Cinderella drops her head, a terrible combination of guilt, embarrassment and anger at having been caught, yet again.
The woman, girl really. standing in front of her, extends her hands,cupped together, skin chapped, reddened, palms calloused and Cinderella drops the tiny fireplace brush and pan into cupped palms.
She tries to smile at the girl, make some sort of connection, but the drawing room housemaid simply sniffs, turn on her heels and leaves the room.
Cinderella sinks miserably onto the pale yellow silk day bed and a fat tear falls onto the fabric, causing immediate water damage, damage that should, if it is to avoid leaving permanent marks, be dealt with now,but she remembers other attempts to enter the staff quarters in search of cleaning products and so she stays still, slumped in misery, watching as her tears mix with the coal dust on her face to leave sooty damp smudges on the bodice of her dress.
She tries hard to ignore the fireplace itself, tries to not see the fluff, the badly swept corners, the tiny bits of coal left behind when all it needed was a quick brush, a tidy up, a few seconds of spick and span-ness.
She sighs, this is not how she thought it would be, back in the day, when it was all about the dancing and the parties and the shoes and the dress and him, of course, the prince and happy ever after.
She got swept up in it all, the fairy tale ending and yes, there was pleasure in beating her step sisters, coming out on top, but no-one told her about the boredom, the empty days, the nothing to do and so much time to do it in.
There are so many servants and all of them charged with her well being and it seems, personally offended if she tries to do anything for her-self.
So, someone dresses her, someone else undresses her, there is a maid whose only job is to care for her clothes, someone else to brush her hair, even the tiny lap dog is not really hers to care for, there is a boy who walks and groom the pet and hands it her only when it is spotless and be- ribboned.
More and more, Cinderella finds herself harking back to the days before all of this, the days when the kitchen was full of noise and warmth and conversation and laughter, her and cook, stealing the best slices of meat before the plate was sent upstairs for the family, the cook impersonating the step sisters, getting their voices just right and both sitting at the end of a day, hot milk and the sense of work well done.
Cinderella remembers the boy, Buttons, flirting across the wash tub, eyes on her, even when she only owned one dress and laughing and the pleasure of a stolen kiss or a stolen apple.
She remembers the work, knows that she is mis-remembering it, cutting out the days when she ached, when she was tired, cold, when the step sisters teased her, when she felt so alone, dozing next to the fireplace, waiting for something to happen.
But the work had it’s own rythmn, it’s own pleasures, doing something right, keeping the dirt and dust at bay.
This is not what she expected, not what she hoped for, all the time ago, when the clock struck 12 and she ran as fast as she could but knew that she would not, could not out-run him, not at the end of the story.
She drags herself back into the present, into today and looks at herself in the mirror, her reflection is elegant, dressed in a fashionable pale green, her skin is white, hair gleams, brows carefully shaped, lips delicately colored.
She doesn’t recognize herself at all, the french clock chimes, 12 o clock.
In a few moments, someone will come and suggest that she changes her clothing so that she can join her husband, her prince, for lunch.
She wonders what would happen if she simply refused.