One of my lockdown activities is to do some writing courses. The one I’m doing at the moment has challenged me to choose a very well known story and re-imagine one of its characters. This was what I ended up writing, and it was great fun!
The slipper wasn’t glass. That’s just one of those things people started to say after we got divorced. It was actually a designer mule covered in rainbow-refracting crystals. I’ve still got it. I mean, I’d have given it back to you, but you told me the other one had ‘vanished like Gossamer with the morning light’.
I’ll always wonder how much of it was my gullibility and how much was your deviousness. Ultimately it was both, I guess. You were clever. You were calculating and strategic. I’ve always prided myself on being sharp enough to see game-players from a mile off, but you were way cleverer than me.
You were clever, but you were quiet about it. Maybe that’s why I didn’t see you coming. That night at the ball, everywhere I turned, you were there. People eventually spun some romantic fairy tale about me not being able to keep my eyes off you, but it wasn’t like that, was it. I mean, I’m not denying you were beautiful – God, you were so beautiful – but you made sure there was no chance you’d fade into the background. I’d turn to grab a drink and there you were; I’d head outside for some air and there you were; I’d look for one of the princesses I was meant to dance with, and every time there you were, the only woman in my eyeline, gazing at me with those intense, mesmerising eyes, and I’d pick you again, before I’d even realised what I was doing. You told me a crazy story once about a fairy godmother doing magic to get you to the ball, and you know, I almost believe you, because it’s the only explanation for how completely you got inside my head that night.
Except it’s not the only explanation, is it. There’s a simpler one. There’s the flirting; the little moments no-one saw; the places you’d ‘accidentally’ put your hand when no-one was looking; the little things you’d whisper about ‘later’. OK, so I’m not proud of it, but when you live in the goldfish bowl I live in, opportunities for adult fun are a bit limited. It’s crap, all the stuff they say about princes and parlour maids. If I so much as peck a girl on the cheek, the entire staff knows about it within minutes. But that’s the thing! You had them all conned. You, the shy, innocent little nobody who’d turned up to the ball in that sparkly dress and the rainbow crystal shoes. You looked like the picture of innocence, and I looked like the picture of chaste, courtly romance. Little did they know you were giving me way too much info about what was under the sparkles.
I’ve got to admit, the shoe trick was nice. It was probably your cleverest move actually, that gasp of horror, the stumble on the stairs and the dash into the night, leaving nothing behind you but one of those rainbow shoes. It left everyone else a bit stunned, but it left me wanting you all the more. Of course I was going to go looking for you the next morning, and you knew it.
Why didn’t I spot the signs when I got to your house? I’ll always wonder that. There they were, your step sisters, both trying to get me to believe it was one of them I’d fallen for. In fairness to them, they weren’t as ugly as you’d made them out to be, the night before, but then that was part of your game, wasn’t it … point them out to me and snigger; draw attention to all the little flaws in their looks, all the things they couldn’t really help, and all the things I wouldn’t actually have noticed if you hadn’t mentioned it. But you were on a crusade, and they were in your way, right?
So it was odd that you weren’t there when I got to the house. It was odd that you didn’t just walk in and go: ‘Hey, prince, it’s me … the one who promised you all kinds of excitement last night and then ran off home before I had to deliver.’ I mean, if you’d come in at the start, I’d have recognised you and we could have got the whole mystery sorted in moments.
But you’re not about honest and straightforward, are you? You’re about making people play your game. So you sat in the kitchen till your dad called you in, just like you knew he would. The man’s been idolising you since you were practically small enough to sit in that rainbow slipper. And right on cue, he realised your sisters hadn’t told me about you, and he came riding to your rescue.
Never mind the ball, it was seeing you that morning that was really my downfall. If I’d never wandered into your house, I’d have forgotten you pretty quickly, but once I saw you walk in from the kitchen, it was all over, just like you knew it would be. To anyone else you were wearing a scruffy shift dress and your hair was a tangled mess, but all I saw was the body which the dress did nothing to hide, and the hair that made you look like you’d just got out of bed. Oh, and there was the ‘rescue me’ look in your eyes that drove me wild.
I don’t deserve any pity really. I was running on hormones and I got what I deserved. It’s your family I feel sorry for. You played them for years and years. Most kids would accept that their widowed parent deserved another chance at happiness. Most would have done their best to get on with the step-siblings. Sure, it doesn’t always work, but most kids try. They don’t decide, from day minus five hundred, that they’re going to do everything they can to vilify the family their parent marries into.
I remember talking to Chloe, your oldest step-sister, a couple of years ago. You and I were long since finished but I think she was feeling bad about stuff that had happened and wanted to talk. I remember her telling me how you’d twist things when you were little … like, they’d ask if you wanted to come and do girly stuff with them … make-up, hair, dresses, you know … because they wanted to include you in their lives. They wanted to be friends. But you’d run crying to daddy, telling him they were trying to make you their slave, getting you to do their hair and mend their clothes. And if you could tell him while you were sweeping out a hearth or scrubbing a floor, so much the better. The servants must have been the only people who benefited from your desperate need to look down-trodden. At least it gave them slightly less work to do.
I suppose it’s a credit to him that he didn’t believe you. He’s a good man. If he had really thought his beloved daughter was being enslaved by wicked step-sisters, one assumes he’d have got you out of there sharpish. As it was, he let things take their course, presumably hoping you’d grow up and stop being a spoiled brat.
Well, he’d be disappointed if he was still around today. I hear you’ve just managed to marry your way into a fiefdom by convincing an entire village that the recluse prince was a feral beast. I’ve got to Hand it to you, Ash, you are one scheming genius.