Not too long ago, but sometime after the break up, Malarkey happened to be in Paris for a writer’s conference. He generally avoided writers’ conferences because they tended to be a bit too pretentious for Malarkey, what with everyone there thinking he or she was a better writer than everyone else who was there there thinking he or she was a better writer than everyone else who was there thinking he or she was a better writer than everyone else who was there cacoethes scribendi. That said, Malarkey went to Paris because Citrus City College paid for his flight, food, and registration, so why not? Malarkey planned on staying with an old Oxford chum who had moved from Brooklyn to Paris, along with a Harvard law degree and a fluency in French and Spanish that had helped him practice immigration law in the new country. One evening, Malarkey decided to go out on his own to a brasserie he often frequented when he was himself a student at Oxford, when taking weekenders to Paris to carouse oftentimes ended up somewhere near the Moulin Rouge which was a fashionable place to end up. Just why Malarkey wound up near the Moulin Rouge in those days is open to the Reader’s speculation, but back to the brasserie.
The brasserie wasn’t just any brasserie, but the famous Le Procope, one of the oldest restaurants not only in Paris, but in the world. At one time, its clientele included, but wasn’t limited to, such notables as: Rousseau and Voltaire (though not at the same time), Diderot, Franklin and Jefferson (yes, those two), Robespierre, Danton and Marat, not to mention Musset, George Sand, and Chopin ad astra. So, it didn’t surprise Malarkey when he saw, sitting by himself at a table for two, nursing a brandy, none other than Prince Charming. From a distance, it appeared to Malarkey the Prince had seen better days, since he didn’t look like the Prince Charming of olde. The swaggering, bon vivant Prince Charming who he was known to be.
“Prince,” Malarkey said enthusiastically.
The Prince slowly looked up and immediately recognized Malarkey from those halcyons, yet frenetic, Oxonian days, feigned a smile as he and Malarkey exchanged a salutatory hug.
As he sat down, what immediately struck Malarkey was the Prince’s countenance. There he sat a once tall and regal man, now bent, almost completely grey, balding in the worst places, haggard, wearing a frayed frieze coat adorned with tarnished bronze buttons. The Prince’s features had undergone a major change since Malarkey saw him last in Oxford, 1968 and approaching old age (even for a fictional character), time had time enough to set its mark on him. His eyes had an odd look about them, no longer dashingly bright, they now took on an almost glaucoma aura about them. His whole being, his movements, which were at one time slow, at another abrupt and disconnected, his often slurred, benumbed manner of speaking, all showed a kind of utter exhaustion, a quiet and secret dejection, a resigned realization, which was very different from the half-assumed melancholy he had affected once upon a time when full of hope and constant vanity and a willingness, nay eagerness, to bed whomever he wished was his stock in trade. In an attempt to get the Prince to brighten up, Malarkey offered the Prince a Gitanes, which he politely rejected with a wave of his hand.
“I do not smoke anymore. Too many centuries of smoking have rendered the old lungs old.”
Malarkey too didn’t smoke, but when he visited Paris he often brandished a pack of Gitanes or Gauloises as a kind of requisite passport for being a part of Paris. Malarkey truly wanted to cheer up his old friend, whose countenance clearly needed it. The Prince was either staring at the table or at his brandy when Malarkey finally asked,
“So, Prince, fill me in on what’s been going on in your life. Still chasing skirts, no?”
The Prince looked up either from his brandy or the table and spoke in a way that somewhat shocked Malarkey with its frankness.
“Please, Malarkey, just call me Day. I’m world weary of the whole Prince Charming thing,” then he took another sip of brandy. “I am suffering from…what is the word in German?”
“Yes, Weltschmerz.” He paused for a moment as if gathering his thoughts. “You know all of this Charming business started soon after Perrault published that tale of me and Aurora. You remember that?”
“Then you remember after she woke up she looked at me and said, ‘Est-ce vous, mon prince? Vous vous êtes bien fait attendre?’”
“That was the exact point when my life changed completely because Perrault also wrote, ‘Le Prince charmé de ces paroles ne savait comment lui témoigner sa joie.’ What was he thinking?”
“So what?” Malarkey asked.
“So what! Do you not see! It was I who was being charmed, not who was being charming. That’s French 101. Charmé is not charmant! That is when the whole nightmare of becoming Prince Charming began. Aurora and I got married, but one thing led to another and, after a while, we separated and finally divorced.”
“Usual thing. She got pregnant, had a miscarriage, got tired of the routine, had an affair with Lancelot, dumped him. You know the story.”
“Lancelot! Are you kidding?”
“No. He and I have resolved that, but she got fifty-percent of everything. Even the royalties from Perrault’s tale and, of course, those Disney attorneys screwed me over royally. Attorneys! Fous-moi le camp, ordure!”
“No, attorneys.” He took another sip of brandy. “Anyway, she got fifty percent of my kingdom and I eventually had to start dating again. Me! And that is precisely when this whole Prince Charming ruse began. I have no idea how that turned into me being Prince Charming since I was the one who was charmed and not Aurora. But that fuck up by Perrault has haunted me for centuries because every woman I have ever dated since then has constantly been looking for me, Prince Charming, even though I am not that person. Being Prince Charming has been an untoward burden on me since how could I ever meet some woman’s fantasies of who I am supposed to be when I am not that person at all? N’est-ce pas?”
Prince took another sip of brandy.
“After Lancelot and I made amends, I once had a similar discussion with him and he was equally pissed off with the whole white knight fiasco. ‘Even white stallions have shit stains on their asses,’ he once said to me. He got so fed up with the whole white knight in shining armor bullshit, he sold his white horse, scrapped the armor and decided to become a winemaker.”
“Wow. Really? Where?”
“Burgundy, I think. Côte de Nuits. But how is a guy supposed to compete with the image they have created of me? Charmé not charmant.” He downed the rest of his brandy, then signaled to the waiter for yet one more.
Needless to say, the Prince was more than a bit animated. One could see the whole Prince Charming thing was getting to him, more than Malarkey could have ever known and as he continued drinking he also began to repeat himself with and not without slurring a bit. He ordered an absinthe and continued.
“Let me, let me give an example. As I said, I, I, I was the one charmed and not charming. The phrase is clear and every language on the planet has misconstrued the line to make me the charming one. You can see how eventual, eventually one could assume that might be, be misanthropic. I mean why should I, moi, I have had to suffer all these centuries because people cannot understand French!!”
“Hmmm, same holds for English. Do you think it was an error in translation?”
To which the Prince gave Malarkey a chin flick at the same time the absinthe was delivered.
“How does one mis, mistake reading charmed for charming? Even an American should get that, no?”
“Don’t look at me. I’m Irish, remember?”
There was a long silence as Prince toyed with the silverware on the table before he asked:
“So, tell me Malarkey, how is your love life? As I recall, you were trying to bed a Persian Princess at Oxford, n’est-ce pas?”
“Got to first base, but never got to home plate.”
Then Malarkey gave Day a kind of abridged version of his life before, during and after Liliana and how he had to resort to dating sites in order to meet anyone. But with the mention of the phrase “dating sites,” the Prince became agitated again.
“There! There! Fucking dating sites!” he screamed so loudly the portrait of Robespierre blinked. “Calm down,” Malarkey said. “Here, sip the rest of your brandy” which he did.
“J’en ai plein le cul!” he said.
“Tired of what…exactly?”
“They’re to blame for my going to seed, for losing my hair, for the dullness in my eyes.”
“Who’s to blame?”
“The women on those sites!”
And then Prince went on another rant. He was beginning to be repetitive if not redundant, but Malarkey let him vent.
“Pourquoi! I will tell you pourquoi. You tell me how oft, often you read on one of those profiles, profles where a woman wants to find her ‘Prince Charming!’ How can anyone age gra, gracefully with that type of pressure. Sacré bleu!” He swallowed the absinthe. “And what is the fucking deal with this ‘is chivalry dead’ nonsense?” Do any of these women know where the term came from? Chevalerie, horse soldiery! For men on horses! It is a poetic invention. Do they think it is just for opening car doors and pulling out table chairs! Do they really expect men to act like an ideal knight, courageous, honorable, courteous, with a willingness to help the impoverished! Are they fucking stupid?”
Needless to say, the Prince, er Day, had a wee bit too much absinthe and to say he was beside himself would have been a gross understatement. Obviously, over three centuries time takes a toll on one’s appearance, but Malarkey had serious concerns about his friend’s well-being.
“Far be it from me,” Malarkey began, “to question how you’re feeling and the reasons for it, but you really need to get yourself together. Have you tried therapy?”
“Oui, I am on Flexor and Wellbutrin. Supposed to lighten my mood.”
“And does it look like my mood has lightened to you?”
“Well, no, but I’m…”
The waiter brought Day yet another brandy that he threw back at once.
“Whoa, Prince. Ease up on the Courvoisier. Are you driving?”
Then there was another long silence.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Malarkey asked.
“Malarkey, I appreciate your offer, but there is only one thing that would make my life easier.”
“If every woman would scrap the idea that any man can be a Prince Charming. That would make my life inconceivably easier.”
Knowing that was about as likely as the French sanctioning the baking of baguettes, Malarkey chatted a bit more before he said he had to leave. He didn’t really have to leave, but it was evident that nothing he could do or say was going to get Day out of his fairytale funk.
About the Author
Mark Axelrod-Sokolov is a Professor of Comparative Literature in the Department of English at Chapman University, Orange, California, and has been Director of the John Fowles Center for Creative Writing for 23 years. His latest fiction books include Balzac’s Coffee, DaVinci’s Ristorante and the translation of Balzac’s play, Mercadet, which was retitled, Waiting for Godeau, and Beckett’s Bar, Pushkin’s Vodka. His latest books of literary criticism include, Madness in Fiction: Literary Essays from Poe to Fowles and his book, Notions of Otherness: Literary Essays from Cahan to Maraini were published by Palgrave and Anthem respectively. His screenplay, MALARKEY, based on his novel, The Mad Diary of Malcolm Malarkey, PhD, has garnered the interest of Malcolm McDowell and is currently being shopped. He was inducted into the European Academy of Arts and Sciences, Salzburg in 2017.