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My Ella

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Once upon a time, the most beautiful girl in the world didn’t live in a palace. Not yet. No, she lived in a small stone house, in the cramped little room down the hall from mine. But her spirit filled that tiny room, no bigger than a closet. Her soul shined through the cracks in the wall like rays of sun on a warm summer morning.

She didn’t wear ball gowns or lavish royal dresses. Not yet. She wore torn clothes, barely more than rags. She always seemed to have a smudge of soot on her cheek. She was beautiful despite the dirt and the grime.

She didn’t have a servant rush to her side each time she rang a bell. Not yet. She was my servant then, or all of ours. My mother, my sister and I. My mother would order her to do chore after grueling chore and my sister would watch and laugh. I would watch too, but for a different reason. Fierce determination blazed in her eyes as she scrubbed the flagstones, though her tone and posture were sad and defeated.

My sister taunted her, but I was too tongue-tied to speak whenever I caught a glimpse of her. She would never really look at us. Whether it was out of shame or pure hatred, I’ll never know. If she would have just looked at me, as I so desperately wished she would, she would have seen an apology in my eyes. For my mother’s cruel treatment and my sister’s mocking. But she never did. She must still think I enjoyed her pain.

She was so pale from being locked in her room away from the sun, let out only to serve my mother and sister’s every whim; so thin from being deprived of supper time and time again. My breath catches in my throat even now, only thinking of her. Her blue eyes shine in my memory. A smile that I’ve never seen plays across her imagined lips.

Ella’s finally happy, I suppose. Snug inside the palace walls with her prince. I should find comfort in her happiness, but I find only pain. There is still some mad hope in my soul that she ever loved me too.

Of course, she never did. I’m only her ugly stepsister, after all.

”How could anyone ever love someone who looks like you?” my mother would sneer if her critical eye detected a single flaw in my appearance. A hair out of place, a bit of fat straining against my corset. My sister got the same treatment. Mother said the same things to Ella, and although the words were uttered with the same malice and contempt as they would have been had they been directed at me, we all knew they weren’t true. Ella’s beauty was the kind to inspire poetry to be written in its honor. No amount of filth on her perfect face could hide that.

I would brush against her in passing, if only to feel her skin against mine for a moment. She barely noticed, but I would float through the house in a cloud of euphoria for hours afterward. She was like my fairy godmother, granting my every wish with a single touch.

When the invitations to the royal ball arrived, all I saw was an opportunity to be near her. As my mother, my sister, and I prepared our dresses and our shoes and our jewelry, I would invent reasons to speak to her. The flimsiest excuse would do. Tie my sash, help me put on my shoes. It seemed bossy, but all it was, was yearning. To be close to her. To have the tips of her fingers graze my neck as she put on my necklace, sending shivers down my spine.

My dress… my dress was a disaster. It was puffy where it should have been sleek, clingy where it should have been sweeping gracefully outward. I stood panicking in front of the mirror one night, half-mad from lack of sleep and the chaos of the preparation. I didn’t see or hear her come up behind me until she was there, pinning and stretching and pulling. She made a few quick cuts to the fabric and the dress suddenly hung elegantly on my body. She worked silently, never making a sound. Only the snip, snip, snip of her scissors could be heard.

I know now that she only helped because she felt obligated, and my frantic tears were likely getting pitifully loud. But my heart, my stupid foolish heart, tried to make me believe it was because she genuinely cared for me. I think I know better now.

My mother told her she couldn’t go to the ball with us, even though every young woman in the kingdom had been invited. Ella didn’t protest, but I know that when she escaped to her tiny room, she collapsed on her bed and sobbed.

The day of the ball, my mother ordered her to clean every brick in the fireplace and chimney while we danced and dined in the castle ballroom. She’d nodded miserably and watched our carriage leave. Ella’s eyes shone with tears. My mother’s shone with gleeful spite.

At the ball, I stood in a corner watching the prince dance with each young woman in turn, the dances lasting only one song with barely a word spoken between the two. All eyes were on the prince, except mine. My mind was deceiving me into thinking that every fair-haired young woman was Ella.

When I saw a slim figure in a lovely blue dress with golden hair piled atop her head, I dismissed it as another fantasy, a trick of the light and the mind. Then I realized it was her. I could sense her fear of being caught. I don’t know where she had gotten such a beautiful dress or glittering shoes, and I didn’t care. Everything in sight seemed dull and out of focus except for her.

The prince came and took her hand, asking for a dance as he had with everyone else. She shook her head, but he swept her away anyway. From watching others dance all night, I knew he would dance with her for a single song and then leave, moving on to the next girl, leaving her dreams of marrying a prince shattered at her feet. He doesn’t deserve her, I thought.

But as the first song ended and she pulled away, he clasped her hands between his. I couldn’t hear his words, but I knew he was begging her to stay and dance another song.

As the second song faded into a third, a fourth, and a fifth, I stood there watching helplessly as they whirled and laughed and whispered.

The palace clock struck midnight, and she gasped and ran away, stumbling down the palace steps. She left a single delicate glass slipper glittering in the moonlight resting on the marble stair.

The next day passed in a blur. I remember it in only bits and pieces. The fanfare, the prince, the slipper. Shards of memories and pain. When the prince arrived at the door, all I could think of was Ella’s laugh, ringing high and clear even above the noise of the ball. He makes her happy, I told myself. But that kind, selfless thought was drowned out by something greater. Don’t let her go.

I all but threw myself in front of Ella, hoping against hope that he wouldn’t recognize her and take her away from me. It was selfish and wrong and cruel to Ella, but love goes against all reason.

He spotted her anyway, her blue eyes peeking hopefully from behind my shoulder. I looked at her, at the happiness that she could have. I thought of the love and the freedom and the world of possibilities that were waiting for her. I stepped aside.

She rushed forward, and he presented her with a shoe. It slid gracefully onto her foot, and he embraced her. She breathed deeply as if a weight had finally been lifted from her chest. He led her to the carriage, and they rode away as my heart broke.

Once upon a time, the most beautiful, kindhearted, perfect girl in the world wasn’t the prince’s wife or the owner of that single glass slipper. She was the girl in rags who helped her tongue-tied, lovelorn stepsister with a dress for a ball that she wasn’t allowed to attend. She was the girl who slept in cinders and took my mother’s abuse with dignity and grace. She was the happily ever after in my fantasies. She was mine, if only in my imagination. My Ella.





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mwahxandxmwa said...
Nov. 4, 2010 at 10:10 pm
That was amazingly written. It was a very pleasent take on a story that seemed so bleak of the sisters. It was a really nice take and really well written. Enjoying to hear more. Mwah :D
 
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