In the months I have been with you, I have heard many rumors about myself, as well as my past. Each time I make a mistake in my lessons, each time I pass a servant in the hall, I hear bits of my life story whispered. The highly distorted tale seems to go thus: I was horribly mistreated by my evil stepmother and stepsisters after the death of my kindly but stupid father and was forced into menial labor until my fairy godmother whisked me off to a ball where the handsome prince swept me off my feet. If this sounds at all familiar to you, you have been sadly misguided. I do not have a fairy godmother. My stepsisters and stepmother are not evil. My father was not stupid. Above all, the 'charming' prince had absolutely nothing to do with any of this. Please allow me to set the rumors straight.
My father was not a stupid man. Lonely, sad, yes, but he was not stupid. When he married Charisse, he knew exactly who he was marrying- a kindhearted, helpful woman. Her twin daughters, Morna and Mirabelle, were well-behaved young ladies who were two years older than I was. I had just turned five, and was thrilled to be getting sisters. We played together and learned together. As the years passed, we became more and more like real sisters and Charisse seemed more and more like my mother. I had never known my real mother, as she had died giving birth to me. In my young mind, a new mother just fit, and I grew up in a home full of love.
As I have said, my father was not stupid. He was, for a working class man, actually very well educated. He could read and write, as well as do basic math and accounting. He decided that if he could read, the women of his household should be able to read as well, and so taught all of us, even Charisse, how to read. Mirabelle had no aptitude for reading, and couldn't stand it, but she learned how, eventually finding an appreciation for it in correspondence. Morna was indifferent, and would sometimes pick up a book if there were nothing else to do. I, on the other hand, loved it. I would hole up for hours and read. We had a library, albeit a very limited one, and I went through every book at least twice by the time I was ten.
When I was eleven, my stepsisters left for finishing school, going off away from home and leaving me by myself. Charisse decided that I could cut back on my schooling, as I had previously taken class with my sisters and they were gone. Suddenly, I had more free time than I knew what to do with and I began to spend more and more time with my father in his work.
He was a glassblower, and he made everything from tiaras to windowpanes, all of which delighted me. I began to occasionally experiment with shaping glass scraps before they cooled, although more often than not I ended up with a deformed lump of glass, scalded fingers, and a sooty face. I remember one morning as I sat with newly burnt fingers in my mouth, a finely dressed young man walked into the shop. With a disdainful look, as though I were an unpleasant bit of something on the bottom of his shoe, he looked down his cocky little nose at me and sniffed. "You, Cindersoot, where is the glassmith?" I was indignant at being called Cindersoot, but I went to fetch my father anyway. He emerged from the back, wiping his face on a gray handkerchief, which at the day's beginning had been white. The cocky man sniffed again, but addressed my father, saying, "I hear that you have a knack for glass." I wanted to knock the teeth right out of the puffed-up popinjay's mouth, but I remained silent. I could see my father's spine tense and straighten at the blatant disrespect offered by the man.
"Some might say that. Can I help you find anything?" His voice was tight, and I knew that his reaction was similar to mine.
"I was told that I could purchase a quality vase here. I... um... well, the reason it is needed is not important." The young man finally showed some sign of being human; he probably had a sweetheart that he had made angry with his annoying, pompous manner.
"Right over there I believe you may find what you are looking for." The young man walked in the indicated direction, picked up a few things, snorted, and walked back. At the snort, my father's eyes hardened and he took on the look I only saw when I had done something particularly rude and embarrassing. "Did you find nothing of high enough quality for you?"
"No. These vases are an embarrassment. I could never give one of these as a gift!" The man was obviously used to getting whatever he wanted.
"You are certainly no fit judge for glasswork. I doubt you are a fit judge of any work, as it isn't likely you've done a day of it in your life!"
"I certainly can tell that your work is poor. I'll bet you couldn't make a piece of glass strong enough to withstand any pressure at all. I'm surprised every window in three towns has not broken if you made it!"
"Ha! I could make shoes for my daughter from this glass!"
"I'll bet on that!" The two men shook hands and worked out a deal which, if my father lost, would cost our family a considerable amount. I hoped he did not lose.
All week I helped my father as he heated, shaped, and tempered the glass. Each time we thought they were finished, I would try a little weight in the shoe. Always, the glass would crack, and we would have to reinforce the glass, sometimes starting completely from scratch. On Thursday he woke me at dawn to help him. We had one day left to complete the shoes, and I doubted we could do it.
We had tried everything we could think of to strengthen the glass, but none of it seemed to work. I was getting frustrated with the entire process, and I worried that my father had made a very foolish decision. It seemed as though we were going to lose the bet, and potentially all of our money along with it. By the end of the day my fears had not been allayed. So far I had gone through four pairs of unsuccessful shoes, and the pair that we had just finished did not seem any more likely to win us the bet. At sunset I tried on the final pair of shoes, and as I stepped into them, they held the little weight that I put in them. I put more and more, finally standing fully in the shoes. I stood and admired them, the way they curved, the little touches of decoration on the top. I stepped towards my father to show off how well they worked, a huge grin across my face. As I lifted my foot to walk, the heel of the shoe shattered and I fell onto the worktable behind me. Looking up at my father, I could see for the first time the same fears that I felt reflected in his eyes. We were going to lose.
I collected the shattered glass and dumped it in the proper bin. As I walked inside my father stopped me. "Please tell Charisse that I will not be in for dinner. I will eat later." I shook my head and walked inside.