toothycat: (moonshadow)
[personal profile] toothycat

Original here

Why do you all keep saying: 'Oh, poor girl! Oh, unfortunate orphan!'? Cinderella was neither poor, nor unfortunate! She was no orphan either, incidentally, her parents had a very amicable divorce, the girl stayed with her father, and her mother went abroad to distant relatives. And Cinderella, by the way, is not a taunt or nickname, but a perfectly normal name she got when she was christened. It was what she was called, see? Ella Cinder, or perhaps Cinder Ella, different documents list it differently. So no-one bullied the poor girl. The stepmother? They'd been friends since they were schoolgirls! Not the same year, of course, the stepmother was four years older, after all. But it was in school they'd first met. Their shared love of housekeeping brought them together. Yes, imagine, the stepmother just loved housekeeping; she could sew, and knit, and grow herbs, and even - they say - cook pretty well. It was Cinderella, incidentally, who brought her friend home, and introduced her to her father. Her father, at thirty-four, was a man in his prime, the stepmother at seventeen a miraculous beauty; half a year later they got married, and the happiest, of course, was Cinderella - happy for her father, and for her friend, and also she already knew (what secrets could there be between close friends?) that she would soon have a little brother or sister. And what she got was two at once! A brother and a sister - by blood, you'll note, not step-siblings. They loved Cinderella too.

At first the stepmother shared the work with Cinderella fairly, but as her pregnancy became noticeable, Cinderella forbade it. Pregnant women should avoid exertion. They need to take care of themselves. The most important thing was to give birth to a healthy child; Cinderella
could surely manage the dishes and the garden on her own. Don't misunderstand, of course the king's head woodsman had servants. They were hardly in poverty. But it was not exactly a particularly highly paid position, and Cinderella reasonably judged that as the family grew, so would their expenses, and thus they should take care to keep them in check early. For instance, the gardener and the cook could be let go. She, Cinderella, happens to enjoy pottering around in the kitchen and in the garden, so why pay strangers? The money would be better saved for the children, and the young mother, of course.

After the children were born, the stepmother did make a few vague attempts to take the cloths and mops from Cinderella, but Cinderella forbade it. While there was someone else to keep house, the mother should care for the children. Use the opportunity, silly, concentrate on your twins! The stepmother, admittedly, was no great fan of cleaning, and allowed herself to be easily convinced. Moreover, the children did indeed occupy most of her time. She turned out to be an excellent mother. When the king and queen called all the kingdom's nobility to a ball to celebrate the birth of yet another princess, Cinderella's little brother and sister jumped up and down in joy and shouted: "To the ball, to the ball! Let us all go to the ball! Cinderella, come to the ball!"

"In whose place?", Cinderella asked then. "The carriage has four places, and Daddy has to go in any case - it is he who is the courtier, and we are but his family. Mummy should go with Daddy, that is not up for debate. And the two of you cannot be split - the festival will have clowns, presents and sweets, and it would be completely unfair for one of you to get all of that and the other not. So you absolutely must go to the ball."

"But what about you, Cinderella?" Her little brother and sister hugged her knees tight in distress, and looked up into her eyes.

"Oh, I wouldn't have any fun at the ball", Cinderella shrugged her shoulders theatrically. "You can tell me all about it afterwards. And meanwhile, with all of you away, I'll be able to polish all the floors, and plant roses in the garden like I've always wanted to but never had time. It's an opportunity!

Her relatives went to the ball, and Cinderella sang to herself as she washed the windows, polished the floors, cleaned the silverware... Certainly, the woodsman had servants, but as it was a festival day they were all allowed time off to go to the city - not to the palace, of course, but the square would also have festivities and just as much celebration.

And so when the kindly fairy godmother went past Cinderella's house, she did not ask: "Why are you crying, my child?" - Cinderella was not crying; she looked happy and full of energy as she weeded the herb beds and whistled a song about beetles.

"Hello, Cinderella", the fairy said. "Why aren't you at the ball? Are you ill?"

"No, my lady, all is well. Why aren't you at the ball?"

"Well, I don't seem to have been invited", the fairy mumbled. "I don't even know now whether to take offence and curse the newborn, or just stay home. They probably wouldn't let me in without an invitation anyway..."

"Oh, happy coincidence - I have a spare! Take mine, my lady, and hurry to the palace, the festivities will be underway by now!"

The fairy tried to refuse, looked embarrassed, claimed she had nothing to wear - but Cinderella quickly combed her hair, helped her dress (her mother had left behind her an entire wardrobe full of gorgeous dresses that were still in fashion) and even gave her new slippers - not crystal, of course, but nevertheless quite beautiful; they fit the fairy perfectly, but Cinderella herself had found them a little too tight.

The fairy conjured up a carriage for herself and went to the palace. She found the place so happy and full of joy that she decided not to spoil the celebration by cursing anyone - she was, after all, a good fairy. It later turned out, incidentally, that she actually had been sent an invitation, but in her absent-mindedness and shortsightedness had somehow missed it between the bills and the advertising leaflets as she went through her mail. When she came home she saw it in the most obvious place, in the middle of her writing-desk, but could not remember how it had got there. No, this was not magic, simply the ordinary nature of all important papers.

As Cinderella breezed through the housework, her family enjoyed themselves at the ball. The father discussed with the other courtiers the intricacies of hunting with hounds; the little brother and sister were taken to the children's hall, where, watched by special palace babysitters, they watched performing clowns and jugglers, and the little brother got into a fight with the sixth prince over a marzipan bunny. The prince and the brother were, of course, rapidly separated and put into a corner (each in his own), but this insignificant scuffle marked the start of a close and long friendship. When, many years later, the prince went on his famous journey, Cinderella's brother was his right hand and closest advisor. The little sister, meanwhile, fair, cute, and precocious beyond her years, completely entranced the fifth prince - but this, alas, came to nothing in the future, as aged sixteen the girl would injure her finger on a spinning-wheel, get blood poisoning and die. At that ball, though, she was just four, and still had three quarters of her life ahead of her. The girl was happy and thought little of the future. Her mother, just barely into her thirties, shone brightly amongst all the court ladies, and was closely followed not just by the crown prince, but the king himself as well; the queen, though, for some reason took a dislike to her, and this led to Cinderella's family finding favour and being shunned. As a result, the woodsman's salary was increased, but they were not again invited to balls.

How many wonders there were! Foreign masters showed off mechanical birds that could sing like real ones, wooden horses that could fly, magical pots that played music on demand. The pheasants, sent by a new supplier - a marquess of some sort - were excellent, and the wines light and refreshing. Cinderella's brother gave the newborn princess a little silver ball. The stepmother gave the queen a magical mirror (which led to further dislike). The ball gave rise to many new tales and legends. And the town square! Such tales came to pass where the common folk celebrated that a hundred thousand storytellers would not be enough to record it all.

Life in the magical kingdom flowed like a wide, deep river.

Past Cinderella.

With no-one underfoot, Cinderella was able to complete a ton of chores. All day and all evening she cleaned, polished, washed, scrubbed, tidied and sorted. By midnight, the house sparkled. Cinderella squeezed out the floor cloth, hung it over the edge of the bucket, and looked in the dark corner under the stairs to check the mousetrap for rats. There was one rat caught in it: a fat one with enormous whiskers that looked a little like the coachman, it ran in circles around the wire cage and occasionally tried to poke its nose out through the bars.

"What are you fussing for?" Cinderella asked the rat kindly. "You went in there of your own free will, so settle down, you."

And there, staring into the rat's little beady black eyes, Cinderella sat down on the floor, hugged her shoulders, and wept bitterly, without understanding quite why. And really, who can understand?

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November 2013

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