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After the Sunshine
The palace, when viewed under the sun, was a gleaming white color, like dollops of whipped cream perfectly shaped to form rounded domes, elegant arches, and the slender towers that reached up to the winking sky. And it was fit to be so, as the center of the kingdom, the residence of not only the dapper young prince but also his princess, the famed Cinderella. There was no face better loved, and no voice that resonated more among the people. Their wedding had been hailed as a monumental event in the history of the kingdom. When asked, there was not one villager who would refuse to describe to you the beauty of the moment when that lovely girl ascended the steps, clad in pearly white with birds holding up her train. And there is not one who would fail to smile as he detailed the joy when she humbly accepted the coveted place of princess. Even now, the scene around the palace was splendid, saturated with color, from the rich emerald grass to the sunny yellow cotton tablecloth to the bright crimson of a chirping cardinal. It bespoke of a perfection that spouted beauty from every angle. In the daytime, the sun smiled on all that was lovely in Cinderella’s world.
But following the day inevitably comes the night, when no sun could warm the surfaces that shone in the day. The weaker moon only augmented the shadows of the majestic things that surrounded Cinderella, so that while in the day those shadows seemed faint and hazy, they could not be ignored at night.
The only lamp and the only fireplace still lit came from Cinderella’s bedchamber, where she sat, nestled in a plump armchair that never felt comfortable, no matter how many times she changed her position on it. A half-empty glass of wine stood resolutely on the nightstand next to her. She glanced again at the clock. Half past two and Charming still hadn’t returned. Cinderella wished she could believe that he was doing something responsible, even noble. Giving up his sleep to help out with an emergency, perhaps. Cinderella smiled at her own foolish hopefulness. An emergency, three nights in a row? No, she couldn’t believe that anymore. She had to admit things were not what they seemed under the sunlight. There was a drought in the kingdom and farmers were going hungry. Charming’s tactlessness had won them not a few enemies, and perhaps worst of all, Charming refused to repair or even acknowledge the problems. The kingdom had been prosperous and happy under his father, and it was inconceivable that the tables could turn on him. So, trying to make up for his carelessness, Cinderella had taken to attending to matters herself, which drew many glances and awkward questions as to what the prince was doing while his wife ran the kingdom. Cinderella had kept her voice steady and held her smile in place. No one must see the tears that welled up or the worry lines starting to crease her face. Appearances must be kept up. Not even a strand of loose hair could escape the perfection she valiantly groomed, day after day.
The door creaked as Charming stepped in, yawning. He paused.
“Cindy,” he began, “I’m sorry. But you know how things drag on and you lose track of time. You didn’t have to wait up for me.”
“No,” she agreed. “I didn’t.”
After a pause, she added, “I’m leaving.”
“You’re just tired, Cindy. You’ll be more sensible in the morning.”
“No,” she insisted. “It’s only at night that I see clearly, when I’m not blinded by the sunshine.”
“Look at you, being all philosophical.”
“Charming. I’m serious. I’ve had hours to think on this, thanks to you. I’m leaving. I just wanted to let you know.”
Cinderella rose from the armchair and reached for her coat. She looked back as she stood in the doorway.
Charming laughed. “See you in a few hours, Cindy.”
In the hallway she paused. She had brought nothing with her. No clothes or food, not a cent in the world. And she had nowhere to go. Her stepsisters would hardly welcome her with open arms. She looked back at the door. Behind it were comfort and security and all the silks and satins she could ever want. Behind it was a down bed to sleep on, a husband she had thought could bring her happiness, and a life she had overestimated. Cinderella waited for tears to come, but her eyes remained dry. Tripping in the darkness, she ran out of the palace. In the stable, she grabbed a horse, gave the others a quick pat, and fled into the night.
Away she galloped, away from the gleaming white palace and across the emerald grass. Away she escaped, far enough so that she would never have to see the palace under the sun again.