Monday, 16 March 2015

You shall go to the ball

"You shall go to the ball," beamed the Fairy Godmother.

Cinderella smiled weakly and wandered across the garden to retrieve the toy from the bushes, while the dog sniffed around hopelessly trying to find it.

It was the Fairy's favourite line and it always brought a smile to her lips. Cinderella had stopped finding it amusing a long time ago, but didn't want to hurt the pensioner's feelings by saying anything. It wasn't just when the dog got confused that the Fairy chose to use her line.

Every time the old metal bell by the front door was jangled by a visitor she'd chuckle, "You shall go to the hall."

'How had it come to this?' Cinderella wondered.

She looked across the garden of her simple cottage and surveyed the scene. There, in her favourite garden chair, sat the elderly Fairy. She had long since stopped wearing the sparkly dress. Instead she preferred the comfort of some baggy pink trousers and a hand-knitted, chunky, purple cardigan. Neither of these really matched the silver tiara that she insisted on wearing - or the magic wand, but the Fairy was old enough not to care what anyone else thought of her.

A gentle snoring was coming from the summer house. Cinderella sighed and strolled over to wake the dozing pair. She knew that if they slept too much in the afternoon, they'd be unable to sleep properly that night and then they'd be grumpy tomorrow. Popping her head round the door, she saw them both, lying back on the velvet cushions, mouths wide open, sound asleep. She remembered the first time she had seen them. How wonderful they had looked in their gold waistcoats and crisp white shirts.

What a night that had been: the magical coach and horses, the dress, the excitement of going to the palace, dancing all night with the most handsome man she'd ever seen and the shoes. How could she forget those shoes?

Of course she should have realised something was wrong the next morning. She had spent all night gazing at the prince's face. She felt like she would have recognised a single hair from his head. Certainly one look at those dark brown eyes would have brought the whole of the previous evening rushing back to her. What did he need to convince himself that she was one who he had fallen so in love with?

"Just try this glass slipper on will you?"

Oh, how foolish she had been. She was young and in love and she would have done anything to be with that dashing young prince. But really...

 "Whoever this slipper fits will be my bride."

She could have kicked herself.

"Come on you two," she whispered gently to the two old footmen. "It's soon time for tea."

Two heads shot up from two chests.

"I wasn't asleep,"

"Just resting my eyes,"

"I was just thinking about something,"

"Of course you were," she soothed, smiling gently.

The two old men looked guiltily at each other and then lovingly at Cinderella. How lucky they were to have such a beautiful young lady looking after them in their old age. They remembered how stunning she had looked on the night of the ball. They had watched all the other guests enter the Great Hall as they waited patiently outside for the ball to finish. There wasn't a single lady who went in who came close to being as beautiful as Cinderella.

They also remembered her coming out of then hall. What a rush that had been. She came leaping down the stone steps at such a rate they were sure something was wrong. They clung on to the back of the coach as it sped along the country lanes on the way back to the little cottage.

The next morning they were lying on a rock, soaking up the warmth of the sun, when the prince had arrived searching for Cinderella. It seemed like her dreams had come true. They couldn't imagine anyone being happier, or more suited to being a princess.

They had watched as she left the cottage and imagined what her life would be like at the palace. They never imagined it would end like this.

"Come on," smiled Cinderella, "I'll lock up behind you. You go and help Fairy Godmother back into the cottage. I've made a fire. You can wait in the front room while I finish off making tea."

Slowly, the two old men rose to their feet and shuffled their way to the door. Cinderella helped them down the three golden steps and watched as they made their way along the small, stone path between the vegetable patches. She sat down on the red velvet cushion and gazed round the summer house.

It had been an amazing way to travel. She had turned a few heads on her way to the palace that night in such a fine coach.

'What would have happened if they hadn't decided to surprise the prince?' she wondered. 'Would they still be together? And if they were, would they be happy?'

She winced slightly as she stepped out of the house. Stupid toe playing up again. Probably a sign of rain. She locked the door and made her way back to the cottage.

Slumping down into the old comfy chair next to the stove, she pulled off her boots and rubbed her toe. The scar was there for all to see. It reminded her of that day, although it was hardly a day she was likely to forget.

She looked over at the mantelpiece. The photographs of her two sisters glared down at her. She had forgiven them for their behaviour long ago and actually felt sorry for the way their own lives had turned out. One had featured heavily on a Channel 4 reality series about ugly people cooking for each other in houses that celebrities were trying to sell. The other one had misheard someone talking about BOTOX injections and had tried to inject some of her own bottom into her forehead in an attempt to smooth out the wrinkles.

Next to the photographs was a single glass slipper. 

At first she hadn't minded wearing the glass slippers all the time. It seemed only fitting, after all, that she should wear the very things that brought her and her prince together. However, as the years past she began to grow weary of cramming her feet into the cold, hard footwear. Her feet began to suffer and eventually the royal physician decided that an operation was needed to correct the toe problems she was suffering.

It wasn't just her toes that were suffering. The prince had seemed more distant. There was less dancing. Not that she minded. She was glad to be off her feet. But she missed the closeness. She felt as though he was drifting away from her.

That was when she had the plan. The annual ball was quickly approaching. she was determined to have recovered enough from the operation to be able to wear the glass slippers once more and sweep her husband off his feet, just as she had done all those years before. And then, while she was lying in her hospital bed, her Fairy Godmother had appeared.

 She was ready for one last piece of magic, she had said. Cinderella sent a servant off to her little cottage to find the necessary items.

A few hours later and Cinderella was riding away from the hospital in her magnificent coach. The footmen were standing proudly at the back of the coach, just as they had all those years before. The horses, although a little slower than they had been, couldn't have been any prouder. She walked up the stone steps at the front of the palace and approached the large glass doors that lead to the Great Hall. She was ready to sweep her husband off his feet once again.

And then she had seen him, dancing with his arms rapped tightly round another, much younger woman. Cinderella had barely been able to breath, never mind move. She had looked at the imposters feet and noticed, with anger, the glassy footwear. The two dancers  had shared a deep, lingering kiss. Cinderella had turned and fled.

The two footmen delivered a message to the prince the following day. He said nothing. There was nothing to say. He would make sure that Cinderella was looked after financially, but he had moved on. He couldn't be seen at official engagements with someone with feet like hers any more.

She eased her feet into her soft, woollen slippers and turned on the kettle. The stew was simmering nicely on the stove and the smell of freshly baked, crusty bread was filling the kitchen. She called to the three pensioners in the front room. She was glad that the last piece of magic had not been reversed at midnight on that evening when she had discovered the betrayal. The coach made a beautiful summer house. She loved the sumptuous seats and the way the gilt decoration caught the light as the sun set. But most of all she loved the company. Her little cottage was full again, after years of being deserted while she was up at the palace.

After all these years she was back to taking care of the other three people who lived with her. How different from her life before though. She still cooked and cleaned. She was still the first one to rise in the morning and the last to go to bed at night. But she did it for love.

She looked at the three wrinkled faces sitting round the table. The gazed back at her, with love and understanding in their eyes. She really wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else. She pulled he curtains and shivered slightly as she felt a draught from the windows.

"Sit here, dear - next to the stove," offered the Old Fairy.

"No, you stay there," she smiled, "I can go and put something warm on. There's that lovely..."

She stopped herself, but knew it was too late. She looked over at the Fairy and saw that familiar twinkle come into her eye. She took a deep breath, knowing only too well what was going to come next.

"You shall go for the shawl," chuckled the old fairy, making her tiara wobble slightly.

Cinderella smiled and nodded as she went to her wardrobe.

Although it wasn't quite what she had expected, she thought that this probably was Happily Ever After.

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