Abraham was the fishmonger. In his hands was the evidence: they were creased and brown and scarred from the work he had done his whole life. His father, too, had been the fishmonger, and his father's father; but before that they had been fishermen.
Abraham was old, and he had no children. When he was gone, the village would have no fishmonger. Abraham was honest, he knew they could find another, and he knew also that he was entirely peripheral to village life and no one would miss him. But he had pride in his work. He did not wish to leave the villagers with an outsider fishmonger, a second-rate fishmonger, for the first time in three generations.
It was hard times. As Abraham chopped and chopped, letting the entrails slide through his fingers, he looked with gloom at the beautiful fresh fish before him that no one would buy. Customers passed him without stopping, and he was at last very poor. But some still had their groceries delivered, and among these villagers, the family of Cinderella was foremost.
They were poor indeed, but they put on airs, so the village could watch them in envy: they were more under their neighbors' eye than those in the castle up on the hill, however ostentatious and well-bred the nobles might be. They had their fish delivered directly from the piers.
It was to Cinderella's family and some others that Abraham went directly. He didn't know the family name; he knew them from the village gossip about her, the girl, Cinderella.
Because they were jealous, they spoke kindly of her, and cruelly of the rest of the family; so village gossips are wont to do. They claimed she was a pitiful little slave, a victim of misfortune, but they didn't know her as Abraham did.
He hitched up the old donkey to the wagon, where there were a few fish-baskets left over for delivery to the more affluent households in the village. He dropped them off in the kitchens of the homes, where the cooks begged him stay for dinner, but he kept on.
The house of the family of Cinderella was among the smaller and scruffier in that neighborhood. He knocked on the door to the kitchen, holding the basket under his arm. There was no answer. So he set it down and went in.
A pot of broth was simmering on the hearth, but the kitchen was empty. Though a little guilty, Abraham left the kitchen and crept up the staircase, tiptoeing. He opened the door to a corridor and heard voices. Feeling foolish, he almost decided to reveal himself, but something held him back. He fumbled for a door and shut himself safely out of sight.
Bracing his arthritic back, Abraham looked around his haven. The trouble was, someone was already there.
It was Cinderella, but she hadn't yet seen him. His first impression was that she was up to something fishy. Often when Abraham delivered, she would be sweeping the same spot over and over, staring out the little window by the door, sprawled on the hearth singing drinking songs loudly in her scratchy, off-pitch voice with her chin resting on her hands. She was lazy and aimless, but she had a purpose now. Though she wore peasant's rags as always, the room was festooned with frills and ornaments. Quickly and intently she was rummaging through her stepsisters' bureaus. She drew out silk stockings, gloves, a ball gown, holding it up to herself and spinning around with it. Then she gathered everything up, turned around to make her escape, and saw Abraham.
"Fishmonger!" she shrieked, slapping a hand over her mouth to quiet herself.
Abraham didn't know what to do. He had no children of his own, and in any case Cinderella wasn't a child anymore. Whatever happened to her wasn't his business to decide. So he turned around without a word, walking proudly down the corridor without any efforts to muffle his footsteps. Whatever he was, he wasn't a thief.
She waved him off shamelessly, and as he untied the donkey, she shoved her stepsisters' clothes into a cupboard in the pantry. She knew he was watching her, and she didn't care.
As the weeks went by, a village rumor of a ball at the castle slowly developed into reality. At the pub and the marketplace, fathers and mothers talked of the prospect of a princely marriage for their daughters, revealing to one another their potent hopes and hopeless dreams. Abraham realized what Cinderella had stolen the clothes for, and he pitied the craftsmen's daughters, whose families had no beautiful gowns, no lovely silks, no feathered bonnets and pure-white gloves.
The day of the ball came. Abraham the fishmonger watched from under the eaves of his cottage as the beautiful girls sailed past; and remained as Cinderella followed, more beautiful than any of the others in her robbed glory. She sauntered by without sparing him a glance. As she ascended the hill, and disappeared beyond the doors of the castle, Abraham went inside. He knew who would be picked.
He watched from under his eaves as Cinderella promenaded down the main street on her wedding day, her arm in the prince's. But the old man's eyes were torn from her grandeur and her arrogance, and he turned his gaze, and watched the forgotten girls weep silently in the wake of her billowing train, her crippled stepsisters last of all.
(Note: The stepsisters cut off their heels and toes to make the slipper fit. This doesn't really make sense to put here but no one gets the reference so there you are and everyone read Grimm's again.)