My Favourite Fairytale is Cinderella — But I’m Not So Sure About the Prince.
Although I’m partial to Ali-Baba, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, my favourite fairytale is Cinderella.
The themes of Cinderella appeal: the envy of the stepsister’s, Cinderella’s desire for love, security. The events of the story are relatable: the resourcefulness of the fairy godmother (a pumpkin, into a coach! that woman took recycling to a whole new level), the importance of footwear and the drudgery of housework. Any story that realises that housework is deeply boring has to be a winner.
One thing, however, always bothered me about the Cinderella story. That is the prince. Unfortunately, he’s not much of a hero.
This is not entirely his fault — I mean, “Charming”, what sort of a name is that? But when we reach the end of the story, and he starts trotting about with a shoe? That’s just weird. It’s also stupid. Why would anyone try and match a shoe with a foot to find the perfect mate?
Which brings me to the point of this post: my first ever fairytale retelling was a reworking of the Cinderella story, but sans prince. Although I kept the shoes. I have a thing about amazing footwear.
The story is called Ten Minutes to Go, and is the first of the fairytales in my collection, Upon a Time. I’m updating this free collection next month with a new story, which is why I’ve been blogging so hard about fairytales; they’re on my mind, you see.
Anyway, to give you a taster of this collection (have I mentioned its free???!) I’ve popped Ten Minutes to Go into this post. I hope you enjoy! And if you prefer to read it as a pdf, you can download it here.
Ten Minutes to Go.
His breath stinks. I can’t wait to get out of here.
The unyielding shoes pinch my feet, and – ouch! – again, he stands on my toes. Despite their fragile appearance, the shoes are highly engineered and fortunately, they can handle the weight of his fat feet. The music stops. Thank God. How can one dance to the plucking of strings and the scraping of cat gut? I prefer something with a beat.
“Just one more waltz,” he pleads, wiping his face with his kerchief. I glance at the clock. Just ten minutes to go.
“I’m very thirsty, sir,” I say, fanning my face, curving my arm around its strong struts, so the dimples on my elbows show.
“My lady,” he says, “I will provide.” He bows, one arm crossed over his chest. I suspect he’s trying to hide his stomach, but he’s not successful. How could you hide something so large?
“How dare you?” A hiss from behind. It’s Seraphina, my so-called sister.
“You little slut!” Madelina, the other ‘sister’.
I smile and unfurl my fan. “My dear sisters. How lovely to see you. And are you enjoying this glorious evening?” I peer behind them. “And your partners? Are they absent, perchance? Or has,” and I close my fan with a snap, “no-one asked you to dance?”
They step towards me, nails outstretched. As if on cue, my partner returns and my sisters are suddenly all false smiles.
“Oh thank you, your Majesty,” I say, as he hands me a glass of champagne. He glances at my sisters, blinking at the glare from their jewel-encrusted bodices. They are far richer than I, but have no taste; like magpies, they value things only for their shine. Life can be unfair; my father left them all his fortune. How can you contest a will when you have no funds to do so?
“Allow me to introduce my sisters. This is Seraphina.” She drops a curtsey. The girl is always untidy; this evening she has strawberry seeds caught in her bucked teeth, giving her a most unfortunate appearance. “And Madelina.”
The warts on Madelina’s drink-reddened nose are highlighted by the candle glare. She spreads her skirts, essays a curtsey but her balance is worsened by wine and she stumbles. Reaching for support, she pulls on the King’s arm.
“Madam!” Horrified, he steps back. His glass goes flying, spraying champagne over me.
“My Lady Ella,” he appears distraught, and waves for a lackey. “Shall I show these creatures out?”
My sisters gasp and for a wonderful few seconds I savour their humiliation. But business is business, after all, and the interruption is very convenient, so I smile up at him most sweetly. “My Liege, I am sure it was an accident. If you could show me where I can freshen up?” I glance at the clock. Three minutes. I need to get out of here.
As the rest room door closes, I heave a sigh of relief. Two minutes. I struggle out of the lace confection of a dress and throw the uncomfortable glass slippers in the trash. Flinging open the window, I inhale the cool night air with pleasure. These balls are so stuffy; mannered and poorly ventilated, full of high-class idiots speaking in drawling accents. Really, they won’t be missed at all. Unravelling the rope that’s been tucked between my shoulder blades, I throw the weighted end out towards the castle ramparts. I’d practised this so often, and like a dream, it catches first time.
Inserting the groove of my carbon fibre fan onto the rope, I climb onto the window sill. Don’t look down Ella. I fling myself out the window, holding tight to the struts of the fan. The night breeze blows my hair into my eyes as I skim across the courtyard. My skin is dark and clad as I am in black leather undergarments, it would be hard to spot me against the night. I clamber over the ramparts unremarked.
At the other side of the wall, the coach is waiting. “Good timing,” says a cracked voice. “Drive on, Jerry.” The whip cracks and we lumber away.
“I left them in the trash can, like you said.”
“Good. Your sisters are there? And the King?”
I nod, then because it’s too dark to see, add “Yes. All three.”
“Excellent,” she says cheerfully and brings her wand down with a thwack! Stars leap from its tip, out into the night, reaching over the ramparts and into the castle, earthing in the special glass of the slippers, that promptly
As I say, these are very well-designed shoes. Not comfortable, but oh, so beautifully engineered.
Behind us, the chateau is enveloped in flame.
We drive off into the night.
“The Prince will be pleased that tonight went well,” says my godmother. “And no doubt your father’s lawyers. They always felt his will was unfair.” She leans back against the cushions. “I think I’ll settle down.” She pushes back her hood and I can see her smile in the reflected light of the fire. “Grow pumpkins or something.”
PS. Just after writing this, I found an awesome Disney wikipage about Prince Charming (that’s where the image above is from, too). Do check it out. I think I may have been a little harsh about the guy. Perhaps I should write another story, and this time have him as the hero…