"cinders"

By Gabrielle Smith

She remembers they would laugh—
Shrilling sounds that would crack glass.
Their mere presence in the house sent her animal friends running,
Afraid of getting stepped on or swatted at with a broom.
(That was the only time they used it. To kill things.)
"Cinderella, do my hair first!"
"No mine!"
Between each other, the step sisters would argue
Compete
Despite the fact that both lacked any competence.

One might have been pretty.
One might have been smart.
(If she took off that sneer.)
(If she read a few books.)
Perhaps it was the corruption of their mother that
Caused them to be so wicked.
They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree,
But these babies were hanging on for dear life.

Mother held fast.
Mother commanded these two.
(After all, if her daughters were rich, so was she.)
Success in the form of her two spawn.
They were carefully crafted
Carefully melded.
Carefully hers.

Their faces, though
When he came and asked for her.
That was the best part.
Princesses are supposed to be humble and pure, but she couldn't help taking pleasure
In that shell-shocked expression.
It ran across their face like the horses who led her carriage
Down to the castle.
The castle!
She'd be living there now.
She'd be queen now.

She remembers his smile.
The way they twirled on that day.
And if I could have something so special like this, she thought
Everything would be so nice.
The handsome prince falling for the little girl in the attic,
What a laugh.
But it happened.

She didn't consider the true love aspect
He was a prince.
That was enough.
Those sleepless nights
In that cold bed
With the crown in the crystal glass.
She would wonder where he was.
She would ask him.
Tomorrow.

Was this how the red queen turned so bitter?
Watching her husband flirt
And smile at the pretty ladies-in-waiting.
Her ladies.
Was it the worrisome nights that accompanied battles
Where she wondered if he would come back
Dead or alive?
(Did she want him to come back?)
He disappeared each night
And she remembered happily ever after
Would come tomorrow.

She remembers when she visited them.
With her silk gowns
And her little dog
And her jewels.
"Oh Cinderella, how pretty you are!"
"Oh Cinderella, how lucky you are!"
(As if that were everything.)
(As if rivers of gold could quench thirst.)
They fell over themselves for a glimpse of their queen.
Of the girl they shut in the attic.
Of the girl with the glass slippers and the fairy godmother.
She would smile coyly,
Pet that little dog and say
"They call me Ella, now."