Read Birthdays of a Princess Online

Authors: Helga Zeiner

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers, #Psychological Thrillers, #Psychological

Birthdays of a Princess (7 page)

BOOK: Birthdays of a Princess
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Psycho-doc doesn’t show up this morning. I pleaded a headache again,
but this time they gave me a Tylenol and escorted me out of my Living Unit to
morning classes. Every time we turn a corner, there is a heavy metal door that
only opens when my guard touches the electronic lock with a special key that
looks like a credit card. Once we step through the doorway, it closes by itself
with a noisy clonk. Now I understand the faint clonk-clonk-clonk going on that
travels all the way into my cell. It is doors closing, one after another. All
day long the clonk-clonk goes on. I guess the guards are used to it, but I flinch
every time I hear a final clonk behind me.

Many clonks later, they deposit me in a small classroom where four
other girls sit, pretending to take no interest in me. They are all my age,
purple, moping, apathetic, clearly not wanting to be here. That’s something we
have in common, I guess. I sit down and sulk with them. It’s such a waste of
time. What should I, or any of them, do with an education? Do they think I’ll
be the Prime Minster of Canada one day, or the Premier of British Columbia, or
the Mayor of Vancouver? I won’t even get a low-level job in a backyard company
when I eventually get out. I’ll be a jail bird, and my past will be public
property. They’ll wallow in the filth they dig up. I’ll wear a scarlet letter
branded on my forehead, a big, fat ‘F’ for filth. I’ll be an old woman before
they let me forget what I’ve done.

So I sit there, as far as possible from the other four girls that
have to go through the education motions and try and think about pleasant
things. Like birthdays. I need to figure out what the F stands for. All I come
up with is four.


My Birthday Four

A few months ahead of my fourth birthday, the photographer friend
told Gracie about a very special local beauty pageant. They had a section for
girls of all ages, but the important one was for ages 4 to 6, called the Pretty
Princess category. He showed her pictures from the previous year’s winner,
pictures he had been commissioned to take, and both he and Gracie agreed I
outdid this pudding-faced plain Jane in every aspect. I had the best of both of
my parents. Dad lived on through my smoldering Mexican eyes with the long, long
lashes and Mom had freely mixed her translucent Canadian skin with his
sun-resistant complexion to give me the perfect beach-sand shade. She had also
contributed her delicate features, which were still visible in the pictures
Gracie had pasted in albums up to my years six or seven, after that, they
started to hide in shame under excessive fatty tissue.

“It’s not too late to enter her.”

The photographer friend didn’t need to do much convincing to
persuade Gracie of the advantages associated with this exciting venture. “The Pretty
Princess winner goes on to National American Miss. Your girl can become famous.
You can make a lot of money.”

Gracie checked through the competition rules. I wasn’t even four
yet, but nobody asked for a birth certificate. Just a parental signature. Truth
be told, Gracie could have just signed it herself. Mom had been so out of it when
I was born that she never noticed the name on my birth certificate. It read
Tiara Rodriguez-Brown. Gracie had faked her brother’s signature, and as his
death had not yet been officially registered, she got away with it. Graciella
Rodriguez could pose as my mother whenever it suited her.

But Gracie knew she couldn’t keep my participation in the contest a
secret, so she went home with the forms and told Mom everything, just like the
photographer friend had told her. The winner got a crown, a banner, a trophy,
roses, one thousand dollars! She could advance to national competition, a modelling
contract, scholarships, traveling opportunities, God knows what else. The
contest was the stepping stone, the door opener for an amazing career. One little
stroke of Mom’s pen could change my life, her life, the life of our square as
we knew it.

Mom hesitated. “Wasn’t that what JonBenet had done? The media
crucified her parents. It was in all the papers.”

“But that had nothing to do with it,” argued Gracie. “They got that
wrong. The girl was murdered in her own home, not at a beauty contest.”

Very true. Mom liked the idea of her little angel being admired on
stage. That was a totally different matter than those boring photo sessions with
that arrogant photographer friend of Gracie’s. There were people in the
audience, maybe even TV cameras. The moms of those little girls were key to
their success, nothing happened without them. This sounded exciting! We’d be
staying in hotels, getting roses and chocolate and money—and sparkling crowns.

“Maybe that’s why I called her Tiara,” she mused. “Maybe fate knew
that all along.”

“You have to sign here. That’s all you need to do. Don’t worry a
thing. I’ll handle it, just like the photo sessions.”

Mom must have thought of the spoils. “But I’m her mother. People
will expect to see me there.”

“Here,” Gracie told my mother. “You want to be in charge? That’s
fine with me. You got to fill out the whole registration, all five pages of it,
and pay a fifty dollar entrance fee.”

 “No, no,” Mom said when she heard it cost money to launch my career.
“You go ahead, register her. I know how much this means to you. And I’m always
so busy anyway, I barely have a minute to myself. But I will come along to the


Psycho-doc had to change his schedule. From now on he can see me
only on those afternoons when he comes to the Center anyway.

I would have preferred mornings, but I have no say in any of that. I’m
the non-paying customer here, free-loading on his legal-aid generosity. As the
Center admin can’t be sure when he shows up, I’m excused from participating in
all the afternoon activities I would normally have to attend. Which is a bonus;
morning classes drain me enough.

Now I can at least hang out every afternoon in my cell until I’m
called to the small office reserved for his Center visits. I spend my solitary
hours wisely, I write in my journal or stare at the wall.

Today he shows up quite late.

It’s interesting to watch his tactics. No pressure, no demands. Just
talking about whatever comes to mind (his more than mine). He is supposed to do
a few tests which are designed to establish the degree of my madness, but
that’s a bit difficult with me not cooperating fully. (Which is not an act and
not by choice. I wish I could give him more than the memories that feel like worn-out,
washed-out hand-me-downs).

Still being non-disclosive, as he calls it (empty headed, boring,
bland, as I call it), means I have little to say to him. Today though, I have
something on my mind. I open our session with the question I have mulled over
since his last visit.

“When you gave me the good-news shit about the woman still hanging
in there, you seemed delighted. Why?”

 “It would take quite a burden off your defending lawyer if she
survives. That, and you being a minor, could swing things in your favor. We
might be lucky.”

He says
as if he is my partner-in-crime. It pisses me off.
I need him as a shield, not as an ally.

“Are you sure she isn’t dead?” I have to ask. My hatred is hard to
contain under the covers of my amnesia-blanket.

 “I’m sure.” He gives me an odd look.

I don’t want him to dwell on this. “What’s this about a lawyer? I
didn’t know I had one.”

“You don’t, yet. Your case worker has been in contact with your
mother, but she has no funds for a private defense, so the juvenile court will
appoint one for you.”

“I don’t need one,” I say, and I mean it. I don’t want one of those
mediocre, bored, underpaid legal-aid types who don’t give a shit about me. I
want to figure out what drives that crazy person inside me, and once I figured
it out, I can rot away in peace and quiet.


By the way, I won that first contest, I was crowned Miss Texas
Princess, age 4 to 6 at the age of 3 years and ten months. Mom came along, as
she did to all the future contests. Gracie and her had come to a silent
understanding—a cease-fire of sorts. Mom would bask in my pageant glory in
front of a live audience and let Gracie handle the tedious photo sessions in a
stuffy studio.

“I wouldn’t come along if you’d pay me,” she would often say to
Gracie. “I don’t know how you can stand it—there’s nothing to do but sit and

That first pageant victory must have been so special. I was told
many times what a day of jubilant joy that had been, with Gracie and Mom being
so happy that they hugged each other and cried for the rest of the day. They
took the roses and the thousand dollars. They told me how proud they were of me
and what a bright future lay ahead of me, and all of them. They had a crown and
a picture to prove it.







After Macintosh had left, Melissa stayed in the kitchen for a long
while, fuming.

If only she hadn’t told him she’d write down the names of Tiara’s
friends. How could she? There were none.

Tiara had always been a loner. She had not been close to anybody in
Vancouver, and even growing up in Texas, she had not sought out friends. It
wasn’t for lack of opportunity, she had come in contact with lots of girls her
age down south, at every beauty pageant, but she never started a friendship
with any of them. Once, Tiara had been five or six then, a girl who
participated in the contest had come up to her in the hotel lobby and had
wanted to give her a stuffed teddy. The little girl was hugging the stuffed
toy, it had a heart-shaped pendant dangling over its fluffy tummy, while
approaching Tiara with a wide smile. When she was close enough, she extended
her hand with the teddy in a straight-forward, generous gesture, delivered with
a generous smile.
You want to be my friend?

Tiara had slapped the girl’s hand so hard the teddy sailed over the
runner in the hotel lobby, bounced off a stainless-steel rubbish bin, the
heart-shaped pendant harshly clink-clonking against the metal, and landed on
its tummy next to a suitcase with rollers. The owner of the suitcase, the mother
of another contestant, picked it up and, thinking it was Tiara’s (everybody
always concentrated on Tiara first, she had this air about her), wanted to hand
it back to her. The little giving girl had lost her smile. Children can change
their moods so quickly. She tried to grab the teddy back and at the same time
she tried to hit Tiara. Suddenly those two had a fight, slapping at each other
without targeting properly, but still. The grown-ups had to separate them,
screaming and kicking.

“What on earth possessed you?” she had asked Tiara once she was calm
again. “You could have just said ‘no, thank you’, the other girl meant well.
She had only wanted to make friends with you.”

“Mom, you are soooo stupid,” Tiara had said with those airs. “She
probably sneezed on that stupid bear, wanting to give me a cold.”


She could never tell Detective Macintosh about this, of course. He
would only paraphrase it into
so, your daughter always had a tendency to
But aside from that long ago and in hindsight rather harmless
incident, Tiara had never been aggressive.
That she had now flipped out
in public and attacked a complete stranger in that coffee shop was an isolated,
out-of-character rage thing. Chalk it down to pubescent confusion. It was a
phase, nothing else. Sure, she had been a touch unbalanced when they had left
Texas three years ago. But many people, especially at that age, went through
rough patches and pulled themselves together again and got on with their lives.
Entertainment Tonight often featured young stars who went through difficult
times and then had a fabulous comeback.

All those dreams, all those hopes for the future, where were they
now? Tiara at eighteen, in a flowing evening gown, with a smile brighter than
the sun, lighting up the auditorium, waiting for the beauty queen crown to be
placed on her proudly-raised head. Her Tiara, Miss America at last!

Tiara would never get a shot at a comeback if the police knew about
that previous outburst of anger, as young as she’d been then. Tears of frustration
and anger welled up in her again. She should make an official complaint about
this detective. She had seen it in his face, he hated her!

He had been pushing her to say the wrong things. But she had held
her own! Even when the name came up. Princess Tia. Really. It was none of his
business what Tiara called herself. For the police she was Tiara Brown. Melissa
had taken care to drop the fateful Rodriguez when she had her daughter added to
her own passport.

She hoped the detective would stop pestering her now. Her explanation
had sounded pretty plausible, but she could do even better than that. She
looked at her watch. It was twelve thirty. She called her boss at the 7-Eleven
and asked for another week’s leave.

Now a whole week lay ahead of her. Enough time to convince Tiara to
see her and make her understand what she could say and what she should keep mum
about. Why didn’t Tiara want a visit from her own mother? Did she still pine
for Gracie?

Gracie had always been jealous of her. That’s how barren women reacted.
Sometimes they even stole babies out of hospitals, that’s how badly they wanted
one of their own. Gracie had had it easy, with her being so weak and desperate
after the birth. Gracie had stolen her child and turned it against her from day
one. It was her fault that Tiara never respected her as a mother. Tiara would
have to understand that she was in charge now.

She went to the window and looked down. A white van was parked on
the curb opposite her block. She couldn’t read the logo on its side, but it
could be a press vehicle. Sure enough, a man with a camera around his neck got
out and looked up to her window. As soon as he saw her, he raised it and
clicked away. Instinctively Melissa moved aside, then, after a very brief
moment, she positioned herself in full view again. She raised her hand. The guy
dropped his camera and stared at her.

She waved at him.

His head jerked from left to right, making sure he was the one she
meant, then he put his thumb up in an awkwardly displaced gesture, climbed in
the van and came out again, carrying a much larger camera and a tripod. He
shouldered the equipment and raced toward her entrance as if he had to win a

BOOK: Birthdays of a Princess
3.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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