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art by Jonathan Westbrook

Old Flames

Sylvia Spruck Wrigley was born in Germany and spent her childhood in Los Angeles. She now splits her time between South Wales and Andalucia, two coastal regions with almost nothing in common. Her short stories have been published in the UK, the US, France, and Argentina. Her nonfiction aviation memoir, You Fly Like a Woman, is available at amzn.to/vHcukl and you can find out more about her at intrigue.co.uk.

Gunthar sat in stoic silence, a woolen blanket folded over his lap, facing the fireplace. Ada set her basket of fabric and lace onto the frayed rug and eased herself into the chair next to his, pulling it closer to the fire.
He kept his eyes on the flickering flames. "So, it's over?"
There was no point in denying it. "Our men have surrendered. The soldiers have taken the palace."
He grunted. Outside, a whistling sound and then the bang of a firework.
"The victory celebration begins," she said, swallowing hard. She closed the shutters against the scent of gunpowder and tugged her sewing out of the basket.
"Do you remember when we came to the city? The victory ball? Those were happy times," Gunthar said. His face was dreamy with recollection as he rocked back and forth. "You were sixteen."
"Thirteen," said Ada. "Just turned." It wasn't a victory for the city, only for them, the occupiers. Ada kept her eyes firmly on stitching lace edging onto the pale silk piled up in her lap. "But never mind, it doesn't matter anymore."
"It was your first ball. You were nervous."
"My godmother insisted. She made my dress herself."
Gunthar picked up a pinecone and tossed it onto the fire. The flames flared as they devoured it. "You were beautiful," he said.
She shifted the chair away, so he wouldn't see the shimmer of tears in her eyes. "Never mind."
"I'll never forget that night. You disappeared just as the grandfather clock chimed midnight..."
"Duke Theudebald tried to stick his tongue down my throat. I ran."
"...and all that was left was a single sparkling slipper."
"Silver sequins. I tripped running down the stairs. I kicked the other one off when I reached the street."
He nudged the glowing embers together with the blackened poker. "I was frantic. I couldn't believe you had disappeared."
"My godmother was furious with me, accused me of causing trouble for everyone."
They sat in silence for a moment.
"I was so happy to have finally found you. It was love at first sight."
"It was protection. For me, for my family. I had no choice." The needle pricked her wrinkled fingers and she swore under her breath.
"I was so happy," he repeated, turning towards her.
Ada just sighed, eyes focused on her stitching.
Another firework exploded in the streets. "It was a long time ago," he said.
"That's true." She put her hands in her lap, looking at him for the first time. "It was a very long time ago."
He smiled under her gaze. "What are you making?"
"A dress for Rosamunde," said Ada. "There will be a ball. I told her she should go."
The smile faded from his crinkled face. "Is that wise?"
Ada jabbed at the hem with the needle. "She'll be fine." The dying flames cast shadows across the room.
"But she's so young."
"Just turned thirteen," said Ada. She swiped a tear away and focused on her stitching. "Never mind. It doesn't matter anymore."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

Author Comments

When I wrote the first draft of this, there was a lot of talk about Disney princesses and empowerment and the lessons that fairy tales teach our children. I loved the idea of subverting these morality tales but I didn't grow up with Disney. I grew up with the original violent versions of Grimm's Marchen, the drastic comeuppance tales of Max und Moritz and the incredibly disturbing Struwwelpeter. So my story is less about Cinderella than it is about Aschenputtel, whose sisters may have chopped off their heels to protect her from the prince. You can read the original Aschenputtel on grimmstories.com.

- Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
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