Sunday, 6 March 2011
Cinderella - at 40
On her 40th birthday, Cinderella was confronted by the thought that she was no longer young. All through her thirties it had seemed to her that she was somehow neither young nor old. Now, with her own daughter a princess of her own and her son at sea, she was faced with the fact that she was a woman of a certain age.
That night, she was out with a group of duchesses for a 'girl's' night out. Girl, she thought scornfully, I haven't been a girl for twenty years. She looked in on her husband, Charming who was now becoming grizzled and grey haired. He had fallen asleep in front of the television with the football still on. She smiled and quietly turning the television off sat beside him and kissed him softly. He had not been complacent once they were married, nor had he flirted with younger more attractive women. He had loved her as much as when they were first married. There had been the occasional disagreement but he had learned and so had she, to compromise.
"I love you too much to let some silly disagreement stand between us," he had said.
From that she too had learned when to give way and when not to. Over her children he learned, she would fight like a tigress - like several tigresses in a bad mood. But when they were alone, she saw that she loved him a great deal and would not like to have lost him. They really had lived 'happily ever after'. He learned to get along with her faery godmother and she learned to get along with his mother and indeed came to love her mother in law very much. Funny, she thought, I never once gave a thought to what my life would be once I was married. It was always as if once I was married the story would be over and yet it was the beginning of a new story.
She placed a gentle hand on his stomach and kissed him again. Silly old thing, she thought affectionately and hugged him. He did not wake, the affairs of state always tired him out, yet he had been determined to watch the match between Sidonia and Liviari. He had fallen asleep just before Sidonia had scored to come back from one all. Cinderella kissed him again briefly and stood. She put her hands in her back pockets, 'Bette Davis style' as the poet had once put it. At the thought she frowned slightly, she had never, ever seemed 'so easy' she thought. Cheek!
She went upstairs to her daughter, but Jane was not there. She's probably gone out with her friends, thought Cinderella. She sat on Jane's bed and gazed around the room thinking of her daughter. She was so proud of her. Darling Jane, she thought to herself with a smile. There was a dress draped over the chair before her toilette table and her shoes were scattered about the open wardrobe. Was I like this once, Cinderella wondered?
The room smelled of roses and Poison, Jane's favourite perfume. Somehow it seemed so paradoxical, for Jane was not at all poisonous. Cinderella smiled at the thought of her favourite perfume being L'Air du Temps; at 40 the Air of Time was distinctly upon her. She picked up the dress and hung it up in the wardrobe and put away the shoes, remembering a lovely glass mule slipper she had once worn to a ball.
That night, she wore black court shoes with red soles and a long column dress in black and hot pink satin. Even after having had two children she had kept her figure and was proud to have done so. She was also, if truth be told, relieved for she had not thought it possible. There had been the slight fear that Charming would not have loved her, which he had dismissed when she told him.
"Why would I want anyone other than you, my sweet?" he'd said.
She thought he was merely being, well charming, but he was honest and kind. He loved her and was a good father to both children if occasionally prone more to discipline than kind reasoning. Still, she mused, they had not done a bad job between them. Jane was always a delight and Wolfram (named after an unfortunate uncle) was as charming and kind as his father, though he had more of his mother's looks.
The duchesses met her at the steps of the palace and seeing them as around her own age, she felt a warm affection for them. They were no longer girls but women with experience of the world and a deeper understanding. As they prepared to go Jane came dashing down the palace steps in a dress of dark red silk and shoes of black satin. She flung her arms about her mother and kissed her. Cinderella felt herself well up but took a deep breath.
"Happy birthday mum! Can I come with you?" Jane said breathlessly.
Cinderella held her daughter away from her and looked upon her. Had she really given birth to this radiant creature?
"Thank you darling and yes you may. I just hope daddy will be alright without us," she said.
Jane smiled and kissed her again.
"He's watching a movie. Lots of guns, explosions and car chases. He'll be fine," she said.
Cinderella chuckled softly and took her daughter's arm. They got into the car and drove out to Rosati's overlooking the ocean. It was not that far, but Charming had insisted that they go out in the car for he feared for her safety and the dangerous glitter of the paparazzi. For his sake then, they went in the car. They had a table reserved and ate well. There was a ballroom and Jane insisted on taking her mother on to the floor to dance. Cinderella laughed and danced and remembered - oh but so long ago when she was her daughter's age and she had danced with Prince Charming in those dazzling glass mule slippers. In between that dance and this, time had slipped away. Jane had once been a baby in her arms and now was a beautiful young woman of whom she was very proud. Had she ever told Jane that, she wondered?
She leaned forward, slipping an arm about Jane's waist and kissed her.
"I am so proud of you darling," she said.
"What?" Jane asked and made a gesture to signify that she had not heard over the music.
Cinderella waved it away, the moment had come and gone. When the music paused, she took her daughter in her arms and hugged her. Jane laughed and kissed her. The duchesses had gathered some gentlemen to dance with and they danced too. Cinderella sat and watched them, sipping her wine and sighed with happiness. A wonderful night, she thought. But where did all the time go?
Was it so long ago that she had looked young and beautiful as her daughter? That men had looked on her with frank admiration at her wedding? A woman came to her table and sat, pouring herself a glass of wine.
"Juniper," Cinderella said politely.
"Happy Birthday Cinders," said her stepsister.
Juniper was the only stepsister left, her other stepsister Celine had spontaneously combusted out of sheer bitterness at the thought of Cinderella getting the prince. This had surprised almost everyone, for nobody had actually believed such a thing could happen. Cinderella's faery godmother had not been at all surprised.
"Probably had some goblin in her family somewhere," she'd said, "Happens to goblins all the time."
Cinderella never made peace with her stepmother, but with Juniper she had found another daughter not much loved. Sympathy and kindness made up for a lot and now they could meet on speaking terms and had a kind of awkward affection.
"How's things?" Cinderella asked.
"Not so bad love. I've been made office manager and my two kids recently graduated. I see Jane's turned out well," Juniper said softly.
Cinderella smiled, "Kids? When did we ever think we'd be sitting here talking about our kids?" she said.
Juniper smiled and got up to move closer to her stepsister. She slipped an arm about Cinderella and leaned her head on her shoulder.
"Not ever love. We were too young to think that far ahead. But at least we are now both loved and..." Juniper paused and sipped wine.
"Have learned to love each other. I've got something for you in my handbag. Love the dress by the way."
Cinderella felt herself well up again but kissed Juniper's hair and put her arm about her stepsister's waist. Yes, they had learned to love each other, perhaps closer than blood-sisters in some ways. Juniper put down her wine and opened up her ruby velvet bag. From it she took a small box which she placed on Cinderella's lap.
Cinderella put down her wineglass and opened the box. Inside was a necklace and matching bracelet: beech leaves of beaten gold with berries of rubies and emeralds.
"Juniper it's gorgeous!" she murmured.
"Really? You really like it? Because if you don't it's ok," Juniper began.
Cinderella kissed her and this time her tears came.
"I love them, they are so lovely. And you are a wonderful sister to get me such a gift," she said, embracing her.
Juniper embraced her and later they staggered a little tipsy but not so drunk from Rosati's and forgot the car. The night was warm and there was a pale golden moon and a few stars. They walked back to the palace and along the way, Cinderella kicked off her shoes. Jane, seeing only the one placed it on the kerb and reminded herself to collect it much later that morning, though she never did.
It had been a lovely night and the following morning, Cinderella was forty and slightly hungover. It was worth it, she thought and smiled at the thought of Juniper's gift.