that loss at least three dozen times since the spaghetti spectacle two months ago.
But before I know what’s what, we glide to a halt behind a large warehouse with a garage door wide open to the night. Instantly, I’m on alert. “Majesty, maybe we should move on. This doesn’t seem the best part of town for a monarch to meander.”
“Nonsense, Doyle.” Her chin raises an impossible twenty degrees as she looks down her nose and pokes mine with her gloved finger. “You are a mouse in butler’s clothing. Now move aside. We must make room.” She flutters her fingers at me before kicking my shin.
I grunt and jerk but move without further complaint.
“Your Majesty!” A small man dressed in the costume of an elf dances out of the open door. His shoes even curve with bells on the toes that jingle as he bounds up next to the sleigh. “I couldn’t believe when you called earlier tonight. This will be the surprise of the century! No. Of the millennia!” He hops up and down, clapping his hands, and I can’t help but imagine he’s a crazy as our queen.
“Don’t be silly, Mr. Carpenter. As soon as I found out about it all, I couldn’t not do it. It had to be done.” She nods heartily and points at me. “Now if only we could get this stick-in-the-mud to smile as wide as you. But we shall see. We shall see. Load us up, Mr. Carpenter! Load us up!”
I watch slack-jawed as thirteen other men and women dressed like Mr. Carpenter march out of the warehouse with unlabeled cardboard boxes … trip after trip they make until our sleigh is filled beyond belief.
“Godspeed, Your Majesty!”
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Carpenter. Now go see that little wife of yours, and tell her thank you for the cookies!” My Majesty stands from her seat, the precarious boxes around her wobbling at the sudden move. She waves with all her might, leaning over the back of the sleigh which without warning lurches forward again. I grab for the fluffy down of her coat to keep her in place.
“Merry Christmas!” Mr. Carpenter waves, his laughter floating on the cold night air.
“Do let go of my coat!”
She yanks the puffy material from my numb grasp and plops down on the seat across from me. A glint of that maddening mischief flickers in her eyes, and I steel myself for what unimagined possibilities await. For all I know these boxes could be full of fireworks ready to burst! Or frogs for some unearthly experiment. Or … I shudder.
We speed along the snowy roads, not a soul in sight, but now that I can’t feel the cold tingling in my extremities, I admire the sparkling stars overhead. I suppose there are worse ways to spend Christmas Eve—or Christmas morning, by all facts—than on a sleigh ride through a winter wonderland. Before I know it, the driver calls out a soft “woah” to the horses, and our sleigh slides to a stop. I look around perplexed.
“Where are we—”
I lean forward to peer around the boxes and see Aunt Mona’s House for Children looming beside us. I begin to understand, but before I can formulate a single vowel, Mad Mo-Her Highness bops me on the head. My eyes wobble about until I can refocus on her intent expression.
“Don’t just sit there like a ninny, Doylie-boily.”
Our driver jumps down and receives the packages I hand out of the conveyance. The front door of the orphanage creaks open and three people emerge, their sleepy faces alight with such pleasure my frozen heart begins to thaw.
Once the boxes are removed, Her Majesty Mona climbs down … without my help … and I force the shock from my face. In slow motion, my limbs propel me toward the steps and into the building, my queen already having disappeared within the dark hall.
I hear her giggle down the way, but it is much softer than usual, with the air of innocence that is unfamiliar in her aged voice. It draws me forward with unanswered questions. But walking down the hall I am distracted by the portraits lining my path. Both sides of the dimly lit hall are covered in the faces of children who have walked and do walk these halls. Some stare back with wells of hidden strength and joy while others still speak of sorrow or hopelessness. I raise my brows to release the tension building between my eyes and continue my path.
Once at the door where the hushed voices whisper without masking their excitement, I can’t help but be pulled in by the lighthearted mirth of my queen. A slow smile spreads across my face as I watch her bend her buxom bosom over an open box, her arms reaching within. She’s alight and not asking me to do something entirely uncouth or crazy. I am all amazement and unable to form a syllable, even of pleasure, as she straightens. Her arms are laden with dolls and animals so plush and vibrant.
“Look here, Doyle, Mr. Carpenter said the children had decided to give all their gifts to those truly in need. Isn’t that lovely?”
My brow creases. “But what is all this, then?”
“Why, it is a surprise, my abysmally unobservant man!” She laughs and throws the armload of dolls into the air. They tumble about her like soft, fluffy, childish dreams. “They heard about that terrible hurricane that wiped out entire villages and wanted to do something kind, no matter how small. It was all they had to give.”
The sleepy-looking orphanage matron nodded and yawned, but her smile was unshakeable. “Yes, the sweet children agreed to donate their own gifts to charities to provide for those who’d lost everything in the disaster. I mentioned it to Mr. Carpenter, and he mentioned it to—as in called—Queen Mona. We had no idea until her majesty contacted us a few hours ago. The children will be so thrilled!”
“And, Doyle,” my queen said, poking her finger into the air at me with a stern expression, “this is really all your doing, you know.”
“Me, Your Majesty?” I ask completely unaware of how I caused a hurricane or made the children give up their gifts.
“Yes, you,” she said and flopped down in the chair behind her. “When you mentioned to Mrs. Muir that Mrs. Frankincense and Mrs. Goldie were collecting funds for charities over the Christmas season, a lightbulb went POP in my head. It literally exploded, Doyle,” she said, emphasizing the pop with her fingers flying from her temples outward.
I do not quite follow her reasoning, but there is rarely ever a time I follow my dear Mad Mona, Monarch of Madonia’s thought process.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Frasier,” the orphanage matron says, her hands pressed over her heart.
“Yes, Merry Christmas,” the others repeat.
I am overcome by the sheer unexplainable reality before me. This is the first time I can ever remember being in the same room with my queen and feeling this way … peace on earth, goodwill to all. Queen Mona’s smile is contagious, and I let it warm my soul. For all her fiascos and the insane things she asks me to do, tonight it all makes sense. Tonight, I know who she really is, and I smile back.
Mad Mona is one of my (Rachael Ritchey) BlogBattle characters. I’ve written three other 1000 word short stories about her antics from her serving man Doyle’s perspective. This is probably the most serious one I’ve written for these characters.
About Rachael Ritchey