Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Tag: fairytale

The Wish

“You shouldn’t encourage her,” Juanita’s mother pontificated.
“Me? I thought it must have been you.”
“I never said a word. She made it all up. By herself.”
“She has some imagination, I’ll grant her that. But she’s only a child. She’ll get over it. In time,” said her dad patiently.
“Reality catches up with us all,” sighed her mother.
“It’s just a pet. One of many,” replied Juanita’s Dad.

The back screen door groaned. Both parents looked at each other. Always they were bound to the unspoken rule. Parents must be seen and not heard. At least not in front of the children.

A click of heels announced itself. A pink tutu swayed first side to side then up and down. A moppet curl appeared as if from nowhere.
In leapt Juanita. She skipped lightly, her face beaming, her voice joyous.

“I said my prayers,” she said. “Just like I was told to.”
“Juanita…”, her Dad began. Her eyes smiled at him.
“Who told you that?” Snapped her mother.
“My friend. The one you can’t see.” Juanita’s voice was like running water.
“Sometimes, things don’t…,” counselled her mother. Juanita tossed her curls. And laughed. Neither parent could look at her. Nor could they speak.

“We know Misty is sick,” interjected her father.
“And sometimes sick people don’t get better,” added her mother.
“They do. She said so. I said so. And Misty will too”, Juanita said confidently. “So there,” she concluded.

Her tousled hair flew. She nodded.”I know.” She pointed to herself. Then she pointed upwards. “And He does too.”
And she danced away. The back door thudded shut. Mother and Her parents exchanged forlorn looks both clouded by doubt.

“I don’t know where she gets it from,” her mother said, “she’s only going to be disappointed.”
“Well, I didn’t tell her. She certainly didn’t get those pious thoughts in her pretty little head from me,” her father chuckled. “I have a whole canon of atheism to defend. She’ll get over it.”
“I know. Losing a pet is a horrible experience for a child to go through. And she’s making it far worse by denying it,” her mother replied.
“I’m going to have to bury it, you know,” her father said grimly.
“If she’ll let you. She still goes back to it hoping it will wake up.”

Both parents looked outside. Juanita was bent over a prone black body. They only turned away for a second. But that was enough for both of them to feel a warmth steal in from outside. Enough to make them shiver.

A scratching like steel wool against a fry pan. Then a dull sproing. Then a rusty metallic groan. The outside screen door had swung open again. Both parents looked at each other.

Unusually or rather as usual then there was a thump. Soft rubber paddling on wood. Then the soft pitter patter up the stairs. Four paws padded in. Black eyes glittered from a smooth furry head. All suffixed by a hungry meow.

“What?” both parents spoke at once.

A click of heels. A pink tutu. A shake of curls. A flutter of angel wings. Then Juanita appeared. Skipping, dancing, smiling. “See!” Her parents still couldn’t.

The Glass Slipper (3)

Celebrities, I now realise, live in a perpetual fog. And nowhere more so than on the red carpet. This night I’m slow prancing through a warming mist of light. Camera flashes and phone selfie stick shots leave me blinking rapidly and staring dumbly. Further along, the spotlights surround me like a hot cloud. I’m suited up, white shirt, black tie, the male uniform of universal fame. But I do look good, I have to admit that. So my social feed tells me anyway.

Ella like a vision is in front of me. The classic fairy tale goddess : tall, blonde, slim, leading everyone’s eye towards her. Remember, I thought, people don’t stare at beauty like that, they just hold their gaze for longer. It’s her night, after all. That much this simple man does know.Right now, I have little idea why I’m here. It’s an opening night for a product Ella is endorsing. Something, something, folate. I start to fall behind.

“Folate? What the hell is Folate?”

I’m open-mouthed staring at the TV. My reality mega celebrity wife is yet again endorsing another product. And no-one has told me about it. She’s saying what a great health supplement it is. Which is of no use to me at all. I don’t know a thing. And that secret leaks out very quickly. For my followers have tapped into my confusion. According to the social media feedback, that is. The joke continues, smart wife, dumb husband. Not dumb I say to myself. I just do what I’m told. She’s the ball gown, I’m the plastic handbag. And so long as it stays that way, I will have ongoing success.

There’s Ella, in glorious 3D. So real I could almost reach out, tap her on the shoulder and ask, “What’s it for?”

But it’s not me doing the asking. Or the tapping of the shoulder.

Out of the misty light, the voice spoke to me, “Good evening sir, I hope you’re well tonight.”

I squint. I try to see who is talking to me. A smiling urbane gentleman of the old class I thought.

“Thank you, I am”, I replied. As my eyes adjusted, I could see who it was. He was a head taller than me. He was perfectly clean shaven. He had green eyes that were both piercing and twinkling set in a pleasant thin face. He was dressed in a thin grey woollen suit and wearing a earpiece. I couldn’t work out why he was not behind the silken barrier. Then I looked at his badge. And then he spoke again.

“You can’t go any further.” His voice hardened slightly as he emphasised all the words. The scene now starts to make sense to me. Here I am speaking to the most well mannered security guard I’d ever met. And now he is very diplomatically telling me my night was over. I looked behind him. He had firepower on his side. On his left and right were two heavy set men. Now these were the security men that I would cast in the role, I thought. Exactly alike, they were dressed in jet black suits, short, squat, standing silently and watchfully. If my new found acquaintance had asked to burrow they would. But they were more suitable for scrummaging. When I saw men like that coming for me, I always threw the ball away. Although it didn’t help. But this time I stood still.

I said nothing. I was outnumbered. I was told the reason. I was with a rival company. They had orders that it was best I be turned away. The pop and flash of cameras continue as if these were fans asking for a selfie or even an old-fashioned autograph. But not for long, as the real star is moving on.

I started to say, “I’m with Ella.” But I thought better of it.

I decided to be an anonymous celebrity for now. I stayed in the fog. I waited for rescue. Any other reaction I realised would be all over the media in seconds. I looked down at the phone. “What’s happening Jack?” was the theme of the feed. “Who are these people?” they asked. Tempted, I started to tap on my phone. Remembering the advice I had received about social media, I pulled my hand away. I chose to shut up and wait for the lifeline.

When it happens, it makes me believe in science fiction. Yet again, out of nowhere, John and Tash materialise. My producers, who had been avoiding me for reasons unknown for the last week turn up at the time of crisis.

I always thought of them as the perfect couple. Interchangeable. One could substitute for the other. As they do right now. They step right up to the security supervisor, so no-one can easily listen. Two people invading his personal space. The security gentleman doesn’t flinch. He is inscrutable. He tilts his head down to listen. All I can see is his bald head with a light sheen of sweat.

John or Tash speaks first, the other continues the sentence, without the other even stopping for breath. All I hear is the phrase, “Endorsement conflict.” My head just tick tocks as I look from one to another. I know I still look as stunned as I did during the camera, phones and spotlights on the red carpet. I look down. My feed is full of a jumble of emoticons, some funny, others puzzled, of course, some obscene.

John and Tash stop at the same time. They both look at me. They speak in unison, “Don’t do anything until we tell you.” I think to myself, yes, mostly that’s what I usually do, but not always. Especially when I have an unexpected surprise and try and fix it myself. Just like when I tried to placate Ella after she shattered the glass slipper. But we fixed that, didn’t we?

They continue to speak to the butler. I think to myself, he would make an excellent butler. But his tone is firm. Then without speaking to one another, John and Tash start calling on their mobiles. I’m stupefied by now. I think I hope the camera’s aren’t zooming in on my open flapping mouth as well. They’re speaking as one person to different people. “How did they do that?”, I thought. “How did they decide who called who and who went first?”

Meanwhile, twilight surrounds us. The lights, phones and cameras have moved on, seeking Ella’s long gaze. I’m sure she’s thinking of me. But that would be reality TV being too real?

The next thing I hear is a whisper. The two of them talking into my ear. How can they get so close? “Text her and tell her you’re not feeling well. And then go home.” I do as I’m told. It always works. My new found security detail escort me to the waiting car.

The Glass Slipper (2)

The TV screen went black. For three seconds. A sliver of white light appeared. It flickered, flashed and exploded, filling the screen. It was a white out. For three seconds. The screen panned back. The torch started searching the room. Spotlights painted the walls, shadows wavered and stopped. It found two shiny high-heeled shoes floating in the air. The crystal slippers began to spin slowly.

The screen went green-grey. A figure could be seen sleeping on a bed. Ella.

“Will these new slippers win back her heart?”

Another pause to build more suspense.

“I hope this works,” I said.

I wasn’t acting. I looked away. A short clip replayed the fell events of the previous week. I looked away. The shouting, the crying, me trying to calm her down, finally culminating in the smashing of the old glass slippers. And then I made it worse. I tried to reconcile. But I was only doing what I was told.

The week that had been was superficial casual reality TV fare. We were kept occupied, too busy to think for ourselves. We had spent a great deal of time together. But we had spent little time alone. For they had chosen activities that didn’t require us to communicate at any depth. The last week had been an interminable spin of social activities and commercial endorsements. We had ended up being both half-awake and half asleep but too tired to argue or discuss anything. This frenzy of activity was also interlaced with a lot of old footage of us being loving assuming the fans would think things were great.

For Ella wasn’t talking to anyone. As her husband in reality I had even less idea of what was happening. The producers, directors and script writers, when I saw them seemed more energetic than usual. I didn’t think there was a problem until they sent Ella away for a commercial endorsement without me.

That all happened quickly. I had woken early, showered and had gone downstairs to browse for some breakfast. While I made my coffee (ensuring that this week’s brand faced the cameras), I looked out the window. Our coastal home away from home was sited on a peninsula facing east. It was early, and the sea was still blue grey. But then there was that pink-red glimmer that preceded dawn. I watched it as was my habit. Then I saw movement near the bedroom. I saw a a clutch of assistants quickly ascend the stairs. I was signalled not to take any notice. So obediently I didn’t.

But it was only a few minutes and then they returned with Ella. Tall and blonde, the camera caressed her like a lover’s glance. She was stylishly dressed and ravishingly beautiful. I thought for a second, perhaps, she and I? And then she, assistants in tow fled out the door, presumably to another pre-managed, highly-planned but seemingly impulsive media event. Ignored, I went back to my real occupation. Social media lurker. Reading the comments and advice. Ignoring the nutters and crazies but attempting to find a consensus and follow it. After all, that’s how I stayed popular.

For both of us, this had been the first moment of pause since the breaking of the slippers.

And then John and Tash appeared. They were the veteran husband and wife couple who had produced many reality TV shows. They were so close they finished each others sentences. Somehow I felt they wanted the same for myself and Ella.

They spoke together and said that they had sent Ella for the day and wanted to see me for a long meeting. I felt like I had been called into the principal’s office again. I always thought I was in trouble with them. And the meetings followed the same pattern. But today they would offer me a way out. A new set of slippers and a new hope for both of us.

They had already spoken to me about my actions after the slipper was broken. I had acted without authority and they had had to sort it out. I hoped that conversation wouldn’t be repeated.

My response was to say I had only done what I was told to so. After the incident, I simply asked my many followers what to do next. It had always saved me from the freeze of indecision. And this was a major crisis.

I typed the situation as I saw it and asked the usual what do I do here? (#whatshouldcharmingdo).

And then yet again I became a screen watcher. Replies, counter replies and controversies all started streaming into my feeds. Some of the contributors were familiar and they said what I would expect. The usual trolls and misogynists more or less telling me to show her who is boss (or worse). Some of these were quite direct in the means and method of application. It had never even occurred to me to take control like that ever.

I waited. I had been through this before. It was the jury handing down a verdict. Part of being a well-known celebrity was the required bowing down to your followers. Most found it a drawback of fame but it was an upside for me. All I had to do was find out what the majority wanted. And stay famous.

Then the usual unfollowers. Words, often mis-spelt, to the effect that you were both horrible and now I don’t believe in you anymore. And worse. I just hoped those numbers didn’t rise too much. Otherwise we wouldn’t get our bonus.

Then finally the feminists with a message especially for me. Then the trolls calling them worse names and threatening more evil than they would ever say to Ella or even me. I kept away from the ongoing battle between misogyny and misandry. Then the comment directed at me, “Ella has finally rejected the male-dominated constructs as exmplified by the glass slipper.” Yeah right. I hadn’t done the degree. I’m sure even the fairytale didn’t mean that. Besides I had no idea what it meant and how insulting it was meant to be. So I ignored it. Besides I could always block. So I blocked the troll.

Then the marriage counsellors. With them it was either I give in to her or she give in to me. Rarely if ever they said we should give into each other. Besides how would we manage giving in to each other if our followers didn’t like it? It would be fatal for us both.

But in the end there was a majority decision and it was final. They suggested I return to her and make it up to her as soon as possible. Maybe they liked seeing us make up. I know I did. It had worked before. Nietzche was right about reality TV, one lived the same life over and over again! But I hadn’t told John and Tash the producers. And there had been consequences from that action.

I kept my thoughts to myself but inwardly I was disquieted. Even during a public romance watched by many millions, there had been tiny cracks and fissures. But me being me, I just papered over those worries and made sure that she stayed happy. I had also assumed that such disturbances were the result of the very public attention and affection that we both received.

She had lost her temper before but only over minor trivialities. And that made great drama for our audience until she was distracted and moved onto something else. It wasn’t until I reflected carefully that I realised the truth. What I had missed was that those occurrences were becoming more frequent and more intense. I really didn’t see the warning signs. I was too infatuated I suppose.

I waited an hour. My thought was I’ll return and we’ll be reconciled.

Someone had suggested that I surprise her a little. So before climbing the stairs, I took my shoes off. I had been advised to be silent and stealthy and enjoy the moment of surprise. I ran up the stairs on tip toe so I wouldn’t be heard. My heart began to race with both exertion and more than a little anticipation. I imagined that I was not the only one that felt that way. I imagined millions of people holding their breath too.

I stopped short at the door. I didn’t knock. I threw the door open. I ran to Ella. I didn’t really notice how she was until much too late.

Ella was standing by the windows. She seemed to have effectively wrapped herself into a ball. Her head was bowed, her shoulders shrugged forward. She had drawn herself into herself.

She didn’t see me. She didn’t hear me at first. So that part of the plan had worked.
I slowed down as I came closer. I spread my arms wide to embrace her. As soon as she heard my foot fall, she turned and faced me. She was crouched down. I had no idea if she still thought the cameras were off.

All the same she let me embrace her. I leant a little forward as I always did expecting the embrace to continue and be embraced myself. It didn’t.

It was like a dream with me still in it. I can still bring it to mind even though the hurt has gone. She unclasped her hands. She lifted them in front of her face. She stepped back a pace. She put both hands on my chest and pushed me backwards.

Apart from the shock and surprise, I lost my balance and wobbled like a toddler. I stumbled a half step I think. Then I nearly fell on Ella. That was too much for her. In all of that she had not spoken to me.

She jumped backwards. Her back was now against the bedroom window.

Then she looked at me. I will never forget that look. It was desperation and anger and sadness all in one place.

I was angry at being rebuffed. But then this new look-at the time I didn’t know what I was seeing. I locked eyes with her and tried to search her soul for this new sadness.

But those eyes pushed me away as well. It looked as if she had gone back home to her stepmother and stepsisters! But that was my initial guess. My first inclination was to comfort her.

“Don’t touch me. Don’t go near me,” she said.

“Ella, we’re on, they can hear you,” I whispered. But I knew that every whisper carries further on the internet.

I moved forward a little then moved back. I felt her desperation and need for comfort and I felt that she had been alone too long.

In all of my life, all the counsel that I had received about loving women came to naught in that moment. I had to think of something else but I couldn’t.

I chose the most cowardly course. I left the room and left her to herself.
And in the aftermath I had to face John and Tash. I had acted too hastily without consulting them. They said they had a storyline to preserve. My reply was I had followers who depended upon me. Inwardly, I felt caught between many masters: the producers, the audience, and Ella.
And today, they began, “We want you to recreate the fairytale…”
I watched (as did the millions) as the floating slippers disappeared. The grey faded. The scene changed.
Dawn stole softly through the bedroom windows. Framed by the windows the mottled sunlight gently stirred Ella. She slowly woke. As one eye opened, she saw all was white.
“Am I still in my bed?” she said. “Is this real?”

As she woke everything around her was white as snow. The walls, the ceiling, the curtains and the floor all white.

The room was filled with white flowers. As she took her first breath and sniffed we all smelt the tinge of a sweet perfume.
She looked out of the bed towards the window. In front of the window there was a small gilt table. On that table was a clear glass box. Suspended in the box as if caught in air, were two new crystal glass slippers.

She had no idea how any of it had happened. Perhaps she really did have a fairy god mother!

She slid out of bed. She glided as she walked towards the table. She bent down and delicately opened the box.
The shoes! We all heard her gasp softly at their beauty. We watched as she slowly and carefully and gently retrieved the shoes.
Time now stood still. Even the commentary decided to be silent. I watched and waited as she tried the shoes on.

They were new. They were soft. They fitted perfectly. They were perfect. I felt it.

Then she spoke. My heart fell like lead through the floor. I felt my cheeks flush hot. I never had felt so embarrassed and ashamed. And I started to shake. Her face started to quiver. “How much he must love me”, she said.
I felt a nudge in my back. I stole into the bedroom. I approached her slowly. This time she didn’t back away.
It was a beautiful scene. But she wasn’t saying anything to me. I could lipread what she said but they were sweet nothings (to use the cliche).
Then an odd thing happened. Both her arms moved at once, as if she was having a spasm. I paid no attention to it at the time.
It wasn’t until we played it back that Tash pointed it out to me. She said that she had seen two people talking in the same way : a man and a woman. The woman had both arms by her sides. But she held them down quite stiffly and firmly, she said. And then she had lifted her left arm quickly, as if to ward off a blow. She then began shouting.

I realised Ella had raised both arms in the same way. Twice.

The Glass Slipper (1)

“You broke the fucking glass slipper.”

“I didn’t hear that. She didn’t say that. I’m still asleep. I’m in a better dream right now and can’t be disturbed. Leave a message and I’ll talk to you later.”

Her hand on my shoulder. I sigh. The loving touch of my bride. I relax. I start to wake up. I’m happy. We’re still on the honeymoon. I know what happens next. I’m about to become even happier.

The grip tightens. “She’s never gripped my arm like that before. She must be really…”

The grip now hurts. She shakes my shoulder trying to wake me. I open my eyes. I look up. Her face is in mine, her skin on my skin. I feel her heat. I feel the hiss of her breath.

“You broke the fucking glass slipper.”

Red skin stained by tears fill my view.

“She’s just upset. I’ll just reach out and comfort her. That’s what worked last time. Besides that’s what she’d want. That’s what’s they’d expect.”

I can’t. I can’t even move. I’m now fully awake. We’ve run out of time. I wiggle my shoulder. I duck down into the bed. Her grip follows me now even stronger. Her full weight pushes against my shoulder. Her face is still in mine. Her eyes blaze but there are no tears. She gasps then sobs then gasps.

“This looks bad. I’m going to have to fake it.”

I smile. I go for the joke. I say.

“Ella! My darling Princess! You’ve never sworn before!”

“You broke the fucking glass slipper. It’s fucking shattered in fucking pieces.”

I twist left. I twist right. I break her grip. I wince in pain. Comforting her will just have to wait. There’s a bigger crisis to solve.

I reach across the bed. My fingers fumble for the phone. I must turn off the stream. Right. Now. There is no phone. I can’t find it.

“Isn’t she the one to lose things and then find them?”

My eyes scan the bedroom, the floor, everywhere. Nothing. I whistle for it. Nothing. No response.

“What the hell is she talking about? I haven’t broken any glass slipper. Why would I do that? Besides that’s what happened when every woman in the country found it didn’t fit. And we went through hundreds. Hundreds.”

“What would they want me to do?” Without a phone, I couldn’t ask my followers for help. I had no idea now how to play it right. Until now that was my secret. And it had worked out beyond my expectations. I had married the woman of my dreams. We were social media superstars. We were on the way to making billions. We just had to play it right.

But now I have to think on my feet. I choose apology and appeasement. I say.

“I’m sorry. Did you want me to get you a new glass slipper?”

“And did you turn off the webcams?” I mouth silently.

“Besides I didn’t break the glass slipper.” A whisper now.

“Bullshit!”

I may have made things just a little worse. I push further away. I reach under the bed. I can’t feel anything.

“Where the hell is the spare one?” I look down at the floor. I can’t see it. I push aside the bed curtain. I bend over and look under the bed. Nothing.

I look across the bed. She’s closed the curtain on he side. I just hear her harsh hoarse whisper.

“I’ll just put on the other fucking slipper won’t I?“

She growls, “Then they’ll know. They’ll know…when they see me walking like a fucking lop-sided hunchback on that one good one! Mine! They’ll know you broke that one bad one… yours…that they will.”

She yells, “Your royal fucking Highness! Then if I trip and fall, they’ll troll us again. Won’t they? Of fucking course! Then I’ll lose everything. Everything. Just as I knew I would.”

A rasp as she tears open the curtain at the back of the bed.

“My slipper”, she points to herself and then drops her voice, “doesn’t have a worn sole and a heel. My slipper isn’t now in pieces…like the one you gave me.”

Her voice trails off. She heads towards the shoe room. She opens the door and disappeared.

“Hopefully this will end soon and no-one will know…perhaps we’re not live either.” I think.

In seconds, she’s back. As promised, she’s walking, lop-sided on the remaining glass slipper. She limps and sways and stops at the end of the bed.

“How can she stand like that?” I start to crawl across the bed towards her. But she answers my unspoken question. She reaches out and steadies herself against the post.

I stare. “Another joke perhaps?” I start to open my mouth.

I see a flash. She kicks off the slipper. She catches it in mid-air. “Nice work,” I think. She then draws her arm back. Slipper in hand, she bends her arm.

I shut my eyes tight. I think to put up my hands. I’m too slow. A soft thud. A tinkle of breaking crystal. The throw is wide. Barefoot, as she was before me, she runs from the room.

I look left. The silken pillows and bed-clothes are silver white.

I creep out of bed. “What about the other shoe?” I stumble-walk in a daze to the shoe room. ”Is it true what she said?”

I open the door. I see it all. Now I know. The dark is silvered with crystal. The other slipper.

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