This story was written as a thank you for my editor's son. I hope it passes an idle few minutes . . .
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl named Cinderella. She lived with her father, who doted on her and spoiled her. There was never anybody to tell Cinderella that she was not the most wonderful, the most perfect, the most darling girl ever to set foot on this earth, and so she came to believe that this was the case. She was, not to put too fine a point on it, rather awful.
Then it came to pass that her father met a woman, whom he married, and this woman had two daughters, and they all came to live with Cinderella and her father in their big house on the hill above the town. Now the two daughters were not as beautiful or as perfect as Cinderella. In fact, they were distinctly plain, and one of them had a left eye that was not quite level with her right eye, which made her look like she was standing on a slight slope. The other sister was a little overweight, and was perhaps too fond of fudge and ice cream for her own good, but she was a good natured soul, as was her sister.
Cinderella decided to call them her ugly stepsisters, on the grounds that, if they were not quite ugly, then they were at least uglier than she, and whenever she had the chance she would tell people of the two dreadful girls who lived with her, who were not as lovely as she and never would be, and of their wicked, wicked stepmother (who was not, in fact, very wicked at all, but merely felt that Cinderella was a spoiled little brat, and treated her as such when she misbehaved).
Three years went by, during which Cinderella did no housework at all, and spent her time complaining to her friends, her father, and anyone else who would listen (including the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, who worked in the same building and felt that it was only a matter of time before someone wrote a nursery rhyme about them) of how terrible her life was. Eventually, a vote was taken in the house, and Cinderella was presented with a choice by her family. Actually, it wasn't much of a choice at all: Cinderella would have to make up for all of the housework that she had not done, which was calculated as at least two solid weeks' worth of cleaning and cooking and tidying. She could do a little every day, or she could take on the burden of all of the cooking and cleaning in the house for one week, after which her debt would be forgiven. She was also to be grounded until all of her work was done, which meant that she would miss the prince's ball, a fact that caused Cinderella to stamp her feet and cry, and generally act like quite the little madam.
Well, Cinderella decided to complete everything in one week, because she was that kind of girl, but in fact she did nothing at all. She just sat in the cellar, and moaned and cried, and complained about her cruel treatment at the hands of her dreadful family. After two days had gone by, a passing good fairy heard her cries and woes, and being a trusting soul, believed every word that Cinderalla told her. When Cinderella brought up the fact that she was not being allowed to go to the ball that evening, the good fairy provided her with a beautiful gown, and changed a couple of harmless mice into coach horses, and transformed a pumpkin into a coach that smelled unpleasantly, and not entirely surprisingly, of pumpkin, and was a rather virulent shade of orange. She also gave Cinderella a pair of glass slippers to wear. In truth, the slippers weren't very comfortable, but Cinderella decided that perhaps it might be wise to keep quiet about that fact, as she didn’t want the good fairy to think that she wasn't a deserving cause. Neither did she complain about the midnight curfew imposed by the good fairy, as she knew that nice girls didn’t stay out beyond midnight, and she wanted to be thought of as a nice girl, even if she wasn't one.
That night, Cinderella danced and danced, and caught the attention of the handsome prince. He spent the final hour dancing with no one but Cinderella. He fell in love with the mysterious young woman, but before he could ask her name the clock began to strike midnight and she fled, leaving behind a glass slipper with a vicious heel that had bruised the prince's toes a number of times as he danced with the unknown beauty.
A search commenced. The prince and his men went from village to village, and house to house, trying the slipper on the foot of every young woman that they found, but none fitted. After three days, they came to the house of Cinderella, and found her in the cellar, not doing very much at all. The prince placed the slipper on Cinderella's foot, and it fitted perfectly. Great celebrations ensued, and even the stepsisters joined in, so pleased were they that they would soon be rid of Cinderella forever.
The prince and Cinderella were married, and they lived happily ever after.
Except they didn't. They lived happily for about three days, until the prince discovered that Cinderella wasn’t a very nice person, whereupon he returned to her father's house with the awful girl in tow.
The prince knocked on the door. Cinderella's father answered. He took in the prince and his daughter and understood immediately what had happened. Still, he pretended to be surprised, if only for form's sake, but he wasn't really surprised at all.
"Um," said the prince. "I don’t really like this one at all. She's nasty and lazy, and smells faintly of pumpkin. I wonder if I might swap her for one of the others?"
And so the prince divorced Cinderella and married the sister whose eyes were not quite level, and they did, in fact, live happily ever after, even if the prince sometimes got a bit of a headache from trying to stare into both of his wife's eyes at one.
As for Cinderella, she used her father's money to open a store selling uncomfortable glass slippers.
It went broke.
This week John read
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs (uncorrected proof)
and listened to
Ongiara by Great Lake Swimmers
Armchair Apocrypha by Andrew Bird