You were an ugly baby. I want you to know that. Your face was slightly lopsided, and your eyes were squinted shut. Father said it was all right, because they were a bright, piercing blue. You looked like an awkward fish, straining to breathe, longing for the water. You wailed constantly and it only made you more hideous. We were all horrified, but it was the worst for Mum. You came out of her and you took something from her, though we were never able to figure out what. You pulled a dark curtain around our lives, and nothing was ever the same after you arrived. You were ugly and you upset Mum. She said that after you were born, all her hopes and dreams boxed themselves up and you, the hungry, ugly baby, ate the key. She refused to touch you.
She warned us against you as well. She told us about how you always wanted things, about how you were never happy. She told us that one day, you would steal us too, just like you stole Mum's dreams. As you grew older, Mum's hatred for you festered. She only kept you for Father's sake, and after he died, she put you to work like a maid.
You were not so ugly, then, but there was an ugliness in your heart. You wished that Mum loved you. You wished that Mum didn't shake at the sight of you. You wished that Mum would touch you. I think that Mum recognized it in you; the hunger. We heard you crying at night, and it only made our feelings for you pickle. We never even hit you, because we were loath to touch you. You were greedy. I want you to know that. If we gave something to you, you would only ask for more.
As we grew older, we all grew in beauty, but while your older sister and I came of age gracefully, you hungered for something. I saw you in my dreams, eating us piece by piece, never satisfied. You washed our clothes but you ripped holes into our finest dresses. You cooked for us, but you spit in our food.
You met my fiancé while serving us dinner. I saw the way you looked at him, like you'd never seen a man before. I saw the way he looked at you. He mentioned you, later that night, mentioned your devil blue eyes. I knew then that you would have him. You would take him away from me and lock him under your gaze, just like you locked away Mum's dreams. I really didn't want him anyway, though. I want you to know that.
And even though I gave you the richest man I could ever dream of marrying, you always wanted more. You came to visit me, years later, wearing fine clothes and fine jewelery, and I let you into my own little home. I had married beneath me, and you had come to gloat. You walked around the parlor and you pointed out our quaint decoration pieces. I didn't speak.
You turned your eyes on me. "He touches me, you know. Most nights, he is elsewhere, but some nights, he touches me." There was triumph in your voice, but there was also a tinge of something else.
"What do you want from me?" I asked.
You smiled a little, then. "Sometimes I think that Mum drove us apart," you said, touching a diamond positioned on your throat. "Do you think that we could have loved each other?"
I couldn't reply. Though you had grown in beauty, the ugliness inside you only increased. You stole Mum's dreams, you stole Father's love, and you stole him. Now, you wanted to steal me too. It was as Mum had always told me.
Unhappy, you started pacing. The charm of your beauty began to fade and your true face began to surface. "You can't even give me your love?" you asked. "You can't even touch me?"
You moved towards me, and I recoiled in fear. Your face twisted in anger or despair; I couldn't tell which. Things had not gone as you had hoped.
You flew out of the parlor and all the way out of the house, till you were safe in your too-large manor, where you wrote me a flurried letter. It was not lengthy, as you were not in the habit of giving things to other people. It read, "I want." in your clumsy penmanship, black ink splattered across the page.
On the heels of your letter came the news that you were found drowned in your bathtub, alone, hungry, and wet.
I was startled, but I was also relieved. I thought that you had finally left me alone.
A year ago, I gave birth to my first child, a daughter. Everyone around me seemed to love her, but I was apathetic. Her little eyelashes were stitches for her squinted eyes. I wished she would keep them shut, because when she opened them, I only saw your own devil blue eyes. The child cried night and day, and my husband's world seemed to revolve around her instead of around me. We named her something pretty, but useless. I forget the name, because we changed it shortly afterwards. She is named after you, now. That was the second thing I ever gave you.
I also wrote you a letter and left it by the tulips. It was longer than your own, but shorter than is standard.
"Sometimes I think that Mum drove us apart."
They were your own words, but I wasn't comfortable with giving you much else. I want you to know that.
Author Note: I'm looking back at this story and I reread a lot of the reviews (both for this version and the unedited version that was posted years earlier) and I feel like people have a lot of questions, so I thought I'd do an FAQ, even though no one is likely to read this so many years later. If you want to retain any mystery, feel free to not read this part.
1. Which version of Cinderella inspired you? To be honest, this isn't so much a fairy tale retelling so much as a story about child abuse and messed up family dynamics, with allusions to the fairy tale, especially in the form of the character's name. I wrote this story after a fight with my mother, though people who follow my work probably know that I love her well, though I've deleted the more flattering stories about her (sorry mom). Cinderella, to me, is a story about child abuse, though the lasting effects of the abuse are not really touched on in the fairy tale.
2. Who is the villain of the story? I don't really think of any of the characters as straight up villains. I think that the mother is abusing her children emotionally, and I would guess that it stems from postpartum depression along with angst related to not being able to have a career or follow her own dreams because she is expected to only be a wife and mother. I also think she is mentally ill and takes out her issues on the youngest daughter by calling her evil and manipulating all of her daughters around this idea. The mother is, therefore, the primary "villain". I think that the narrator was likely emotionally manipulated and abused into treating her sister the way that she does... the story is mainly about her warped perceptions. I don't know if that makes her a villain, but she has some culpability while also being a victim of her mother.
3. Is Cinderella evil? I would say that Ella seeks attention to unhealthy degrees as an adult and probably craves it because she was denied so much as a child. She's not evil, and I think that's the conclusion the narrator comes to as well.
4. What is this story about/ I don't get it? Beyond being about child abuse and its lasting effects, I think this story is about giving and taking (and thus also desire/hunger), and being emotionally stunted? I see one sister always wanting affection, something the other was never able to give. I also think that it is about perceptions and emotional manipulation. I was interested to see that when people discussed this story with me, they used words like "evil", "bitter", and "cruel". I think I wrote myself into both of the sisters- Ella's insatiable need to be loved and the narrator's tendency towards cruelty and callousness. Though I didn't realize it when I wrote the story, I now wonder about my own capacity to be a mother. I almost feel like the reviewers are peering into my brain and seeing me at my utter worst.
5. It doesn't make sense/ It isn't realistic. I wrote this after a fight with my mom when I was significantly younger than I am today, so I don't expect it to be a full picture of a family. It is not realistic, no. However, to people who are surprised by how casually cruel the narrator is, I would say that it is certainly not unheard of for people to go with the flow and rationalize oppression and abuse instead of seeing it for what it is.