The Northville Review
an online literary journal
The Town of Roundbeck (II)

Sam Martone

You go with the former prince to the town where a girl tied a yellow ribbon in your hair. That was ten years ago, but you want to find her now, to tell her you never should have parted ways, that that’s when all the trouble began. You’re supposed to find out more about the legendary hero, but instead you go straight to the inn her family owned. All you are given is a souvenir pillow, grape-scented. She is no longer here. Her family sold the inn seven years ago. Her father was in poor health. They moved somewhere remote, away from this stress, the new guests every day, the task of being a caretaker, of taking care. You think of the haunted castle she took you to, the ghostly tricks your eyes played on you. You think of the dream about the girl you wanted to marry, the things she told you about the mind: that we grow to love new melodies the more we hear a song, that spicy foods fool our tongues into feeling fire, that the structure of language is built into the brain. In the dream, you can speak to the girl about these things, and you ask her why, awake, you can only respond to questions with a Yes or a No. Awake, you remain silent, as you always must. Elsewhere in the town, people speak in flurries of rumors: an old tale about a king searching for his queen. Whispered words about a weakening seal, sealing away an unearthly darkness. More stories about the former prince’s castle, its tyrannical ruler. You have talked to everyone and found out nothing about your mother, nothing about the legendary hero. No one thinks to ask who you are. The girl with the yellow ribbon, she asked you questions, she let you answer. On your way out of town, visit the tavern. The woman behind the bar will ask you if you want a drink. You can only answer Yes or No. You wonder if there is a correct answer, if one Yes or No in the wrong sequence could change everything, alter your fate. Maybe there is no choice at all. Maybe the wrong answer would only make her repeat the question, again and again, until you chose the answer you were meant to choose. Answer Yes. She will pour you a drink. In the dream, something goes wrong. One minute, you and the girl you wanted to marry are side-by-side, knee-deeping through feet of snow, bodies leaned forward against a blizzarding wind. The next, you are alone in some dry deserted desert, and she is in a humid forest, giant insects crawling up her shower drain. You are on opposite sides of the continent. Wonder at all this space between you, at your desynchronized times: when you wake up in the morning, she will be finishing her lunch. When she calls you drunk, you will be fixing dinner. You are stepping out of parties to talk to her on the phone, learning the landscape of the parking lots at your friends’ apartment buildings. She is just going to bed. She is just calling to say goodnight. There are certain things you know for certain: day can turn to night after a certain number of footsteps, miles can be traveled in a matter of minutes. But in the dream, the distance between you and the girl is insurmountable, your voices are lost in the airwaves, your faces frozen on glowing screens. Drink your drink in your necessary silence. Turn to leave but think, No. Talk to the bartender again. She will repeat everything, word for word for word. When she asks if you want a drink, answer No, and your fate is altered. She will know what you are looking for. She will invite you behind the bar, back to another part of the tavern, where her father, his face masked, his body muscle-mapped, will offer you a seat. He will tell you about the legendary hero, who defeated an unearthly darkness with four magical items: a helm, a shield, a suit of armor and a sword. The hero, this man says, will be long dead, but maybe you can track down one of his descendants. You can feel the weight of this knowledge like you can feel the weight of the sword in your bag: somewhere out there is someone who can save the world. Somewhere out there, your mother is waiting for you to find her. Somewhere out there, the girl with the yellow ribbon has forgotten who you are. Somewhere, in the sprawling map of your mind, is a girl checking the time, waiting for your call, wondering where you are.

About the author

Sam Martone currently lives in Tempe, Arizona. His New Year's resolution is to beat the final boss of Dragon Quest V.