Ashes to Ashes
The clock gonged twelve times, and died. Faith, Hope, and Charity, those little dolls in their simple gowns that danced the mnemonic hours, wound down, and froze in postures of despair.
The glass slipper broke into bits. Ella’s foot bled in the midst of the shards. It wasn’t meant to end like this.
The stairs were long to hobble down.
The guests ran helter-skelter, screaming and moaning about the end of time. Laments poured out of the halls and down the stairs just as the black cortege drove up with its black-plumed horses. Out of it came the dowager in purple, and next, the coffin. Both were carried up the stairs by nine dusky dwarfs.
Ella did not wait to see the clock being laid to rest in its sarcophagus. She was too busy fleeing a Prince with a foot fetish who was hot on her heels.
Ella had been wearing a shining gown of silver silk that shone like the moon. Now, she was naked. She took off the other shoe and held it over her virtue. A coach that was black and round as a pumpkin, drove up.
Was the coach available? She stuck out her bare foot as if to trip the rat-gray horses. They stopped.
Inside was a man wearing a mask. With a flourish, he welcomed Ella in.
“Take off your mask,” she said. It wasn’t right that he should be covered when she wore only a shoe, and that in the wrong place, and hair that was unpinning and falling over her breasts.
“If I take off this mask it will ruin the story,” he said.
“Well then, give me your cloak. I too have need of covering up.”
“If I give you this cloak, which is also a mask, it will ruin the story,” he said.
The coach went up a drive lined with rose trees and yews.
“Where are we going?” Ella asked.
‘To my house.”
The house was a looming shadow with fire in all of its windows. Ella was sure the very rooms were crackling with it.
“I am sorry, but I must go home to my stepmother and my wicked step sisters.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course,” she said. “They are mine. Part of my story.”
He sighed towards the house and felt for her hand with long, cold fingers. Ella recoiled from his touch as if she was burned.
He let her out on the road. Ella went into the woods and along a path that led to the back garden of her house where the tree was. Under the tree was a hole in the earth.
“Little ermine, little ermine, give my box to me,” she said.
The little ermine came up in his drab summer coat, and gave her the box.
Inside were three gowns: a copper gown, a golden gown, and a ragged gown. She took out the ragged gown and put it on.
“Why do you put on the ragged gown?” asked the ermine.
“Because nothing has changed,” said Ella.
Ella’s stepmother and stepsisters climbed out of their carriage and floated up the drive. Skepticism, Despair, and Meanness were hale and hearty. They no longer had to hide. Their stiff skirts scraped the ground like blades. Copper, silver, and gold; verdigris, tarnish, and gilt.
Inside its coffin, the clock tolled.
In their metal gowns, they danced.