Scheherazade’s Last Story

No one ever asked me why I did it. It just never came up, even after all these years and so many interviews. They always focused on the king or the thousand and one stories: How did I think of them all? Was I ever scared a story wouldn’t be enough to keep me alive? What is it like to have been married to the king for so many years? Were you always this content?

Those are the easy questions but they aren’t the most important one. I suppose everyone thought they already knew the answer to the important question. That has to be the reason they never asked. People always think they know you.

I met all the other women and girls who came before me. Most didn’t believe my dad, my little sister, or me when we told them what happened to the prior wives. We encouraged them to run, made it easy for them to do so. But the opportunity to marry the big man was just too good for some to pass up. The few who believed us didn’t understand just how many had died. Either they thought they would be the exception and melt the king’s heart or they figured they had less to return to at home to than what the executioner had to offer.

Given what I knew, everyone was shocked when I volunteered to marry the king. They tried to convince me not to do it, but never asked me why I offered. Not even my dad; he just pleaded for me not to go. I guess I was like the prior wives who thought they would be the exception, although I wasn’t particularly enamored of the king. But as his wife, assuming I lived, I could end the massacre and my dad’s role in it. We were both tired of remaining silent about the situation that motivated so many of the women before me. There’s so much trouble in the world. My thought was: volunteering isn’t a sacrifice; it’s an opportunity.

Once my stories ended and the executioner found another job, I started using some of the royal coffers to pay school fees for girls, starting in the hometowns of the prior wives. Some of graduates are now working in the government ministries, running for parliament (two won!), and starting businesses. The king isn’t openly supportive, but he doesn’t stop me either. My dad was riddled with guilt until the day he died but he tried to atone for his mistakes by supporting my work publicly and recruiting other men to join him. My sister was 36 when he died and he had never once asked her about when she was getting married. Nowadays, daughters have more options than their mothers. And fewer sons are bound by old notions of what it means to be a man. It makes me smile though the price was high. Our progress was purchased by one thousand lives and one thousand and one stories.

This story was the adult winner of the Central Arkansas Library System’s 2016 Banned Books Short Story Contest. Stories were limited to no more than 500 words and had to be based on one of the central characters of Arabian Nights.

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Karama Neal promotes equity in education, health, and opportunity for all people through teaching, research, practice, advocacy, and service.

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Karama Neal

Karama Neal promotes equity in education, health, and opportunity for all people through teaching, research, practice, advocacy, and service.