By Lorna McGinnis
I didn’t give her glass slippers.
For one thing, they’d shatter the instant she tried to stand. Glass is not a weight bearing material, which should be obvious. You couldn’t walk in them, let alone dance.
And forget about running. Away.
I found her picking peas out of the ash heap outside the kitchen garden. The evening felt balmy and hushed. The smell of rosemary hung in the air. I’m not sure what made me decide to speak to her. I was curious, maybe. Her shoulders were hunched, a thin barrier between her and the world.
I cleared my throat. “Hello.”
She jumped. “Aargh!”
Most people get alarmed when they see a seven-foot-tall woman with a black trench coat and dragonfly wings. It’s an inconvenient fact of life I’ve come to appreciate.
“Who are you?” She swallowed. She was polite. She didn’t follow up with the obvious question, “and what on earth are you doing in my yard?” The answer: taking my walk and ignoring the kingdom’s trespassing laws.
“I’m Fee.” I stuck out my hand.
After a moment, she took it. “Ashputtel.”
“Why are you called that?” I wondered about it since it was an odd name. I was also less polite than she was.
“Family named me.” She pressed her lips together. “Because I sleep by the hearth.”
“They don’t give you a bed?” I raised my brows.
“No.” She looked down.
“You know that’s something a parent or guardian is supposed to provide, right?” This is another thing that should be obvious. Unfortunately, kids in her situation don’t always realize it.
“Yeah.” She rolled her eyes. There was hope for her yet.
“They’re the ones who had you do this ridiculous task?” I waved my hand at the ashes. She had ash all over her, on her face, in her hair, under her fingernails. Apparently, this family of hers didn’t provide baths either. Her dress was a filthy rag.
I clenched my jaw.
I didn’t give her a ballgown either though. Ballgowns are nice. They make you feel pretty on occasion, but they aren’t practical. Big gauzy skirts and tight waists make it hard to do…well anything.
“What do you think?!” Her eyes flashed.
“I think it’s your lucky day.” I smiled. “I have a soft spot for kids in bad situations.”
She turned away. “I don’t need your pity.”
Even in rags, she had her pride. I could respect that. Pride was probably about all she had. My grin stretched wider. “I’m granting you a fairy boon. Those come in handy.”
The understatement of the century.
“And in return…” Her gaze narrowed.
She blinked. “Seriously?”
“Pay it forward.” I squatted on the ground, coat pooling in the dirt, so that my eyes were level with hers. “You deserve better.”
She took a deep breath. “Okay.”
“What do you want?” I frowned. “Choose wisely.”
Some people asked for extraordinarily dumb things. A king asked for a bolt of cloth so fine he could draw it through a walnut. A fisherman asked to be lord of the sun and the moon. A queen asked for a daughter with snow white skin.
“Freedom.” She squared her shoulders. “And a washcloth.”
I gave her my hazel wand.
Lorna McGinnis is an MFA graduate of the University of British Columbia with publications in Understorey, Gone Lawn, and Kaleidoscope. Previously, she worked in animal welfare, writing grants and wrangling kittens. You’re welcome to look at her blog at https://ink374.wordpress.com/.