“One, two, three-step, four, five, six-step” I whispered to myself as my tender legs bent, stretched and hopped across the floor of sister’s room, dancing to Bach’s “Minuet in G Major”. I looked up and saw my sister in a corner of the room, sitting on her Rococo-style gilded chair, crossing her legs elegantly while sipping tea. She looked down at me with a smug smile like a condescending British aristocrat; wearing a refined Regency-style dress decked out with puffy sleeves, a reasonable amount of lace, and a tasteful amount of décolletage. She was only one pair of white gloves away from looking like the Queen of England.
I got nervous whenever I danced for sister, she looked down at me with such a sense of superiority — as though she owned me. But I did enjoy getting a chance to wear her dresses, she had such a refined sense of taste. I was always mesmerized as I watch the pleats of my skirt twirl as I danced in circles in sister’s room, and enjoy the sensuous feeling of the soft cotton petticoat and underpants rubbing across my legs. I did not have a dancing partner, so I danced with a broomstick attached to a Roomba that had been specially programmed to dance.
Suddenly, sister clapped her hands and said, “Halt! And turn off the music.” My feet quickly stopped at her command, although the Roomba continued to circumambulate for a few seconds. I walked over to her iPod and stopped the music, then looked up at her. She was wearing a wry smile on her face as she signaled for me to come closer. Then, speaking with the most perfect Received Pronunciation, she sternly commanded, “I believe it’s time for some more tea.”
“Yes, m’lady,” I responded, using the closest approximation of the Queen’s English I can imitate, then curtsied.
She looked displeased, then said, “Thou wretched plebeian! Did I not tell thee to address me by my proper title?”
I felt nervous and bit my lips, then curtsied again and said, “I’m sorry, your majesty, your royal highness, Queen Terri Majoria, Duchess of Scotland and Bavaria, Countess of Saxony, Protector of Aquitaine, Countess of the Isle of Man and the Right Hand of God.”
She looked satisfied, then said, holding out her tea cup, “Now, some tea.”
I poured her a cup of tea, then spent a minute staring at her while awaiting for further instructions. After a while she seemed to have forgotten that I was standing next to her, and when she looked up she seemed surprised. Reverting back to her usual California accent, she said, “Well, nobody told you to stop dancing. ”
I bowed, walked over to her iPod to turn on the music, then resumed dancing. A few minutes later mom walked into the room with a scarf on a coat hanger in her hand. A bemused look appeared on her face when she saw me dancing in sister’s room in a dress, she never saw me do this before and asked, “Why are you dancing with a Roomba?”
Sister glanced up at my mother with a mischievous smile and said, “We’re playing a game called ‘queen and slave’.”
Mom wrinkled her forehead and said, “Excuse me, I asked Robbie, not you.”
“Ah, but in this game Robbie is not allowed to speak unless spoken to.”
“I see,” mom said, opening the closet to put the scarf in, then closing the closet. “How does this game work?”
“Well, I tell Robbie what to do, and he does it. That’s basically it.”
Mom shook her head with disapproval, then said, “And what does Robbie get out of it?”
“Well, he gets to wear all kinds of pretty dresses and play with my toys.”
“That seems like a pretty exploitative relationship.”
“Yeah, but he wouldn’t have to do this if you bought him some girly clothes.”
Mom rolled her eyes and said, “I’m not buying a boy a dress.”
She began walking out of the room, but had to duck to avoid walking into a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. Sister decorated her room to look like a ballroom, and used me as a living prop to pretend that she’s living inside a Jane Austen novel.
After mom left the room, sister raised her tea cup, then said in RP, “Ah, my personal slave, it feels like I’m living in Regency England.”
“You know, there weren’t any slaves in Regency England,” I said.
She glared at me and shouted, “Shut up, slave!”
I stopped dancing, curtsied, then said, “Sorry, your majesty, your royal highness, queen of…”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said in her normal accent, waving her left hand, “I don’t need to hear all that, just get back to dancing.”
I bowed, then continued to minuet with the Roomba. I usually did not break sister’s rules, but I can’t stand a factual error go unchallenged. 10 minutes later my dad walked in the room; there was a special glow on his face as he saw me. He enjoyed seeing me dance as much as Terri, so he opened his arms and said, “Hey, how’s my special little girl doing?”
A smile immediately appeared on my face, because so far he has been the only person willing to call me a girl. I wanted to jump into his arms, but I still had to deal with sister. I stopped dancing, bowed down to Terri and said, “May I be dismissed, your majesty?”
“Thou shan’t be dismissed at thy pleasure!” sister said.
But dad knew exactly how to handle the situation, he grabbed a roll of wrapping paper as a pretend sword, then said in the most melodramatic Shakespearean actor voice, “I am Prince Ivan, Lord of Prussia, Duke of Zurich, Regent of Hanover, Mayor of Moscow, Bishop of Milan, Gourmand of Capon, and I have come to free this fair noble maiden from thou tyrant!”
Terri looked at dad with contempt, then said, “Robbie is no noble maiden, she is a commoner who I have taught how to be prim and proper.”
“Bloody tabernacle!” dad yelled, pointing his pretend sword at sister, “I challenge you to a duel for the freedom of Maiden Robin!”
Looking incredulous, Terri said, “‘Tis improper tusk for a nobleman to challenge a lady to a duel, knowest not thou the etiquette of the Regency period?”
Dad put down the wrapping paper, then said in his normal voice, “Look, people during the Regency period have already stopped using ‘thou’ so you’re already stretching the rules of your game.”
Terri switched back to her normal voice as well, and said, “Fine, you can have her, or him, or whatever…”
I bowed one last time to Terri, then ran into dad’s arms, squealing in joy. He picked me up off the ground carried me to my room; I looked into his eyes, so shiny and full of joy. After putting me on my bed, he said with unmatched excitement on his face, “Robin, I have a surprise for you!” He reached into a bag, at first I thought it was jewelry but instead he took out a plush toy panda. I would have preferred the jewelry, but I still squealed as I caressed the panda in my arms because I knew it was a gift from the heart.
“I noticed that you like to play with your sister’s panda, so I made you one so you wouldn’t have to share.”
I was surprised, and said, “You made it? But how?”
“Well, I took a regular stuffed panda and put some robotics and artificial intelligence into it. Here, watch,” he said, setting the panda on the bed, he said into the panda’s ear, “Sing ‘I’m a Little Tea Pot’.”
The panda moved its lips and sang “I’m a little tea pot short and stout…”
“Now dance as well,” he said, and the panda immediately got up on its hind legs and did the dance that accompanied the song. I sat there, my mouth agape in amazement, looked into dad’s bewitching eyes and wrapped my arms around his neck and gave him a big kiss on the cheek. He felt a bit embarrassed by my action, but was okay with it. He continued, “I have programmed it to do more than just sing and dance.”
“Stop panda,” he said, and the panda stopped dancing. “Panda, who built the pyramids?”
The panda lowered its head as though to think, then raised his head to look at dad and said, “The pyramids were built by the ancient Egyptians from about 2700 BC to 1700 BC. The first pyramid was built by the pharaoh Djoser. The Mesoamericans also built structures that looked like pyramids.”
I was far less impressed with Panda’s ability to answer questions, because I already had Wikipedia for that. I was far more interested by his ability to sing and dance. But dad seemed to be far more interested in Panda’s ability to answer trivia questions. Dad’s face lighted up as he said, “Just imagine how much more intelligent Panda will be after a few more years of learning.”
“Can he learn how to love?” I asked.
Dad suddenly looked as though he had a revelation, then said, “It would be hard, but I don’t think it’s impossible.” For a few more minutes he watched me play with the panda, making him do all sorts of dance and song routines, then he rubbed the back of my head, walked up from the bed and said, “Well, I have to get back to work, see you later.”
I was surprised, I thought he had time to play with me. As he left I grabbed his arm and whimpered, “Please, don’t go.”
Dad smiled at me and said, “Aww, don’t worry, see you at dinner.”
“But daddy, when will we have time to be together?”
“I’ll make it up to you, we’ll go fishing over the weekend, okay?” I was satisfied, but I hate the fact that he chooses his work over me. I understand it, but I still hate it. After he left I laid on the bed with Panda in my arms. I got bored after a while, so I lifted Panda in front of my face and asked, “Can you really learn how to love?” Panda rotated its head, then said, “Yes, someday, someday.” I was very pleased, and held him close to any chest as I drifted off into sleep, taking my afternoon nap.