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The Pea by Sharon Wahl




A dark and stormy night

She arrives at the castle with her curly golden hair straight and dark from rainwater, shivering in a torn silk gown. She's lost her pearls. Her knock is so weak, the door so thick, the wind-rattle of bolts and chains so much more insistent than her small, numb fist, it's a wonder anyone hears her.


The Prince's family

"Well, naturally we had to take her in. But one can hardly expect my son to be less selective than an ogre, now can one?"

"Archibella showed up in a storm wet as a drowned rat. Not an ounce of show breed in her, but she's a damn good mouser."

"Really, Uncle Frederick."

"More peas, anyone?"


How the pea felt

The princess was exhausted and even a little drunk when she lay down. She would have fallen asleep instantly but for an itch, almost a tickle, high in the arch of her left foot. Insistent itchy tickle ah there yes good up a little between the toes yes ooh but my back why does my back I'm too tired I can't reach oh the bedpost yes that will do are there bugs the light no no bites just red from scratching but my arm now like crawling like prickly legs but nothing there.


The name of the pea

Doubt. Nineteen mattresses cannot hide doubt from a genuine princess.


The names of the mattresses

Poverty, theft, hunger, drought, deformity, weakness, disease, death, accident, ignorance, abuse, depression, repression, despair, cruelty, torture, murder, rape, rage.

These being the usual conditions under which her subjects live, a genuine princess is accustomed to sleeping soundly on them. For what, after all, can be done?


How the pea felt

It was toasty warm under the nineteen mattresses, but the pea just couldn't get comfortable. What was a little green doubt, he asked himself, under the weight of these mattresses? He wanted to talk to someone about this but he was too afraid of the mattresses to bring it up. Toward dawn he tried to tell the princess, since she was awake anyway. She wouldn't listen. She thought only of bugs in her ears, crawling, crawling.


The Prince's family

Convinced.


Happily ever after

The bed was remade. The pea was tossed out the window. It floated near a lily pad in the moat until eaten by a disenchanted small green frog.



Sharon Wahl is writing a book of love stories inspired by classic philosophy texts. Stories from this book have been published in The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, Harvard Review, Literal Latte, and others; one of the stories, "I Also Dated Zarathustra," can be found online. She lives in Tucson, Arizona. "The Pea" first appeared in StoryQuarterly 36 (2000).


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