Beauty Queens


Before sleep each night, the frog prayed to the four winds, to the great fish, to the sun above, and to the goddess moon that when it woke, it would be a princess. Yet each morning, the frog opened its eyes to find it was still only a frog. How could nature be so wrong about something so important? The frog grew bitter and lonely. It despaired. The frog’s parents became terribly frightened.

“We must do something,” croaked the mother.

“What can we do?” croaked the father.

They sat with their little frog and said, “We wish you only happiness. If you are meant to be a princess, then so be it. We will love you no matter what. Perhaps you should visit the Wise Witch of the Woods. She will know what to do.”

It was a daring plan, for the woods were full of many dangers, but the little frog was determined. After kissing its mother and father good-bye, it traveled far and wide in search of the mysterious, elusive Wise Witch of the Woods. For years it searched without luck. The frog feared it would never become a princess.

“Don’t give up,” Petra whispered in her dream, and as if the story-frog heard her, it came upon a large acorn covered in vines. The half-buried acorn was easy to miss, but the frog saw straightaway that the acorn was a false shell hiding something inside.

“Hello? Is there anyone there?” the frog croaked out.

“Yes! I am the Wise Witch of the Woods. I’ve been trapped inside this acorn by a terrible spell,” came the response. “If you can release me, I will grant you your heart’s desire.”

The frog didn’t know how it could possibly save a witch from so great a spell. But it sat for a while and it thought and eventually it came up with a plan. It summoned up all its courage and let loose a mighty croak, which cracked the acorn to bits and freed the witch.

The Wise Witch was very grateful to the little frog. She kept her promise. “What is your heart’s desire?” she asked.

But the frog had almost given up on its wish. It didn’t know if such a wish were possible. “Well,” it said softly, afraid, “I have always wanted to be a princess. But I have seen myself in the river. And it has shown me that I am a frog.”

The witch smiled. “The river does not know everything. Look again.”

Together, they traveled to another part of the river. It was hard to see anything here, but the witch said, “If you are brave and your heart is true, make your wish and jump.”

The frog dove into the water, and soon its legs began to lengthen. Its three spindly fingers became five slender ones with jeweled rings on each. And when the frog broke the surface, its long golden hair shone in the sun.

“I am a princess!” said the frog in a voice soft and sweet as first spring clover.

“Princess,” Petra repeated.

The frog on the bank croaked in response and leapt into the moon-dappled river. On the water’s surface, a bright orange fish swam through Petra’s reflection, blurring all definition.

Nicole could not sit still, and so she went for a walk in the glistening green of the jungle. To her surprise, she came upon a gingerbread house that smelled of cinnamon and cloves. Smoke pumped from its chimney.

“I wonder where I am?” she said.

A beautiful café au lait teen stuck her head out of one of the windows. She wore a pointed princess hat with a #1 on it. “You’re on the corner of stupid and clueless.”

Canned laughter echoed in the trees. It sounded like the laugh track on all those teen TV shows Nicole had seen a million times.

“I’m sorry?” Nicole said.

Another comely sister stuck her head out a window. There was a #2 on her hat. “You a couple snaps short of a gingersnap, aren’t you?”

“I beg your —”

A third girl in a hat marked #3 shoved her hand out the window, palm first. “Talk to the hand.”

The laugh track roared and subsided again. The house, the trees, and the sidekicks cast tall shadows that reminded Nicole of an art exhibit she’d seen by an African-American artist. The exhibit was a series of silhouettes of slaves and minstrels. It was very controversial and pissed off a lot of people. But Nicole had found it powerful; it had made her angry and afraid in equal measure.

“Excuse me,” Nicole said as she ran into the house, where she found her mother sitting at her vanity, putting more and more powder on her face. The vanity held a collection of hair relaxers, skin brighteners, oils, and flattening irons. Hanging from a department store rack was a sleek, sparkly dress in a doll’s size.

“There’s my baby now,” her mother said to the mirror. She frowned. “Oh, you look so rough, sugar. Have you been using your grease?”