"Look," I say, which is ridiculous, because I can't meet her eyes. "I only...the thing is...we, I know we, look..."
She isn't quite glaring. It's more of a confused look that could turn into a glare at any moment. "Spit it out," she says. That tone in her voice, that one I've never been able to figure out, that one I've never been comfortable with. Joking, but not quite. It always kind of makes me hate her. A little more.
"I only like you because you're pretty," I tell her, and I watch the hurt sink into her face. "That is to say...I only ever pretended to like you...because you're pretty."
The tears are immediate, and I usually hate tears, but they don't really bother me this time. This time, I expected them. She thought we were friends.
This is a weird situation, for all of us. The people around us, they shift awkwardly, and the people behind them, they shift awkwardly, too.
The only ones not shifting around are me and her. She's just staring at me, tears streaming down her face. I'm just standing there, that stupid hat in my hand, thank God I took it off, though, because this would be about a thousand times worse if I'd left it on.
"You're fired," she says.
"Good," I tell her. And then, because I know what's coming next, I add, "I never liked making you laugh. I never liked you, and I never liked making you laugh, and if there had been any other way to make a living, I would have done it, no matter how rotten."
She nods, and the tears drip to the floor. They remind me of blood droplets.
"You were never that funny, anyway," she says.
"You're lying," I tell her, because she is. You can say a lot of things about me, but I was always that funny.
She looks at the two men shuffling around awkwardly behind me, and she says, "Kill him."
They grab me, one on each arm, and practically pick me up. I could fight them, but it would be pointless. If I did, they'd only beat me down and then drag me out unconscious. No need for that. You might not think it, considering what I do, but I'm quite level-headed.
So I stagger along as they drag me out of the hall, and I watch as her tears continue to fall, and I grin. And just before we reach the great wooden doors, I yell, "Hey!"
She looks up, and the guards stop, for just a moment. "You're a good Queen. A terrible person. But a good Queen."
She doesn't say anything, just nods to the guards. They drag me through the doors, and into the courtyard, where they throw me to the ground. I stand up before they can draw their swords. Not many jesters get to die on their feet.
"It'll be easier if you're on your knees," one of the guards tells me.
"That's what I said to your wife last night, Steven," I tell him. "And she didn't believe me any more than I believe you."
He laughs. This guy, he's been laughing at my jokes for a couple years now. He knows it's not personal. But he knows that it is. Not with him and I, of course. But me and the Queen.
I almost expect him to say something else, some farewell, just...something.
Instead, he runs his sword though my heart. Like, right through it. He's good: fast and accurate, that's why he's one of the Queen's guards. I wonder if I could have ever been that good.
I used to dream about being a soldier, when I was a boy. To be honest, I still have that dream. Late at night, when I'm about to doze off, I see myself in my mind's eye, fighting villains, saving maidens, being the hero.
But I never had the build for it, I never had the athletic ability. What I had was wit and timing. I had the ability to make people laugh.
Could've been worse, I guess.
But I fell in love with her, which was my mistake, and she played with my heart, which was hers.
I fall to the courtyard, which is mostly just mule shit and chicken feathers, and I think about how it would have been nice to die a noble death.
But then I think about all the information I passed on to the enemy's spy last night, and I realize it doesn't matter. Everyone who has seen me die this ignoble death will be dead by dawn.
I smile, and blow a dirty feather away from my mouth, and I die.
Filed under Short Stories on 12/06/10