“What you wanna to do is pull it, like this,” he says in demonstration. He yanks the cord under my shack and it blows up to ten times its size. In a matter of seconds my shack becomes a ten story castle. There are fifteen turrets, flags waving on top of each one. “That’s all ya gotta do,” he says.
My shack is in the middle of a rundown street. When he pulls the cord my shack shoves all the other shacks to the end of the block. One big mess of shacks. I hear my neighbors fit-throwing and stomping through broken glass as they search for an exit.
“Here,” he says, yanking the cord again. “You yank this and it goes back to normal, see? Now when the taxman comes you got nuttin to worry bout. You pay taxes on this thing?”
“I don’t have a job,” I say. “None of us do.”
“That’s fine. That’ll work fine. Well, enjoy your castle.”
I give him a quarter and he strolls down the street flipping it in the air.
I go back inside to inspect my castle.
The entry hall is forty yards long. Staircases wind in all directions. Up, down, left, right. A huge chandelier dangles fifty feet above my head. When I say ‘wow’ it echoes for half a minute.
My hand is on the nearest banister when I hear a knock at my door. It is a loud booming knock. Echoes ring throughout my castle.
I open the door and find my neighbors.
Because I destroyed my neighbors’ shacks, they’ve come to live with me. I have plenty of room. I was looking forward to living by myself, but heavy is the head that wears the crown. Anyway, I feel it my duty to make them happy. They are my subjects, after all.
The guy who used to live three houses down says, “The mutton’s not tender enough.” His wife says, “I done clogged the toilet.”
Since I haven’t appointed a man-at-arms, I try to fix things myself. It doesn’t go well. In five minutes I’m covered in my neighbors’ shit and piss.
Some days I get lost in my castle. I wander the halls, playing custodian and maid to my former neighbors. At the beginning of the week I put on my maid’s uniform and make the beds. I fluff the pillows and leave a mint on each one. There are so many rooms, I’m unable to finish them all before my subjects return to sleep. Sometimes only half the castle is finished by the end of one day. My subjects don’t seem to mind. They throw parties that last for weeks. I’ve never been invited to one. I hear them sometimes when I’m working the tenth floor. The bumping rhythm keeps me focused.
I would sell my castle, but where would my subjects live? They depend on me now. I feel the weight of responsibility pushing down on my shoulders.
My terrible record as king causes my subjects to band together. They form a Union of Disgruntled Subjects. They picket the halls, carrying signs and singing protest songs.
When I tell them I’m doing my best, they offer me consolation: “Do as we say, and you get to be our king. We catch you lollygagging, you’re out.”
While I work I listen to trade journals on cassette. The most helpful is Superintendent’s Monthly. According to the editor, upkeep is key. “If you don’t fix it now,” says the man on the cassette, “it becomes harder to fix later.” His voice is stern, like those of my subjects.
If I pull the cord I lose my subjects. A king without a country.
At night, when my subjects lie drunk and the parties have quieted to a meager roar, I take a moment to feel myself. My hands are sore from scrubbing toilets. My nasal passages scorched from cleaning solvent. I hear the words, heavy is the head that wears the crown, and I think I know what they mean. But tucked away beneath my castle, my crown remains unboxed.