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, 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.”