High school senior Ashley St. Helens
has suddenly found herself living a fairy tale life....
Which is not as much fun as it sounds.
Until... the other shoe drops.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

All the Ripples

I was halfway home before I remembered Harry. I should probably go back, I thought. He’s my ride. I had rushed out of the gym in such a panic that I wasn’t thinking clearly. I slipped off the shoes and ran like the wind.

My mind was such a jumble of thoughts and feelings that I didn’t actually notice my feet slapping the pavement until I saw the creek path up ahead in the moonlight. I leaned into the turn and felt the earth under my heels. And then I started laughing. I couldn’t believe I was wearing a dress—at full speed! I glanced up the creek, where the full moon was reflected in the water, and my mind calmed. I looked back—there was no one chasing me. I slowed down and caught my breath, and when I held my arms out to the side to cool my sweaty pits, I realized I had been clutching only one shoe to my chest. How had that happened?

Sylvia had screamed, scaring me half to death, just as Jeff was leaning down to kiss me! “Who is that? Who is that?” She was literally clawing her way towards us through the crowd. Apparently she had figured out what the heck was going on…but she still didn’t know who I was.

From the stage, Debra and Donna were pointing down at us and screaming, “There she is! There she is!”

“I think I’d better go,” I said sweetly, to Jeff, who was still holding me tightly. I ran through the crowd to the gym’s side door, where Mrs. Armor, my Latin teacher, was standing with a group of students. I paused among my classmates to twist off the amazing shoes—I didn’t want anything to happen to them, or to my ankles as I ran. “Veni, Vidi, Redii Domum,” I joked as I backed out the door. They all laughed, and pulled the door shut as I turned to run the mile home.

The bolt of fear that had shot through me when I saw Sylvia was gone; now my heart pounded from running. I trotted back up the creek path and peered up the street I’d just run down, but the other shoe was nowhere to be seen. For a moment I fretted about what to tell Harry, but I knew that he loved me and things would turn out all right. But that thought led to the next, like electricity in a step-up transformer: I also knew, in my heart, that Jeff loved me!

This time I danced down the creek path, twirling so my dress flew out and the crystals caught the moonlight. I skipped, I started running again, loving the cool earth on the soles of my feet.

The soles of my feet. When I hit the bridge, my steps rung like thunder and I stopped to still the noise and catch my breath. The soles of my feet on the wood, on the path, on the earth, grounded me. I had taken this shortcut when I was a child, and after things changed, I always slipped off my flip-flops when I walked by the creek. I had brought all my sorrows to this bridge, and cried so many tears over the edge. The trickling sound of the water and the cool shade of the leaves above had always made me feel better. I always found myself able, after a visit to the creek, to set my mind right about things.

I peered down at my toes, sticking through the railings of the bridge, and thought about how Harry had talked about the soles of my feet. Had he really said 'souls' or had I just heard it that way? Being barefoot did always calm me down. I was barefoot on one particularly bad and cold Sylvia day, many months ago, when I had cried my dreams out loud. “I want my life to be better,” I had wailed to a clotted winter night when my tears fell on the river's blanket of ice. “I know this is silly,” I had called out to no one, “but I want my parents back. I want love back.” I gripped the cold railing. “I don't care how, but I want love all around me. I want love all around me!”

I took some deep breaths and felt joy flow through my body like the water through the reflection of the giant moon. I noticed all the ripples were moving in one direction. I turned and finished my flight home.


From: Ashley <ash-prince gmail.com>

To: FTR <info fairytalereality.com>
Date: Wednesday, 22 Jun 2011 08:51:22

Subject: Nevada etc.

Hi Kristen,

Attached is the final installment of my story! But I just got off the phone with Nevada, and there is something interesting I want to share that is not in the manuscript.

I helped Michael put a friend of hers from college back in touch with her; he is kind of “putting the gang back together” to help tell her story for your project. Anyway, while they talked, she put some pieces together that she had to tell me about: it couldn't have been stomach flu that kept her away from the prom, since no one else had it, not even her childhood friend (I can't say his name; he's kind of a somebody now) who held her hair back while she threw up!

As we talked, the memory returned to me of Sylvia baking muffins for the prom committee the Friday night that Harry called. She never baked. (And I remember thinking that as I cleaned up the mess.) The next morning as they left for their mani-pedi-fest, she was carrying a tray to drop off at the gym for the prom committee. I noticed one muffin that had “good luck” written on it — I assumed at the time it was for Debra or Donna 
— but why was there only one of them? Now it’s all come clear: Nevada says The Girls presented it to her very sweetly. (Poor Nevada, to be poisoned more than once. It’s no wonder she wants to put those days behind her!)

We’re going to have to confront Sylvia about this one of these days...!  She’s currently in a twelve-step program so there may be hope.

Meanwhile, I’m so excited to hear about the staged reading! I can’t make it since my due date is the week after – and since it’s twins they might be here early! Harry was tickled that you thought to ask him to read his own part, but he’s away in Uganda speaking on civil rights issues. He said he’s got some friends in the business who might be available,though  — shall I connect you?



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Cancer Sucks

Jeff and I talked as we danced, catching up as quickly as if it had been weeks, not years, since we’d been as sweet on each other as peanut butter and chocolate. “I heard about your dad,” he said. “Cancer sucks.”

We flirted, suddenly feeling like grownups. I worried about Nevada with her stomach flu, who everyone thought would be Jeff's queen tonight—was I intruding? Jeff said they were just friends, but had been wondering if something might happen with her tonight, which put me off a bit. But he was so much happier it was me. He reminded me of our vow, in second grade, to get married when we were twenty. I pretended to be shocked but of course I’d remembered it all these years. Twenty is too young, of course, but it had seemed so grown-up when we were seven.

I told him about Harry, but we couldn’t spot him in the crowd. Jeff said he had to thank Harry for wrapping me up like a Christmas present.

Look at me, I’m totally giddy writing this. I have seen so many couples fall in love and then break up. I still think it was some sort of miracle that our dreams of each other were reliable. Jeff grinned at me like an idiot for the rest of the song, and I grinned at him right back. Even my feet were smiling. His dimple deepened. He said, “I’m thinking about kissing that lipstick off your face.”


From: <crankingitout@gmail.com

To: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>
Date: Monday, 20 Jun 2011 12:11:12

Subject: cadwallader

hey k ~

been a long time, i’m so sorry i’ve been so awol... somewhat settled with a ton of things to do, still i can’t wait to tell you i met up with cadwallader in nyc and its trippin’ me owwwtttt...!

remember he’s the guy who says he was “one of snow white’s dwarves?” guess what, he’s talking about nevada le blanc! his friend (another ‘dwarf’ went to black forest high and he went to her house, then went to the prom. he’s pretty sure it was food poisoning, not stomach flu. he's got a heck of a story, i'll call you later.

meanwhile meeting lots of theater folks here, all hungry like us but enthused about the project...shouldn’t be too hard to pull a reading together with what we’ve got.

and meanwhile meanwhile, think we should do a kickstarter or indiegogo for some funds?

i have a draft of the waltz song, in which jeff/ashley dance and sylvia/harry fight.



From: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>
To: <crankingitout@gmail.com>
Date: Monday, 20 Jun 2011 2:41:52

Subject: re: cadwallader

First of all, can we talk tonight? I can’t wait to hear your story!

Second, do you think we could get this together in six weeks? I’d love to do a run-through in early August if that works for you. I know someone who works at a big-name theater school and we could rent some space for cheap.

Third, yes, we should definitely do some crowdfunding, but if we’re putting up a show in six weeks it will have to wait. (Tighten belts, get credit cards out...)

Fourthly, still haven't gotten to hear the Fairy GodWhatever song... I know you've been busy with the move, but...?

And finally, I was playing around with some NEW dialog for the waltz sequence and had some virtual actors run the lines. The music’s terrible... but do you think it has potential?


Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Fairytale Catfight Waltz

As Jeff and I melted into each others’ arms, only half-aware that we were becoming legendary ourselves, Harry sauntered up to the shell-shocked Sylvia.

“My presence didn’t cheer her up much,” Harry told me later, after he tracked me down back at the house. “Of course, I came in all smooth, all ‘Sylvia darling, you’re looking trim…ish. Swellegant party. Shall we dance? I can lead OR follow.’ At first she didn’t recognize me. Thought I was some PTA mom, maybe we had worked together on some committee. I said no, we had only met a few times; mostly knew each other from the phone. Then—it was great to see her face, think of Katherine Hepburn in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner but not so gorgeous—she figured it out.”

“‘Harry!’ She goes. ‘Why...who...what are you doing here?’” (Harry did a marvelous and over-dramatized Sylvia impression.)

“‘I thought we might dance,’” Harry said he said. “‘We can talk. I can lead or follow.’ I grabbed her around the waist, and waltzed her around the floor…actually, it was more like we wrestled…and she kept craning her neck over the crowd to try to see you, to find out who the heck—HAH!—stole her daughters’ crown. But I held on tight, because I had a few things to say to her.”

Over the years, our friends have recounted stories of being in the crowd at the prom and witnessing this epic lady fight/dance wrestling match/royal ass-kicking as the two plowed through the crowd in time to the music. They overheard Harry saying things like:

  • “You may have kicked me out of your life, you wicked witch, but you couldn’t kick that sweet kid out of my heart.”
  • “When she was born, her mother entrusted her spirit to me, and that meant something. But it seems you made it your job to destroy it in every way.”
  • “She was such a carefree child, but now she carries the cares of the world. Of your world, to be specific.”
  • “I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her tonight—she was a shadow of what she once was, of what she could be.”

Although Sylvia had figured out that this tall, flamboyant lady was actually Harry in disguise, she didn’t realize it was me in disguise who had ruined her plans until later. At first she didn’t know what Harry was talking about, and couldn’t quite grasp that he’d seen me that night. She threatened Harry: “How dare you accuse me of all of this?” Harry laughed. Ana Sueño was standing right above them, looking down from the stage, when she heard Harry say, “How dare I? How dare you! You’ve tied her down with all of your menial tasks; you’ve denied her the gorgeous unfolding that is the right of a girl in her teens!” (I will never forget that line, and it has made me a better mother.) Of course, Sylvia denied everything. “What are you talking about?” She even said, “I love her like my own daughters,” which of course made Harry snort. He spun her around the dance floor, and spelled it out like only a barrister-drag queen could: “You have stifled her will, abused her rights, made her your slave, and deprived her of her much-needed beauty sleep!” When Harry tells the story, he says Sylvia wouldn’t even look him in the eye. “I told her she could kiss my big, hairy ass (and later he mentions it isn’t really all that big or hairy) and kiss her reign of terror good-bye!” Ana says it was like watching Bette Davis and Joan Crawford fighting, and she wasn’t even sure which one was which. She calls it the Fairytale Catfight Waltz.

Meanwhile, across the dance floor, I was totally oblivious to all of this, aware only of Jeff’s strong arm under mine, his hand firmly holding my back, and the way we seemed to fit so well together. With the tall shoes on, I could look him right in the eye. Green eyes. Flecked with gold. He said he thought I looked familiar.

And then, just for a moment, the magic faded away. I thought he knew who I was, but alas, I was just a mysterious stranger who arrived at a convenient time, to save him from the unpleasant fate! I struggled with my feelings, both upset with him and attracted to him, wondering what to do.

“You’re blushing,” Jeff said, noticing that I’d stiffened up. Fortunately I remembered what Harry said about me having the power. Rather than blurt out my identity, rather than feel insulted, I smiled brightly and decided to make him work for it.

“Of course I look familiar, I’ve watched you grow from a boy who likes bugs into the man you’re just beginning to be.”

“You’ve watched me?” Excellent. Just the reaction I’d hoped for. Behind his eyes, I could see his brain searching for files….“I still like bugs,” he mumbled.

“Paper airplanes ring a bell?” He shrugged. “Spaghetti bracelets? Lego racers?” His eyes wandered up and to the right, as eyes do when the brain searches for a memory. “Finger paintings?”

“Of naked ladies?” He asked, eyes starting to sparkle again. I nodded.

“We got in trouble,” we both said it together. Suddenly he lit up like I was Santa Claus.

“Ashley Stain Helens!”

“Siegfried Jeffrey Prince!”

“Shhhh, no one knows my real name,” he said, looking around.

“I’ve kept your secret all these years.”

“My honeybunch,” he grinned, hugging me. “I still have the macaroni necklace you made me! But...” he held me at arm’s length for a second. “But...you look so different from in Calculus class.”

I lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah, I don’t usually dress up for math.” Then my worrying nature kicked in: Maybe he likes the make-up, not me. Yeah, that made sense. Yeah, obviously; how could I have been so stupid to think otherwise? The vines of doom reached for me, even in my moment of destiny. This couldn’t really actually be happening to me; I’m dreaming, I must have fallen asleep on my book back at home. I pulled away.

But he grabbed my hand. “Ashley, that not it, I swear. There’s something else about you tonight. You look radiant. Amazing. Happy. You look like yourself. Even though you’re wearing a dress. Even though you grew up without me noticing. And I can’t tell you how happy I am that it’s you. I was wishing and praying that something wonderful would happen tonight. I like Nevada, I love Nevada, she’s great, she’s beautiful, and something might have happened, but seriously, everyone thinks we’re the class couple because we liked each other in ninth grade… but I love her like a sister, we’re good friends, and we both want something real.”

Something real. As much as this was all pretend—the glitter, the big hair, the fog machines—the fantasy of it all had actually coaxed something I’d always imagined into reality. I couldn’t answer, I just put my cheek to his, and it was warm, and we danced. I closed my eyes and I could feel our two auras sort of settling in together. I could feel the ankle straps of the amazing shoes pull against my skin with each step. I could feel the cool taffeta of my mother’s dress slide around my body like a blessing. For the first time since I’d lost her, I felt ready to dream about being like her one day. I sent her and dad a silent prayer of thanks for sending Harry to me tonight, for sending me love.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What’s A Girl To Do?

As the crowd cheered, the most incredible thing happened: Jeff looked straight at me. He was glancing all around the room, making eye contact with his adoring fans, and when his eyes lit on me, they came back. It was like “oh, it’s you, hi,” And then, “what? Woah!” And then he was just smiling at me, his teeth like shooting stars in the changing light, his mouth open, his eyes puzzled, his eyes happy, and me just grinning like an Elmo doll. Then everyone on stage was staring at me. Then everyone in the crowd was staring at me. Then I felt my cheeks starting to get hot and my heels starting to sweat.

The coach, oblivious to my excitement, wiped his brow again and went on. “So, uh, moving along here...the choice of prom QUEEN seems to have been a more difficult one...Nevada LeBlanc, our front-runner, bowed out of the race at the last moment with a bad case of the stomach flu.” He glanced again at Sylvia, nervously. “Aaaannnd…between the two remaining candidates, we have, um, a tie.” Debra and Donna stopped hugging each other and started glaring at each other, not noticing the coughing and fidgeting of the crowd. “Three votes each.” Their cluster of giggling girlfriends squealed and clapped and whistled.

But Jeff ignored them. He leaned into to the microphone in front of Coach to say something. A hush fell over the crowd. His dimple was gone; he was dead serious. And then the most miraculous thing happened. He spoke out loud. He waved a little wave, and said, “Hi.”

The coach patted his pockets, reaching in here and there, pulling out bits of paper. Meanwhile, Jeff pointed at me and said, “How about you?” By all rights, I should have fainted right then and there. It was so romantic, so flattering, so scary. I felt like I was floating above myself, looking down on the scene.

“So. Um.” The coach glanced nervously at Sylvia again, and kept speaking, shouting really, since Jeff was breathing heavily into the mike, waiting for some sort of answer, as if anyone could have answered that question. I stood there, rooted to my spot, unable to stop smiling. “The prom committee, or, ahem, the ‘revered administration of the crown,’ you could call it, decided to let blind justice choose our queen.” The coach pulled out a shiny silver dollar and held it up. His hands were shaking.

“Yes, you,” said Jeff, again, nodding, beckoning me now with his adorable finger, and there came the dimple again. In the years since, I always deliver this line at this point in the story: “What’s a girl to do?” And everyone laughs at my seemingly rhetorical question. But at that moment, I really had no idea. The coin went up, up, up, and I took a careful step forward in my shoes that should have been in a museum. The coin came flying down but when the coach reached out he missed it; it hit the floor, ringing in the silence, bounced off the stage, and rolled into the oblivious crowd. Yes, oblivious; hardly anyone saw this but me, while I was seemingly floating above my body. Everyone was totally tuned in to Jeff, who stared at me with such intention I was mesmerized. My feet took another step or two for me. There was a smattering of applause. Debra’s face fell. She jabbed Donna with her elbow. They both stared at me. Suddenly, my knees seemed to magically transform into stuffed animals.

Someone out there yelled, “I vote for her!”

Then everyone started shouting. “Me, too!” “She’s the one!” Just when I thought my stuffies would collapse, people reached for me. Hands touched my arms, pulling me, pushing my back, gently, helping me get to Jeff. Hands guided me to the stage, practically lifted me up the stairs. The coach shrugged, and signaled to the band behind him to start playing again. Ana Sueño, last year’s prom queen, returning from college for this special moment, put something on my head as I walked past, but I barely noticed. Sparkling stars were shooting into the edges of my field of vision. All I could see was Jeff, reaching for my hands.

“Hello, gorgeous,” he said.

“Hello, yourself.” His hands were very warm and steady.

“You look fine,” he said, and I felt like I was in an old romantic comedy I’d watched many times with mom and dad.

“I feel fine,” I responded, as if reciting my line. But it was true. I did feel pretty fine, in a way I never had before. The cheering crowd parted as we walked down off the stage to dance, and the band started playing the dreamlike Fairytale Waltz that had been played at our school's prom since the legendary class of 1929.

There are moments in everyone’s lives where they feel as if the current of a greater story has swept them up; when suddenly, without warning, their lives converge with destiny, and somehow the confusion of everyday life dissolves, and they know just what they must do. This is how Jeff describes the moment he saw me and lifted that adorable finger. I felt that way, too, but in a strangely passive way. Like, it wasn’t my own actions that mattered in that moment, but people around me suddenly knew what to do. And that, I believe, is what made my life a fairy tale—not the coincidental details of shoes and godmothers and pu(m)pkins. The feeling I got to experience, of being chosen just for being who you are, is different in a fairy tale than in a hero’s journey. And this was my wonderful fortune.

Wonderful not only because Jeff “discovered” me…but because also, at this point, it was time for Harry to stand up to Sylvia.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

In the Style of Democracy

We got to the high school at about ten thirty, and cruised around the parking lot looking for a space. Harry slowed to a crawl as we passed by an occupied car with steamed-up windows, which seemed to perplex Harry. He peered through his eyelashes and stroked his chin, smiling and frowning in quick succession, then glanced over at me.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said, shaking his head. “You look so beautiful.” He licked his finger and patted down a lock of my hair.

He pulled up in front of a crowd of kids that were hanging out in front of the gymnasium doors to catch some air. He peered out, again, muttering something about smoking, then smiled and said, “Madam, you’ve arrived.” I opened the door and gathered the folds of my dress around my legs, being careful where I stepped with the magical shoes. With everyone watching, I was glad I’d thought to wear deodorant. I turned to Harry, unsure of myself for a moment, and he gave me a cool look, sucked in his cheeks and purred, “Knock ‘em dead, kid.”

I walked carefully, finding my stride in the famous shoes, through an archway made of pink and yellow and white balloons. The gymnasium had been transformed by the prom committee, and I turned all around to stare and appreciate their vision. Round tables draped with gold lamé were scattered with balloons, curling ribbons, and candy. Golden stars moved across the high ceiling, the projected rays of light cutting through wisps of fog. Giant painted windows hung from the ceiling, hiding the concrete walls, showing painted scenes of some faraway land in the sunset, and gauzy curtains wafted around them, stirred by some secret breeze. Clusters of students gathered around clusters of giant potted palms, talking and laughing, sipping peach-tinted soda from sparkling plastic cups, their faces, and the faces of the dancers, sparkling pink and gold from disco balls hung at various levels around the room. A huge banner, not the printed vinyl kind, but hand-sewn decades ago on yards and yards of draped fabric, hung from wall to wall across the bandstand and proclaimed a profound wish for my generation in scrolling velvet letters: “Happily Ever After.”

I wandered through the room with my mouth open, drinking in all the detail and trying to reconcile the well-groomed boys in suits and stylized girls in slinky gowns with the kids I saw every day at school in their jeans and t-shirts. Everyone looked radiant, happy, and a little dazed, just like me, as if no one knew what would happen in the next few minutes. Who would they see? Would they feel a touch on their shoulder? Would their favorite song come on, and would the one they wanted be by their side when it did? So this was prom; I’d made it. I stood in the middle of the room under the star-sprinkled ceiling taking it all in, savoring the moment and feeling lit up by my success in a permanent way.

There was a subtle shift in the crowd around me as the lights changed and the music turned to quiet. Coach Pupkin was climbing the stairs onto the bandstand, followed by the court. The kids all loved “Coach P,” who led our squash team to the state championships year after year. He had wooed me to join the squash team in ninth grade. And tenth. And eleventh. He was not too tall, not too thin, and even now, in his suit jacket, he was wearing his signature orange cap and a whistle around his neck. He played that whistle like an instrument, sometimes blowing a sharp blast, sometimes a low gurgle, always following up the alert with a word of guidance that everyone—not just the athletes—respected as being given with keen observation and caring. He was a solid, predictable, and reliable pillar of our community. And yet, we would all find out soon, Coach P was not what he seemed. (One of the little lessons that fairy tales can teach us all about real life!)

Three guys held the elbows of two girls who teetered on the stairs—I recognized them as Debra and Donna, and suddenly remembered who I was. I thought I had been kidding when I said they looked like prom queens—suddenly it sunk in that all of that wasn’t just talk. Suddenly I could hear, again, everything Sylvia had been saying in the laundry room; I knew they’d been nominated but where were the other contestants? The two of them were wiggling like puppies, jumping up and down, holding each other’s hands (to the dismay of their escorts), as if this really were Miss America. If they had been anyone else, they would have been totally embarrassing themselves, but that’s who they were. I spotted Sylvia standing near the stage, making hand-motions for them to pat their hair, stick out their chests, suck in their stomachs, and smooth their dresses. Coach Pupkin glanced at her nervously as he took center stage. He tapped the microphone, which howled back at him at first, then cleared his throat and started to speak.

“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” he said, and everyone laughed at his trademark Disneyland opener. “It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. It’s time to announce those hallowed icons of adolescence, the King and Queen of the Prom.” Suddenly I was aware of Harry in the doorway behind me. I gave him a little wave with my gloved hand (he’d brought a pair of black gloves); he must have found a parking place. He made a “chin-up-and-tuck-your-tummy” gesture and I smiled, jerking my head towards Sylvia. He smiled, rolled his eyes, and slapped himself on the hand.

“As you know,” spoke the coach, the microphone whining at him again, “it was very difficult to narrow the field of nominees to only three men and (ahem) three young ladies.” He shot a nervous glance at Sylvia and mopped his brow with a small rally towel he fished out of his   pocket of his black blazer, flashing a bright orange lining. “In the, um, style of—” he cleared his throat again— “democracy, you all voted for your favorites, and I must say, the tally was overwhelming. Three hundred and twenty-seven out of three-hundred and twenty-eight votes were for your new prom King...” There was a drum roll. Two of the three guys shuffled their feet. The crowd was beginning to cheer. My heart was in my throat—I knew who I had voted for— “Je-e-eff Prince!”

Jeff stepped forward, gracefully, and I held my stomach laughing, and kind of crying at the same time, genuinely happy for him and so happy to be there to see him win. If anyone deserved the honor, it was Jeff. He was really cute, of course, with soft brown hair and a dimple when he even just barely smiled, but he was also mature, unassuming, funny, cool, smart, really good at everything he did, and friendly to everyone.  My stomach hurt a little with longing for him, missing our friendship, wishing I could stand closer to him. I imagined every girl around me felt the same way. He had ascended to rock star status when he’d gotten hit by a truck last year in Village City when he jumped in front of it, waving his crimson jersey, after winning a football game; the driver swerved and narrowly missed the herd of escaped preschoolers chasing a black cat across the street. Jeff was on the Tri-State news, a hero. Signatures had filled his cast so completely that people had started putting stickers on it and the paper was like an inch deep.

As the coach handed Jeff the shiny gold crown that had been displayed in the front hallway’s trophy cases since 1929, I remembered the cardboard and glitter crowns we had made in kindergarten. Someone in the crowd shouted out, “Speech! Speech!” Jeff ducked his head and his dimple deepened. When the applause died down, he spoke quietly into the microphone.

“Well gosh, I couldn’t exactly vote for myself, could I?”

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Zombie Ballet

From: Ashley <ash-prince03@gmail.com>
To: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>,
Date: Monday, Tuesday, 24 May 2011 13:21:12
Subject: Harriet as Aunt Donna

I’m glad things are moving along so well with the musical. Unfortunately, Harriet likes “The Big Bitch” so much it’s causing issues in rehearsal. (They’re performing Cinderella on Friday—remember, she plays a stepsister?) The teacher just called me. Maybe I can get her to sing “If the Shoe Fits” instead....



From:  crankingitout@gmail.com>
To: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>
Date: Thursdsay, 25 May 2011 01:12:49
Subject: Shoe Song ok?

k-ashley seemed to like the shoe song but it's thursday and i haven’t heard from you yet. Should i be nervous? i was not sure how the rhythm would grab ya… wanted to try something upbeat and contemporary… you holding out?

also i have news—got a gig in NYC that’s too good to pass up—i'm sure i can do it and keep writing.

Fairy Godwhatever song is coming along — I’ll send roughs in the morning.



From: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>
To: crankingitout@gmail.com
Date: Friday, 26 May 2011 09:15:23
Subject: Re: Shoe Song ok?

Hey Michael,

You guessed it, I have been mulling over the song and trying to figure out how to tell you I only like it 75%. I mean, it’s really great (and the actor did a great job and I can’t BELIEVE his feet…) But I am not seeing how it works musically with the concept of a soft-shoe with a Busby Berkeley-style dance number. I thought we were on the same page but I didn’t hear the roughs and you went right to the recording.

Also, I was waiting to write you with good news this morning but it’s bad news, instead. They announced Lantern Grant winners, and we're not on the list. Plenty of vampires and zombie projects are coming out, even a cinderella zombie ballet. Maybe we're not postmodern enough. Maybe we're not violent enough for this wartime, post-Halo zeitgeist.

Going to Peets now to listen to some classical music and drown my sorrows in iced Decaf Sumatra.


p.s. Congrats on the NY job – I’d like to hear more about it, and I guess I'm glad you'll have some income. I was planning to go there myself around my bday. (I hope it doesn’t slow you down — you’re really “cranking it out” as advertised!)


From:  crankingitout@gmail.com>
To: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>
Date: Friday, 26 May 2011 04:32:40
Subject: Re: Re: Shoe Song ok?

oh, booooooo, terrible news about the grant. do we have a plan b?

re: our feedback, yeah, i was afraid of that—i was so inspired i kind of rushed the process… will do a rewrite after FGW. i understand.

lets talk this weekend and i'll give you deets on the job—also let me poll my resources-i may have some leads on $$ but it’s crazy out there. a lot of arts funding has just dried up–orgs are giving priority to schools (maybe we should call harriet’s teacher, ha ha) and now everyone’s competing for those dollars like never before, it’s pretty bad.

But we have such a winning story, right?

Here’s Fairy GodWhatever roughs….



From: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>
To: crankingitout@gmail.com
Date: Friday, 26 May 2011 10:11:26
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Shoe Song ok?

You’re right, we’ve got a winner. Was it Mike Nichols who said “Cinderella always works?”

FGW was not attached... please resend!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Fairy Godwhatever

"But Harry," I argued, "What if I ruin the shoes? Or the dress?" I sighed, and Harry read my sigh correctly to mean, “What if I don't know how to stand, how to act, what to say? Would I fit in, wearing this old dress? Would anyone talk to me?” He pulled me to his lap.

“Look, Ashley, I happen to know that you have found yourself in a position that takes advantage of your sweet nature. You give and give and give. What would you think of doing some take?”

“Take? Like what?”

“Take some initiative. Take a chance. Take a look around you at how you live! You can’t let Sylvia and her snots run your life forever. You won’t ever have another senior prom. This is your one and only chance to have that experience, so take it... to the limit! So what if we get there late and you only have an hour? Make it the best hour of your life!” I smiled. How could I say no? “That’s my girl,” he said. “Let’s make your mom and dad proud.”

While we both wiped our tears away again, he reached into his suitcase and pulled out a handful of makeup brushes and a box of rollers. “Ashley St. Helens, I am going to make you look like the princess you really are!”

He had me take off the dress and shoes, and put on my robe. We snuck down to Sylvia’s bathroom—which was much more fun with him than it had been alone—and this time I did take a tub! “Soak until just before your fingers get pruny," he ordered, "and then scrub your feet while the water goes out.” When I came out, he gave me the royal treatment: a blow-dry, a pedicure, a manicure, and makeup. I had been a little nervous about the makeover—I mean, I never wear makeup, and didn’t want to show up looking like a clown in face paint. But Harry (who had fixed his own face while I bathed) insisted the transformation would have to be dramatic.

“I want Sylvia to see you for who you are,” he said as he brushed powder on my eyes with a deliciously soft brush. I didn’t want to say out loud what I was thinking—which was that he seemed to be turning me into someone else. But when I finally looked in the mirror, I actually did look like me, just a more polished, grown-up version of me...with really gigantic eyelashes like Harry's. And glitter.

As he worked, we talked and talked. He told me about his work. He’s had this brilliant legal career that went from being a habeus corpus petition specialist for a prestigious civil rights non-profit to directing a controversial innocence project for post-conviction relief. (Which, of course, made no sense to me in my heightened emotional state; all I understood that night was the "lawyer" part.) He talked about mom, and about dad. I told him all about school, and caught him up on some of my friends he used to know; oh my GOD, it was great just to have someone to talk to like that... and to laugh! We joked about how he was my “Harry” godfather, my “fairy” godmother—and he pulled aside his dress a little to show me that he was also my “hairy” godmother, as well.

“I don’t care-y that you’re a fairy, you’re my hairy god-whatever,” I sung to him.

"Godwhat-e-e-ver," he sung with me. By the time I was ready to put on my dress again, I felt transformed on the inside as well as on the outside.

He wanted to put the top up on the convertible, but I really wanted to enjoy every drop of air on this most wonderful of all evenings, so he just drove slowly. It was only about a mile to the school, anyway. At a stoplight, we stared at each other, grinning like we were in love. “I’m so glad you’re back in my life,” he said.

I said, “Me, too.”

"Ashley, I've been..." Harry opened his mouth, then closed his lips and pressed them together, just as the light turned green.

“What, Harry?”

“I’ll save it for later. My dear…your destiny awaits.” The familiar streets and neon signs flickered by, and I felt like my destiny had already arrived. With the dress smoothed over my knees, the magic shoes on my feet, Harry taking care of me like, well, like a dad, or a mom, or both...I felt like I was in a world that was mine again. Harry had, in a few short hours, built a castle on the foundation my parents had laid. I knew in that moment that, whatever happened next, I would have a well of love to draw from, for the rest of my life.


From:  crankingitout@gmail.com>
To: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>, Ashley <ash-prince03@gmail.com
Date: Monday, 23 May 2011 10:22:19
Subject: Shoe Song

another song writes itself! wonderful writing, ashley! (you made it easy for kristen.) hope harry likes it. (of course, it's  first draft and a rough demo... i'll take feedback!) 

you won't believe this, guys. brian yates sharber, the actor i hired to do this demo... well, you just have to see this picture of his left foot...


Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Foot of A Mortal

"Harry," I said, "you're sharing your shoes with me?" I turned my head and looked into his eyes—her eyes, noticing how much she was blinking. False eyelashes fanning the air between us, eyelids shimmering in the late afternoon light. I shook my head and he was Harry in a wig again. 

"I... I thought I should come in regalia," he said, reaching a finger to the corner of his eye, "but maybe... maybe I didn't think through the makeup." Tears started squeezing through the thatch of his lashes, and he sniffed. "No, I'm okay." He took a deep breath and squeezed my hand. "Yes, I can't really believe it myself. But when you said you could wear your dad's shoes last night, I...well, I remembered we have the same sized feet." He reached down and picked up the trainer I'd taken off, sparkling white, and his makeup started to run freely. I reached for a box of tissues.

"I have the same ones. We bought them together a few years back...a few months after your mom passed...? I don't know, it's been so long, but it seems like it was—this sounds cliché—but like it was yesterday. Mine are still white like this, too. We never did go running." I put my hand on his back. A wry laugh sounded from his chest. "He met Sylvia.... Oh, I miss him so much." Now the tears demanded release, from his eyes and from mine. We wrapped our arms around each other and let the emotions come. It felt so good to share the pain with someone. His arms were so strong, and I felt safe for the first time since... well, since Dad.

He laughed into my shoulder, then pointed out the swirl of colors on my skin. "Oh, but this will never do," he said, dabbing me with Kleenex. He grinned foolishly, one of his eyelashes sticking out at an odd angle. "You have a ball to go to, Cinderella, let's get back to work." We looked over our shoulders at the avalanche of shoes. "You'd better get busy," he said. "Here, try these." He chose a right green suede pump and a left yellow lizardskin sandal.

I didn’t have a mirror in the room, so Harry was my mirror. He’d choose two different shoes, and I’d put one on the right, one on the left, and he’d cock his head, squint his eyes, and purse his lips. Then he’d point at the best one, and I’d take off the other one. I tried on pin-up pumps, pumps with pointy toes, flats, slides, stilettos, and espadrilles. For the first time since I was a kid, I thought my feet looked pretty when I looked down, down below the swirling colors of my beautiful dress.

Harry talked a blue streak, all the way through, ticking off his talking points for each shoe on his fingers.

“Consider the virtues of the evening shoe. A stacked heel or stiletto elevates your view, so you’re looking over the heads of normal, puny humans. Your legs grow longer, you look leaner, your curves are accentuated, and when you walk… when you walk, your hips swing a little, mmm-mmm! Makes men want to glorify your charms, darling! Oh, those gladiators! Strappy, sexy sandals! Men will want to lick your toes, darling. Lick! Your! Toes!”

“Harry, that’s disgusting,” I laughed, and he slowly raised an eyebrow, ‘oh, really?’ I shook my head and stared at my feet, but my mind turned to Jeff. I imagined him touching my toes, and I felt my cheeks flush.

"That's a nice color," Harry teased. "Oh, I know." He turned and scanned the pile of shoes and pulled out a pink pair. I laughed and flushed more. "Wait, these might be better..." He held up a red ankle boot. "I'm sorry! I'm just kidding. But tell me...," he touched my shoulder, "Is there someone waiting for you tonight?” I shook my head no, but couldn't stop smiling. He slowly nodded and said, "Ah."

Finally, it was down to two pairs. I liked the one on my left foot, a very elegant-looking spike-heeled sandal in the same green as the flowers in the rustling dress—but Harry thought it was too sexy-grownup. He liked the one on the right, a velvet pump with a peek-a-boo hole in the toe and a bow that he thought made my large feet look ‘cute.’ I closed my eyes and walked around. The truth was, they both hurt. A lot. I sighed, and plunked down on the bed amidst the footwear. I was ready to give up and be thankful that we had gotten this far, when Harry opened his other bag. His face was silent, even reverent.

“I had a feeling it would come to this,” he said. He pulled out a box, and unwrapped yards of white tissue from a shoe so shapely and it seemed alive. I put my hand on his and peered into the tissue at what I thought at first might be a sleeping animal from another dimension. It was so divinely crafted it did not seem suited for the foot of a mortal, especially one as mere as me. But soon strips of soft green and violet suede cradled my foot like a slipper, curving upward in elegant spirals that twisted sensuously around my ankles. Glass beads were embroidered into the edges of the suede in a feather-like pattern that made me think of angel's wings. My foot balanced on a pad of clear Lucite shaped like a wave that swept my heel up a few modest inches above an intricately carved scroll, like the feet of a translucent antique chair. My toes peeped out modestly between two overlapping bands, topped with two pinched glass buttons like tiny candy kisses.

“It's a genuine Arpad concept shoe, recreated illegally by a Balenciaga craftsman for himself...in his own size,” Harry whispered. “Nineteen thirty nine. He was a wizard with early plastics and all sorts of materials, sought after by all the great designers of the time. A real eccentric, who cherished the independent life. You should have seen his collection. He gave me these shoes on my twenty-first birthday. I lived with him for a year in Barcelona after....” Harry's voice trailed off.  “Here. Put the other one on.” He slipped it onto my foot.

“Are you sure?” I could see how much these shoes meant to him.

“It’s meant to be, darling,” Harry said, choking up. “You can't fight the magic.” I stood up and looked at him with surprise.

“They’re comfortable. How can that be? My feet look so... so curvy in them.”

“They’re not shoes, they’re art,” he cried. Then we both stared silently at my amazing, sexy feet. 

“Now STAND UP, girl, confident.” Harry’s voice rose again, full of passion. “You’re radiant. You’re the woman of the hour.” He clutched his chest and swooned. “They’re so dramatic! Ah, glorious! Magnificent!” I spun. I felt gorgeous. “Don’t forget the source of all your power now—it’s not the shoes, it’s Mother Earth. Nature’s gift to you. And all who know you! Draw it in, girl, from the souls of your feet!”

I felt tingly all over. He grabbed me and we danced a few steps toward the book shelves. “What I learned in Spain,” he crooned, “is that when you’ve got a great pair of shoes, you don’t have to worry ‘bout nothing.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

No Such Thing As A Shoe

“There is no such thing as a shoe! Don’t believe me? Let me prove it to you. When I say ‘shoes,’ what do you think of? Maybe you think of your dad’s tennies, or of high-heeled boots that could minimize your feet. Me, I think of my favorites, my fabulous 1940s Carmen Miranda dancing shoes with the painted wooden cherries dangling from the ankle straps—cha cha cha—they’re in here somewhere. So what is a shoe? Shoes are an idea. An ideal. An ethereal concept that we attach to any variety of...of thing we attach to our feet. Shoes don’t have to cover your feet, or even protect your feet, necessarily, and you don’t even have to be able to walk in them. The one thing shoes all have, though, is a sole.

“Think about it. Say the word with me.”


“Now say it again,” he said, zipping up the back of my dress, “What does it sound like?”


“That’s right. Coincidence? I don’t think so! We all walk our own paths in life, and our shoes give us direction! They give us definition! We wake up in the morning and say, Who am I? Who will I be today? A soldier? I’ll wear army boots. A sailor? I’ll wear deck shoes. A spy? James Bond dress shoes with daggers in the toe, as shiny as mirrors so you can see up the skirt of that beautiful woman you’ll seduce in the midst of danger. Darling, there’s a purpose to every variety of shoe, don’t you see? Fuzzy slippers keep you warm. Movie star mules with a pouf of marabou on the toe, they don’t keep your heels warm, but they do say, aren’t I just the girl?

“Shoes both reveal and work with your identity, too. For example, indians wore moccasins to sneak around in the woods, to be part of nature, to ride their horses bareback. Cowboys wore high heels to hold them in the stirrups so they wouldn’t fall out, with tough leather soles so they could step on cactus, attach spurs, walk through a cow pie without it getting stuck in the tread. Indians do their sensitive campfire animal dances in the mystic smoke, communing with their ancestors. Cowboys stand up tall and strut, all ego; they square-dance and get drunk!” He did a little doe-si-do around me. Then he took my hands and pulled me down beside him on the bed.

“Ashley, do you know what it means to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? Empathy. How can you understand someone unless you start with their feet? Wear their soles and you know their souls. Is any of this sinking in?” It was sinking in. It was blowing my mind! I wasn’t missing Rosencranz and Guildenstern so much anymore.

“So think of your own soul, think of how it makes you feel when you’re really feeling it, when you’re really knowing who you are. Footwear is important—but you’re never fully dressed without a smile, so if you love your shoes, and they fit both your feet and your feelings, you’re going to be a brighter light in this world.” He finished, took a deep breath, and checked his cherry-laquered nails. I sat there, soaking it all in. I could have applauded. I shook my head, instead.

“But Harry….” I had a serious problem. Two of them. “Look.” I held my feet out in front of me. My pontoons. My giant sleds. My cricket bats with bangers on the ends. Harry looked at me blankly—at my feet, at my face, my feet, my face. Finally, he leaned down and unbuckled his own shoes—metallic blue, high-heeled pumps with tiny ankle straps. His feet were encased in panty hose, but I could clearly see the nails were neatly manicured and painted the same girly red as his fingernails—but with pink swirls on top. I had to smile.

“No, you look,” he said gently. “Look closely.” I peered again. There was something odd about his left foot. What was it? It wasn’t ugly, it was...it was larger than life. He had an extra toe, right in the middle! “Honey,” he said, “sometimes what’s weird about us makes us special.” He crossed his ‘special’ left foot over his right knee, and then picked up my right foot and crossed it over my left knee, holding it to his, so our soles touched. I felt a tingle run through my leg, and thought of Kurt Vonnegut. Our toes and heels lined up. Our feet were the same size. “Don’t you get anything I’m saying? Look.” He waved his hand at the bed behind him, where shoes of every shape and style and color spilled out of his largest suitcase. “My shoes are your shoes, and I’m going to help you find the perfect one.” All of a sudden, I understood.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Familiar Embrace

A loud HONK from outside nearly startled me out of my chair. I looked out the window and couldn’t believe my eyes.

A shiny gold Cadillac convertible with white-walled tires, gleaming orange in the sunset, was pulling into the driveway. A large woman with gigantic hair waved at me from the front seat, reminding me of these commercials for the Konvertible King that we all used to see as kids. The lady parked, checked her lipstick in the mirror, got out and adjusted her skirt, pulled a few suitcases out of the back seat, and turned again to wave at me. She was wearing a colorful dress with chunky gold jewelry, almost like something Sylvia would wear, but on her it was the opposite of frumpy. Her hips were thin, her shoulders strong, her legs long and lean. She wore heels as high as Debra and Donna’s, but on her they didn’t look sleazy, they looked fun. I opened the window and remembered to close my mouth, not wanting to be rude.

“Hi,” I called down. “Can I help you?”

“Ashleeeeeeeeeey! Look at youuuuuuu!” She threw her arms wide open. “Get down here and give me a hug!”

I recognized the voice: it was Harry.

As I tore down the stairs, I understood why he had said I could call him my Godmother as well as my Godfather. Harry was not a small man to begin with. In high heels, and wearing a two-story wig, he absolutely filled up the foyer. His eyes darted around to take in every detail of Sylvia’s decorating style before they rested on me.

“Darling. How WONderful to see you again! My you’ve grown up nice — mmm, MMM, just the image of your dear mom. I think I may cry.” He held an embroidered hanky up to the corner of his eye and sniffed. I had to laugh. “There. Now give your old Godpop a hand with these suitcases. Where’s your room?” What, was he moving in? He talked and moaned the whole way up the stairs about how pretentious Sylvia’s decor was. And how awful that she had gotten rid of the Art Deco light fixtures in the upstairs hallway and replaced them with those tacky faux candle-sconces with flickering bulbs. I opened the door to the attic stairs and he gave me a you’ve-got-to-be-kidding look. “This is where your room is?” He had to stoop to get through the doorway at the top. “Good Lord child, I was in the closet so long, I think you must be a woman after my own heart!”

Harry threw his suitcases on the bed and flopped himself down between them, poking the mattress, peering underneath. “I see you’ve adopted a literary solitude, how wonderful and romantic! But a gal as lovely as you really ought to have some semblance of a social life.”

I could barely get a word in edgewise. “Harry, what exactly are you doing here?” I knew the answer, in my heart, which was dancing in my chest.

He ignored me, stomping over to the wardrobe in his clunky shoes. “I’m here to help you transform, of course,” he said, spinning around and giving me the full sunshine of his beaming face. “You’re growing up tonight, right? Well. I know the art of becoming a woman. I do it myself, several times a week. And let’s see what you’ve got in here...” He made a face at the sweater and the jacket, pulled the dress out, and practically danced across the floor with it. “Oh! It’s like seeing an old friend! I wonder if it will fit?

“Did I tell you the story? Your mom wore it to her senior prom. We went together.” He turned and winked at me as he lowered his voice and said, “Let’s just say I ended up wearing it later that night.” Harry hung the dress over the door and measured the waist with his large, manicured hands. “And I think it will fit you, just... so.” He put his hands around my waist, squeezing through layers of sweatshirt. I couldn’t help it. I threw my arms around him. I felt like myself, like I had felt when I last saw him at seven… although he felt very different, smelled different…. He picked me all the way up off the floor and crushed me in a familiar embrace (well, familiar except for the fake bosom).  It was like the other me with the terrible attitude that I was fifteen minutes ago had been someone else.

“Oh my dear, I’ve so missed watching you grow up.…” He put me down and kissed me gently on the forehead. “You’ve been locked up in a tower and I’m here to set you free. Are you going to put your gown on? Or just sit here like a bump on a log all night?”

I couldn’t believe it was happening. I jumped up and down like a kid, then reached for the dress. Harry excused himself to the hallway while I wiggled out of my sweats and pulled the sweet-smelling silk over my head. I shook out my hair, then stepped into my dad’s clean white tennis shoes—I’d thought about it all day; it wasn’t the eighties anymore; Sharon Stone had even worn tennies to the Oscars. I brushed out my hair, and opened the door.

“I’m ready!”

He stared through me for a moment, like I was a bump on a log. Then he shook his head and laughed a great big laugh. “Nikes with an evening gown? Girl, just DON’T!” I had to laugh, too. Those Just Do It ads always made me feel guilty that I couldn’t get out to exercise enough. “Now take your daddy’s shoes off, darling, and listen to what I have to tell you.”

He turned toward the bed and started opening up his suitcases. The latches snapped open, and Harry lit into a lecture I’ll never forget.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Vines of Doom


Another beloved feature of my room was an antique sewing machine, which had been a present to my mom from Dad before I was born. It ran on foot-power with a treadle, which I pumped quickly now to finish stitching up a burst seam on Sylvia’s dress. She showed up, next, in her girdle and pointy bra.

“Is my dress ready?”

“Yes, here it is.”

“Help me on with it, will you darling?” It was no easy task. I had to stifle a laugh when I noticed the iron-shaped burn-mark on her bottom. Oops! My bad.

“There.” I said. “Looks nice. Have a nice time.”

Sylvia’s tone was unctuous, just dripping with charm. “You too, dear. Have a lovely evening. Try and get the kitchen finished, will you? It looks clean, but I found dust on the top of the refrigerator.” Oh, for the love of pie. That really was a low blow. I’d worked hours on that kitchen this afternoon, digging the grunge out of the joints on the sink with a toothpick, even, making sure there was nothing, nothing at all that could be judged. But she won. She always won.

I sighed. “Yes, Sylvia.”

“Be a good girl, now.” She left, and a second later I heard the heavy front door slam. I settled in my bed, which was basically a mattress stacked on top of boxes of books, and started to read. But I had only read a sentence or two when the words in front of my eyes started to swim. Big drops of water plopped from my eyes onto the page.

I stormed down to the kitchen, the anger from my bitch session with Harry returning. One night. Why couldn’t they be nice to me for just one night? I wet a rag and swiped the cursed dust off the top of the refrigerator. Took thirty seconds. Big deal. On the way back up to my room, though, I wandered slowly through the empty house with the rag. I felt so alone. In my efforts to stem the comments and potential sabotage that would doubtless have come my way if I had showed any sign of initiative, my personal pendulum had swung from hope back to helplessness, and I had resigned myself to not going to prom. I would have to take the city bus or ride my bike in that amazing dress.

I found myself in Sylvia’s bathroom, staring at my limp hair, my baggy gray sweats in the toothpaste-spattered wall mirror. I smeared it around with my rag, thinking about getting the vinegar and water sprayer and some newspaper, and cleaning it properly, but… what was the use? Depression crept up from the soles of my feet, like evil, magic vines twining up to pull me down. I struggled with, and succumbed, to the terrible self-talk, automatically bending down to wipe up the water on the floor from her shower, adding my tears to it. I picked up the towels. I folded them neatly (in thirds; they really do look nicer that way), and hung them up again.

But, as I mentioned before, there were sparkles inside my head, and as I cleaned hair from the trap of the Jacuzzi Sylvia’d had installed, they shifted me to a new headspace....Instead of just wiping fingerprints off the brass knobs, I could open the spigot, fill the bath with bubbles, and give myself a treat.

Why not?

I pushed down the plug and opened the hot water tap, feeling possessed by the power of those two little words. I wiped around all of Sylvia’s bottles and potions, opening up each one until I found a smell I liked, coming from a cut glass bottle of green bubbles. But why stop there? As the bath filled, I washed my face with some sweet smelling almond foam, pulled open her makeup drawer, opened a lipstick, and drew on a bright coral mouth.

Then I caught my image in the mirror.

Oh my God. What was I thinking? I looked garish and horrible. I wiped the color off, buried the tissue deep in the trash so she would never suspect I was “intruding,” spat orange-red into the toilet two or three times, and flushed it. I stopped the running water, opened up the plug, and got myself the heck out of there.

As I lugged myself back up the stairs, the vines of doom came winding their way around my ankles again. I thought, maybe Debra was right. I don’t have a date. There was only one boy I liked, anyway, and everyone liked Jeff Prince. After fourth grade, girls and boys don’t talk to each other anymore unless they have to, and by the time we got to high school, well, I guess we’d both changed. I’d voted for him for Homecoming King. Everyone had, as far as I knew.

It would still be fun to go, if only to see him in his moment of glory. I closed the door behind me, glad to be back in my cozy room, and looked out the window at a sunset that was probably making him and all my other classmates feel pretty special and spectacular as they piled into limos with their dressed-up friends. I pulled out my journal and made some notes. My mom always encouraged me to write a little every day.

I wrote about Jeff. I was always proud of him, happy for him. He was a really good guy. In second grade, the music teacher had taught us this song: Ice cream soda, lemonade punch. Tell me, who is your honeybunch? We all had to clap along, on the quarter notes and eighth notes. Jeff had leaned over and whispered in my ear. “I’ll tell you who my honeybunch is: Ashley Stain Helens.” He had read my name!

I wondered, with my pen, if he still remembered this. If he remembered that I was sweet, and kind, really, in my heart, without all this drama that had taken hold of my life, sweet and kind and peaceful, and kind of fun, just like him.

I shook my head and started slashing at the page. Who was I trying to kid? If I went to prom, I’d probably get to stand in the back and watch him dance with one of The Girls. Yes, they had somehow been nominated, and Sylvia was confident one of them would win. I shuddered at the idea, feeling sorry for him. And then I sighed. I didn’t know what to do with this feeling, the feeling I wanted him. He was so adorable, but if I tried, maybe I could give him up… like I gave up everything else. There was no arguing with the fact that we were separated by pretty insurmountable obstacles. I closed my notebook, slipped it back between two stacks of books, and tried to start reading again.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wannabe Prom Queens

The next day, while Sylvia bustled The Girls around, I tried to keep a low profile, since every time I walked by one of them they’d ask me to do something. I was moody; I kept feeling flashes of anger, but I noticed how good I was at not saying anything. The injustice of it all kept bothering me, in a way it never had before my “bitch session” with Harry. My head was full of questions. Where had things gone so wrong? Why couldn’t I just stand up for myself? Why did I care so much about those coffee cup rings on the furniture? But mostly: Do I or don’t I want to go to the prom? It didn’t really feel like a possibility, but then again, I had that beautiful dress, and it was mine, mine, mine alone. It meant the world to me, and just thinking about it made my head sparkle with hope and excitement.

I really loved my attic room—the slant of the walls, the window that popped out under its own little roof, the musty, cozy smell. The corners of the door were even carved off to fit the opening into the angle of the ceiling. There were books stacked up all around the edges, where the walls were too low to put any furniture. Almost every book in the house was in my room. I had rescued box after box of them from the Goodwill box when Sylvia redecorated, and they made the place feel very cozy. Old books. Great Books. Piles of paperbacks. So I was never at a loss for entertainment. I read every night after my chores and homework were done. Before I talked to Harry, I had been planning to make some headway through Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead as soon as I had the house to myself.

The dress was hanging on the inside door of the antique wardrobe (the room had no closet), hidden behind the acid-yellow sweater and the vinyl coat, which was the color of a spray-tan. Every time I got back up there, between tasks and errands, I’d stop and peek at the dress, smell it, explore the cheerful pattern with my eyes, feel the pretty rhinestones with my thumbs.

I loved having a secret, too. When The Girls came in to lord it over me that they were going and I wasn’t, I didn’t really care. To me, Debra and Donna looked ridiculous. Between them, there was enough makeup to paint all of my exposed walls. Their bangs were hairsprayed straight up, as if they were competing to appear taller than one another. Their gowns looked like they had come from the lingerie department.

“How do we look,” they asked, jutting their hips out and flexing their legs, as if I was someone to impress.

I tried to give a compliment, really I did. “You look like wannabe prom queens,” I said. Not that I would know. I’d never seen a prom queen before. But the fake boobs Debra had gotten for her eighteenth birthday did look spectacular in the silky dress she sort of had on. My compliment did not come off well. Both of their eyes narrowed.

”Too bad you’re not going,” said Donna. She sort of sounded nice at first.

“Too bad no one asked you,” said Debra.

“Too bad you have no friends,” said Donna. The sarcasm was escalating.

“Too bad you have nothing to wear,” said Debra, fingering my jeans, which I kept folded over a chair back. Then she spotted an old dress of hers that I’d pulled out of the Goodwill box, and laughed. “Oh, are you going to fix that up?” Like I could fit into it.

Donna grinned and said, “You’ll need some birds and mice.” Debra high-fived her, clumsily knocking over a stack of books.

“What are you going to do with all your free time tonight,” she asked, her wide-open eyes made up to look as ginormous as the spots on a peacock feather.

“Maybe clean this dump up,” Donna suggested. I focused on my breathing, thought of my dress—being careful not to point to it with my eyes, and started counting the seconds until they left. “Bye darling!” When Donna tossed her natural-looking curls, they moved like plastic.

“Have a nice time,” said Debra, noticing that Donna was out-prom-queening her. She blew a beauty-queen kiss, so Donna had to, as well, as they stomped down the wooden stairs in their dangerously sleazy high heels.

I called after them. “Break a leg!” But what I really meant was “Break your artificial noses.”


Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Beautiful Unicorn

I quickly folded the smooth parts of the girdle over the scorched parts, and opened the laundry room door just as Sylvia reached the bottom of the stairs. “Oh,” I said, feigning surprise. “I was just going to bring you this.” She was dressed up to go out, wearing a very low-cut Chanel blouse, in a pattern that reminded me of the time I threw up French fries and a chocolate milkshake on my dad’s plaid flannel shirt when I was six.

“Thank you, dear,” she purred, handing me her shiny Prada bag to hold, and then as she pulled the girdle on under her skirt, she started chatting about Debra and Donna’s prom dresses and plans. “Clifton and Dudley are picking them up tomorrow for dinner, but I told them not to eat too much since they want to look their best and not have, you know, a pooch (here, she patted her stomach) when the Prom Queen announcement comes. One of them will win; I just know it; they come from a long line of prom queens, you know! (Here, she got wistful for a moment.) We’re going to be at the mall all day getting mani-pedis and waxing—Debra wants a Brazillian, but I don’t know; maybe she's too young. You know, it will just make the hair grow in stronger and darker.... Anyway, I’ll be gone, too, since I have to chaperone tomorrow night and you know, I just want to really enjoy this day with them; it only comes once, and it really was the most wonderful day of my life.” She straightened up, smoothed her skirt, and reached for the bag. A manila envelope was sticking out if it; she pushed it down furtively as she turned her back and rustled up the stairs.

I had learned, a long time ago, how to not drive myself crazy by wanting things. The first Christmas after my dad had married Sylvia, we had met after school one day for our weekly date at the soda fountain, something we’d been doing since before I could remember. My dad had been distracted with work, and anxious about the family, and since the "steps" had moved in, this was practically the only time we ever had alone together.

“Are you doing okay, honey, in school, grades good and everything?” (Now that I’m a parent, I knew what’s behind a question like that; when grades aren’t good, or worse, when they plunge, you know something else is on your kids' mind. Maybe I knew it then, since I knew my dad really, really didn’t ever want to hear any bad news…. And that made it hard to talk, sometimes.)

“Of course, daddy,” I said. “I’m doing fine.” My grades and chores were actually the only two things at that time I felt I actually could keep under control. He didn't want to hear about my weight, my skin, my (non-existent) love life, my big feet, my worries about what was happening to our family, or how much I was still missing mom. I sucked at my milkshake as I walked him back to his office, hoping he wouldn’t comment on the fact I was wearing flip-flops with socks in the winter weather. “How are you doing?”

“I don’t know what to get the new girls for Christmas,” he answered. “They’re so different from you. Any ideas?”

“Let’s look in here,” I said, leaning my back against the door of Avalon Gifts and pushing it open. “I’m sure we’ll find something.” There were tons of things in there Debra and Donna would have loved. I pointed to a fancy princess telephone, a t-shirt that said “Princess” on it, and a calendar of puppies.

“For a teenager?” My dad was mystified.

“We’re not all grown up yet,” I smiled.

I found myself lingering over the collectibles cabinet. A six-inch glass Pegasus caught my eye. The horse had a strong, straight, noble nose with delicate nostrils, a thick, graceful, arched neck and luscious, curvy legs and belly. Her wings stretched forwards as if to gather speed, nearly touching at the tips. Her forelegs were bent as if she was jumping, and her muscled hindquarters were gathered as if she were about to explode free of the glass base.

“Like that?” I felt my father behind me. He kissed the back of my head.

“I love it,” I said, smelling his Bay cologne.

On Christmas day, there were three identical boxes with the Avalon logo on the wrapping paper. All three of us opened them together. To my alarm, Debra and Donna both got Pegasus figurines. That’s so not them, I thought, poking the tissue paper in my own box, determined to be happy with my beautiful winged horse, even though I sort of had to share. But what poked out of the crinkly packaging was not a pair of wings, double drops of solid liquid, but a single twisted horn. It was a beautiful unicorn, with a prancing pose, but three out of four feet were on the ground. My prepared response did not come out right. I said thank you, but tears burned in my eyes and an ache burned in my stomach, a sudden, fierce feeling of missing my mom. I excused myself with a half a smile, feeling that rushing sound in my ears. Behind me I heard Sylvia say, under her breath, “Ungrateful.”

My dad followed me, though, and explained through the bathroom door.

“We wanted to get you all matching gifts, but there were only two Pegasusses—Pegasi—left. To me, you’re unique, like no other girl…so I chose the unicorn for you, instead.”

“Thanks dad, I love it,” I said, opening the door for the hug he offered. But what I really loved was him, and that he thought of me that way. And also maybe (he made a joke) as a pure virgin worthy of a unicorn's trust... (unlike the others, I guess?) Anyway, within two weeks there was only one Pegasus. Somehow or other, one of them got thrown and smashed during a sisterly argument.

The next year, after my dad died, the same thing happened at Christmas; three boxes from the same store—this time, Grimm’s. Except this time, Debra and Donna got leather jackets; mine was vinyl. I didn’t make a scene, I just smiled, listened to the rushing noise in my ears, and thanked Sylvia for thinking of me.

I cried that night, realizing I would probably never get what I really wanted, ever again. I strengthened myself, thinking of all the people in the world who would never get what they wanted. I wondered how they coped—people who were poor, people who were at war, people who were in natural disasters or other sucky situations, and realized I actually did have some control. If I didn’t want anything... then whatever I got would be a nice surprise. This newfound Stoic philosophy got me through the next birthday and Christmas with grace and even happiness. As an added bonus, my unbridled enthusiasm kept the three of them slightly on edge. I was “in love with” Donna’s old hoop earrings, “thrilled with” a book that Debra gave to me because she “didn’t ‘get’ it” (and it turned out to be really good); I was “wild about” an acid-yellow sweater, hand-knit by Sylvia’s cousin, with one sleeve longer than the other. (The other two, by the way, got hot pink and apple green sweaters that both fitted and flattered.)

So as Sylvia prattled on about prom night, I realized I was empathizing with her poignant feelings about prom, but in my own way.

When would I ever get a chance to go to my senior prom again? Maybe I did want to go. Maybe I wanted, so incredibly desperately, for my life to be normal, just for one night. But maybe it would be better if I could just not want to go, since if Sylvia got the slightest clue that I did, she’d surely find a way for me to be in Timbuktu, or at least in Castleton that night, twenty miles away. So I smiled widely, listened well, tried to ignore the rushing in my ears, and didn’t say a thing.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Capital 'L'

From: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>

Now, I know what you’re thinking: No foot in the kingdom could fit in Cinderella’s tiny glass slipper. I know in the legend the thing that truly sets Cinderella apart, in the end, from all the other women, was the fact that her feet were so dainty and unique. Like her, I am different because of my feet, but in the opposite way. The only thing dainty about my feet is the nail on my baby toe.

My feet started growing a few months before Dad and Sylvia got married. She had ordered satin shoes for Debra, Donna and I, dyed to match our bridesmaids dresses, but the morning of the wedding, they no longer fit. The Girls convinced me to wear them anyway. I toughed it out on the ride to the church and the walk up the aisle, but the pain of standing through the ceremony was so blinding I passed out. Which caused waaay too much attention to be focused on me, and embarrassed all of us but my dad, who was cool about it. I completed the ceremony barefoot, but couldn’t go into the restaurant for the reception. No shirt, no shoes, no service. Dad gave me some money to go to the drug store and buy some flip flops.

Over the next few months, those really busy months of The Girls moving in and Sylvia redecorating, my feet kept growing. I burned out on shoe shopping because it brought up such self-loathing. Years later, I would adopt the habit of wearing my pants too long, with really high heels, so my footprint would appear smaller, but at that time I gave up wearing shoes, period, and started wearing flip-flops exclusively. My feet were flat, calloused, and always exposed. Debra took pity on me and gave me some of her old nail polish. By sixteen I was a size thirteen. Standing sideways, I looked like a capital ‘L.’ Kids at school called me Bigfoot, behind my back of course, but I heard them. Sylvia kindly called a plastic surgeon to see if I could have a foot reduction. (Not without having my toes removed.) Later on, in college, Nevada and Linda would say no girl in town could fill my shoes, but I would always tell them they were wrong; any girl in town could fill them. With hot water. And bathe in them.

A few months after my dad died, I noticed some of his clothes in the Goodwill box, which typically sat by the door until it overflowed or until I loaded it in Sylvia’s SUV and borrowed the keys to make a run. Underneath the suits and pinstriped shirts, which still smelled like him and made me want to cry, and next to the mohair sweater, which I kept, were a few pairs of shoes: some scuffed black wingtips and a pair of white tennis shoes, never worn. I was hauling the box out when I thought to check the size. Men’s eleven. I tried the tennies on and they fit.

So when I told Harry I had nothing but my dad’s old sneakers to wear, he was stunned. Partly, I’m sure, the way all people are when they see my smile, and get to know me, and then one day glance down at my structural support system. And partly, he told me later, because he was thinking about when he and my dad went out to get running shoes together, vowing to start being healthier. And then they never ran in them.

Just at that moment, Sylvia started calling down the stairs again. I was sure she knew I was on the phone. I heard the creak of the stairs; she was coming down. Just at that moment, I smelled the smell of scorched polyester; I had left the iron sitting in place when I went to the closet to find the dress. I said “oh heck,” and a quick good-bye to Harry, and hoped for the best. Before he hung up, he said three magic words that changed something inside me. It had been years since I had heard them.

He said, “I love you.”


From: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Vintage Silk Taffeta

From: FTR <info@fairytalereality.com>

I finally confessed to Harry my darkest thoughts from my darkest hours, when I’d go to bed exhausted, fingering the frayed satin hem of the grass-green wool blanket that had gone with my family on every camping trip I could remember; it still had that old-tent smell, which I loved. I’d imagine them when I was gone, eating cold, dry cereal out of dirty dishes for breakfast in their wrinkled, stained, cashmere track suits. I’d imagine Donna saying she missed me, then Sylvia would start blaming me for how dirty things had gotten.

“What! A! Bitch!” Harry said. I didn’t know if he was talking about Sylvia, or me for thinking that, or the incredibly cathartic rant. Either way, we both started laughing hysterically. I had to wipe my face. My eyes were leaking all over the place. (But for the record, I am still a nice lady who doesn’t like to hear that word used about women.)

Sylvia must have figured out I was talking on the phone. I could hear alarm in her voice when she called down the stairway, “What are you doing down there? I need my girdle by five!”

“Speaking of bitches...” Harry kept laughing.

“Yes, Sylvia,” I called politely, resting my hand lightly over the receiver. Then I whispered to Harry. “Ironing a girdle! How pathetic is that?”

“Oh, right! You’re in the laundry room!”

“Yes, didn’t I mention that?”

“Absolute perfection.” And then a long silence.

I remember a strange fleeting sensation of gripping desperation in the silence. Was Sylvia coming? If I had to hang up the phone right now, I could lose this connection, which I now knew I had to keep. My soul needed a friend to survive. “Harry!” I whispered, my voice louder than I intended.

“I’m still here, honey. Not going anywhere, no way. And I know you don’t have much time. So go slide open that closet where the water heater lives, and look way up on that shelf above it and tell me what you see.”

I had worked in that room every afternoon for four years, now. I must have cleaned it, reorganized it, five or ten times. But I had never looked inside that big box on the top shelf. It was old, from a fancy, old-fashioned department store, with big loopy letters on it, “Grimm's,” and tied with a faded red ribbon. I blew a little dust off the top. “An old box,” I said.

“Oh! Thank heavens it’s still there!”

“What is this?” I had to hunch up my shoulder to hold the phone on my ear while I eagerly untied the bow. Inside, under some tissue paper, was vintage silk taffeta with a beautiful pattern: dark purple and blue flowers outlined in black against a background of glossy green leaves. The inside of each flower was bedazzled by a few tiny glass rhinestones in three colors: green, yellow, and black. I lifted the gown by the wide, angled, velvet straps, and a voluminous skirt blossomed into life as it came free of the box. “Oh, my God,” I breathed. I suddenly realized what I as holding: my mother’s prom dress! “I’ve seen this in a photo, Harry!” I couldn’t believe Sylvia had somehow missed it.

“And now you’ve got a gown,” he said. I opened my mouth to say thank you and no, I don’t think so, but instead sputtered and stuttered instead like one of those antique cars starting up. He didn’t notice. I could hear him, on the other end, getting all gushy on me. “Prom night... here you come!”

“But Harry,” I protested, “I can’t go, honest.” He couldn’t possibly understand.

“Please don’t tell me you have too much work to do.”

“Well, obviously I do, but…”

“After that epic bitch session?”

“Doesn’t change the fact of finals,” I said, “and it doesn’t change the fact that….” How could I say this? I struggled for a moment, then finally got my real reason from my brain to my mouth, “I can’t go. I don’t have shoes.”

“Oh, that can’t be too hard,” he said. But Harry had never seen my feet. How could I explain? I had to try.

“Yes, it could be that hard,” I insisted. “You missed my big growth spurt between fifteen and sixteen.”


“It took place entirely below the ankles.”


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bitch is a Verb

“Girlfriend, NO. Get INTO it! You’ve got a right to your feelings.” I leaned my head against the fogged-up window, focusing on the cold spot on my forehead, and struggled with this idea. No one had ever said that to me before. Inside, my well-folded stacks of emotions were suddenly feeling like piles of dirty laundry.

“Ashley, give it a try. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Take two minutes, by the clock. Just get it out, don’t keep it inside! Go ahead and bitch your heart out.”

I laughed out loud. “Harry! I’m not that kind of girl!” Harry laughed, too.

“You know what I mean.”

“I just hate that word. It’s so demeaning towards women. Even little kids use it these days. Even guys use it with each other. It makes me uncomfortable.” There was a pause on the other end of the line.

“Ashley, darling, you’re thinking of it as a noun. I’m thinking of it as a verb. Bitch is a verb. To bitch is to complain. That’s all.”

“No one likes a complainer. I should know. I live with three of them.” I gasped as soon as I realized I’d let my first little bit of bitching out.

Harry, of course, was delighted. “There you go!” I laughed at myself.

“I know it’s hard for you,” he said.

“It is.”

“Your mother taught you not to speak ill of anyone.”

“She did.”

“Your mother, god rest her soul, was a bit of a doormat.” I gasped: stunned, hurt. How could he say that?

“She was! She was the sweetest thing in the world, but your dad was the boss of her!” I had to stop and think about this. I was getting a little irritated with Harry. There was a rushing sound in my ears.

“Harry, I thought you were her friend.”

“I was the only one she could vent to!” Now I understood. “So try it, darling. Nothing bad will happen.”

Still thinking about mom, I doubted Harry on this one. I could imagine a lot of bad things happening. Should someone pick up the phone, I would never hear the end of it. Still, I knew I had a lot in common with mom. And if my mother trusted Harry…

“Two minutes, that’s all it takes.”

I took a deep breath and did my best. I always try to do my best.

“I always try to do my best. It’s not like I don’t want to help. I do, I really do. But sometimes it seems like nothing’s good enough for them.” Instead of more words, a sob came out next.

“Okay, honey,” said Harry. “Deep breath. Let it all out.” I focused on his voice and followed his directions. I started with the Spanx. Immediately I felt a little better, then started speaking randomly, intellectually, articulately, feeling more like myself.

“It’s like this: Sylvia’s expectations are pretty low—she doesn’t think I can do anything, even though I do a lot—but her standards are ridiculously high. Nothing less than perfect even comes close to being okay. She can always find some picayune detail that minimizes the hard work I’ve done. And The Girls either argue with her, blow her off, or take up her issues. Once Donna even told on me when I was using the wrong mop on the kitchen floor—like she’d ever picked one up, herself.”

“Huh!” Harry was indignant.

“And once—you won’t believe this—Debra even made me take care of her Nintendog, this adorable computer program that’s supposed to teach you responsibility. Of course, with real responsibilities, I couldn’t bother to pick it up every half hour, and the puppy with the big eyes starved to death, or destroyed some furniture, or left a pool of virtual pee, or whatever. She told Sylvia on me and of course Sylvia came down on me for having broken my commitment. What a hypocrite. She never does what she says she’s going to do, at least not if it’s something for me.”

Harry was a great listener. He just kept asking for more. I told him what slobs they were, how I was constantly picking up after them, how they were always losing things and asking me where they were. As I talked, the cold fear in my stomach turned to warmth, and the easier it was to say more. The words tumbled out now, dare I say it, with enthusiasm. I enumerated my chores in great detail and with time frames: laundry, cleaning, cooking. I gave half a dozen more examples of how incapable the three of them were of change, even with simple things like toilet-paper, lightbulbs, and kitty litter. I felt absolutely purified by the words rushing out of my mouth, and scrubbed my memories harder, emptying out every corner of frustration I could find. The half-eaten candy bars. The sticky floors. The gum wrappers “hidden” in couch cushions. The hair in every drain. The lost keys, lipsticks, stockings, jewelry, and homework. The effing (effing, I like that word; I think of it as a short version of “effectively emphasizing”…) styrofoam cups with lipstick stains. Effing everywhere. And on top of the work they made for me: the snide comments. (More on that later.)

“Lord,” Harry said, truly sympathetic, when he could find a break in my stream of words. “How do you keep going, Ashley?”

I took a deep breath and thought about that question; the answer came to me readily, since I cultivated a very careful focus on the future. I was just a year away from turning eighteen, and had sent in several college and university applications, though I kind of had my heart set on Castleton, where my parents went, and had met. “I have dreams,” I said, somewhat dramatically, “but I’m not just a dreamer; I’m determined.” I was. I stayed up late to finish every assignment and get extra credit, and if I’d been able to spend a little more time at school, I could probably have been Valedictorian. Harry asked if Sylvia noticed or cared, and I got a chance to snort again. “She bought a cake once when Debra managed to get an ‘A .’ Donna was so jealous. Oh, and by the way, it was an ‘A-minus.’”