I am still an end table.
I know that I had been operating under the assumption that the spell would break as soon as I left the castle, and that assumption was incorrect. Most of my brain power (Where is my brain? Do I still have a brain?) had gone into planning how to actually make it out the front door and not what would happen if I was still an end table once I made it out.
In the end, Hatrick had opened the front door for me. His name used to be Patrick but since he turned into a hat rack we’ve been pronouncing it with an H. Hatrick. A bit of humor among the servants. Ha ha.
At first he had refused—I was deserting, surely, the prince would be furious at both of us—but I promised Hatrick that when I made it to the village I would deliver a message to his wife and tell her that he still loved her. I had been there at their wedding, so many years ago, wearing my best linen shirt. It has been so long since I wore a shirt. I wonder if my own wife has thought of me in these many months as often as I think of her. Perhaps she clutches that same linen shirt and cries. I will return to you, Claudette. I swear it.
The stairs were easier than I expected. Once I got over the disappointment of not immediately transforming into a human, I found I was able to do a little hop-jump to descend the steps two at a time. It took me from dawn until the sun was just about setting to reach the bottom of the castle’s grand entrance. I just need to follow the forest path to get to town. Once I’ve escaped the castle grounds, then surely the prince’s spell will be broken.
It hadn’t been this hard to move around the castle, with its mostly level floors. The path is rocky, with protruding roots and deep gullies of mud along its sides. Perhaps I should be grateful that my wooden corpus does not attract wolves.
Back in the castle, I usually stayed near the kitchen, watching the Oven and Silverware prepare elaborate feasts for the prince every night that the Plates would serve for him to eat off of their faces. As an end table, I mostly help by carrying things on my back between less mobile furniture. I was a footman when I had been a human so one might think I would have been turned into a footrest, but no, as it happens, the dog became a footrest and I am a wooden end table with square, even sides and a drawer that opens and shuts and serves as my mouth. My legs are curved slightly inwards. I am not sure what period my design is, or whether the enchantress was conscious of that when she transformed me. When I walk, it’s sideways, like a crab.
I stopped helping Oven prepare food a month into our damnation.
“Why are we still serving the prince?” I shouted, causing my drawer to knock and rattle as it opened and closed. “He most certainly isn’t paying us anymore.” I think the prince had tried to pay us, the first week or so, gathering up a few gold coins and distributing them among Chairs and Forks and Knives who couldn’t hold currency, much less spend it anywhere. But from then on he just sort of sulked around and read in the library that we still weren’t allowed to use. He screamed at us if we didn’t do our chores, which were much harder now that most of us do not have limbs.
Oven didn’t care. He just puffed smoke at me and got back to preparing an elaborate, ten-course meal and its original song for the prince’s dinner that night. But I had enough.
I am glad to be free of that tyrant, even if it means I am an end table waddling inch-by-inch down this path on a foolish mission that might prove impossible. I may be an end table, but at least I am free.
I have watched the sun rise and fall three times since I have fallen over on a rock and been unable to right myself. One of the many problems with being a table is lack of peripheral vision. My eyes are on my front side, right above my drawer. I cannot look up nor to the sides nor, as I tragically discovered, at the ground beneath my legs. I have attempted to rock myself upright but I’ve just managed to turn myself from my side to my back. Now I am immobile, staring at the sky, praying to a god that I know has forsaken me when he allowed my flesh to be twisted into stained walnut. I imagine Claudette, and embracing her in a fantasy in which I have arms again. The prince’s lands extend for acres. If I can just make it a little further, out of the spell’s reach, perhaps I will.
I suppose it’s a mercy that end tables do not need to eat or drink or surely I would have died out here already. I can feel a bug crawling up my hind leg but I cannot see it.
If there is a god, he would have killed me. I do not think I have a beating heart, or even a heart at all. Perhaps I cannot die. Or perhaps I am already dead and this is hell.
A caterpillar crawled on my face today.
SALVATION HAS COME! In the form of two hunters riding their horses away from the village.
“Look!” one of them called, steadying his horse and dropping off. “A perfectly good table. Who threw away a perfectly good table on the side of the road?”
I didn’t hear the other man get off his horse. “There’s probably something wrong with it,” he called down.
“I mean,” and then the first man righted me and opened and shut my drawer. I considered revealing myself to them, but I know townsfolk are suspicious people. It would be more than likely they would burn me on a pyre for witchcraft, and because I am wood I would burn very well. And so I stayed silent, but now I could see the two men. Both rode handsome black horses. The one examining me was short while the man who had remained on his mount was broad, with the type of physique one might get from consuming an improbable amount of eggs.
“Looks good to me. Great condition. Should we take it?” the short man asked.
The large man sighed and looked over at me. “I mean, sure, it’s a nice table. But do we actually need another table? Where would it even go?”
“Maybe in the living room? Underneath the antlers?” the short man countered.
The large man seemed to consider this. “Hmm. Maybe. I don’t know. It just seems like a hassle right now. We were headed out anyway, and I don’t want to be lugging around a table for the whole hunt. I mean, will it even fit on the horse?”
The short man clicked his tongue. “No, you’re right,” he said, and remounted his pony, which I saw then was much smaller than his companion’s horse.
I waited until I heard the clopping of the horses’ footsteps echo down the path in the opposite direction. Perhaps God had remembered me after all!
Energized by my rescue, I make it down the path faster than I had anticipated, until I recognize the road before me as the one on which Claudette and I had made our home. This tree was where I had first promised my love to her. That fountain is where we shared our first kiss. We were married at the church over the hill. I am so happy to be home I do not care that I am clearly condemned to remain a table, even so far out of the prince’s reach. All that matters is being with my Claudette.
Will she recognize me? I know she will. My voice is somehow the same although I have no throat or tongue, and my eyes are the same even though there is nothing to which they are connected inside my wood. I am an end table, but I am still her husband, Jean-Pierre. It is evening now, and I shall wait until sunrise to meet her. I wish I could sleep to allow the hours to pass more quickly but as a table, I am unable to sleep.
Our reunion may not have been as sweet as it had played out in my fantasies a thousand times, but still, I am home and my Claudette is here!
“Claudette!” I called out from the front yard, among the chickens. “It is me! It is your husband!”
I heard her voice through the cottage walls. “Jean-Pierre? Jean-Pierre?” The door swung open and there she was, my beautiful wife, my perfect Claudette, with hair like varnished mahogany and legs like they were carved by a baroque master. Her face fell as she scanned the horizon, not seeing me.
“Is this a cruel prank? A joke, perhaps? Whoever you are using my husband’s memory to torment me, come forward.”
“It’s me, Claudette. I am Jean-Pierre. The end table.”
At first, her face was expressionless. She moved slowly towards me, a single arm extended. “I love you!” I said with my drawer.
Claudette screamed then, and fainted dead in the dirt. A man emerged from the hen house at the sound of her shriek.
“Claudette! Are you all right?” The man raced towards my wife’s unconscious body and cradled her head and only then did I realize the man was none other than my brother, Tomas!
“Tomas!” I cried, “It’s me, Jean-Pierre!”
My little brother’s eyes went wild, dancing between Claudette’s face and mine, searching for an answer when there was none. We heard the voices from beyond the hill of villagers leaving church.
“Perhaps we should get inside,” he said.
By then, Claudette was back on her feet, a bit dazed and holding Tomas for support. I followed after, re-entering my home after so many months away.
While Tomas boiled water for tea, I told the story as best I could—how the prince had refused lodging to an enchantress dressed as a beggar and how, in revenge, the witch cursed his castle and all who worked inside it. I ran away, I told them, to try and escape the spell, and because I could no longer bear to be away from my family.
Claudette listened, white-faced. Tomas clenched his jaw. Claudette had been so proud when I had gotten the job as a castle footman. She had ironed my livery the first day. We had needed the pay so badly when that oddball inventor on the far side of town had created a machine that automatically chopped wood and destroyed my small lumber business.
When I had been gone for months without returning, without even sending a letter (we all realize now why I was unable to write!) Claudette believed I must have been lost to the wolves that surround the village. She and Tomas had spent weeks searching for my body.
Tomas, I learned, had been kind enough to help Claudette with her hens, managing to sell enough eggs to keep her meager household afloat. There was a big egg eater in the next town who bought dozens every single morning, she said.
“Without Tomas, I never would have managed.”
I thanked my brother heartily, and Claudette smiled at him, and for the first time since I left the castle and realized I remained untransformed, I felt hope for my future.
Although I cannot be much of a help in the household, it is wonderful to be home. My wife does most of the cleaning, and the cooking, and Tomas helps with the chickens and goes to sell them in town every morning. He returns for dinner and although I do not need to eat, I join them at the table—or rather, next to the table (the large table, not me).
I tried to share a bed with my wife on the first night, but my square form no longer fits on the straw mattress next to her. And so in the evenings I perch next to the bed.
“Goodnight, my love,” I said, as she extinguished the candle and its light disappeared from her hair that glowed as if it were varnished.
“Good night, Jean-Pierre,” she responded.
I have almost forgotten my pledge to Hatrick that I would tell his wife what had become of him. I will go in the morning up the road.
Oh what wretched misery life has unfurled upon me! What have I done to anger you, oh lord? I have never turned away an enchantress! What was my sin so grievous that I should be tethered to this earth in the form of a table when the cruel prince was transformed into a Beast, yes, but one with arms and legs and hands and a face? Why was the cruelest punishment assigned to the lowly men who served him?
I shall relay what has occurred. In the morning, I bounded up the road towards Mme. Durand, the wife of my friend Hatrick. It was a shorter journey than I expected, mainly because I have mastered a new form of locomotion where I rock from one back leg to the other on a diagonal instead of shuffling forward inch-by-inch. Anyways. Mme. Durand was outside tending to her garden when I approached and although she gave a small shriek I was able to convince her fairly quickly that it was I, her old friend Jean-Pierre Brunet. I relayed the news of her husband—that he, like me, has had his form transfigured by an evil spell, but that he thinks of her even still, and loves her. I suppose the story that her husband had become a talking hat rack might have been made more believable because she heard it from a talking end table.
When the shock had worn off, Mme. Durand kissed my face. She thanked me for bringing her the news of Ha—er, Patrick.
“Will he ever return to me?” she asked.
I could only answer that I didn’t know. Most of the servants believed there was some loophole that would reverse the spell—if the prince fell in love, or something equally romantic. In truth, I saw that as nothing more than a pretty lie for a bit of hope, but Patrick believed. Maybe he would stay by the door, waiting for the day some beautiful, single woman of marrying age with an animal fetish would come waltzing through the door.
And so, my promise complete, I returned to my home to find my wife, my darling Claudette, in an embrace beneath Tomas, lying across the kitchen table. That they had been doing this on a table was perhaps the cruelest irony of all.
I fled. I fled before they noticed my presence, down the road and further into the village, past the meadow until I reached the tilted home of the oddball inventor by the river. I cannot blame Claudette. I have been gone for months, and returned to her as a table. My wife deserves the touch of a human hand, the happiness that I can do longer bring her. All I can offer her now is splinters and a level surface for a glass of water.
I cannot bring myself to anger. All I feel is shame that I would have been willing to ruin their lives, forcing them to pretend that I was still Jean-Pierre when I have become something else, a well-sanded vessel for his immortal soul. Jean-Pierre is dead. Tables are not men.
I have positioned myself directly behind the lumber-chopping machine by the inventor’s back shed, with its axe poised squarely above my face. I have seen the infernal thing in action. It shall hack at me and toss my remains atop the inventor’s tidy stack. I will be returned to ashes.
It turns on with a lever, fortunately one low enough for me to reach by leaning back on my far back corner and leaning onto it with my foremost leg. I am at peace when the machine begins with a howling, industrial rumble. I think only of Claudette, and I allow my soul to transcend from its baroque, walnut cabriole-legged prison.
Rumpus original art by Aubrey Nolan.