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, January 6, 2013

King Phineas Food Bank

When I became conscious the next morning, the first thing I noticed was the birds were singing. I lay with my face in the pillow for a moment, trying to figure out which of these images in my mind was reality and which was a dream: unlocking a great big door with a key as big as my backpack, or dancing with Jeff. When my eyes focused on the dress hanging on the wardrobe, I still wasn’t sure; I could have dreamed putting it on. Then I spotted the single glass shoe on the windowsill and I knew… both realities were true.

I pulled on my dad’s old sweatpants and tiptoed down the stairs to the hall bathroom, where I tried to coax my crispy-sprayed hair into a braid. I laughed when I saw my morning-after face in the mirror — eyes rimmed with black smudges, pink crusted lips, and a false eyelash sprouting from my cheek. I scrubbed myself clean, then remembered to go back upstairs and dig out my mom’s punch bowl from under the bed. Sylvia had asked for it —okay, demanded it—since she was planning a brunch this morning for whichever one of her daughters woke up prom queen. I supposed she could use my help.

By mid-morning, the table was ready and the buffet was set up, but I hadn’t heard a peep from upstairs yet. Sunlight streamed in to the living room from the tall windows, which I opened to let air in, and then set about taking the slip-covers off the furniture. I frowned at my dad’s old rolltop desk in the corner of the room, now piled high with Sylvia’s papers—I thought about rolling it shut but when I started to push a stack of papers, I heard her voice screeching in my head not to touch her desk. Turning my back on the mess, though, everything looked lovely. I didn’t really know what to expect next; I was just happy. I looked down at my toes, painted with pink swirls, and got an idea that I should maybe wear something pretty to the party.

I trotted up the stairs and changed into one of my mom’s summer frocks. I was stabbing a pencil through my twisted-up, hopeless hair when I heard a car pull up in the driveway, then another car. Voices floated in through the small attic window.

“Good morning, Jeff!” It was Harry.

“Hello, um… I’m….” Jeff was baffled.

“It’s me, Harry,” said Harry’s voice.

“Carrie?” Said Jeff. And then I heard him laugh.

“What did you say last night, all forlorn, when you were holding that shoe like a newborn baby? ‘No one could ever fill her shoes?’ Well…try me!” I peered out the window and saw something almost as strange as last night’s sight. There was a middle-aged man in a sweater vest standing in front of Jeff, pulling one of his pant legs up to expose a length of flexed calf, a bare ankle, and a woven leather boat shoe on a pointed foot. Jeff held the other shoe in his hands. I breathed a sigh of relief, delighted to see the shoe, delighted to see them both, delighted to see the two of them together.

“Okay, that’s just creepy,” Jeff laughed. “Hi Harry.”

“It was charming dancing with you last night,” Harry said. My jaw dropped. What did I miss?

“I’m so glad you cut in when you did!”

“Swear to God, Sylvia would have puppeteered you around the dance floor to get you to dance with one of her daughters.”

“Or both! Did you see how she shoved them at me?”

“Well, I’d just been puppeteered so I wanted to save you from that fate. That woman is stubborn,” said Harry. “Have you ever tried calling this house to talk to Ashley?”

“Yeah, now that you mention it, but I always end up talking to…”

“I’ve got such news for her, but I can never get through… and when I get Sylvia, it’s like she can’t hear me!”

Ah, suddenly something came clear.

About a week ago in the kitchen, Sylvia had stepped on some mashed potatoes with corn, and then was freaking out and blaming everyone who came near, spinning a line of logic that made it my fault for not cleaning it up, Donna’s fault for being the last one to eat, and Debra’s fault for having a craving for Kentucky Fried Chicken biscuits. It was also for some reason her “goddamn mechanic’s” fault for forgetting to put a “fucking sticker” on the windshield six months ago to remind her the car needed a “fucking oil change.” A few seconds into her rant, I knelt down with a paper towel to wipe up the mess (spotting a Chee-to and a scrunchie under the cabinet while there), but then she lit into me about wasting paper towels when I could have been using a sponge. At which point I stared at her, since just last week she had gone off about me using a sponge on the floor when I should have used a paper towel…. She shrieked, suddenly, that there was some goo on her shoe, and shoved her pointy white pump in my face. That was too much. I stood up and summoned the courage to say something.

Just then the phone rang, breaking the tension. Sylvia reached out to answer it. “Hello, St. Helens and Hill residence…” Her voice was suddenly singsong and professional, like a receptionist at a tanning spa. She chuckled gently and smiled at me and said, “No, I’m afraid you’ve missed her again; I’ll give her the message you called.” I gave her a curious look but she just listened, and her smile stretched tighter until she was talking through her teeth. “I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.” And then she took the sharp tone of someone trying to rid themselves of a phone solicitor. “No, I really have no interest in that. Besides, I just don’t have the time, trying to keep three teenaged girls clothed and fed, plus my extensive volunteer work with the King Phineas Food Bank, I’m sure you understand.” “No, I’m sorry, you’re not hearing me, I really can’t. No thank you. Bye-bye for now.”

“So I finally reached her last Friday,” Harry told Jeff, leaning on the hood of his Cadillac. “But I got carried away when I heard it was prom, because, well fairytale weekends don’t happen every day!” He was getting quite worked up, starting to laugh and cry all at once. “Oh! Did you hear what I just said! Carried away! Don’t you get it?” Jeff didn’t get it at the time, and neither did I—but Harry was laughing because his stage persona is a fallen Southern Belle drag queen named Carrie D’Aweigh. She headlines on Sundays down at the Teddy Wolf in the pink light district. Carrie D’Aweigh is my fairy godmother. Carrie D’Aweigh is who danced with both Sylvia and Jeff at the prom.


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