art by Justine McGreevy
The Girl She Truly Was
by Lauren K. Moody
Long ago, an indifferent father and a sweet mother bore a child. Her father called her "son" when he called her anything at all, but her mother recognized the girl she truly was. Whatever name they gave her at birth fell away from disuse.
Her mother died when she was still young. In her tenth year her father remarried a cold woman who had two daughters of her own. When her husband's child refused to dress in breeches, cut short his hair, or answer to the proper masculine pronoun, she declared he could be a gentleman among them, or a scullery-maid and serve them.
"I shall be a scullery-maid," she said, and was thenceforth allowed just one set of clothing, which quickly became sooty. Her stepsisters named her Cinderella. Birds became the only creatures that showed her kindness: they sang to her and called warnings when her stepmother neared.
What her father thought of her plight he did not say.
Seven years passed. Then one day in spring a palace herald declared the prince would hold a grand ball to which every eligible maiden in the kingdom was invited, and from among them he would choose his bride.
The stepsisters fell into a tizzy of shopping and plotting. Their mother ensured they got only the best, so one of them would catch the prince's eye.
"Stepmother," Cinderella said as she carried heavy boxes for her stepsisters, "I wish to attend the ball."
"If you get a coat and smart breeches, you may come," her stepmother replied.
"There is a dress of my mother's in the garret-room I might wear," Cinderella said.
"You may come as a gentleman or not at all," her stepmother answered. That night she threw the dress from the garret-room into the fire, deaf to Cinderella's weeping.
When the ball arrived, Cinderella again begged her stepmother to let her join them.
"Will you wear breeches and conduct yourself as a gentleman ought?" her stepmother asked.
"I will wear one of your daughter's old dresses, and their grand gowns will look better next to me," Cinderella said.
"You may come as a gentleman or not at all," her stepmother answered. She and her daughters went to their carriage. Cinderella's father went with them.
Cinderella threw herself down at the tree where her mother was buried, wishing her family would see her soul and not her body.
Birds peeping above drew her attention. The tree shivered. When Cinderella looked up, she saw the most beautiful gown in the world. A flicker of hope filled her chest. At the end of one branch hung a sparkling pair of shoes. When Cinderella put on the shoes a great feeling of magic overtook her. In an instant she transformed. Not only clean and made-up and coiffed, but for the first time since her mother died, she felt at home in her body, for it matched her soul.
A grand orange carriage awaited, with four footmen and a smartly-dressed coachman. Cinderella went with all speed to the ball.