“It all began an eon ago. . . ”
“Daddy, you started it wrong.” Katie threw her arms above the covers and pounded her bed with her fists. “You’re supposed to say: Once upon a time.”
Philip hung his head for a moment and shook his salt-and-pepper locks. How could she still be so silly? She was almost seven. “Once upon a time is a cliché, no real writer, like myself, would use such an unadorned phrase.”
“But Daddy, that’s how it goes.”
“How would you know? You don’t even know what story I’m telling you.”
She adjusted the blanket under her chin. “But that’s how they all start Daddy”
“Not the way I tell them.”
Uh-oh, Dad was editing again Kate sunk her dirty blond hair into her pillow “Fine go ahead”
“There was a girl named Cinderella. Her mother died of the Bubonic Plague due to the unsanitary conditions the mass populist of Europe was exposed to during the 5th century. Not to mention the inefficient extermination technology that led to a large population of the disease-carrying rodents.”
“Dad, you told Mom you’d put me to sleep!”
“True, perhaps you are not yet ready for an in-depth discussion of death, and the nature of existence, maybe next year.
“Cinderella’s father was something of a neophobic. . .”
Kate shot up like a kid in the dentist chair getting their sticker after their appointment. Philip had taken Katie to her dentist appointment earlier this very day so he had the baseline for such a comparison “A neon what?”
“A neophobic” What do they teach in first grade? “Basically it means that he was scared to be a father.”
“Oh, then why did he become a daddy?”
“Well, this was back before the invention of. . . No, I’d better not. If you’re not ready for a conversation on the nature of death, you certainly are not ready for the nature of life. You see Katie. . .”
Kate sighed as she looked at her ballerina mural on the opposite wall. She knew it was her own fault for asking. Dad would finish his speech and get back to the story soon. In the meantime, she recalled her favorite memory: painting her ballerina mural with her mother.
“SO! As Cinderella’s father had no wish to raise his daughter alone, he decided to marry again. The woman that he married was a widow with two young daughters. Since 5th century Europe was had yet to be enlightened by the works of Jane Austin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and their successors, as to the value of women working outside the house, the widow had no choice but to marry again. Unfortunately, Cinderella’s father had been a carrier of the pledge since the death of his first wife. Before too long, he grew very ill, and twice over little Cinderella watched as a parent died, and twice over was the poor woman widowed.
“Cinderella’s stepmother was something of a woman’s rights advocate, so when she found herself a widow with three daughters to rise, she decided she had had enough. She resolved not to marry again, instead, she and the girls made pottery.”
Kate’s head tilted to the side “Pottery?”
“But that’s not how it happened in the movie.”
“That’s because the movie is a product of the gender stereotyping, Corporation that cares nothing for telling a good story, only about making a buck!” Phil could still see those stupid ears mocking him from the top of the letterhead that had crushed his dreams. Kate knew nothing of the rejection letter, only that THOSE movies were now prohibited from the house.
“The Stepmother made the pottery, and the girls decorated them. But poor Cinderella ended up almost doing nearly all the work herself because her sisters were lazy and selfish. Though her sisters were pretty on the outside, they had ugly hearts, where true beauty comes from.”
“But in the movie, they were ugly on the outside.” She protested. Even though the movies had been embargoed for nearly a year, Kate still remembered the movie from any of the 250 times she had watched it.
Phil signed again “Because the people who made that movie, and all the car-cr-crummy sequels just want to push the gender stereotyping that a woman is only as good as she looks, so that girls will be pretty airheads with no brains that they can pawn off on more kids as pop-stars.” He’d been a Rick Springfield fan.
Her head was completely sideways, her eyebrows knit, and her mouth hung open a moment before she spoke “What?”
Philip cleared his throat “This was poor Cinderella’s life for years and she had no resource to flee her devoid-of-attention stepmother. Cinderella simply had to cope.
“Then one day, a Royal messenger arrived in the marketplace, a mere stone’s throw from where Cinderella and her Stepmother sat selling their pottery. (Cinderella’s sisters stayed home complaining of a headache.) The messenger announced that. . .”
“What’s wrong, Kate?”
“I have to go to the bathroom.” she rocked back and forth showing the urgency of her statement.
“Katie, I told you to go when you brushed your teeth.”
Kate looked at the corner of her ceiling where Dad had heroically killed a spider last week, there was still a little bit of him up there (the spider, not Dad that would be gross)
Phil winced “Katie you did brush your teeth didn’t you?”
With Kate’s personal hygiene taken care of, the story continued.
“Now where was I?” Phil asked once again taking his seat on the edge of the bed.
Kate settled back into bed, cuddling Molly her faithful polyester and fluff companion. “I don’t know”
“Well, what’s the last thing you remember?”
“I don’t know, I was focusing on trying to pee my PJs
“Think, what’s the last thing you remember?”
“The instant messenger went off on Cinderella’s computer.”
Philip rubbed the bridge of his nose “No, Katie, Cinderella lived before there were computers.”
“But what about the instant messenger?”
“It was a royal messenger, he was just an ordinary man who went to places and told people things the king told him to.”
“So the messenger arrived in the marketplace and announced that the Prince was going to throw a ball, and all the eligible maidens were to attend.”
“Daddy, why could only illegal maids clean up the balls the prince was going to throw out of the palace window?”
“No, Katie. The Prince was having a party and he wanted all the young woman of the kingdom to go so he could pick one of them to be his bride.”
“Oh ok, I thought that was weird.”
“Cinderella’s stepsisters became obsessed with going to the. . . party; each hoped that her beauty would make the prince fall in love with her. It wasn’t long before Cinderella, too, began dreaming of going to the ball.
“Akin to the concept of Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” Cinderella’s stepmother forbid her from going, for fear that Cinderella might prove competition for her own daughters.
“As Cinderella watched her stepmother and sisters drive away in the carriage, she began to cry. Cinderella ran out to the garden to seek the consolation of her pet fish. Little did Cinderella know that this fish was magical, and as Cinderella had saved it as a baby, and always taken good care of him, he decided to use his magic to send Cinderella to the ball.”
“A Fish!?” she felt like she had when Chloe Madison told her Santa wasn’t real “It’s supposed to be a fairy godmother!”
“I’m borrowing from the Chinese tale of Yeh Shen the oldest known version of the Cinderella story; However, the preverbal “nugget of truth” behind the tale might come from the Egyptian slave girl Rhodophis, who was a slave in the palace till the pharaoh fell in love with her and married her.”
“Ok, ok it was a fish” Kate insisted, then picking some lint off her pink bedspread she muttered, “But it should be a fairy.”
“Cinderella’s fish not only used its magic to send Cinderella to the ball, but he also gave her a new dress and glass slippers. “It’ all the magic I have,” the fish told her “And it will only last this one night, once the clock strikes midnight, everything ends.”
“When Cinderella arrived at the ball she expected her stepmother and sisters to be furious at seeing her, but they did not even recognize her. As the Prince was greeting his guests he found that he could not leave Cinderella. They talked for a long time, and as Cinderella had a mind for business, she had brought some sample pottery with her hoping to attract new customers. She showed the Prince her favorite bowl, and he was captivated by her skill. Cinderella did not spend the whole night working the room; however, when the prince asked her to dance, she kicked off her glass shoes and joined him on the dance floor. Before Cinderella knew it, she heard the clock strike midnight, and Ella was off like the pounds after a gastro bypass, but in her rush for the door, she only grabbed one of her shoes.
“The prince knew only that her name was Cinderella which was, unfortunately, the most popular name in the whole kingdom. So the Prince took the glass slipper. . .”
“Daddy wait! Didn’t the spell end at midnight? Why did the glass slipper stay?”
He’d been stumped by a six-year-old. Philip’s mind raced the variants of the story he knew: Why did the slippers not change back? He didn’t know. A degree in children’s literature and he had never once asked that question. Philip bought himself some time by taking a long breath. Then he did what any father would do in his place: he lied “The glass slippers were the first thing the Fish made, so the slippers had more magic than the dress or carriage, that’s why they lasted longer.”
Kate didn’t really understand this half-baked explanation, but she wasn’t about to say so “Oh, ok I understand now.” Even six-years olds have their pride.
“Cinderella had an undeveloped sixth toe on one foot, and it just so happened to coincide with the shoe she dropped, so only her foot would fit into the shoe.”
“Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom again.”
“You just went to the bathroom.”
“But Daddy I hav’ta go-wah”
With Kate tucked into bed for the third time that night, the story continued.
“So the Prince finally made his way to the house where Cinderella lived. Her sisters were so greedy to be the queen that they cut off some of their heels to make up the extra space in the toe of the slipper.”
“They did WHAT!” Kate jumped up tucking her feet under her, sitting on her heels. Now, this was getting good.
“Then Cinderella arrived from the kilm with a try of pottery. The Prince knew her in a moment and just to show up her sisters, Cinderella fetched her other slipper and walked out of her stepmother’s house wearing the glass slippers, side-by-side with the Prince. Cinderella’s Stepsisters were so mad that they ran (well, quickly limped) after her, but the birds in the air could sense how evil the sisters were and they pecked out their eyes.”
“Cool!” He had a fan now.
“And so, as this tale comes to a close. . . Cinderella and her Prince lived happily ever after. Goodnight, Katie.”
Phil stood and turned out the light, but just before he left the room, Katie turned, “Dad”
“Did the birds really peck out their eyes like that?”