art by Wi Waffles
Of Ash and Old Dreams
by Sarah Grey
She is no longer a girl, dreaming while sweeping the ashes away. She is a queen, and a queen, says her beloved king, is ever the paragon of perfection and grace.
Her feet have grown wide with age. Still, she stuffs them into glass slippers, narrow as reeds, that rub her ankles raw. Every step is agony--the stabbing clink of a towering crystal heel against marble, the shattering pain through the bones in her legs.
Every afternoon, she hides in her chambers, massages her toes straight, coaxes the blood to return. Every evening, she binds her newest wounds, wedges the shoes in place, and forces a smile, serene as a goddess, as the royal guests file into the palace.
At last, in her twenty-ninth year, she limps to dinner in her bedroom slippers--leather and lambswool, soft as clouds against her blistered toes. For once, her smile is genuine.
"Those shoes leave you squat as a dwarf, my love," says the king. "Where are your glass slippers?"
"They no longer fit," she tells him.
She is grateful, for the guests' sake, that his scowl passes quickly.
The seam of her best ball gown tears, leaving a ragged edge of silk and broken thread.
She is not surprised. It has survived two decades of royal balls, twenty years of sweat and dancing and spilled champagne.
She had expected it to give out at the bust, where the embroidered flowers had stretched shapeless. Or perhaps along the waist, where her figure, once a fragile hourglass, had filled with the meat and fine wine of thirty-nine years.
Instead, it tears at the underarm.
She considers hiding it beneath a silver-thread shawl, or calling her maid to stitch it closed. But the dress, it is a relic of days long past, delicate as a snowflake in early spring. A pale thing meant for a dreaming girl.
She throws it aside and changes into a simple linen shift, red as her cheeks.