By Holly Couling
Once upon a time...
There once was a queendom that was ruled by a fair and loving royal couple. In this queendom, succession was not necessarily determined by birth, but by royal nomination. Typically, though, the next monarch was the child of the previous ones. The queen and king had long wanted a baby, and they had done everything they could to prepare. They had gotten couples counseling to prepare for the strain to their partnership that could result from sleep deprivation. The king had educated himself on giving effective foot rubs. The queen had orchestrated twelve weeks of maternity and paternity leave for the whole queendom, and they had very capable advisors to administer things while they figured out how the fuck to keep a small human infant alive. They both were experts on prenatal nutrition, and subscribed to the old world notion that a small glass of red wine a day is good for everyone, starting at the age of about sixteen. They had saved money to pay for a cloth diaper service (single use diapers are an environmental abomination). They even considered having the queendom’s carpenter make an ergonomic co-sleeper, since those were in fashion, but she was a very busy carpenter and really, a drawer is fine!
They got pregnant, had a baby and enjoyed the harrowing first few months of parenthood successfully, which is to say that they neither killed the baby nor each other. They let people hold little Briar Rose (the queendom hadn’t anticipated that they would be such nit-wits at naming their child, but at least they spelled it in the conventional way, not like “Bryahr Rozé,” ) and changed all of her diapers themselves.
Even the best people can really blow it sometimes, and so it goes. They decided to have a first birthday party for her, so everyone could have a chance to greet the baby, if they wanted. They understood that this party was really for them and their friends, since the baby would definitely not remember any of it. They invited everyone in the whole queendom to attend, and some foreign dignitaries. They did agonize over whether to invite a neighbor queen, Maleficent, who was also a wizard. She had a tendency towards belligerent inebriation and internalized misogyny. They wanted their party to be a safe space for everyone, so knowing it was likely to REALLY piss her off, they left her off the guest list.
Unfortunately, Maleficent had not yet revealed her ability to turn herself in a dragon. Regressive and sexist people could be dealt with over time. Raging dragons were a more urgent matter. It’s hard to maintain equality when one is dead. She came to the party and threw a raging (fire-breathing) tantrum in front of everyone. With smoke spewing from her nostrils, she announced, “On your daughter’s sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on a spindle and die, or I will take my vengeance on the whole queendom.”
The Queen and King were very dismayed. They turned to their wizard friends, the sisters Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather for help. The women didn’t have enough magic to unravel Maleficent’s curse. They bound together and softened it somewhat- rather than dying, Briar Rose would fall into a deep sleep. She could be woken only by an act of true love. To spare the queen and king the pain of losing their daughter to decades of sleep, the citizens of the queendom agreed that when this came to pass, they would all like to be put into a magical slumber, too, so that essentially everyone’s lives were on pause.
In a frenzy to waylay the curse, they sought to have all the spindles in the land destroyed, which led to a significant standstill in the knit clothing industry. Fashion turned toward the bulkier woven or crocheted manufacture options. Concerned for Briar Rose’s safety in childhood, the best defense they felt they had for their family was to send her away to live with their wizard friends. The women lived simply in the forest, and had many badass skills. They were loyal to their friends, and swore to protect Briar Rose. They all hoped her anonymity would keep her safe.
Years passed. The three wizard sisters taught Briar Rose to study voraciously, explore intrepidly, fight boldly, and lead with kindness. When she was fifteen, they could no longer hide the truth about Briar Rose’s past from her. She fervently wanted to go to her parents, but she understood why they’d sent her away. She wanted to go kick down Maleficent’s doors, but she knew that if her wizard family wasn’t strong enough to fight her, than she might not be either. She had one year of real self-knowledge, before the curse came upon her. Could it be overcome? What would happen if she managed to avoid all spindles? She’d never even seen one. Maleficent, it seems, had made it clear that if she didn’t follow the fate laid out for her, her queendom would reap the punishment. Her parents and wizard family were willing to fight it. The more she considered it, the more it seemed not worth the risk.
She spent even more time in the woods than before. She’d made a friend in the woods, a kind young man named Stevie. He was a good listener, and a good learner. She enjoyed teaching him what the wizards had taught her about badassery and fine art. Teaching him occupied her mind somewhat from the looming confrontation. And it made her better at her spells and skills to break them down for someone else. Stevie seemed to be seeking solace in the woods, too. His secrets spilled slowly. He was a prince from a neighboring queendom. His parents had chosen a princess for him to marry, but he was waiting for his prince to come. (There wasn’t anyone special yet; this was just kind of a fantasy situation for Stevie…) Stevie’s queendom was quite a close-minded place. No one was quite sure how to proceed. There was talk of banishment, or even a dungeon.
Briar Rose lay awake at night, thinking. There had to be an answer. She was strong, and smart and fierce. There must be a way to save her queendom, her friend, and herself. She was exhausted from the strain. She felt she had to be strong in front of the wizard sisters, and dutiful to her parents, but she felt like she was drowning under impossible expectations. She couldn’t just hide in the woods from spindles. (Spindles! They sound so silly! How had this come to be the scariest of all scary things?) She couldn’t risk her queendom by just avoiding it. She couldn’t just sleep the years away hoping for an act of true love. What did that even mean? She didn’t want any kisses while she was asleep. That’s just creepy. One can’t consent when one is asleep.
Her eyes flew open. She had it. She loved her wizard family, but Stevie was her best friend. She loved him the most. Maybe she could save them both. When dawn came, she went out to find her friend. She had a plan. She would confront her fate, not wait for it. This was her story, after all.
The eve of her 16th birthday arrived. She donned her comfiest undergarments and stowed a small dagger in her running boots, just in case. She didn’t want to appear as though she was running into battle. And, if she was going to sleep for a long ass time (or die), she wanted to tire her well-muscled body out a little. She carefully wrapped the spindle she’d carved in a scarf that Flora had made for her, and buttoned it into her deep pocket (all of her garments had ample pockets). She made her way to her parents’ castle at an easy jog. She moved nimbly and quietly, often encountering some forest fauna on the way. They had come to be her friends, the birds and mammals, and even the amphibians and reptiles. (She knew that “reptile” wasn’t a scientifically sound categorization, but she hadn’t yet come up with a better one.) She’d slow her pace and smile at them. “It’s going to be ok. I got this. Tell your fuzzy and feathered and slimy friends.” She didn’t wait for an answer; that’s just silly. But she knew they understood her. She made a quick detour to the border road, and then ran home.
Sneaking into the castle was easy. She made a mental note to tighten security in the future against other clever, climbing, fighting, swimming badasses with insider knowledge. She slid her note under her parents’ chamber door. She’d already left one for the wizard fam. It read: “If you wake up before I do, don’t worry. I have a plan. I love you. -Briar Rose”. She went to her own chamber. She had to admit, she adored the giant princess bed with a canopy and twinkly lights. She was very happy with a good cloak sleeping on a bed of moss, but she couldn’t deny the appeal of the rich colors and the cozy fort-type feeling. She was physically exhausted from running through the night, but too wound up to sleep. Would her plan work? No turning back. It was the best (and only) plan she had. She shoved a pillow under her knees, held held her dagger tightly in one hand, pricked her finger on the janky homemade spindle, and passed out in a dreamless slumber.
Stevie waited, as instructed, for one year. Briar Rose had made it clear to him that in order for the curse to be thwarted, it had to be fulfilled. He hated thinking of the sleeping neighboring queendom. What’s creepier than a whole society that has suddenly fallen into a cursed sleep? Snoring bodies everywhere. Stevie was easily spooked. He used the time to continue the training he’d begun with Briar Rose. It was much easier to avoid his social expectations when he was hiding in the woods. Briar Rose’s seventeenth birthday arrived. He was ready to play his part. He thought. But also pretty scared.
Everything in the sleeping queendom was indeed creepy. Everything was overgrown. There were a lot of weird smells. Maleficent’s castle/dragon lair was visible in the neighboring hills, smokey and foreboding. Stevie fought his way through invasive Himalayan blackberry brambles to the castle. The queendom’s goats had fallen asleep, and left alone, the thorny blackberries were taking over everything. He knew he had to be stealthy. If the dragon noticed him, all would be lost. He could handle a small, non-violent dragon, perhaps, like a komodo dragon. He could fight. But he was no hero. He had his sword, her sword, and a big thermos of fresh coffee. Following the map and directions she’d given him, and bleeding freely from many pokes and scratches, he finally made it to Briar Rose’s side in her chamber. She looked PISSED laying there. He poured her a cup of strong dark roast, and, just to see if it would work, wafted it under her nose. Did he detect a softening of expression? Then he took her hand, and placed it on the warm mug. “Rose? I brought you coffee.”
Her eyes fluttered, she sniffed and sat straight up, swiping the coffee into her bosom with one hand and raising her dagger with the other. It took her a moment (glaring out at the world as she sipped) to realize that she was threatening her bestie. Stevie stepped back quickly, and offered her her sword with both hands. He tried to smile, but it came out more as a grimace. She sipped again, grinned at him, then dropped the dagger and attacked him with a bear hug. “You did it!” she whispered. “Mmmm, dark roast. Still piping hot. Let’s go slay a dragon.” She leapt out of bed, re-booted the dagger, strapped on her belt and hilt, and led Stevie out of the castle, sipping, sipping, sipping.
Stevie trotted after her. He kept spilling his coffee down his tunic as they jogged. The briars and brambles didn’t slow her down a bit. “Are you sure we can do it?” he asked. He wasn’t sure how much help he would be. “She has no power over me now,” Briar Rose replied confidently. “We broke her curse. And now we’re coming for her.”
All around them the queendom was slowly waking. There were noises of confusion, and joy, and also some deep concern. Briar Rose and Stevie left it all behind them. Maleficent was certainly awake. She flew to meet them on the road, as Briar Rose knew she would. The friends stopped in a rocky henge- they wanted shelter from fireballs. They could hear Maleficent’s roar before they saw her. Briar Rose yelled “The time of ruling by fear and perpetuating misogyny is over! Come down her and fight like a woman!”
Dragon Maleficent snorted flames of laughter and landed softly, right into their trap. Stevie deftly cut the twine holding open Briar Rose’s snare (this was not the time to be showy.) The lines of the trap (finely woven cable, not flammable rope) sprang over Maleficent’s wings and clawed feet. The dragon reeled back, and before she could shout “WHO DARES???...” Briar Rose leapt with great force and flung her sword down her throat. The Dragon’s head started to loll back, and as her great hulk started to fall, Briar Rose stabbed her in the heart with her dagger. Just be sure. She slid down the dragon’s belly to Stevie.
“We did it!” he exclaimed. “I can’t believe that worked!” They high tenned, and then hugged it out. “You, Briar Rose, are a badass.”
“So are you, Stevie! We can’t be letting someone else control our lives. We make our own rules. Listen, if your family won’t get over their heteronormative paradigm, I’ll marry you and we’ll live in a very happy non-sexual open relationship. But you know what? I bet I can get them to change their minds. And I have a feeling a lot of hot princes are going to want to hang out with us.”
And so it went. Briar Rose was reunited with her parents and split her time between her forest and castle homes. Stevie’s folks were coming around. The queendom was so relieved that the curse and the threats were over, that it bustled with art and activity. Briar Rose made sure there was a robust invasive species removal effort, led by the queendom’s goats, and the citizens enjoyed blackberry wine and goat cheese.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Ia, The Little Mermaid
By Evy Couling
Once upon a time….
Merpeople did not have vocal chords. As a semi-aquatic species, this would have been an impractical nuisance. They did have a written language, expressed in the form of shells and stones and driftwood laid out in precise mathematical patterns. But mostly, they were silent. Small, secretive, and bottom dwelling, their first ambition was to be overlooked.
For decades, the people of the reef had caught rumors—luminous scraps dropped from passing skiffs or drawn up in their nets. Rumors were their only form of sustenance. Lately, however, the rumors had fallen thick and fast, and strange—once they had tasted of lemon. Now, they tasted of shit.
Merpeople did not understand cruelty. They did understand predation. The King on Land, it seemed, was hungry. The King had devoured most of his subjects. The King should be avoided.
Ia had no wish to be eaten. On the night of the storm, she curled against the inner wall of her cave, and listened to the waters scream. She knew the royal ship was struggling to return to port. She assumed it would sink. But she would not go near it. There would be stories to collect in the morning. If she was patient, she could slip into the harbor at dawn and fill her bag with nonsense and conjecture. If she was patient.
Ia passed the time by drawing patterns on her scalp with octopus dye (all mermaids are bald). Then, she saw him. Dropping heavily through the water column, with the shocked expression of a creature suddenly hurled from one dimension into another.
“Ah well,” thought Ia, “Every predator has its time.” Now we come to the reason for this tale. It was in this moment, that a mermaid felt—for the first time in their evolutionary history—something like compassion.
Ia did not experience the emotion so much as the compulsion that accompanied it. She left her cave, caught the man, and, with some difficulty, deposited him on the shore. When this was done, she was not sure why she had thought it necessary.
She shrugged and prepared to return to the water. But before she did, she had another—completely novel—idea. She placed her hand on the man’s chest and drew out every story he had ever heard, pure and untainted by fear. It was a small wet package, like a skate egg. She put it in her mouth, and a lemon grove grew on her tongue.
Ia slipped back into the sea, carrying her prize. The king might still die. He probably should die. Either way, she would not go hungry.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Cinderella: Fairy Land Feminist
By Emma Couling
Once upon a time….
There was a happy family, who lived a happy life, on a happy farm. They were the epitome of middle class, being neither rich nor poor, but with a great propensity to affect the latter. They loved each other fairly well, and worked fairly hard, and lived a fair good life. Admittedly, Father was not terribly up to speed on achieving household tasks he, in all his masculinity, assumed were meant for womxn, like raising his daughter, or learning how to darn his socks. But Mother was open-hearted, thought the best of him, and had faith in his ability to learn and grow.
Alas, as this was a long time ago, and they lived on a farm, before the advent of penicillin or the social expectation of frequent bathing, Mother grew tragically ill and died before she could explain the concept of shared domestic and emotional labor. Father was left alone to raise their only daughter.
Mother left an arsenal of books to her daughter, and thus, Cinderella: Fairy Land Feminist grew up--with the spirit of her mother always with her in the tattered copy of Fairy Land’s Feminist Manifesto tucked neatly into her belt.
Cinderella went to her mother’s grave on occasion, but only to ensure that the flowers that had grown over it were properly cared for. She grew up reasonable and even-keeled and managed, after a certain amount of struggle, to teach her Father how to darn his own socks. Winters came and went--spreading snows like a white cloth over Mother’s grave. And when enough spring suns had removed that Cinderella was starting to think about starting her own farm, or perhaps applying for Fairy Land University (the nearest possible co-ed liberal arts college) to get a degree in Crops Management with a minor in Gender Studies, Father came home from a business trip with a new wife. Which Cinderella found surprising. (But then again, Father was nearing 40, and Cinderella had heard that men do terrible things when they realize they might die one day, which tends to happen at around age 40.)
Cinderella’s new step-mother brought two daughters with her. Both were near Cinderella’s age and at first Cinderella thought it would be wonderful to have some more womxn around the house. They could discuss the inequalities of Fairy Land and perhaps start a pamphlet campaign to advocate for equal pay in the farming community. But it wasn’t long before Cinderella discovered that her step-sisters engaged in the kind of internalized misogyny that disallowed them from identifying as feminists, and gave them a fear of dirt under their fingernails. Cinderella was sad for them - she understood, as they did not, that “beauty” and “purity” are patriarchal constructs developed to prevent ambitious womxn from achieving great success. Times began to be quite vexing for Cind. She was constantly arguing politics and trying to fight oppressive language in her household, not to mention the fact that more family members meant more mouths to feed, and more mouths to feed meant digging more potatoes. Cinderella loved a lot about being a farmer. But, in her opinion, digging potatoes was the worst.
Her stepmother and stepsisters did not contribute to the household, and it wasn’t long before Cinderella found herself doing all the mental and physical labor she had already been doing for herself and her father for the entire household. Which was too much. She started gathering brochures for FLU with more alacrity. “Time to skedaddle,” she thought.
The following winter, Cinderella got her acceptance letter, but kept it a secret from the family. She wasn’t sure how to break it to Father that he would have to deal with the consequences of his marriage, i.e. live with three womxn who didn’t have the faintest idea what the difference was between a rutabaga and a turnip.
Winter turned to spring and it happened that the His Majesty, the King of Fairy Land proclaimed a ball in honor of his first born son, the Prince, who would one day be king. Cinderella felt that the fact that Fairy Land was still bound by primogeniture to be one of the more obviously offensive examples of what she and Mother had cheerfully referred to as patriarchal bullshit, but she hadn’t yet developed a political plan for confronting the royal family about their archaic toxic crowning process. But she did rather like balls - there was always good food - and if the king was useful for anything (he wasn’t much), it was for throwing a good shindig.
Cinderella’s skepticism grew, however, as she learned from folks in the surrounding area that the king had specifically invited “beautiful young girls” to the ball. “First of all,” thought Cinderella, “the word you are looking for is “womxn”. Secondly why only young womxn? What kind of agist patriarchy is this?”
It wasn’t until she was at the cobblers getting her farming boots repaired that she understood from her best friend Mildred that the purpose of the ball was to find a wife for the prince.
“Oh gosh,” she said to Mildred, who’d taken over her parents cobbling business when her father had accidentally sewn his own foot into a shoe, “Does the prince even want to get married? Is it really that hard for him to find someone to become his princess the normal way? You know - go to a pub, gently offer to buy someone you like a drink, and then ask them their opinions on the state of politics, maybe invite them on a date to your extensive castle library. It doesn’t seem like you should have to throw a ball to find someone to marry you. I mean…I’m not the least bit interested in marriage, I’m only 17, but if that guy was like, “Come look at my library,” I’d be like, “Yes, okay, where’s your gender studies section? Do you happen to have an original copy of The Canterbury Tales because I bet you do. Which translation of Beowulf is in here?” Y’know?”
Mildred nodded. She did know.
Much to Cinderella’s consternation her step-family had no such qualms and the entire house was in a tizzy for days before the ball. Cinderella felt she could not turn a corner but for bumping into a wad of lace or tulle that one of her stepsisters was having enthusiastically tacked on to their multiple ball gowns. Cinderella was deeply uninterested in tulle. She had studying to do, and farm work, and a very simple dress made of a washable linen (but a bold neckline) and sensible slip-on flats tucked away in her room.
On the first evening of the ball, her stepfamily had practically taken over the house with their preparations and Cinderella was grateful that she had a myriad of excuses to get out of assisting them with their pre-ball preparations.
“Cinderella, help us with our make-up.” her Step-sisters would demand.
And Cinderella would laugh a loud and unapologetic guffaw, and say, “That’s a terrible idea. You don’t want me to do that. I don’t even really understand make-up. What is that, blush? Does that go on your nose or your eyes? I forget. What’s mascara even for? Listen, if make-up makes you feel powerful and happy then I support that - live your best life - but, in my opinion, the “beauty industry” is a multibillion dollar tool of the Patriarchy designed to make womxn feel broken.”
And her Stepsisters rolled their eyes and threw their hair brushes at her while she bounced downstairs.
After hours of unnecessary primping and preening her stepsisters finally loaded themselves into the family carriage and it was only at that moment that Father realized Cinderella would not fit, as the spot that she might have occupied was taken over by the enormity of the Stepsisters dresses.
“Not to worry,” said Cinderella, “I’d rather arrive on my own in any case.”
Her father understood, but felt a twinge of guilt - and no small amount of regret that he would not have Cinderella as a buffer between himself and the stepfamily. He wasn’t sure he knew what “organza” was, and was very frightened that he would certainly have to find out before night’s end.
Cinderella waved the carriage on its way and went back into the house to make sure the candles were blown out and the back door was locked before she saddled up her favorite horse. Just as she was about to mount her mare she heard a tinkling, as of small bells, behind her and she turned to see a woman she did not know ensconced in a decadent robe and wielding what looked like a school teacher’s baton.
“Er…” said Cinderella, “Can I...help you?”
“Why, Cinderella, don’t you know me?” said the womxn, “I am your Fairy Godmother.”
“My Fairy What Now?” replied Cinderella .
“Your Fairy Godmother,” said the womxn, “I am here to make all your wishes come true, starting with getting you ready for the ball.”
“Oh,” said Cinderella, “That’s...you know...nice of you. Weird. But nice. And maybe a little passive aggressive….because you’re suggesting that I don’t look ready...and I am...ready...so you know. Thank you. But no thank you. Also...the concept of Fairy Godmother is pretty weird, don’t you think? I don’t know you, you don’t know me, you just show up to insult my fashion taste...also “godmother” is a word derived from Western Christian mythos for a child’s spiritual guide in a monotheistic religion based on a book written by a whole bunch of high falutin men and then the word fairy is derived from the word fey which has its origins in pagan religious mythos and I dunno the whole concept just seems at odds if you get what I’m saying.”
Fairy Godmother frowned. She did not get what Cinderella was saying. But before she could sort out a reply, Cinderella had mounted her horse and trotted away.
Cinderella arrived at the ball fashionably late, which she preferred, as it meant she didn’t have to go through that whole awkward procession situation where some poor sod forced you to let him announce you to a crowd of folks who couldn’t care less. And it also meant that she could slip through the crowds and straight to the food and beverage booths for a little something to nosh on while she achieved her true mission; the library had to be here somewhere.
After packing her pockets (she loved a good gown with pockets) with sweets, breads, and hard cheeses, she went through the nearest door and turned left. As she expected the corridors were more or less deserted. In any case, Cinderella had always found that when she walked with purpose no one questioned her; she was blessed with an air of authority.
After few twists and turns (and a few delicious bites of cheese), Cinderella found what she was looking for. The National Library. She opened the doors, in great anticipation of glory, ready to bury her nose in the first book she saw. She closed her eyes and inhaled the smell of old books as she stepped forward. But when she opened them, she felt her heart crack at what she beheld. There were more books than she had ever seen, certainly, but all of them were covered in a thick layer of untouched dust; their bindings uncracked, the pages unturned, the words hidden away and unread.
She stood, stunned, and increasingly annoyed at this tragedy, when she was startled by a polite cough behind her. She spun around, a bit out of sorts at being discovered, a little anxious about the fact that she had been surprised twice in one day, and increasingly furious at a monarchy that saw fit to collect all this knowledge and never so much as read it (much less make it available to the public), to see The Prince.
“Well,” she said, “Shit.”
“I uh...no no...not to worry,” said the Prince, “...it’s...just that I was...I was hiding up here and I didn’t expect to run into anyone and I’m sorry that I’m disturbing and I’ll just see...myself out.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Cinderella, “This is your house and your party and I’m the one who’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. What on earth are you apologizing for?”
“I…don’t know,” said the Prince.
“I tell you what you could apologize for,” said Cinderella, her filters gone in her frustration, “the fact that you have this entire library and it looks like it’s never been touched. What’s the point of keeping books if you’re not going to read them? Didn’t it ever occur to you to donate them to the University? Have you seen their measly collection? It’s depressing.”
“Er…” said the Prince.
“And another thing - what is this? Low Fat cheese? What, you know, in the world, is the point of that?”
“I mean...I rather…,” said the Prince.
“Not to mention,” said Cinderella, “Those awful invitations: “all the beautiful young girls in Fairy Land”? Did you approve that copy? Because if so you’ve got some shit to learn. Honestly, that is some high key patriarchal nonsense. If you’re going to throw a party throw a party don’t make it weird.”
“You do...rather have a point…,” said the Prince.
“And another thing-” said Cinderella.
“-May I have this dance?” the Prince cutting her off, in hopes of preventing her from continuing her rant.
It was the wrong thing to do.
She pulled her chin down, and set her jaw. Her lips thinned, her eyes narrowed. She was looking at him through her eyebrows. He heard her inhale. Slowly. Audibly. With intent.
“Listen, your highness,” said Cinderella, “You may be a prince, and you may have a lot of power over me and everyone in Fairy Land, but if there’s one thing I cannot abide, it’s when men like you interrupt womxn. Did you know that when men talk with womxn, they interrupt the conversation 33% more often than when they talk with men? In an average three minute conversation between a man and a womxn the man will typically interrupt his conversation partner 2.1 times. But of course you didn’t know that. How could you? You’ve never read a single one of these books.”
And she stormed off.
The Prince was stunned.
He’d never felt this way before.
He thought it must be love.
But he wasn’t really sure what love was.
In a daze he rushed after Cinderella, but she was more athletic than him and kept up a steady pace and distance.
He almost managed to catch up with her at the stables where he saw she’d stepped in some rather troublesome mud and was trying to release her shoe. He got close enough to hear her spit, “Aw, fuck it” and to watch as she left her shoe behind and jumped up on her horse.
Cinderella rode off into the midnight.
Bells tolled in the castle tower.
The Prince picked up her shoe and wandered back into the party. He was rattled. Confused. No one had ever spoken to him like that before.
The next day the story of the womxn who had accused the Prince of “patriarchal bullshit” spread like wildfire throughout Fairy Land. No one knew for sure who it was, but Cinderella’s friend Mildred the Cobbler felt pretty confident in her hypothesis. There was only one womxn she had ever heard use that phrase.
Mildred’s suspicions were quickly confirmed by an unexpected visit at her cobblery.
And so it came to pass that Mildred came in search of her friend not but two days after the ball.
“Cind.” she said when she finally located her companion in the potato garden, “You can’t imagine what the Prince has done.”
“I dunno,” sighed Cinderella, “I can imagine a lot.”
Mildred smiled, knowingly, and burst forth, “He has your shoe.”
“What?” said Cinderella. “Why? What’s he going to do with that? And how do you know?”
“Well I suppose he is just a smidge more clever than we were giving him credit for. He’s been going around to all the cobbler’s shops asking if anyone recognizes your shoe. And I have to tell you that he visited me yesterday.”
“Of course he did,” said Cinderella, annoyed. “What did you tell him?”
“The truth of course,” said Mildred.
Cinderella sighed. She loved Mildred but discretion was not Mildred’s strong suit.
“Mil,” said Cinderella, “Why did you do that?”
“I thought you’d be pleased,” said Mildred, “isn’t it exciting to have a prince looking for you?”
“No. Mil. It’s dreadful, and unwanted, and a power play, and….well in the future, if someone is trying to find me based on my shoe and a three minute interaction, can you consult me before giving them my address?” replied Cinderella and she tossed her potato shovel in the shed as she walked inside. The Prince and his entourage were visible on the horizon, headed towards the farm.
Once inside Cinderella washed her hands as her stepfamily and Father bustled around, trying in vain to beautify the house in the few minutes they had before the Prince arrived. And within minutes he was at the door, announced obnoxiously and unnecessarily by his servant in a voice so loud voice that scared the chickens. Father opened the door, and the entire household fell into ridiculously deep and unsteady bows of supplication. The Prince caught Cinderella’s eye. She nodded. Once. Politely.
“I believe that this shoe,” the Prince proclaimed as he produced it with a flourish, “Belongs to you. Madam.”
Cinderella did not succeed at preventing her face from wincing at the use of the antiquated honorific.
“Um.” she said, tensely, “Yes. Yup. That sure is for sure my shoe. Mmhmm. Thanks for returning it. Very thoughtful of you. Unnecessary. But thoughtful.”
He knelt before her and made to place the shoe on her foot. She stared at him. “Not to be rude,” she said, “And really, I do appreciate the gesture, but I’m wearing my gardening boots and they are rather a pain to unlace, so I’ll just….I’ll just take that shoe from you. Like...with my hands.”
The Prince stood up, shook off the sensation that he wasn’t being appreciated, and handed her the shoe.
“Er..” he said, “What is...your name?”
“It’s Cinderella,” she said, thrusting out her hand, “Good to meet you. Sorry if I ran you through the mill a bit the other day. Scratch that I’m not sorry, you deserved it and the tendency of womxn to needlessly apologize is a product of The Patriarchy.”
“Um. Quite. Yes. Sure.” said the Prince, “Well I am...the Prince. Obviously. And it’s good to meet you...as well.”
They shook hands. There was an awkward silence.
For far too long.
“Well.” said Cinderella, “I’m just going to go back to the garden then.”
“Wait.” said the Prince, “Cinderella I am in love with you. I was in love you since the moment I first saw you. You are the most beautiful girl in all Fairy Land. Your courage and verve are refreshing. You’re probably very smart because you like books. I bet you’re going to be one of those university girls. Allow me to offer you an alternative. Be my bride. Be my guide, my muse, my wife. Stand slightly behind me and to the left until death do us part.”
Cinderella laughed. She laughed harder than she ever had. She doubled over laughing. She had to consciously convince herself to breathe slowly in order to stop enough to say, “There’s
so much to unpack there. No. Just….whooof. No.”
And she walked out the back door without a passing glance.
The door slammed.
The room fell silent.
And the Prince left.
And Cinderella went to university, and made the dean’s list. She discovered that she was far more interested in politics than in farming, and she switched her major to Political Science (but she kept her Gender Studies minor). She campaigned and advocated for equal rights for all genders and species and one day on the quad she ran into the Prince again. They had both grown just enough to let bygones be bygones and the Prince was the first to suggest that she consider running for office. She became Fairy Land’s first womxn Prime Minister, established a constitutional monarchy, convinced the Prince to eradicate the practice of primogeniture so that his firstborn daughter would become Fairy Land’s queen without having to marry anyone if she didn’t wish to. And when, many hundreds of years later when movies were a thing, and the film of her life was made the Prince was on the poster. But he was behind her. And slightly to the left.
And they all lived happily ever after.