Her ears perked up. Swanee, old Simon’s wife of more years than either could remember, hobbled towards Lizzy with a white grin on her dark wrinkled face. She had kept a special place in her heart for Lizzy since the girl was a little blonde toddler chasing the chickens on Jeb Gresham’s farm. Lizzy started to get up to give Swanee a hug.
“No, no! Don’t get up. I’ll jest try to get these old bones to bend so I can sit wid you. Been a long time since I made me a clover necklace.”
“I’ll make you one, Swanne. You’ll be a queen!”
“Yo de princess, girl. It a wonder your pretty little haid ain’t big as a watermelon.” Swanee shook her head and chuckled.
Lizzy smiled politely but she didn’t laugh. “Do you think I’m spoiled, Swanee?”
Swanee took one long look into Lizzy’s blue eyes and saw that the girl was serious. “Hm, well, maybe a little bit. But all chillum need spoilin’ somewhat. Just that most don’t get it.”
Lizzy smiled. “You spoil Queen; you and Uncle Simon, too.”
“Well, dat girl ain’t right, you know, and she need all de love she can git.” Swanee’s brown eyes filled with tears.
“What’s wrong? Did I hurt your feelings?” Lizzy was tenderhearted to a fault.
“Oh, no. I jest worried about Queen. Me and Simon is gettin’ on in years and it won’t be too long afore we join Mister Jeb if he be where we goin’. And then, what will happen to Queen? She know how to do most things but she ain’t too good at cookin’. Sometimes, she forget to eat and Simon and me has to shove it at her.” Swanee’s voice began to crack.
Lizzy took her calloused hand in hers and squeezed it tight. Sympathetic tears ran down her face. “She’ll be alright, Swanee. Aunt Sarah Jane’s crowd will look out for her and we’ll come out as often as we can.”
“That’s nice; real nice.” Swanee wiped the tears away with the hem of her apron. “Thank you, Miss Lizzy. I feel better now.”
“Come on,” said Lizzy, “and lie down in the flowers with your crown on. You’ll feel like a queen in your pretty pink bed. And smell like one, too!”
Old Swanee managed to bend her bones to lie flat on her back in the bed of pink thrift.
“Now, close your eyes,” ordered Lizzy. She quickly picked some of the thrift as well as more clover flowers and scattered them all over Swanee’s body. “Now, look at yourself first and then I’ll tell you what to do next.”
Swanee bent her neck to see what Lizzy had done and smiled.
“Don’t you look like a queen?” Lizzy giggled, her blonde curls bobbing.
“I looks like a corpse; dat’s what I looks like. They be comin’ wid de shovels afore long.”
Lizzy laughed. “You look beautiful, Swanee.”
“I ain’t never been tol’ I wuz beautiful, girl. Makes me feel kinda good eben if you lyin’ right through yo teeth.”
Laughing hysterically, Lizzy rolled over in the flowers and ended up on her back beside Swanee.
“Now, look up, Swanee. What do you see?”
“I see de sky and what left of de ol’ oak tree.”
“Want to know what I see?”
“I see a hallway—my books call it a corridor—through the oak leaves into the land where the princess lives. I see soft blue everywhere to make her feel good all the time and I see white castles and even a chariot for her to ride in. I see….
“Does you see a prince anywhere up dere?”
For a few moments, Lizzy was silent, pondering Swanee’s question.
“No,” she whispered softly. “I never see a prince. I wonder why?”
Swanee sensed the sadness in Lizzy’s voice and it nearly broke her old heart. “Well, de days ahead belongs to God, child. Only He knows de future. But I’m tellin’ you, sure as I’s a lyin’ on dis here ground, dat I see a prince in dem clouds.”
Swanee heard the excitement rise in Lizzy’s voice and she was glad. Even though Nate and Laney had raised Lizzy to know a lot of love, her childhood had been filled with grief. It was time for a dream or two to come true.
“Can you tell who it is, Swanee?”
“Hmm, no, I cain’t quite make it out. He look kinda tall but he could be short. Cain’t tell. But he shore do have a purty smile. I can see dat real good.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful! If he smiles a lot like Papa, I just know I’ll like him.”
Swanee was quiet for a long while; Lizzy, too. One light as midday and one dark as deepest night, they lay side-by-side in the pink flowers.
Lizzy’s eyelids were getting heavy and her breathing was slowing down. She was almost asleep when she heard Swanee through the haze of dreamland.
“He comin’ soon, Miss Lizzy.”
Lizzy jumped out of her grogginess and rolled over at the same time. “He is?”
“Yep, I think he be comin’ soon.”
“What should I do to get ready for him?” Lizzy’s faith in Swanee’s predictions was solid.
“Nothin’, child. You been ready. Yo mammy and pappy de ones ain’t ready.”
By that time, Lizzy was on her feet dancing around the oak like a forest fairy. Swanee wondered if she even heard her last words. The old colored woman and everyone else in Beulah worried about the day Lizzy Grissom would marry and leave her mama and daddy. Nate and Laney had held onto Lizzy with all their hearts since losing their other two children fifteen years ago.
Swanee lay still, hoping the Good Lord would see fit to make a prince out of one of the local boys so Lizzy could stay in Beulah forever.