And then, she lived happily ever after.
Or did she?
Fast forward twenty years, or maybe a little more. (As they say, the longest ten years of a woman’s life are between the ages of forty and sixty.)
Behold Queen Cinderella. She is bored, but doesn’t like to say so.
She sometimes looks wistfully at that old ball dress and wonders what happened to her waist. She misses all the petticoats. The frame under her skirts these days is so broad and immobile she has to go sideways through doors, but while wigs are just the place to keep things (like quills and spare change and toothpicks) she misses her hair falling loose and unhindered. She has very firm views about footwear however, and hasn’t been able to wear heels since the heir to the throne came along. The glass slippers are on display in the portrait gallery and she blames her bunions on hours of dancing in the wretched things. Everyone thinks the slipper fell off. It didn’t. She kicked it off in temper.
The thing about having once been a maid is that you can’t help noticing when things aren’t done properly. The dusting, the seasoning in the soup, the really terrible darning on her stockings, the state of the brass and silver: poor Cinderella’s fingers itch to sort it all out, but it doesn’t do to argue with the servants, she knows only too well what sort of revenge they can take. All the same, there is only so much of sitting on a fine cushion sewing a fine seam that a reasonably intelligent woman can take. And dining on strawberries, sugar and cream all day for twenty (cough cough) years is definitely the reason why she can’t get into that old ball gown anymore.
King Charming is, frankly, an idiot. When they were first married it wasn’t so bad, even if he was a bit obsessed with women’s feet. Before she got pregnant, she would leave him sneaking glances at noblewomen’s shoes and sneak out of the palace in the dark. In disguise she’d find the places were there was all night dancing and singing but no-one cared what you were wearing or who you were. If she is honest, Cinderella, outstrips him on the brains front and would make a much better monarch. Every time he tells her about his decrees, she rolls her eyes. ‘Why don’t you just order a revolution and save everyone time,’ she says.
And then one day, when Cinderella is half-heartedly minding her sparkling sheep on the model farm, a girl in a red cloak pops out of the forest.
The girl says ‘sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and then sometimes you have to alter the direction of the flow. The key is to know the difference. If you want to change the way things turned out, twiddle this until you get the date you want to go back to and you can start again. I used it to reboot a wolf to default to sheep and saved a grandmother. And him. Shall I send him out to eat your flock before it dies of boredom? Anyway, use this wisely and pass it on.’ Handing Cinderella a strange looking device, she dashes back into the forest.
For a few seconds, Cinderella stands blinking into the pines, where she can just make out a flash of red and then turns to look at the object in her hand. Nearby, a flunky walks around behind the sheep picking up droppings and another walks around straightening bows. Tonight, there will be a dinner which is supposed to ameliorate the nobles and some of the muttering bourgeoisie. She thinks back to when it had all changed and then ….. she rewinds time.
The stepmother and ugly stepsisters had gone to the ball crammed into clothes that didn’t suit them or fit them and there was Cinderella sitting in the kitchen wondering why there’s always a teaspoon in the bottom of the sink after you’ve finished washing up and whether she’d accidentally put the potato peeler in the bin. Again.
To be honest, she’d given up on the ball idea long ago. She’d tried on the sisters’ dresses in secret but otherwise she knew it just wasn’t going to happen. But at least she’d have the evening to herself without people demanding snacks every five minutes. And the kitchen was a lot warmer than the drawing room.
Yes, Cinderella was feeling positive, maybe a little rebellious. She’d considered whether to get the really expensive tea out of the cupboard (the one they’d got from the smugglers to avoid paying duty) and then decided she might as well get the port out instead and top the bottle up afterwards with blackcurrant cordial. She was rummaging around in the bottom of the dresser to get at the good stuff (dislodging the dodgy looking bottles of cream liqueur, advocaat and pina colada which had been there since last Christmas) when there was a loud explosion which made her jump and bang her head on the roof of the cupboard.
For a moment she froze, thoughts tumbling through her spinning head: have the stepsisters come back? is the house being raided? did I leave something boiling? does my bum look big in this cupboard? The answer to the last question was yes; but to be fair, Cinderella was wearing a lot of petticoats and her bum was the only thing visible as the rest of her was inside the dresser.
Backing out, she stood up with a frown and found herself face to face with a strange woman who was holding a party dress in exactly the right size, some highly inappropriate shoes which came with a health warning from HM Dept of Chiropody, a pumpkin and some rodents. Like you do.
‘Cinderella!’ said the woman, brandishing what appeared to be a sparkler, ‘I am your Fairy Godmother! You will go to the ball.’
‘Where have you been up to now then?’ said Cinderella, ‘I’ve been trapped in this kitchen by my family for ten years.’
‘Because this is the pivotal moment when you can meet a handsome prince and live happily ever after!’
‘Why couldn’t I have had a pivotal moment when I was six so that I got some love and affection and maybe an education and an occasional lie-in?’
The feeling of rebellion had not receded. All these years, training up as a domestic instead of as a lady. Why hadn’t she just walked away rather than wait for someone to rescue her? After all, she could have been a servant somewhere else and been paid for it; she could have found another career entirely; she could have dressed as a boy and run off to sea or gone to live in the wilds as a wise woman or something.
And then Cinderella realised that the world was her oyster; but that it was up to her to open it in the hope of a pearl rather than a lump of gloop. And even if it was gloop, after ten years of housework, she was used to gloop. She smiled. If the Fairy Godmother had actually been paying attention all these years, she’d have recognised that smile and saved herself a lot of excuses in her annual report.
So, an hour or so later, after Cinderella had boiled up the water for a bath and used the sisters’ perfumes and with some magical assistance had put her hair up and crammed herself into the dress and found a large matching handbag, she watched as the pumpkin and rodents became coach, coachman and horses and waving goodbye to the Fairy Godmother sped round the corner towards the castle and then stuck her head out of the window and directed the coachman out of the city instead. At the gates, she put on her best pomposity:
‘Open the gates immediately!’
The guard warned: ’But it’s ten o’clock your..’ (under his breath) ‘stroppiness..’ (louder) ‘outside there are….’
‘Do you know who I am??’
The gates swung back and the coach barrelled through.
The guard, shutting them again, muttered, ‘I know who you are, you’re someone who’s going to be attacked by highwaymen or wolves. Arrogant…’
The bolts screeched.
But the moon was bright and Cinderella was fine. For two hours the coach sped along, crossing the border before skidding to a halt at the edges of a forest near a small town. A few moments later, Cinderella stepped out of the coach, asked the coachman to strip to his underwear, kissed him and patted the horses before they transformed, then shooed rodents into the undergrowth. Carefully placing the ball-dress and crystal shoes into her oversized bag and taking out a blanket, Cinderella put on the coachman’s outfit, settled her head on the pumpkin and fell asleep. A rat and four mice curled up on her lap until dawn.
In the morning, Cinderella walked into town and found herself lodgings with an old lady who needed an extra pair of hands and was happy for the first instalment of rent to be paid in pumpkin soup. After that, Cinderella set about selling the ball-dress and starting up a domestic service agency. No woman in her right mind wanted the shoes however. Without any help from anyone, Cinderella found Edward, a young man with brains, married him and expanded her business. As the years passed, she forgot about the crystal shoes and they sat in her coffer under a growing pile of coins with a strange device the purpose of which was now a blur.
One evening, Edward said over dinner, ‘those dwarves in the forest are after crystals. Not sure if the diamond mine’s run out or they just want a sideline for the financially challenged. Shame we haven’t got any to sell.’
The next day, Cinderella headed into the trees with the slippers in a nap-sack. It was a long way through the undergrowth to the cottage but every time she thought she was lost, a group of mice squeaked at her till she changed direction. They looked like mice she’d once known, but that was ridiculous. The cottage was in a clearing. She had heard dire things about the state of it and was anticipating filth and chaos, but when she arrived there was a girl standing outside under sparkling windows, putting clothes through a mangle and singing to an audience of wildlife.
‘Hello,’ said Cinderella. The girl looked up and stopped singing, her hair was black as ebony, her skin as white as snow (which was hardly surprising since there wasn’t much sunlight getting through the trees) and lips as red as blood. It was a bit unnerving to look at her.
‘I’m Cinderella. I’ve got some crystal to sell to the dwarves.’
‘I’m Snow White,’ said the girl, ‘I’ll call them.’
She shrieked into the trees and after patting all the animals, went back to the mangle, grimacing as she wound the handle.
‘I hate housework,’ she said, ‘All I want to do is run a wildlife rescue centre. I don’t know how I ended up here. One minute you’re being trained up to a future of idle luxury, eating strawberries and cream and being pregnant every year and you’re thinking how boring it all sounds and then as soon as you hit sixteen, someone takes you into the woods to kill you quickly with a dagger, then wimps out and sends you into the forest so the wolves or starvation or hypothermia can do the job much slower and more painfully, then when you think you’ve found some men to save you, turns out they live in such a mess they can’t find their own er… anyway, you can’t live like that so you find yourself cleaning up and waiting for a handsome prince to whisk you off to a life of idle luxury, eating strawberries and cream and being pregnant every year. Doesn’t seem like much of a life, does it? Where did I go wrong? Anyway, while we’re waiting, let’s have a look at the crystals.’
Cinderella pulled the slippers out of the knapsack and a strange device falls onto the ground. She picked it up and turns it over in her hand, frowning, remembering.
‘These are pretty,’ said Snow White, holding a slipper against her foot then handing it back, ‘but they look dead uncomfortable. What’s that?’
Cinderella remembered a flash of red and said, ‘sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and then sometimes you have to alter the direction of the flow. The key is to know the difference. If you want to change the way things turned out, twiddle this until you get the date you want to go back to and you can start again.’
Snow White looked at the laundry and back at the cottage, ‘how will they manage without me though? I’m very fond of them really.’
‘I run an agency that supplies domestic service. I’m sure I can sort something out for them. Anyway, use this wisely and pass it on.’
Cinderella passed over the device and Snow White took it. Her eyes sparkled, closed then opened again as she twiddled with the time-turner and disappeared. The animals scattered.
Cinderella was left on her own with the laundry in the clearing. After a few moments, seven dwarves rounded the cottage and fourteen eyes sized up the value of the slippers.
‘Hello lads,’ said Cinderella, ‘I’ve got a business proposition.’
And then they all lived happily ever after.
Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission