She doesn’t dare to ask for dresses and jewels, as her sisters do. Instead she plants a tree on her mother’s grave, and waters it with weeping.
They laugh at her when they see her in front of the mirror, trying ribbons in her hair. It’s the reason for their jeering, their middling cruelties: if he wants to be a maiden, they say, then let him be a maid. She cooks and cleans for them, sorts lentils, fetches water, helps them dress. She sleeps in the kitchen, in the warm ashes of the hearth, where she needs not hear their mockery. Beneath the soot she can barely see her own skin.
There is no question of her attending the ball. She knows better than to ask.
But when she weeps under the tree that night, something falls from its branches: a dress of gold and silver, glowing in the light of the stars. When she puts it on her shoulders thin, her hips swell, her breasts grow round beneath the cloth. Her feet turn small and delicate, wearing slippers of silver stitched with gold.
They think she is a princess, when she comes to the ball. The king’s son dances with her all through the night. Her sisters see her, dancing with the grace of doves in flight, but they cannot see their kitchen boy in who she truly is.
When the king’s son asks her name she runs from him. She has no name, none that is her own. She leaves the dress beneath the tree and changes back into her soot-stained skin, and when her sisters come home they find her sleeping in the ashes.
She does the same the next night, and the next. On the third night the palace stairs are coated with pitch: her slipper clings to them, and she runs home without it.
The ball is over, then, but the dream remains. Someday she’ll find a magic that will last. She’ll find a name for herself, or she’ll make one, and she’ll have an answer when the king’s son asks her who she is.
He comes to their door, at last, holding a silver slipper stitched with gold. Her sisters run to try it on, but it is too small for them, too delicate; there is nothing for them but to admit defeat.
“Let me try,” she says.
They laugh, and then they scold, and they pray the king’s son forgive them for their brother – but she says it again, sure of her moment, and whether in fear of the strangeness in her or because it amuses them to let her walk into their mockery, they finally relent.
When she slips her foot into the shoe she changes. Her sisters are silent now, staring, but the king’s son knows her and gives her his hand.
When she takes it, she gives him her name.
Written for Flash Fiction Month 2018, day 6. This year I'm also fulfilling a challenge by an anonymous contributor - every character must be queer - as well as one by Teague-Drydan: At least half of the month needs to be fairy tale re-writes. Bonus if they aren't well known fairy tales. Fairy tale count: 3/16.
"Cinderella". I pitched this idea to the same diverse fairy tale project that I never heard back from!
The rest of today's stories can be found here.
If you've enjoyed this story, you may be interested in the collection of all my FFM stories this year: Beyond Dreams. You may also enjoy my FFM collections from the previous four years: Borrowed Strength, Ephemeron, Palalgia, and Changeling.
I love this so much Your writing never ceases to amaze me.
This is beautiful.
This is as awesome as some of the published works I've read. I do have to admit, the sudden change in gender from the pov to what the sisters said was a little jarring to me; I thought you had typo'd for a minute, until I got to the part about the transformation with the dress.
Thank you! It's probably my favourite piece I've written for FFM this year, so far. I can see how that'd be a bit jarring, but in a way that's actually a good thing - just the dissonance - as long as you figured it out soon enough, which it looks like you did.
There are tons of examples of beautiful description in this. Particularly with how you describe her dress and shoes. I also love how this ends.
Thank you! This was one of my favourite fairy tales when I was young, and a huge part of that was the artwork in one version of it that I had - so beautiful visuals are a necessary part of it, as far as I'm concerned. Unfortunately I don't remember the artist's name and have no way of finding it out again.
I know the feeling! When I was a kid, my sister and cousin and I were hanging out at the bookstore when we found a black picture book of horror stories. We sat down and read a story or two and were captivated. We left. We went back another time to buy it but it was gone. Now I don't remember the title or what the book even looked like, which fills me with such regret.
Adding to all the applause - this is just such an inspired reworking of the fairy tale. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
You just made Cinderella make sense. This is beautiful.
Wow! I've always found Cinderella deeply boring, but I really enjoyed what you've done here. That one extra layer feels like it should have been there all along, it's what makes the story work for me.
Knowing it's had that effect is the best I could have hoped for.
I know what you mean! It's like, this one extra detail that should've been part of the story all along.