A Short Fairy Tale Retelling
By Manelle Oliphant
The rolling motion of the carriage stops and I jerk awake. My neck hurts. I rub it with my hand and look out the window. The next house on our list is grand and grey, much like the last one. How did the fashion of grey start among the upper classes of my kingdom? Grey is a boring color.
Servants bustle outside my door, and it opens. I step into the sun and take the box Buffins holds toward me. It’s also grey. I’m as bored of it as I am of the houses. I sigh. I must have been a little drunk or be-spelled when I declared I’d marry the girl who’s foot fit the shoe now nestled inside. It was a stupid idea.
I thought about the ball, where I’d met the nicest, most beautiful, funny girl ever, and my slapdash decree at its end. When I’d come to my senses the next morning I despaired of ever seeing her again. Feet don’t come in all that many sizes after all. I assumed I’d be engaged within the week to some random noble daughter. Now, three months later the shoe hasn’t even slipped over a toe. That’s how I know it’s magic. When I first realized this I felt hopeful, but now I imagine I’ll be trying shoes on smelly dainty feet for the rest of my life.
My servants knock. Their servants answer. We are announced and shown into a flamboyant room with three ladies inside. They curtsey. The mother makes simpering small talk as she shows me to my seat. “You are so noble. We are honored. We hope your journey has been comfortable. Would you like tea?” Etc etc.
I’ve heard it all before but this time I’m hungry, so I accept the offer of tea. I imagine her lauding it over her neighbors later. “The prince took tea at my house and said is was ever so refreshing. He didn’t take tea at your house. Oh dear, how unfortunate for you. We can’t all be so lucky, I suppose.”
I sit in an overstuffed chair. Two young ladies sit on a couch across from me. I try not to cringe when I see them. There is a possibility they are pretty but it’s hard to tell with all the face paint they wear. I paste a smile on my face. “Which one of your lovely daughters will be first?”
Each girl giggles and sticks out a left foot. They strain to get closer to me in hopes of being first. I try not to laugh as one falls off her chair onto her giant bustle. I kneel before the girl still seated, ignore the aroma of sour foot, and try the shoe. As usual it won’t even slide over her toes. I hold the shoe while she tries to get her foot in from every direction but I know it won’t do any good. When she has exhausted herself I turn to her sister. She is back in her seat pretending nothing untoward happened. She tries her foot in the shoe. After a brief struggle she goes so far as to take the shoe from me to try it herself. I have to wrestle the shoe away.
The first sister squirms in her seat. “Let me try it again, she got a longer turn.”
I look at her but don’t respond as I place the shoe back in the box, and hand it to Buffins. I’m so tired. I sigh as I sit. These are the least well-mannered girls I’ve met. I wish I’d waited to accept an offer of tea.
A maid enters the room carrying a tray. She sets it on the table next to me. The tea’s smell mixes with the ladies perfume and I feel a little lightheaded. The servant doesn’t leave but stands close behind my shoulder and I feel her staring at me. Even the servants in this house are ill-mannered.
The lady of the house waves her hand at the girl. “That will be all, Ella.”
I hear her curtsy. “Yes, My Lady.”
Her voice. I’ve heard it before. My heart beats faster. I turn but her back is to me and she is almost out the door.
I stand. “Wait.”
She turns around. I want to squeal with excitement like my younger sister does. It’s her, blue eyes, dimples, and a laughing smile. Granted she’s dirty, her hair is covered and her dress is patched, but it is her.
I can’t help staring at her as I speak. “This Lady must try the shoe as well.”
The room is silent. I look around. The lady and her daughters sit with their mouths open. My servants stand unmoving. I motion at Buffins to bring the box forward. “I said this lady must try the shoe.”
He blinks at me. “Your Highness, I-“
I scowl at him. “Buffins.”
He stops stammering and hands me the box. I take the servant girl’s rough hand and lead her to the sofa. It’s the same hand I held at the ball. Of course it belongs to a servant. Why did I not realize?
I kneel and remove her left boot. The shoe glides over her foot.
I take her hand. “I knew it was you when I heard your voice.”
“I’m glad, your highness, for if you hadn’t I would’ve let you wander the world with that shoe. It just so happens I have the other one right here.”
From her apron pocket she takes the matching shoe. When she puts it on there is a puff of smoke. The dirt and rags disappear. Now she, Ella, sits all clean in an elegant day dress, with her hair arranged in a stylish way.
I take her hands and pull her into my arms. “Ella, will you marry me?”
She smiles. “Of course.”
I give her a smile and a kiss. Something, I admit, I’ve wanted to do since the first moment I saw her in the ballroom. The awful daughters gasp and Buffins cries in protest but I ignore them all. I’m going to live happily ever after.