A Different Blue
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“Elizabeth the first was the daughter of a King. King Henry VIII, to be precise. Sounds ace doesn't it? Being a princess? Riches, power, adulation. Brilliant, eh? But remember the saying 'never judge a book by its cover?' I'm going to add to that. Never judge history by the so-called facts. Lift up that shiny cover, and get to the real story beneath. Elizabeth's mother was Anne Boleyn. Anyone know anything about her?” Wilson scanned the sea of rapt faces, but no hands shot up.
“Anne Boleyn's sister Mary was King Henry's mistress, one of them, at least. But Anne wanted more, and she believed she could get more. She plotted and schemed, and used her brain to catch Henry's eye and reel him in. For seven years, Henry tried to get a divorce from his Queen so he could marry Anne. How did she do it? How did she keep Henry not only interested but willing to move heaven and earth to have her? She was not considered beautiful. The standard of beauty for that time was blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin – like her sister Mary. So how did she do it?” Wilson paused for effect. “She kept the man hungry!” The class burst out laughing, understanding what Wilson was referring to.
“Eventually, when Henry couldn't get the Church of England to dissolve his marriage to the Queen, he cut his ties with the church, and married Anne anyway. Shocking! The church held incredible power in those days, even over a king.”
“Ahhhh!” a few girls sighed.
“That's so romantic,” Chrissy mooned, batting her cow eyes at Wilson.
“Oh yes, highly romantic. A brilliant love story . . . until you find out that three years after Anne succeeded in marrying the King, she was charged with witchcraft, incest, blasphemy, and plotting against the crown. She was beheaded.”
“They cut off her head?! That is so rude!” Chrissy was indignant and slightly outraged.
“She had failed to produce a male heir,” Wilson continued. “She'd had Elizabeth, but that didn't count. Some say Anne was seen as having too much power politically. We know she was no fool. She was discredited and taken out, and Henry let it happen.”
“He obviously wasn't hungry anymore,” I added caustically.
Wilson's ears turned pink, which pleased me deeply.
“Obviously,” he added dryly, his voice betraying none of his discomfort. “Which brings us back to our original thought. Things are rarely what they seem. What is the truth beneath the surface, beneath the apparent facts? Think now about your own life . . .”
I tuned Wilson out and laid my forehead down on my desk, letting my hair hide my face. I knew where this was going. Our personal histories. Why was he doing this? What was the point? I stayed that way, my head against my desk as Wilson finished his lecture and the sounds of papers being passed and pencils being sharpened replaced his buttery British accent.
I didn't move.
“Are you ill?”
“No,” I grumbled, sitting up and shoving my hair from my face. I glowered up at him as I took the paper that he held out to me. He acted as if he wanted to speak, thought better of it, and retreated to his desk. I watched him go, wishing I dared tell him I wouldn't do the assignment. I couldn't do it. My sad little paragraph looked like chicken scratch on the wrinkled page. Chicken scratch. That's what I was. A chicken, pecking at nothing, squawking and ruffling my feathers to make myself appear strong, to keep people at a distance.
“Once upon a time there was a little blackbird, pushed from the nest, unwanted. Discarded. Then a Hawk found her and swooped her up and carried her away, giving her a home in his nest, teaching her to fly. But one day the Hawk didn't come home, and the little bird was alone again, unwanted. She wanted to fly away. But as she rose to the edge of the nest and looked out across the sky, she noticed how small her wings were, how weak. She was trapped. She could fly away, but where would she go?”
I added the new lines to my story and stopped, tapping my pencil against the page, like tiny seeds for the chicken to peck. Maybe that was the truth beneath the surface. I was scared. I was terrified that my story would end tragically. Like poor Anne Boleyn. She plotted and planned and became Queen, only to be discarded. There was that word again. The life she had built was taken from her in one fell swoop, and the man who should have loved her abandoned her to fate.
I had never considered myself a chicken. In my dreams I was the swan, the bird that became beautiful and admired. The bird that proved everyone wrong. I asked Jimmy once why he was named after a bird. Jimmy was used to my questions. He told me I had been abnormally resilient and mostly unaffected by the absence of my mother. I hadn't cried or complained, and I was very talkative, almost to the point of driving a man who had lived with little company and even less conversation a little crazy. He never lost his temper with me, although sometimes he just refused to answer, and I ended up prattling to myself.