Setting the Record Straight: Cinderella
Maggie was enjoying her new-found success at The Daily Mirror. She was reviewing the questions she had prepared for an interview later that day when the phone on her desk rang. She looked at the phone’s digital display and saw it was an interoffice call. Maggie answered the phone and her editor simply said, “Come to my office.” Maggie hung up the phone, picked up her pad of paper and ancient fountain pen, and walked with her head high toward her boss’s office. She rapped lightly on the door and heard a single word, “Enter.”
Greta Grimhilde was The Daily Mirror’s editor-in-chief. She was a handsome woman with thick raven-black hair that she wore in a sleek, short bob. Her high cheekbones and long neck gave her a regal appearance, which was further enhanced by the midmorning light that reflected off her deep-set, aqua-colored eyes. From behind her ornately carved mahogany desk, and with a majestic wave of her arm, Greta Grimhilde motioned for Maggie to sit in the brown leather armchair across from her.
Maggie was nervous. She knew Ms. Grimhilde had a nasty reputation as a cold, conniving bitch, which is why she had done everything she could to avoid her. The only time she had any direct contact with her boss was when she first interviewed to become a reporter at The Daily Mirror. Her boss smiled and, leaning forward, placed her clasped hands on the desk as she explained, “Maggie, I am sorry it has taken so long for me to officially welcome you to the paper.”
Not certain if she should reply, Maggie returned the smile and sat quietly. Her boss continued, “Your most recent piece regarding the Big Bad Wolf was so well received that I would like to assign you a monthly column entitled Setting the Record Straight.
Maggie was shocked but managed to mutter, “Thank you, Ms. Grimhilde.”
Greta said nothing further and shooed Maggie away like an annoying fly. Maggie knew better than to get on Greta’s bad side, so she gathered her things and quickly left the office. She glanced at the wall clock mounted in the bullpen and knew she needed to get a move on if she was going to be on time for her interview with Cinderella’s stepsister, Drizella Tremaine. Maggie could not wait to hear what she had to say.
Drizella agreed to meet Maggie at her family’s château just outside of town. Maggie didn’t want to arrive empty-handed and thought cherry tarts would be the perfect treat to bring to this interview. She stopped at the Queen of Hearts Teahouse and picked up two before heading to Drizella’s family’s château. She was enjoying her drive through the surrounding countryside with her convertible top down. Escaping the binds of her purple elastic ponytail holder, long strands of Maggie’s auburn hair blew about, carefree in the mild, spring air. Birds darted across the crystal-clear blue sky. Tiny purple crocuses and brilliant yellow daffodils painted the gently rolling hills.
A weathered wooden mailbox stood at the end of the driveway leading to the château. The road was nothing more than a rutted dirt path shaded by majestic oaks on either side, creating a long winding tunnel that opened into a round patch of gravel. Most of the white rock had been washed away.
Maggie was shocked at the disrepair of the château. Shutters hung askew from grimy windows. Pieces of broken slate roof peppered the lawn on the side of the house. Maggie looked up and saw gaping holes in the roof. Behind the house stood a partially collapsed barn where goats and chickens roamed. The house had once been painted a pale blue, but most of that paint had peeled away, revealing a dingy gray surface and lending the house the appearance of having some sort of strange leprosy. The massive front door was rough and battered.
Maggie approached and, instead of rapping her knuckles on the door and risking a large wooden splinter, she announced her presence using the iron lion head that served as the door’s knocker. The lion head made a loud thud against the wooden door, alerting the house’s occupant to her arrival. No one answered. She called out, “Hello! Drizella? It’s me, Maggie.”
No one replied, but Maggie could hear what sounded like a tractor in the distance. Drizella’s stepfather, Cinderella’s father, was a master wine maker, and according to Maggie’s research, the Tremaine vineyards had, for generations, produced some of the finest vintages throughout the lands. Unfortunately, shortly after the death of Cinderella’s father, a blight killed hundreds of heirloom grape vines, leaving the business—to turn a phrase—rotting on the vine. Maggie started walking toward the sound and, in the distance, saw a woman wearing a floppy straw hat riding an ancient red tractor with enormous tires. Maggie caught the woman’s attention by waving her arms over her head. The woman stopped the tractor, waved, and began driving the beast back toward Maggie. She parked the machine behind the dilapidated barn, where part of the collapsed roof jutted out and acted as a lean-to shed, sheltering the tractor from harsh weather.
As she stood, she brushed the tractor’s red metal rust flakes from the seat of her jeans. She used the giant tire to climb down from her perch. When she landed, she extended her hand and introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Drizella.”
Maggie shook her hand and replied, “And I’m Maggie. Thank you so much for meeting with me.”
Drizella said, “Why don’t we head back to the house and I will make us a nice hot pot of tea.”
Maggie followed Drizella through the back door of the château. They entered the large kitchen through a small mudroom, where a bench sat against one of the walls so anyone entering the house could remove their dirty work shoes. Maggie noticed the walls had a fresh coat of cheerful yellow paint. The wood trim was a bright emerald green and a long wooden table graced the middle of the room.
Drizella busied herself in front of the large stone hearth that dominated the west wall of the kitchen and placed a kettle of water on the grate. While she waited for the water to boil, she fetched a porcelain teapot from one of the cupboards and placed it at one end of the long table. A high-pitched whistling noise emanated from the kettle, indicating the water was ready. Drizella cut lemon slices, crammed a small ceramic bowl with cubes of sweet sugar, and filled a cow-shaped porcelain creamer with milk from a nearby bucket.
Maggie wrinkled her nose when she saw her pouring the warm milk into the awaiting vessel. Drizella noticed and let out a short snort. “Don’t worry, the milk is fresh from the cow. Did you know putting milk in tea after adding the boiling water will cause the milk to heat unevenly? This uneven heating of the milk causes the proteins to denature, so they lose their structure and “clump,” affecting the taste and contributing to that skin on top. Yuck!”
Drizella reminded Maggie of that nerdy girl from high school who was really smart but a complete social misfit. Maggie kind of felt sorry for her. Drizella was tall and lanky. Her frizzy black hair was pulled back in a ponytail and the thick, tortoiseshell glasses perched on the tip of her long, pointy nose did little to hide her bushy unibrow.
As Drizella prepared the perfect cup of tea, Maggie reached into her backpack and withdrew her notepad, fountain pen, and the bag of cherry tarts she had picked up on her way out of town. She felt a pang of guilt feeding Drizella a tart that would force her to tell the truth, but the few details she shared over the phone were too fantastical to believe.
Drizella looked at the bag and pushed her glasses up with her bony forefinger. “Those look like cherry tarts, interesting choice. Did you know those make anyone who eats them tell the truth?”
Maggie knew all too well what the cherry tarts did; she had learned that lesson the hard way. A few days after the story about the Big Bad Wolf was published, Andrew, the grandson of the Big Bad Wolf, surprised her one afternoon with an impromptu picnic in the park across from her office. Maggie wanted to contribute something to the occasion and wondered what she could bring. Then she remembered the tarts she’d bought from the teahouse the day she had interviewed Andrew. She never did have time to eat them. They’re a few days old, but so what? I’m sure they’re still delicious. She grabbed the bag from her desk drawer and went on her way.
When she arrived at the park, she saw Andrew stand up from where he’d been sitting and wave her over. Maggie saw that he had already spread out a red and white checkered picnic blanket, and in the middle of the blanket was a wooden cutting board laden with assorted grilled vegetables, cheeses, breads, grapes, smoked meats, and olives. It was a veritable feast! Maggie was glad that she had brought dessert, at least.
Maggie lowered herself onto the blanket, and Andrew sat beside her. He held out a plastic cup filled with a full-bodied Bordeaux, at the same time raising an eyebrow when he noticed the bag she had brought.
“Cherry tarts? Interesting choice.”
“I love cherries!”
Andrew laughed. “So do I, especially those cherries.”
Maggie wasn’t sure what he meant, but she let it go, and soon she forgot all about it. The food and company were magical, and time passed quickly. Before she knew it, she was ready for dessert. Maggie took the tarts out of the bag and offered one to Andrew, who accepted it with a smile. She had just taken a bite of her tart when Andrew, examining his treat as he turned it this way and that, nonchalantly mentioned, “You know, the cherry tart has a special ingredient, and whoever eats of it, even a single bite, must tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Maggie wasn’t buying it. “Bullshit.”
Andrew was shocked. “You don’t believe me?”
“No, I most certainly do not.”
“All right, I’ll prove it to you. Want to go back to my place and have sex?”
Maggie’s face erupted into a million shades of red. She tried to say, “No, absolutely not, I am offended and not that kind of girl!” But it came out quite differently. “Yes, I desperately want to have sex with you!”
The two quickly packed up their picnic paraphernalia and headed back to Andrew’s flat, which was handily located three short blocks from the park. As soon as the two entered the apartment, they threw the picnic things on the floor and grabbed one another with reckless abandon. They began kissing, mouths parted, tongues tasting one another’s salty sweetness.
Andrew lifted Maggie in his arms and carried her to the bearskin rug in front of the fireplace. He lowered his head until his lips touched hers. She felt a current of energy coursing through her body as he removed her blouse and bra. He kissed her lips, neck, and breasts, his tongue flicking her erect nipples. He continued sweeping his tongue across her breasts before moving down to her stomach, stopping just above the waistband of her jeans. Expertly, Andrew unbuttoned her jeans and slowly pulled them down, revealing a sexy white lace thong. He wasted no time in removing the barrier. Andrew knelt between her thighs and began exploring her love button with his tongue. Thoroughly aroused, Maggie pushed her pelvis tightly against his face. Just as she was about to explode, he arose and planted a hot and salty kiss right on her mouth. Tasting herself drove Maggie wild; she grabbed his hot, hard cock and stroked it. Moaning and unable to contain himself any longer, Andrew thrust his manhood deep inside her. Maggie arched her back and screamed in ecstasy as she approached orgasm. The hot wetness that erupted between her legs was too much for Andrew, causing him to release his wad at the same time. Breathless, the two lay side by side. Andrew propped himself up on one elbow, turned toward Maggie, and proclaimed, “I fucking love those cherry tarts!”
Maggie playfully punched his shoulder. She was lying on the rug, checking out the pictures hanging on the walls when she noticed the time. She panicked, and in a mad dash, she dressed, quickly kissed Andrew—who was still lying buck naked on the bearskin rug—and ran back to work. She had been gone for three hours. Luckily, her editor had been called away for the afternoon and no one was the wiser.
Maggie was brought out of her reverie when Drizella snapped her fingers in front of her face. “Hey, have you heard anything I’ve said?”
Embarrassed, Maggie shook her head no.
“I said, I will gladly eat the cherry tart, because I have no intention of lying to you.”
Maggie responded, “Fair enough. I am sorry for trying to trick you. Do you forgive me?”
Drizella half-snorted, “It’s okay. Under the circumstances, I would have done the same thing. Now … where would you like me to begin?”
Thoughtfully, Maggie replied, “Do you know the traditional version of the Cinderella story?”
“Okay, why don’t you retell the story and insert the bits that were left out of the original tale.”
Drizella picked up her tea cup with both hands, took a long, deep breath, and started, “Once upon a time, there lived a fair-haired maiden named Ella. Ella had long blonde curls that hung from her head in perfectly spun ringlets. Her blue eyes were mesmerizing, and her lips were a soft pale pink.”
Maggie held up her hand and stopped Drizella. “My fault, I should have been more specific. What I need is the story behind the story … you know … the truth behind the fable, so we can set the record straight.”
A wave of understanding washed over Drizella’s face. “My mother married Ella’s father when Anastasia and I were ten. Anastasia, for the record, is my twin sister. My mother would never have gone through childbirth twice. She was much too vain, and it would undoubtedly have ruined her hourglass figure. After my stepfather had a heart attack and died, my mother dedicated every waking moment to finding a wealthy suitor for Anastasia.”
“What about you and Ella?”
“My mother informed me at an early age I was too ugly to find anyone that would want to marry me, and no amount of plastic surgery would change that fact, and Ella wasn’t her blood, so she couldn’t care less. My mother was a horrid woman.”
Maggie thought “cunt" was a more appropriate adjective to describe Lady Tremaine, but she didn’t want to show any bias, so she refrained from saying so. “What about Anastasia?”
“My mother spent every dime we had ‘improving’ my sister. She was nipped here and tucked there. But like my grandmother used to say, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
Maggie chuckled. “When I was doing research, I ran across an article which mentioned the blight that swept through the vineyards following the death of your stepfather. Could your mother afford Anastasia’s transformation?”
“No. We were having difficulty making ends meet before the blight. After the blight, my mother began selling everything she could: antiques, furniture, paintings, even Ella’s prized thoroughbred.”
“Would it be fair to say The Ball was an extraordinarily important event for your sister and mother?”
Drizella unexpectedly slammed her open palm on the table and exclaimed, “That is the understatement of the century! My mother gambled every cent we had on Anastasia finding a wealthy husband that evening.”
Maggie didn’t hesitate; she had to know. “What really happened at that ball?”
Drizella took a sip of her tea. The yellow and green plaid curtains framing the open kitchen window fluttered in the breeze. She gazed at the pastoral scene beyond the opening and began recounting that day’s events.
“The kingdom was a-buzz. The Prince of Stoneybrook had been away at school and when he returned home, the King and Queen held one of the grandest balls the four kingdoms had ever seen so that he could be introduced to each and every one of the kingdom’s eligible maidens.”
“Were you and Ella planning on attending the ball?”
“Absolutely! There was no way in hell we were going to miss the biggest social event of the year. We knew we wouldn’t win the prince’s heart, but that didn’t matter. We wanted to go because we never got to go anywhere. We were too busy trying to keep the château from falling down.”
“If your mother spent all of the money on Anastasia, how were you able to go? Did you and Ella have ball gowns?”
“You bet we did. Ella was a brilliant seamstress. She found an old dress Anastasia had discarded and rescued it, transforming it into a gown suitable for a princess. I dug through my wardrobe and found another sorry-looking dress that Ella also altered, creating the most beautiful ball gown I had ever seen.”
Drizella pulled an ornate box from beneath the long dining table and slowly lifted the fleur-de-lis festooned lid. She held up the most beautiful gown Maggie had ever seen. The raw silk dress was hand-dyed an ethereal pale pink. In an ombre effect, the color of the dress progressively got darker toward the bottom of the gown, ending in a rich, deep magenta. Crystal beads covered the surface, holding in place delicate feathers that seemed to float in mid-air like tiny clouds. When the light reflected off the crystals, the dress erupted into a million rainbows. Maggie observed that the dress, which Drizella was holding against her slender frame, managed to make even Drizella more attractive.
Sensing what Maggie was thinking, Drizella looked down at the dress and said, “Ella succeeded where no one else could. She made me pretty.” She let out a deep sigh.
Maggie’s heart went out to Drizella. Drizella carefully folded the dress and placed it back in the safety of its box, and then continued her story. “We all decided to gather in the parlor for a glass of wine before the limousine arrived to whisk us away. My mother and Anastasia were already enjoying their second glass of red wine when Ella and I entered the parlor. When my mother saw Ella in her gorgeous, sparkly gown, the malice that crossed her face was undeniable. Anastasia took one look at her stepsister and knew she would never be able to compete. She didn’t go so far as to rip her clothes off, but she ruined Ella’s dress by spilling an overflowing goblet of red wine all over it.”
Maggie observed, “I imagine Ella’s dress was as lovely as the one she made for you.”
Drizella smiled. “It was even more beautiful. It was made from white silk. The sleeveless dress was extremely low cut, revealing the milky white tops of Ella’s ample breasts. The dress also had a slit up the side, ending dangerously close to her right hip. The long flowing train was the color of a robin’s egg and fluttered in the breeze, making it appear as if she were walking on air. Delicate seed pearls dotted the dress. She was stunning from her head to her crystal-clad feet.”
Maggie stopped her, “I just want to make sure I am understanding. You’re saying the crystal slippers were not provided by Ella’s fairy godmother?”
At that moment, a loud thud echoed through the house, announcing someone’s arrival.