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The Visitor

Harlequin Cynic

Cinderella comes. Cinderella comes, and a girl hides her honey-colored hair under a patchwork blanket. Sleep is far away and she can smell the thick air under the blanket. Moonlight streams through her bedroom window. She is hiding her face, hiding her eyes from the moonlight's sharp glare, curling up around the mysterious sharp pains in her stomach.

If the shoe fits, wear it, baby, calls the voice from the window. That's what I told him.

The girl throws the blanket aside, sits bolt upright. The princess is in the window. The figure she recognizes from her storybooks, modified in her daydreams into a familiar face, sits on the windowsill, dressed in rags.

Yup, says the princess, back to square one.

She wiggles her toes, sticking out of her ragged sandals. One party goes well, she sighs, and you think you've got it made. One night you get lucky in silk and Jessica McClintock, the next day you're back in all the crap. She raises her hands. The palms are black.

Ashes. I have ashes all over my hands from cleaning out their damn fireplaces. Let the fires burn all night to keep their little toes toasty in bed, and the next morning who has to creep out at six AM to sweep out the remains? Yours truly, that's who. You would not believe how cold it is at that hour. You would not believe it. I have icicles hanging off my damn fingernails.

The girl is seriously considering diving back under the covers. The princess's fingernails are stubby and rimmed with blue and black.

The chandeliers.

The sudden change in the princess's voice catches the girl's attention and she drops the blanket she was clutching. Dreamy-eyed, soft-voiced, the figure becomes somewhat less frightening.

You should have seen those chandeliers, sister. Flaming bright, and everything sleepy-warm like the bottom of a sleeping bag in the morning. Like stepping into a hot shower after a long day, you know what I mean? And the colors, the watered silk and the taffeta and the what-have-you in every color of the rainbow. Everybody's hair was glossy. You could just see the light reflecting off the hair-gel and the enamel on their little manicured nails. I haven't got nails to speak of, but I glued on fake ones, I got along. That night, I was up there with the best of them. Oh yeah, I had the nails, nine inches long and filed sharp as razors.

The girl makes a swift, subtle move for her blanket. The princess smiles. Her eyes are wide.

He danced with me, she murmurs. Every dance. He knew how to waltz, and I'd learned how listening to my grandmother's Victrola. Everyone else doing the Running Man or some stupid thing like that, and what about us? We were waltzing. We were the classiest, I tell you. He won the limbo contest--won a bag of glow-sticks, you know the kind that you snap and they glow green or violet for hours? He gave them to me and I snapped them all and wore them in all my hair, all at once. I was queen, I had my crown. You better believe when curfew rolled around, I left a trail. Follow me, I called over my shoulder. Catch me if you can.

The princess rubs her face with one hand. It leaves a sooty trail across her cheek.

Catch me if you can. Six sleepless nights I waited, in my freezing garret, waiting for that knock to come on the door, waiting for the pounding of hooves and the sound and the smell of that great glorious carriage. Lying perfectly still, hardly even breathing, at the very darkest hour, just before the dawn breaks, waiting for the knock on my window. Six days it was before I realized he wasn't coming. Kinda strange how after all that time, it only took me a second to figure it out. One minute I was waiting with perfect faith, the next I just knew. Like all the butterflies in my stomach just vacated, cleared out, party's over, in an instant, and left me hollow as a meringue. That morning was just a little bit colder, let me tell you. The ashes tasted bitter on my tongue, I couldn't help but breathe some in. Then I reached in, felt them soft and black on my hands, lifted piles of ashes in the air. Perfect, they felt perfect, yes, sooty gray and altogether dirty pretty. I covered my hair with those ashes. I rubbed them into my face. I curled up in the cinders. When I heard footsteps on the stair, I just sat up and laughed, I laughed at the horror on their faces. It's bitter, I tell you. Took me weeks to get it all off.

The princess laughs. Readjusts herself on the windowsill.

It's bitter, honey. But you get over it. And you remember. There's not a one of those sleek-curled ladies that's equal to me unless they have curled up in cinders. I know what they will never know. And one day, when that prince stares into the dying embers of a fire, snatches a quick moment before the remains are spirited away by some helpful subservient...Maybe one day he'll wonder what he's lacking, where's the ballast, that missing balance in a life all sweetness and light. And I will laugh in his face, sweetheart, laugh like a mockingbird, like a raven on helium. And then I will drag him off for a romp through the ashes. Everyone deserves a chance to get their hands dirty.

She smiles. And then she's not there anymore. The girl blinks, shakes her head. Not even a smudge of gray on the windowsill. She snuggles back under the blanket, and lies with eyes wide open, unaware of the spots of blood on the sheets below.

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