A Bedtime Story

My story starts out a long time ago, in a far-off land. I lived in a house by the sea with my widowed  mother  and sister. Some would call our light blue house  a mansion; it was certainly  grand. Father  designed the house  himself ; taking inspiration from an Alexandrine   merchants  house . As a Sea Captain he  traveled  the  world, and had seen many houses. But one stormy night,  the sea claimed him.

For ten year’s  mother  was  inconsolable.  Her ball gowns   rotted  in grand wardrobes,  fancy slippers wore out and were not replaced.  Dressmakers  and tailors took their business elsewhere,  when  accounts  were  not settled.

We played like urchins, climbing trees, making camps from old furniture and drapes. My sister, fashioned books from scrap paper and string. We were both avid readers, but the library became our winter fuel. Each Christmas we were allowed one extravagance and invariably we   chose the puppet show.

Dante’s puppeteers   travelled the land with their show, but every Christmas Eve they stopped at our town.  It was said that his oldest son was conceived in the local tavern.  So the Christmas show was his way of saying thank you.

It was at one such show that mother met Mr Gaines. There was something familiar and reassuring about the handsome stranger who blocked her view.  Much to our annoyance they  fell into a deep conversation.  But the smile on mothers face made it impossible for us not to forgive his intrusion.

Later we learnt that he was a Sea Captain, like our dear departed father. His wife had died during childbirth, leaving him a daughter to raise as best he could.  Wet-Nurses would never  replace  her mothers  love and for most of the year the sea claimed her father. So our little families were joined. Mother and  Gaines  married  in April. We played the part of bridesmaids  and little Cinderella  Maid of Honour.

You may  have heard a  version of Cinderella’s  story. The glass slipper, pumpkin coach and handsome prince. You will certainly have  heard of the ugly sisters and  wicked  Stepmother.  Mother died before this story became  common  currency. My sister and I have not been so fortunate.

Gaines   abandoned   mother  for the sea  soon  after the wedding.  He  paid the bills  and put food  on our table. Gave  us a step-sister  who was unused to the rigor of everyday  life. Our stepfathers  idea  of a household budget did not stretch to maids  or  serving girls. We continued as before, sharing  the housework.

Cinders  dreamed away  her  days,  rather than help out. She allowed the kitchen to become infested  with mice. Dressed in rags, rather than mend her clothes. But she always had time for this charming man and that charming man; who  was always  going to sweep  her  off those dainty little feet.

Life changed for us all when Cinders met James Dante. She performed beautifully for the puppeteer’s son, who reciprocated with a proposal of marriage.  Nine months later, they exchanged vows at twelve midday.  As the hour was struck, Cinder’s drew her father and husband close.  We looked on, threw confetti and wished them well.

As time passed, stepfathers allowance   grew smaller.  His attention shifted to new grandchildren, and a business partnership formed with Dante. We made excuses for him, disguised our poverty as best we could.  But it was difficult to ignore the gossip, spread by people who revelled in our misfortune.  The Cinderella story, being the most untrue, was also the most popular.

Stepfather lived to a ripe old age,  he  saw   mother   buried in a pauper’s grave  and his Grandchildren  read the Cinderella story to their children.  His will made no provision for  the old family.

You may be surprised  that I wish my  stepsister well. As one of the ugly-sisters, I have many reasons not to.  But she remains to me, the spoilt little girl who  liked Pink dresses and glass slippers. Our lives had perfect symmetry, when we all lived together in a light blue house by the sea. It’s just a shame it was not happily ever-after.


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