An Invitation Refused: a short story for Valentine’s Day

Here’s a daft little story I wrote a while back, a version of a fairytale which you might recognise. Hope you enjoy it!

An Invitation Refused

‘You shall go to the ball!’ The Fairy Godmother waved her magic wand.

Cinderella stared. ‘Really?’

‘Oh yes,’ replied the benevolent dame. ‘Pazowie!’ With a few swirls of her wand Cinderella’s rags became a sumptuous ball gown, her clogs transformed into glass slippers, a pumpkin turned into a golden coach, and the mice in the corner had, somehow, evolved into horses, although if you looked closely you could see their noses twitching. ‘There!’ The Fairy Godmother brushed the sparkles from her hands. ‘You’re all set for a wonderful evening. Make sure you dance with the Prince; you don’t want to waste this opportunity! You’ll only get one chance, you know!’

Cinderella took a wobbly step forward. ‘Er, I can barely walk in these shoes. And they’re very cold and hard.’ She longed for her warm, worn clogs again.

‘You’ll get used to it. Every woman will be jealous of those shoes, they’re the height of fashion.’ The fairy nodded in a satisfied manner. ‘Oh, and the spell will only last so long. You’ll have to get the job done and be out by midnight. Good luck!’ She waved her wand once more, and with a sound of tinkling chimes, she vanished.

Cinderella sighed and got into the coach. There seemed to be an awful lot of responsibility attached to having her wish come true. The horses neighed, a little squeakily, and they set off for the palace.

As the coach bowled along Cinderella’s head was full of doubts. I don’t know how to dance! What if my sisters recognise me? Which fork should I use? By the time the coach stopped at the grand entrance she felt ill. ‘Can you take me round the back? I need some fresh air. I’m a bit travel-sick.’

She almost twisted an ankle on the carriage steps, and took off her glinting, spiky, four-inch heels. ‘I’ll go in in a minute.’

The palace garden was cool and green, and the perfume of the flowers called her. Carrying her shoes, she padded over the dewy grass to a bed of lilies. She bent down and inhaled the smell, taking care not to get pollen on her ball gown. She would go in in a minute. She really would.

‘Hello!’ Cinderella almost jumped out of her skin at the voice in the shadows.

‘Who’s there?’ she stammered, backing away from the flower bed and looking around her.

‘I didn’t mean to startle you.’ A young man in chef’s whites stepped out from behind a bush. ‘I shouldn’t really be here. I just nipped out for a smoke.’ He waved a hand at the garden in a proprietorial manner. ‘Nice, isn’t it?’

‘It’s beautiful.’ Cinderella looked up at the young man, who was rather handsome. ‘Do you work here?’

‘Well, duh.’ The young man looked down at his outfit, then back at her. ‘No, it’s a fancy dress ball.’

‘It isn’t, is it?’ Cinderella faltered.

His laugh rang out across the garden. ‘Of course not. I’m one of the sous-chefs. One of those people a fine lady like you never sees.’

‘Oh, but -‘ Cinderella’s mind raced. ‘I’d like to come and see the kitchen. I’ve always been interested in cooking.’

‘Really?’ The young man’s eyebrows had disappeared under his toque.

‘Really,’ Cinderella said, firmly.

He grinned. ‘Come along, then.’ He crooked an arm. ‘What should I call you? Lady -?’

‘Just Ella is fine.’ Cinderella took his arm.

Cinderella very much enjoyed the sensation of being bowed to as she toured the kitchen, which was airy, spacious, and full of gadgets, copper pans, and the most wonderful food. The young man, who was called Fred, pronounced her chopping and slicing not half bad, for a beginner. ‘I’d hire you, milady,’ said the head chef, a plump pink-faced man called Gaston, who looked a little like a boiled pudding.

‘I wish you would,’ said Cinderella. ‘The high life is no fun at all, you know.’

When midnight struck, Cinderella smiled as she heard cheers from the ballroom. She had peeped in once or twice and watched the good and great dancing complicated quadrilles which she could never have taken part in, the women, and some of the men, laced into corsets so that they could hardly breathe. She had seen them picking at the lavish feast which had been prepared for them, scared that they would spill food on themselves or seem greedy. She had seen her sisters dance with the Prince, a balding middle-aged man shoehorned into a young man’s clothes. She watched the last tray of champagne go out, and raised her own. ‘Here’s to gainful employment.’

‘Darn right!’ Fred raised his glass, slung an arm round Cinderella’s shoulders, and looked at her questioningly. She nodded, and he kissed her.

In the cloakroom, a ball gown turned to rags, and glass slippers became worn-out clogs.

Outside, a gang of mice ran away from a pumpkin, finding a path to the kitchen.

Cinderella saw them creep in, and turned a blind eye. For in her warm woollen dress, her white apron, and her felt-lined wooden clogs, she was happy.


The featured image is Cinderella Glass Slipper by TSTS Cheng, and is shared by permission of Creative Commons license 2.0.

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