This tale of Cinderella was inspired by a short story focusing on someone’s hands to tell their life. So, I had a go with Cinders. I used the slippers as a central object to allow the story to unfold. As I wrote, I began to understand the deeper significance of the slippers and their importance as a symbol and motif in the Cinderella story and its many versions.
“Why slippers?” I asked the Universe.
This story was my reply:
She’d had those slippers a long time, now. Turning them over in her hands she could just about recall a time before they’d been hers. When her mother had left her with only a song and her father had bound himself in bitter tears and turmoil. She shivered at the memory of his skeletal frame being cut away from the shaggy locks that grew from his head into the earth.
At least she’d had her mother’s song. It had sustained her through all the years of his stony sadness and the cruelty inflicted on her by those who would call themselves sisters. And her step-mother. How had it happened that she’d become enslaved by them? Abused step by step, like a drip-feed, until she had nothing but the song to keep her going. That was all before she had the slippers, of course.
With every harsh and grating demand – “clean my shoes,” “brush my hair,” “make my food,” “sweep the floor,” “light the fire” – she would wrap her mind inside the song, like a protective blanket, feel the smile inside her heart and do their bidding with all her grace. Knowing, hoping, believing that there’d be better days to come. Then the slippers arrived.
It wasn’t just like that, of course. She had to work for them. The old crone with the stoop had needed her help gathering herbs – she couldn’t bend to pick them from the beds any longer. So she’d helped for three full days, collecting herbs into the old woman’s basket while the kindly old hag sang a song like her mother’s. That had made her water the herbs with her tears, hadn’t it? It had been such a long time since she’d felt that warmth and tenderness from someone. Her mother’s song, too. So unexpected, right out of the blue like that.
Then more cruelty. Picking the poppy seeds out of the ashes. Why? Just because they could make her do it. Bent low over the dust, scrabbling around for poppy seeds in the dirt. But she’d collected them all – the old crone had helped her. And that’s when the magic happened. The hag took a seed out and planted it in the herb bed, where she’d wept those tears of love for her mother’s song and the old crone’s kindness. It grew right there and then. Blossoming into a silky crimson disc in an instant. The old woman picked it and gave it to her, and she found herself wearing the slippers and a gorgeous dress into the bargain.
Sparkling and shimmering in hues of stars and moon, her dress rippled like water as she sashayed – each step led by the Prince at the Ball that night. His right hand firm on the small of her back, directing her hips; his left caressing her fingers, guiding her forward. Yes, time was unfolding unstoppably then. Moving forward without the need for clocks or chimes. Carrying her towards this moment… She gazed down at the slippers glittering in her hands; golden sequins glistening in the sunlight that streamed through open curtains.
It was a miracle she still had them both. She’d lost one when she fled from the Palace at the end of the night. Scurrying back to the cold hearth, to the excessive demands of her sisters and step-mother. It was only the Prince’s persistence that had reunited the two lovers – and the two slippers, of course. For a time, he’d had the one, and she the other. The pair temporarily separate, he’d searched everywhere for the rightful partner to the golden slipper he held – the only sign that his beloved had ever really been, and danced with him that night. He had every woman in the land try it on, but none would fit and he despaired at the loss of one so briefly known yet so keenly felt.
At last, his men came to her humble home, and insisted she tried it on – much to the annoyance of her step-mother and sisters. And of course, it fit. She took out the matching slipper, and the instant they were both on her feet, she sparkled in her dress again too.
Radiance shone from her face in rapturous smiles on their wedding day. They both knew they’d always belonged together, and had searched and longed for each other from the moment of their first breath. Each seeking the other to complete the pair. The Prince and the Princess. The left and the right.
She looked at the slippers, just as beautiful on her daughter’s feet now. Singing her mother’s song in her heart, she made the final preparations for her own daughter’s marriage: another perfect match.
Words and image (C) Sally-Shakti Willow 2012