As part of the “Occupy the Page: Literary Criticism and Activism” festival held March 18-20th, 2013, members of the San Diego State University community chose a poem or piece of prose that they felt exemplified a spirit of literary activism. This series showcases their commentary, and aims to add to the voices occupying the page. Special thanks to the Hugh C. Hyde Living Writers Series, Associated Students, and Poetry International for their support of this project.
Cinderella by Jacquelyn Phillips, inspired by Katie Farris’ boygirls
There lived a rugged man who was forced to visit his once beautiful wife in the hospital. She had lost half of her body weight, her voluptuous brown hair had fallen out limp and lifeless, and the vibrant blue of her eyes had faded to resemble a dull grey. The man brought their handsome teenage daughter with him, giving her the opportunity to say goodbye to her dying mother. The beeping machines and the smell of latex made the daughter anxious, but she knew her mother was only alive because of the tubes connected to every inch of her deteriorating body. She leaned over and kissed her mother’s forehead, stunned when she heard her hoarse voice whisper, “Be good, modest and forgiving – no matter what.”
The daughter stared at her mother’s fragile figure and nodded. “I promise Mother.” With those final words, Cinderella watched as the heart machine flat lined and her mother died.
The funeral was small. The daughter and her father stood in front of the mother’s tombstone, sending silent prayers up to their loved one. Even though the father moved on with his life, the daughter bought a single red rose every day and laid it in front of the tombstone, weeping uncontrollably. She continued to keep her promise in honor of her mother and remained good, modest and forgiving, even though her mother’s death pained her greatly.
On the one year anniversary of her the death, her father brought home a new wife who had two beautiful daughters. They immediately treated their step-sister with contempt, giving her an endless amount of chores to complete and not inviting her out when they went into town with their friends. One day, while the modest daughter was silently eating her breakfast, the eldest stepsister grabbed her by the arm, ignored her protests, dragged her outside and threw her in the mud.
“From now on, you live outside with the dogs and horses!” She taunted. “Your father doesn’t need you anymore now that he has us. He could care less about you.”
The daughter sobbed because her mother’s last dress was now covered in filth, and it would be impossible to completely remove the stains. She ran into the stables and crumpled into a ball on a pile of hay, remembering the promise she had made to her mother: be good, modest and forgiving. No matter how much her sisters hurt her, she refused to disregard her mother’s wish and retaliate. She spent her days completing mundane chores created by the sisters and spent her nights huddled in the stables trying to prevent herself from getting ill. She had become so grimy and dirty looking, that her stepsisters named her Cinderella.
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that you’ve been sleeping in cinders!” They cackled, tossing dirt and debris on the ground Cinderella had been scrubbing, forcing her to clean it once more. Her father never asked questions – he was too transfixed by his new wife to think anything of his only true daughter.
When the mail arrived the next day, the stepsisters ran into the house – knocking Cinderella’s mop and vacuum to the side, splashing her with grimy water, knocking her to the ground – shrieking for their mother. Apparently, there was a party at the wealthy man’s house down the street, and his son was going to be attending. He was what a woman would consider the perfect husband: tall, dark, handsome, athletic, charming, strong, witty, and intelligent. He was also in line to inherit a large sum of money, so every woman in town wanted the chance to woo his heart. Cinderella stood up silently, crept behind her sisters and snuck a glance over their shoulders, noticing that her name too, was printed on the invitation. She grew excited and asked her stepmother if she could borrow a dress so that she could attend the party as well.
The stepsisters laughed, but the mother quieted them, smiling maliciously at Cinderella. “If you can clean up all of the muck out of the horses stalls within the next two hours, I’ll let you borrow a dress.”
Cinderella nodded, collected her tools and went out into the stables, shading her tears from the eyes of misery. She studied the stalls and knew that it would be physically impossible to clean everything up in two hours. Instead, she climbed onto her horse’s back and rode to the cemetery. She had forgotten to purchase a rose on the way there, but decided to place the remains of her mother’s tattered dress, which her sister’s endless tasks had destroyed. The tears that tumbled from her eyes landed upon the dress. Cinderella apologized to her mother for tarnishing the gown before it magically turned into a beautiful gold and silver masterpiece before her very eyes. She held it up in her hands, unable to believe what had just happened.
Appearing suddenly in front of her mother’s gravestone were two beautiful glass stilettos, and they fit Cinderella’s petite feet perfectly. She needed to bathe before the party, so she tucked her mother’s blessings beneath her arm and galloped back to the house. She used the hose behind the stables to wash off, and squeezed a bit of horse shampoo into her hair, hoping that it would help rid her of any strong odors.
Her sisters had seen her arrive at the house and went to investigate. While Cinderella was happily humming beneath the hose water, her stepsisters took sheers to the beautiful dress her mother had given her. They stripped it to pieces, ripping lace, plucking off beads, shredding fabric, laughing all the while. When Cinderella saw what they were doing, she chased after them before dropping to her knees in the pile of destruction. She cried and cried, her chest contracting with pain, her lungs heaving for lack of oxygen, and her willpower to keep her mother’s promise completely shattered.
“How can I be good, modest and forgiving to people who treat me this way?”
She carefully pulled the ruined dress over her head, thankful that her stepsisters had been too busy to notice the glass heels by its side. She slipped them onto her feet and held her head up high.
She strode into her sisters’ bedroom and smiled at them through their full length mirror, absorbing their laughter through every pore of her body. They paused when they saw her reflection staring at them.
The eldest snorted. “Nice dress Cinderella. Are you going to ask us to borrow some makeup now?”
Cinderella didn’t take her eyes off of the sister. She slipped off her right heel, loving how sharp the glass felt against the palm of her hand. “Be good.” She grabbed her stepsister’s arm firmly and pulled her away from the mirror. “Be modest.” She took the glass stiletto heel and bashed it into her sister’s eyes over and over again. The blood felt good splashing against her face, her rage dissipating after every swing she took. “And always forgive.” The other sister’s screams played through her ears like a show tune melody, encouraging her to swing harder and harder. She turned to her other sister, flashing that beautiful smile which had recently been concealed by dirt. She threw the first stiletto to the side and took off the next one, wiping the blood from her brow.
“I’m sorry Mother. I tried.”