The year the Saskatchewan Book Awards was held in Saskatoon at the Bessborough Hotel just happened to coincide with a visit from the blasted British royal family. The Queen was there, wearing something purple, and also there were her big-eared son, and her big-eared son’s two dashing children. The princess was dead by that time. Or maybe she wasn’t. But she wasn’t there. To be honest, I don’t really pay much attention to North American celebrities, much less European celebrities, so I’m not sure if this Book Awards was in the Princess Era or if it was Post-Princess. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters because this doesn’t really have anything to do with the royal family.
I’d arrived somewhat early and had found my spot at a generic table not far from the front of the stage. The room (the ballroom) filled relatively quickly, and before long, I found that the only place *to* sit was the chair I’d initially claimed. So I went to sit down and found a Fetching Young Man in the chair beside mine. I greeted him warmly, the dashing young man wearing a dark blue uniform with gold braid at the shoulders. He looked me up and down with obvious derision, then sneered and pointedly looked to his right, where the Queen was sitting.
I made a horrible fool of myself, trying to shake hands with the royals, or bowing when a curtsey was required, or calling the Queen “Your Royalness” instead of “Your Highness”. I may have even called Prince Charles “Your Poopship”. I, um, am not schooled in the ways of protocol. And, to be honest, don’t particularly care if I piss off a blue-blood.
I tried to introduce myself to him nonetheless, but all he would do is point out all the ways in which I was entirely the Wrong Sort of Person to be at a Saskatchewan Book Awards event, particularly one at which the royal family was also in attendance. Regardless, we had some very tasty appetizers, and the program began, with the keynote speaker making her presentation and the wine being served. During the break before the presentation of awards, I retired to the lobby.
There was the dashing, if rude, young man in the dark blue uniform with gold braid, standing looking somewhat bewildered. I asked him what was the matter (although I thought better of asking, as he had been an utter turd to me). He informed me that he was the Royal Pilot while the royals were in the province, and that he had been instructed not to ‘associate with the commoners’. At which point I suggested he had common blood himself, and he laughed.
He wanted to know if I would like to go for a drive with him, out of town, briefly, to see a couple of his friends. I was more or less done with a stuffy dinner in a stuffy room, and so agreed to go. He had to fetch something, he said. The ‘out of town’ location turned out to be the rural home of two friends of mine. As it happened, my royal pilot was also acquainted with them.
My friends were surprised, but excited to see me, and didn’t know the pilot and I were acqainted. We weren’t, my royal pilot said, but he was there to retrieve …the object. While the pilot went to get it, take it back to the city, and then return for me, I got to hang with my friends.
I spoke to my friends while I waited. Well. I spoke to the missus. She was emaciated and pale, and her partner just stood in the shadows and peered at us from under his mop of unruly bright red hair. I don’t remember what we talked about, but at the end of the conversation, I took the missus’ face in my hands and said: “It will be okay. You are doing it right. It is enough. You don’t have to try to impress anyone.”
She began to weep, and her partner stared sullenly at her as if to say, ‘you have no right to cry’. The royal pilot and I got back into the SUV and drove back to the city. He asked me if I would care to go for a drive, and I said I would love to. The city, in the late spring/early summer, is pretty. It’s a natural beauty that for some reason people seem to try to take credit for. Everyone we met when we stopped the vehicle to walk on the riverbank announced to us how beautiful the city was, and how much better it was than any number of other places.
The pilot and I laughed at this seeming inferiority complex, and continued on. We talked about flying, and about writing, and about learning, and about politics. We talked about anything we could think of, and running through it all, underneath it all, was a restrained chemistry; one he would not speak of to his wife, and one I would not mention to my husband. We both knew it would be dangerous to spend more time together, so when we parted that evening at the doors of the great castle hotel on the South Saskatchewan river, we smiled and embraced one another, and he returned to his royal family and I went home to my (un)common family. He’d said he was glad to have met me, and I’d said it was too bad we’d not see one another again.
Months later, or days, or years…after a non-linear amount of time had passed, I was working in the yard one morning and I saw his face in the passenger side of a vehicle that drove away from the school in our riverside town. I didn’t know if he’d seen me, but I remembered at once the evening we’d spent after the Book Awards the time the Queen came to Saskatoon. I had the radio on, and as I turned the soil in another flowerbed, I didn’t notice my royal pilot walk through our front gate.
He called to me and as I turned my head, I saw him waving and the brilliance of his smile. He crossed the yard and hugged me. I felt his heart hammering in his chest. His scent was both spicy and dusty.
The royal pilot sat in my front yard and talked about gardening, and gaming, and the time we’d jammed out on the book awards to visit our mutual friends. It wasn’t until I was about to introduce him to His Nibs that I realised I didn’t know his name (I didn’t know the pilot’s name; I was well aware of His Nibs’ name). I thought at first I may have forgotten it, but then understood I’d never known the pilot’s name. I pointed to His Nibs and said, “This is my husband, His Nibs!” And His Nibs looked expectantly at me. I pointedly looked away.
The pilot offered his hand, smiled, and said, “I’m Joachim.”
It wasn’t until after His Nibs had gone to work that I realised that he (His Nibs) was actually a woman, and had spread our deep plum velvet bedspread out on a pile of leaves so that Joachim the Royal Pilot and I could recline together. The leaves were vivid gold and red, as were the leaves in the trees, because it was suddenly autumn.
This is when the dream got *really* weird.
I told Joachim the Royal Pilot that the name Andrew would have suited him better, or perhaps Peter. And then I did not kiss him.