Continuing the fairytale
... "She's ruined it. She's absolutely ruined it."
agreed Mimi on cue. "Anything you want, Cinders. I'd be only too
happy to help out."
"Me too," echoed Lily.
I got up and left. A wise woman knows when she is beaten. Mimi and Lily's
clothes were fine if you wanted to look like a real live Barbie - which
they obviously both did; but if you're into Marilyn and Manic Street
Well, do me a favour.
I got my revenge though. I waited until they were out one afternoon
then took a selection of some of their favourite clothes. I slashed
them and stitched them, cut bits in half, swapped them around and tagged
them together with safety pins. Then I put on the result and waited
for them to come back in.
"Da-daah!" I sang, leaping into the hallway from behind one
of the pillars. "What do you think?" Lily put her hand to
her mouth. For once it wasn't studied.
"Oh my good," she whispered, "my Armani. You've ruined
Mimi said nothing. I had the pleasure of seeing her go pale.
"Don't you like it?" I asked, gliding around, model-like,
to give them a better view. "I have to admit I'm not sure myself.
I really appreciate your kind offers - "anything you want"
- and all that - and believe me I've worked really hard at trying to
create something suitable - it was so kind of you both. But, well, I
. It's not really me, is it?"
Mimi found her words. "You little bitch," she said, stepping
forward. "You fucking bitch. Just wait 'til I get my hands on you
I waited. It was the first time I'd seen her lose control like this
and it felt great. If she wanted a fight, she could have one.
Wicked stepmother, however, was on the ball.
"Mimi," she said coldly. "Please take the shopping upstairs."
Mimi looked surprised. She wasn't used to her mother speaking to her
"But-" she protested.
"Now, Mimi," she cut in. "Right now." Then she smiled.
"I'll come and find you in a minute."
Years of implicit collaboration paid off. Mimi went, now. I could feel
my heart beating with adrenaline and frustration. She was going to make
me lose this one, too. Then Lily started crying, which made it all worth
"Lily," her mother snapped. "Go to your room."
"My Armani!" Lily cried, one hand to her mouth and the other
pointing at what was left of it, safety-pinned to my shoulder. "She's
ruined it. She's absolutely ruined it." She brought up her other
hand to her mouth and cried into her knuckles. "Oh mummy, she's
"Go to your room!" Mummy snapped. Then, at Lily's look of
surprise and anguish she softened. "Don't you worry blossom, everything
will be all right, but just now I'd like you to go to your room and
freshen up. You're smudging your makeup."
It was a comment designed to go straight to Lily's heart. She went.
"Right, young lady," said the wicked stepmother, advancing
on me. "This time you have gone too far."
"You don't like it?" I asked, skipping out of her way under
the pretext of a model's pirouette. "I have to admit I agree with
you. It was so generous of the Duo to offer me anything in their wardrobe,
but lets face it - they just aren't me. No matter how I tried to alter
I stopped. She was getting close now and her face looked dangerous.
She'd never hit me before, but that didn't mean she never would. I felt
uncomfortably like the time had come.
She stopped a foot in front of me, lowering in my body space, and brought
her face down close to mine. I could smell the garlic on her breath,
see the mole underneath her foundation.
I looked straight back. I was scared, but I wasn't going to let her
know it. We were at some kind of crisis and I wasn't going down without
She opened her mouth and I waited for a torrent of words. Weak words,
faulty words, words showing up her sins and failures, words I could
attack in response. I was good with words.
But she was too clever for that. I could almost see her counting up
to ten. She held my gaze and I could feel her stealing the initiative.
Silence and the currents of the unsaid were her best weapons and she
"That's the way you want it," she hissed suddenly. "That's
the way you get it." And she turned and left leaving me standing
there alone, victor of an empty space.
Why hadn't she tried to send me to my room instead of her daughters?
Why hadn't she let us have a fight? Why wasn't she trying to lock me
in the cellar? Because she was too fucking clever, that was why, and
she'd won again.
Slowly I took my clothes off and dropped them in the bin. I'd have liked
to burn them, but despite my nickname this house had had nothing except
central heating for years. I pulled on my jeans and sweatshirt. I felt
heavy and empty at the same time; mocked by my hollow victory and oppressed
by a sense of dread. Something bad was going to happen.
Then I thought of Mimi and Lily's faces. I'd got them, whatever their
mother might say. I'd got them good. I nursed the feeling to me. It
was all I had.
Of course they had new dresses for the ball. They'd probably have got
them anyway but I'd kind of made sure of that. I was spared the humiliation
of having to help them get ready because they were too scared of sabotage,
but they made sure I suffered in other ways: showing off their new clothes
in front of me, practising their dance steps with each other, prancing
around with the invitation, imagining it was the royalty in question.
"Me?" They would say to each other in mock surprise. "Dance?
Oh, I'd looooove to." and they'd flutter their eyelashes and smile
in their sappy Barbie way, and off they'd go until they collapsed in
"You have no idea," I said scornfully, after one performance
too many, "how boring and stuffy these things are. First, you'll
be lucky if you even get to talk to the prince; second, it'll be so
crowded that even getting a drink will take half an hour and third,
even if you do get to dance it's all stiff and formal and polite conversation.
They're not events where you're meant to enjoy yourself, for god's sake."
"Oh listen to her," Mimi mocked. "Doesn't she know it
"A hell of a lot more than you, dearest," I smiled. "But
then you nouveau riche get so excited and tawdry about these things."
I'd hit home. Mimi's dress was all glitter and spangles and I knew their
mother had a deep-seated fear of not being accepted, which her daughters
"Well, all I can say is you must be jolly glad you're not going,"
said Lily, coming to her sister's defence. "You must be relieved
to stay at home and miss such a boring occasion - not to mention the
embarrassment of watching your so-tawdry," she spat the word out,
"You bet," I smiled and walked out. I'd carried it off, but
the fact was I minded like hell. Why are human beings so contrary? Two
years ago, my parents would have dragged me kicking and screaming to
a royal ball and I'd have sulked until I got drunk enough to forget
I wasn't supposed to enjoy myself. Now I'd have given anything to go.
Everything is so relative.
The week before the ball whittled down to the day before. Wicked stepmother
had piled on extra work, of course, using the ball preparations as a
pretext. (How much laundry, cooking and extra cleaning can three women
going out for one night generate?) But she still hadn't officially 'punished'
me for the clothes episode. This was worrying because I knew she wouldn't
let an opportunity like that pass her by. I understood she was hoping
to make me stew; but just because I understood that, it didn't make
me stew any less. Something fundamental had changed since that day when
she had looked me in the face and kept her temper. Some kind of cold
violence had been unleashed that scared me far more than if she had
screamed and shouted and locked me in my room. I tried to tell myself
I was being melodramatic, but that didn't stop the feeling I had to
keep checking over my shoulder.
I still didn't expect what happened. They day before the ball I went
down into the cellar to bring up some champagne they were planning to
drink before leaving. It had to be nicely chilled beforehand. While
I was still down there I heard the door slam shut and the key turn in
the lock. That was the kind of practical joke that made Mimi and Lily's
day so I didn't even respond. I just sat down on the bottom step to
wait, wishing I'd brought my book: it'd have been a good opportunity
for a quiet read. They'd soon let me out when they wanted some work
Then the light went out. I sighed and climbed up the steps to put it
back on again. There were switches both sides of the door and I supposed
we were going to have some kind of switch war. To my surprise though,
nothing happened. They must have taken out the fuse, the little bitches.
I sat down where I was, a little less phlegmatic - I'm not that keen
on the dark - but still not really worried.
What seemed like an hour or more later I was cold, bored, stiff and
beginning to wonder how long they could keep it up. Another hour or
so, and I was beginning to think that it might not be such a loss of
face as all that to call out. Yet another hour, and I hammered on the
"OK" I shouted, "the joke's over. You can let me out
Silence. Not the silence of someone trying not to make a noise, but
the silence of nobody there. No one.
I started to get scared. How long were they going to keep me down here?
In the end they kept me down there nearly 24 hours.
I drank a bottle of champagne to keep me company and started on one
of the big round cheeses that had been there since my mother's time.
Then I tried smashing a few bottles of wine to see if it would make
me feel better, but my heart wasn't in it. The wine smashed back over
me, so I ended up wet and smelly as well as cold and miserable. Then
I had to worry about stepping on broken glass in the dark on top of
everything else. (I'd gone down in my socks.) Besides, I'd begun to
understand that whatever I did she would get me for it; that she would
always win, and the more I upped the stakes the more I would lose. She'd
killed my father, I told myself in a melodramatic way that seemed at
one with the midnight cellar darkness. She would finish by killing me
off too. In fact, maybe that wasn't so melodramatic after all.
When there was finally a knock on the door I was so tired and lethargic
that my brain only just registered it. The knock came again and my body
stepped into gear.
"Yes," I said, as if it were someone wanting to come in. "Who
"Ella," it was my stepmother's voice. "I want you to
know you can come out now."
"Yes," I said, but I didn't stand up. There had to be more.
"I hope that this has given you time to reflect," she continued,
"on what a bad, ungrateful girl you have been." There was
a pause as though she were waiting for an answer. When I didn't reply
she carried on.
"I hope that this will be a changing point. The start of a new
relationship between us: of a new you, Ella. A helpful, cheery, pleasant
Ella we would like to be with." There was another pause. I still
didn't answer. When she spoke again her voice had a harsh edge to it.
"I warn you, Ella," she warned me. "Any more behaviour
like that you displayed last week and you will be severely punished.
Do you understand me?"
"Yes" I said, because I did.
There was the sound of a key turning in the lock and the door opened.
"You can come out now, Ella," she repeated.
I stood up. I felt shaky and as if nothing were quite real. I don't
know if it was the champagne or hunger or cold or the sudden light,
but I just couldn't seem to get a grip on the situation. I stepped clumsily
over the doorjamb into the bright fluorescent strips of the kitchen.
The floor was littered with shreds of material.
"The girls have been rather naughty," wicked stepmother told
me, indulgently. The 'girls' sniggered. "They have taken their
revenge. I have told them that two wrongs don't make a right and they
have assured me that they will never do such a thing again, isn't that
"Yes, mama," they chorused. A smirk lit up their eyes and
painted their lips. I looked more closely at the material on the floor.
It was my clothes. It had been my clothes. Everything had been chopped
up into little pieces. Everything: tops, jeans, bras, knickers. I doubted
I had a sock left bar what I was wearing. Even my shoes had been hacked
apart. I had nothing but the wine splashed clothes I stood in.
"When?" It came out as a croak, although the word was clear
enough in my head.
"What?" wicked stepmother was surprised. This was not the
reaction she'd expected. Nor had I, come to that. The words seemed to
come out of their own accord.
"When?" I repeated. And then, as they still didn't seem to
grasp it, I spelt it out. "When are you going to lock them in the
cellar? As their punishment?"
"Oh." Wicked stepmother smiled. The girls giggled. "Don't
you worry about that. They've been punished all right. Haven't you girls?"
"Yes, mama," came the chorus. I gave up.
"We're going out now." Wicked stepmother changed the subject.
"We're off to our ball. Please clear up this mess by the time we
come back - oh - and have all the tea things ready for us. I expect
we'll be glad of a cuppa after all that dancing."
She turned to go.
"Maybe you could stitch your rags into some trendy new clothes"
Mimi hissed before following her, "Cinderella."
I stood there until I heard the front door shut behind them, then I
sank down into the rags. I was very cold, and I didn't even have a jumper
to put on.
I crouched there amongst the material for a few minutes, getting colder;
feeling like when you move around in a cooling, shallow bath to keep
warm. Then I got a grip. A bath was a good idea.
I stood up, put the kettle on for a cup of tea then went to run a bath.
I tried the wicked relations' doors but, unsurprisingly, they'd locked
them. They hadn't thought about the towels though, and I wrapped two
or three around me while I fetched the joints I'd kept hidden under
my floor boards, waiting for some suitable occasion. I made a mug of
tea, found some matches, grabbed the cordless phone, and was all set
up for a long soak.
When I'd started to warm up, I called Gordon O'Dare, or God as he was
known to his friends.
He was in.
I was so relieved I almost cried and he had to wait until I could continue.
Briefly I explained my situation, cutting short his exclamations.
"I don't need sympathy, I need clothes," I snapped frightened
of choking up again. "And the sooner the better."
"I'll be there in an hour darling," he cooed reassuringly.
"45 minutes even. Get yourself a hot water bottle, go to bed, and
hold on. God will fix all. Don't I always?"
I smiled despite myself. Gordon very rarely fixed anything, but he always
tried. If friends were the sum of their good intentions then Gordon
was solid all the way through. He was also one of the few people I felt
I could bear to see me like this. I hoped to hell he thought about what
type of clothes to bring with him. Gordon's tastes were not always conventional.
Instead of taking his advice I went down to the cellar and opened another
bottle of champagne. Then I raided the fridge for niblets before heading
up to the attic. It was warm up there. It was also where I'd stashed
the rest of my dope, along with a couple of tabs I'd been given ages
ago and had never got around to using. Life had been weird enough lately
without resorting to drugs. But now was different. Tonight was the first
night of the rest of my life and I felt the need of a flexible reality.
He arrived an hour and a half later - predictable - but I wasn't counting.
I'd taken half a tab, sipped steadily at the champagne, and was on my
third spliff. Life wasn't necessarily looking good but it was certainly
looking vibrant. I floated downstairs to let him in.
"Christ," he said. "Darling." He put his arms around
me and held me for a moment, tight and gentle. God never did that: he
"Do I look that bad?" I asked. "I thought thin was all
the rage these days."
"All the rage," he agreed, putting a phoney smile onto his
lips. "In which case, darling, you've got it made. Now," he
took me in hand, "give me some of that delightful-looking cigarette
there, and come and drink some strong black coffee."
"Coffee?" That did surprise me. "What do I want with
"To sober up," He took a long, measuring look at me and then
really smiled. "You, my dear Ella, are going to the ball."
When I'd got over the shock I had to admit it was a good idea. Then
I got the giggles just thinking about it. I didn't sober up, but I did
mellow out, which was even better. God got out his clothes and explained
"By the time I've finished with you, darling, they won't even recognise
you," he said, fondling a pink, silk evening dress. "I mean
- who in their right senses would expect to see you wearing something
He was right. Gordon was into pretty dresses - all frills and flounces
which he wore whenever he got the chance, and it was a selection of
these that he'd brought with him. He was also the makeup queen of London
and he dyed ("it'll wash out") and curled ("it'll brush
out") my hair in the time it takes me to put on lipstick without
Only when we were finished did he let me look in the mirror. My first
instinct was to look round behind me to find the pretty woman. I was
beautiful. I still looked a bit gaunt, but that was so trendy it hardly
looked out of place, and the dope was softening out my face nicely.
I really did look like a gorgeous young girl out at her first ball.
I sniggered. If only they knew.
"Right," said God, looking at his watch. "9:00pm. You'd
better go if you're going. I'll get you a taxi."
I moved to follow him and realised something.
"Shoes," I said.
"You've forgotten the shoes. Aren't I supposed to be wearing glass
slippers or something?"
"Glass slippers!" He was shocked again. "You can't dance
in glass slippers, my dear. You'd ruin your feet."
"Well, naked toes for people to tread on isn't exactly a winner
For a minute God looked worried and then he bounced his fingers off
his forehead up into the air as an idea hit him.
"Mine are no good to you, Sweetie," he said unnecessarily,
looking down at his size 10's. "But I know where we can get just
the thing. Come with me."
He directed the taxi to Soho, and left me in it while he rushed down
into the depths of a topless bar. I lay back in supreme confidence.
I hadn't a clue what he was up to, but it obviously made perfect sense:
God moved in mysterious ways.
Five minutes later he was back clutching a shopping bag. He gave the
driver the address of the ball then sat back to show me his booty: shoes.
"I don't need three pairs," I said ungratefully.
"I wasn't sure about size," he explained. "You want them
to fit as well as possible dear, if you're going to be on your feet
"You remind me of my mother," I told him, although in truth
she would never have shown so much initiative.
They were stage shoes, made to look like high heels but with a perspex
see-through wedge between heel and toe to make them more stable. The
toes were made of strong, soft leather and offered a lot more support
than at first appeared.
"These are brilliant," I told him, having chosen my pair.
"How on earth did you wrangle it?"
"It's just a loan," he told me hastily. Please take good care
of them. They're doing me a real favour here."
"Who are?" I asked. "Don't tell me you've got a string
of secret girlfriends God, 'coz I just won't believe it."
"Not exactly," he suddenly looked shy. "But I do seem
to have acquired a , um, a boyfriend."
"Oh God!" I took his hand. "At last. I'm so pleased for
"'Marvellous Melissa' is his stage name," God confided. "And
he does a wonderful act. Really creative, you know. Not just the usual
curves and wiggles. Anyhow. His sister works there too - she and Jane,
her friend, offered to lend you their spare shoes. I explained a little
bit of your predicament - nothing detailed! - and they were happy to
help out. But they do need them back tomorrow. All right darling?"
"All right?" I leant forward and gave him a long kiss. "You
are the best friend a girl could have. Thank you."
"Right." Gordon changed the subject; he was a typical British
male at heart, for all his dress sense. "We're nearly there. I'll
keep the shoes you don't need. Now here's some money. Don't forget to
leave by midnight or you'll miss the tube."
"Midnight! It's after nine already. What's the point of going if
I leave by midnight? I'll get a taxi."
God pulled a face. "I do feel you need to be back safe and sound
before the - er - wicked relations," he explained. "If they
got back to find you missing all hell would break loose - and - well,
you know who'll suffer if it does
He didn't need to say any more. "Midnight," I told him firmly,
and smiled. "They'll never know I've left the house."
The taxi stopped. I leapt out, tottered on my new shoes and caught my
balance. When I looked back to wave he'd already gone. Ahead a row of
fairy-lit steps led up to the ball. I went on in.
I kept being asked to dance. Normally, the places I went, the only kind
of bloke who asked me to dance was the kind who really wanted to fumble.
That's probably what they'd have liked to do here, come to think of
it, only it was too - well - not permitted. Here dance meant dance.
I'd had a couple of spins with an Honourable Henry and was just beginning
to remember the steps again when the good old Prince himself came up
and tapped my partner on the shoulder.
"Don't hog all the pretty girls to yourself," he said by way
of introduction. "Go and dance with somebody's mother and give
the rest of us a chance."
Honourable Henry dutifully bogged off and left Prince Charming the field.
I looked around for the wicked stepfamily. If they could see me now.
"I don't think we've met before," was his opening gambit.
"I'm Andrew, Andy to my friends."
I had a moment of panic. If I gave my real name I'd blow it all.
"Cinderella," I blurted out. "And my friends do not call
He burst out laughing. "Oh you poor thing, saddled with a name
like that." I agreed with him and conversation blossomed. Every
time it got near anything remotely sticky I lied my way through with
the first thing I could think of. This leant a spontaneity to our talk
that fitted well with my reality-bent state, and he seemed to think
I was the best thing since sliced bread. When the dance was over he
went to get me a drink and when we'd finished our drinks he asked me
to dance again. I hoped to god that the wicked's were drinking it in,
"Aren't you supposed to socialise?" I asked him. "In
a Jane Austen novel it would have been considered very rude for a host
to ignore all the eligible young females like this. There must be something
in court etiquette on it, surely?"
"There probably is," he replied airily with a mischievous
look in his eye, "and I'll probably get my ear bent tomorrow. But
you're only young once, after all!"
'Young!' I said, but only to myself. Tact wasn't my strong point, but
even I could see that there were some jokes he wouldn't appreciate.
I had a whale of a time. Deprivation can be a wonderful thing: all I
needed in consequence was the attention of a rich, famous man and the
jealousy of those I hated, and I had all I wanted. When midnight struck
it came as a big surprise. I froze.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Midnight," I explained, then smiled when he looked as though
I were odd.
"My namesake," I reminded him. "Don't forget that I turn
into a pumpkin when the clock strikes 12." He laughed uproariously.
He was a man who liked to laugh. "On a more serious note,"
I added, "I need to use the bathroom. Would you excuse me a moment?"
As soon as I was out of sight I headed towards the exit. I had to move
quickly now - it was a ten-minute walk to the underground and I was
late. To make things worse, it was an awkward exit. I had to walk up
circular stairs to a kind of balcony and then through a door at the
back in order to come down some more stairs that led to the front door.
As I got to the balcony Andrew met me there, having shimmied up the
"I thought so," he triumphed. "Running away? You can't
go without giving me your number, at least. We've had such fun."
I looked at my watch. I had no time to mess around. I looked back at
him with some false number ready on my lips only to see the wicked's
walking up towards me. I panicked, pushed past him, and ran down the
stairs taking them three at a time. I lost a shoe at the first landing
and pulled off the other one to help me run more quickly. He shouted
out behind me but only once - thank god the British hate a scene - and
then I was out. One shoe down and one shoe in my hand I rushed for the
underground and began my return to hell.
God was waiting for me at home.
"Just to see how it went, darling and check you're OK." He
brushed aside my thanks. "Now, tell me all about it."
I did while he got me a cup of tea and washed the dye out of my hair.
"I'll take the one shoe back to Jane," he decided, when I
confessed about the other. "I'm seeing Melissa after his show anyway.
Don't worry about it darling," he added, seeing that I was indeed
worried at repaying her generosity in such a way. "I'll get her
a new pair. I'll put it on your bill."
And he went.
The next day the wicked stepfamily were full of the Prince's strange
dancing partner, as were the tabloids. I enjoyed both versions: the
wicked's were full of my affront and bad manners (their noses had been
well and truly put out of joint); and the tabloids were full of the
possibility of titillation and sex. Some paparazzi, hearing the commotion,
had got in through the main doors as I ran out. Seeing Andrew pick up
the shoe, they must have been making up their story even as they photographed
the scene. Sundry serving staff had filled them in on the rest. The
papers had a hey day.
"Cinderella's Slipper Clue" said one, and "Court It",
another. They all speculated on whether he'd try the 'slipper' on every
foot in the land, and what he'd do if it fitted more than one. The odds,
the Mail calculated, , were that it would fit approximately a million
women in the country. The Mirror used its photos to work out computer-generated
dimensions and started up a competition: 'Guess its size and make and
you could win a trip round Buckingham Palace'. Great stuff.
Two days later, God called by. He waited until the wicked's had gone
out then banged on the window.
"Jane wants to take him her slipper," he said as soon as I
let him in. "She says that at the bottom line she'd at least get
her other shoe back, and at best there'd be a reward. She says her only
other option would be to sell her story to the newspapers. She looked
me in the eye," God was white with rage. "That little bitch
looked me in the eye and told me she reckoned a story like that was
worth at least £20,000 and what did I think. I ask you!"
"And what do you think?" I asked. I felt more scared than
angry. If I got the tabloids on my tail now they'd keep at me until
they dragged me down, that was for sure. And they'd surely drag Gordon
down with me. A fine way to repay his help.
I thought of all the innuendo and crap I'd seen over the last two days
and answered my own question.
"I'll go with her," I said. "I'll explain as much as
needs explaining and she can come to make sure she gets her shoe."
I sighed. "There won't be a reward of course, and she'll feel short
changed - and let's face it - the opportunist will probably go to the
papers anyway. But, we'll do whatever damage limitation we can."
I made an effort to smile. He looked so stressed out and worried. "Don't
you worry God," I reassured him, "I'll get us out of this
or my name's not Cinderella."
"It isn't," he retorted, but not too loud.
He leant me his coat to go over my remaining pair of jeans and T-shirt
and we got a taxi back to Soho. It was early afternoon and I had naively
expected it to be closed, but the lights were flashing cheerfully as
ever around the photos of what waited inside.
"Won't she be working," I asked, once I saw it was open. "Will
she be able to leave just like that?"
"Oh she'll think of something." Gordon gave in to a rare cynicism.
"This is a young lady who'll go far."
Sure enough, ten minutes later he came up the steps with a young, blond
woman. They got into the taxi without a word. I'd already given the
driver Honourable Henry's address. It seemed to me that the fewer details
she knew, the better.
For a while she maintained a stubborn silence, looking defensive. I
guessed God had already had a go at her and she was waiting for me to
do the same.
After a few minutes I made up my mind.
"I just want you to know, Jane," I started, and she looked
at me with hostility, "that whatever happens, I think you were
very kind to have leant me your spare shoes the other night - and I'm
very sorry I lost one of them and landed us in all this trouble.
"I bet you are." She sneered. "Not what you were planning
at all, was it?" I don't know what I'd expected, but her voice
surprised me. Behind the sneer, she sounded well-spoken.
"I wasn't planning anything," I replied, keeping my cool.
"Just reacting. But now I'm planning." Her hostility deepened
into suspicion. "I'm planning how we can get you what you want,
and us what we want - that is to be left in peace. You wouldn't feel
the need to go to the papers if you were well done by, would you?"
She sniffed. "It depends what you mean by 'well done by', doesn't
"It does," and I smiled. Not a sympathetic, 'trust me' smile,
but one of pure joy. Inspiration had hit. "And believe you me,
whatever I mean by it, you'll get more out of this if you put a smile
on your face and play along. All right?"
To my surprise she relaxed and grinned back. "You're all right
you are," she decided, and got out a packet of cigarettes. "So,
what's the plan?"
It was the voice and blond hair that had done it. Her shading was so
similar to the colour God had done mine, that I suspected him of having
borrowed her hair dye. She was thin too and nicely turned out - not
too tacky: physically she'd got what it took. The rest was down to personality.
I crossed my fingers and coached her for the rest of the journey while
Gordon looked on, his expression ranging from protest through hope to
disbelief, and finally to that of the po-faced British gentleman he
felt was required for the following scene. We had arrived.
I didn't know how good a friend of Andy's the Honourable Henry was,
but I suspected from their comments, and the Hello-type gossip I remembered
from my past, that they were close. We obviously couldn't go straight
to Andrew, carving a path through the paparazzi camped at his door,
so we went to Henry and I hoped to god that his flunkies would let us
in. Once face-to-face, I was fairly sure I could make it work.
They did. Both my name and Gordon's were known as belonging to the lesser
aristocracy and that, along with innate British good manners were enough.
An hour later we were drinking tea and waiting for Andrew to turn up
while Jane was practising her charismatic charm, personality and spontaneous
wit on Henry. He seemed to be responding nicely.
The prince, when he finally showed, was in a foul mood.
"This is all your fault," he yelled at Jane as soon as he
saw her. "All this rubbish about Cinderella and glass slippers
and running away at midnight. Have you no sense of propriety at all?
Mother's absolutely furious."
Jane didn't blink. "Well, it depends what you mean by propriety,"
she said. "But within the context of my business I consider myself
as honourable as the next girl."
"In the context of your business
." Andy had now seen
me and the shape of my face, combined with Jane's unfamiliar tones were
giving him room to doubt. He sat down.
"Look, what on earth is going on here?"
We told him. In fact, what with one thing leading to another, we ended
up telling him pretty much everything (apart from God's penchant for
transvestism), and as we did so I understood that this was going to
make me free. Sod the media, sod Jane, and sod the money. From now on
the wicked stepfamily were history. It was exhilarating.
"So that's it," I finished. "Believe me the last thing
we wanted was to get the media involved." I shot a glance at Jane.
"Well," she said, with a straight-forwardness that left me
standing. "I had wanted to get them involved, because in my line
of business just about all publicity is good publicity. But that was
just thinking about me - I can appreciate that with you lot it's different."
"It certainly is." Andrew sighed. He stood up and absently
poured us all a glass of Henry's sherry. "The point is, what are
we going to do about it?"
"Well," I coughed a little nervously and was glad to sip the
sherry as all eyes turned to me. "I have a plan.
"It seems to me," I continued, "that Jane looks quite
similar to the media descriptions of me at the ball. It's also obvious
that I don't normally look like those descriptions at all - my own stepmother
didn't even recognise me. It also seems likely that none of the Royal
Watchers in the press would ever have come across Jane before, or know
anything about her. Finally, nobody could deny that the sandals fit
her perfectly - they're hers.
"What I suggest," I rushed on, as Andrew looked unconvinced,
"is that without ever actually saying so, we let the press conclude
that Jane is Ella Fitzgerald, a perfectly acceptable young woman, who
happens to fit the shoe in question. The publicity will all blow over
and - " I took a deep breath, this was the crunch, "should
you ever want to see her again, she has a perfectly respectable cover.
I meanwhile, can disappear off the face of this earth and get myself
a life. The wicked stepfamily will be told to keep away from me - that
is Jane - and set me - that is her - up in an independent flat. If they
don't, they get prosecuted. They'll never see me again and need never
know the truth. I get to be free, Jane gets 'well done by' and you get
- er - well, whatever you want from it. And we all live happily ever
after. What do you reckon?
Andrew looked at me. Then he looked at Jane who arched her eyebrows
and smiled. She was very pretty. He looked back at me and stood up.
"Come into the study a minute, will you? I want to ask you something
I went. I felt nervous. He hadn't made his mind up and I couldn't blame
him. On the other hand it couldn't be easy for a man with his background
to get casual sex on tap with no repercussions. Not these days, with
this media. And if Jane was game who was I to moralise? But was he game,
that was the question.
In the study he walked over to the mantelpiece and leant on it, gazing
at the unlit fire.
"It's been a long time since I read Cinderella last," he said
when he was ready, "but I seem to remember it had a different ending."
I smiled. "Yes," I said. "They fell in love at first
sight, got married, and lived happily ever after. Fairy-tales are so
easy, aren't they?"
"Unlike life," he expanded.
"Which, I take it, means that you don't - fall in love at first
sight, that is - and all that."
"Oh no!" I exclaimed. "Certainly not."
"Right." He looked relieved.
"Why?" I pressed. "Surely you didn't want to?"
Instead of answering my question he looked me in the eye.
"You are extremely refreshing," he said. "Resourceful,
witty, honest, brave, spontaneous
"Mendacious," I continued, getting embarrassed. "Conniving,
"You're right of course," he interrupted, although I felt
he was referring to a previous remark rather than what I'd just said.
"But do you really want this plan you've worked out to happen?
Is it really your choice?"
I realised that I hadn't really thought about it.
"I haven't really thought about it," I said.
"Well then I suggest you do." He smiled. "Because, from
a personal point of view, I'd like you to know that I'd be just as happy
to act out your arrangement with the real Ella Fitzgerald as with the
I thought about it. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised
what a brilliant plan I'd come up with. My idea had been only to save
us all from ruthless publicity, but the result really did get me what
"If it's all the same to you," I said finally, "I really
rather like things the way they are. And I don't think the real Ella
Fitzgerald would be nearly so 'convenient' as the impostor."
"Ah. Well, that is rather a consideration." He smiled again,
eyes twinkling with a rather boyish charm that took away all offence.
It was decided. "It'd be nice to see you again from time to time
though. Catch up on your adventures?"
"That'd be great," I agreed. "God will always know where
to find me." Then, at his look of bewilderment: "Gordon -
Gordon O'Dare. We call him God for short."
"Let me know what you want to do," he told me, opening the
door. "I'd like to help you out." I nodded in turn. I may
be proud but I wasn't stupid. If you're going to have powerful friends
you may as well use them.
We left in one of Henry's private cars a few minutes later. Gordon,
like the fairy godmother he was, was putting me up until I got a life.
Jane stayed. I watched the house recede out of the back window, then
tucked Gordon's arm through mine and looked ahead. The future beckoned.
"Today," I said firmly, "is the first day of the rest
of my life."
And what a life it's been.
© Finn Clarke 2001
to part One