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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Happily Ever After, Ltd. - 14. Signed Along The Dotted Lines

The carriage ride from the manor back to the castle was unpleasant. Ryan and Cinderella were facing backwards, their knees crammed against the King and Queen’s. The air inside was hot and stuffy, and the entire carriage kept rocking side to side, as its wheels bumped up and down upon the cobblestones. Ryan ended up feeling quite motion-sick, as they all stared at each other, nobody knowing what to say.

Eventually, the Queen remembered her royal etiquette.

“So, what are your interests, dear?” she asked.

Cinderella looked blank. “Interests ...?”

“What things do you enjoy doing?” the Queen asked. “Do you like opera?”

“I don’t understand,” Cinderella said.

“Or perhaps your sort prefers pantomimes?” the Queen asked. Cinderella still looked blank. The Queen tried a different topic. “What about wedding dresses? Do you have any preferences, dear?”

“Not really,” Cinderella said. “I would like it to be virginal white.”

“I should bloody well hope so,” the King muttered.

“You do have a lovely, slim shape, dear,” the Queen said.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Cinderella said.

“How do you keep so thin?” the Queen asked, a trace of envy in her voice.

“Well,” said Cinderella, “I’ve been starved by my stepmother for the last ten years.”

The Queen nodded. “Oh, well, every cloud has a silver lining! Obviously being starved was a blessing in disguise. You’re stick thin!”

“And yet by some miracle,” Ryan said, “she has still managed to put on plenty of weight in one particular region.”

“Here, here,” the King said.

Cinderella looked down at her chest and smiled proudly.

*

Dorothy hated apologising. She always felt at her lowest and most despicable when she had to admit that she was in the wrong. It was one of the worst things about her marriage. She was forever having to apologise. A few weeks before their separation, Dorothy found herself apologising on a daily basis. One night, Dorothy had been caught up in a mountain of staff evaluations that were all due to HR the next day. She had completely forgotten about the dinner plans Burnham had made with his parents, who were visiting overnight. But when she came home to find Burnham in an understandably bad mood, Dorothy found that her internal reservoir of apologies was almost empty.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I can’t keep on feeling this guilty.” That had been the last apology she ever gave him. After that, she became physically incapable of apologising to him. And then she was, for a long time, incapable of speaking to him at all.

Now she had to apologise to Dave. Back in her office, she found him sitting at her desk like it was his, like he’d been expecting her. He had dried himself off with a towel.

“Do you have a minute?” Dorothy asked.

“I’m not exactly bogged down with things to do,” Dave said.

“There’s ample reading material,” Dorothy said. “Shelves of every single fairytale ever written.”

“But no Stephen King,” said Dave.

“I need to apologise,” said Dorothy.

“That’s alright,” Dave sighed. “The Shining gives me nightmares anyway.”

“No,” Dorothy said. “I mean apologise for before. For what I did.”

Dave shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.”

“I’ve never done anything like that before,” said Dorothy.

“It happens.”

“It shouldn’t,” Dorothy said. “So I apologise.”

Dave laughed humourlessly. “It’s ironic. You’ll apologise for throwing water in my face, but not for me getting shot twice and being held here against my will.”

“Well, alright then,” Dorothy said wearily. “I apologise for that, too. Although to be fair, the second time you were tranquilised, you were about to terminate the entire story – and you ended up terminating the Fairy Godmother in the process.”

Dave looked away. “Yeah, well. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

“Perhaps it was romantic, in hindsight,” Dorothy said. “Creating a scene like that for someone you love.”

Dave scoffed. “I don’t love him. We weren’t even through the first date when he vanished.”

“Fairytale characters don’t even need that,” said Dorothy. “The princes see the princesses and they fall in love instantly. Sometimes the princess isn’t even awake, but she still knows.”

“Did you know?” Dave asked, in a strange voice.

“Did I know what?”

“Whether it was love at first sight?” He held up an envelope. It took Dorothy a second to recognise what it was. It was the envelope containing divorce papers – with the little X’s where she had yet to sign.

“That is an absolutely confidential document!” she said, grabbing the envelope from him. “It was in a locked drawer.”

“Yeah, well, great security you have. I finally found the spare key, in the back of your unlocked bottom drawer.”

He waved the key chain in his other hand, which she also snatched.

“God, you’re a total phoney,” Dave said. “You’ll derail people’s lives for your precious happy endings but you’ve got divorce papers locked away in your drawer. Oh, and while you’re at it ...”

Dave slid a photograph across the desk, and Dorothy felt as though he’d thrown a glass of water right back at her. She stood there, looking at the photograph, her breathing short and shallow.

She had forgotten all about that picture. She only had it in her office because that was where it had been given to her. It was a picture of her and Burnham. It wasn’t one from their wedding album, which were full of contrived poses and toothy smiles. The photograph in the drawer had been from one of their first evenings out together. It had been taken at a housewarming party, many years ago. It was Burnham’s sister Paula’s house. The guests were an incompatible mix of Paula’s noisy university friends who came with of crates of cheap beer, and young professionals like Burnham and Dorothy, who arrived with an extra bottle of wine as a housewarming gift.

Paula kept circling the party taking photos with her new phone. Early on, she’d taken a picture of her brother Burnham with his arm around his stiffly-smiling date. Paula did not like Dorothy much, and wondered why her brother always fell for such cold women. But towards the end of the evening, Paula looked over at her brother and his new girlfriend, and saw him whispering something in her ear. The new girlfriend smiled and looked up at Burnham, giving some sort of smart-alecky reply. There was something oddly charming about the couple: Burnham, big and clumsy, with his petite, eye-rolling date. Paula held up her phone and snapped another picture.

It wasn’t a particularly good picture, certainly not flattering. It was slightly unfocussed and had caught Dorothy mid-blink, but she was smiling, unstaged and unrestrained. Looking at the photo, you would’ve thought Dorothy was not only funny but fun, fun-loving, carefree. In the picture, Burnham was looking down at her adoringly. A few weeks later, Burnham and Dorothy met Paula at a café for a late breakfast. When Burnham left the table to take a call, Paula took out her phone and showed Dorothy some of the photos.

“Oh, sorry, this one’s a bit blurry,” Paula said. “I was going to delete it.”

“No,” Dorothy said. “Don’t. Can you send me a copy of it?”

Dorothy had only meant for Paula to text the picture to her, but Paula actually had the photograph printed and posted it to Dorothy’s office. Since then, it had remained at the bottom of her drawer, a forgotten memory, until Dave had found it.

Now, Dorothy took the photo from Dave and walked out of her office without a word. Down the end of the corridor, she shut herself in the photocopy room. She opened the envelope and set the divorce papers down on the bench. She took a pen from a jar in front of her. Her mind was surprisingly empty. She began signing her name beside every little X, along every single dotted line. It was a completely mechanical exercise – she was on autopilot. Once she finished, she slid the papers back into the envelope and sealed it.

Then, without giving it a second thought, she took the photograph and pushed it into the shredder. It hummed into life and the final piece of evidence that she had ever been happy with Burnham was guzzled into its belly.

*

The coin-sun was setting when they arrived back at the castle. The Queen escorted Cinderella up the steps into the castle and Bjorn took the horses towards the stables. Ryan went to follow the women inside but the King took his arm.

“Accompany me on a stroll,” he said.

Ryan was reluctant, even scared, but once again he had no choice. The King steered Ryan around the side of the castle, to an archery range. It was lined with box hedges and neatly-trimmed trees. Down the far end of the field, large circular targets were peppered with arrows. The low sun cast long shadows across the lawn. The King sat down on a stone bench and pushed Ryan down beside him.

“It is peaceful here, isn’t it?” the King said.

“Um, yeah, I guess it’s nice.”

“It is tradition,” he went on, “for the King to bring the Prince to this very place on the night before his wedding.”

“What for?” Ryan said, afraid that the King was going to make him do some sort of bachelor party hazing ritual.

“Son,” the King said. “Are you acquainted with the facts?”

“Facts? Uh, yeah, I guess I know some facts.”

“How shall I best put it? Soon – tomorrow, in fact – you will have a wife. And when one marries, there are certain obligations one must fulfil, especially when one is charged with the duty of continuing our lineage.”

“Huh?”

“And who is to say,” the King went on, “that one should not derive some pleasure from one’s duties? You see, a woman is like an unchartered terrain. She has many mountains and valleys to explore.”

“Really? That sounds a bit lumpy.”

“It is your duty to bear sons to carry on our bloodlines. If you do not, my second cousin Benedick the Breadmaker will inherit the throne. He just bakes bread. What will he do? Feed the peasants? That’s no way to run a country! But I digress. I fear I am not explaining myself very well. Perhaps it would be better demonstrated.”

The King picked up a discarded arrow and found an empty quiver resting against a nearby bench.

“Pretend that this is you,” he held up the arrow in one hand, “and pretend that this,” he held up the quiver in the other, “is your bride to be.”

Ryan realised too late what the King was going to do. Ryan watched in open-mouthed shock as the King began jabbing the arrow in and out of the quiver.

“Stop!” Ryan said. “Please, I beg you!”

“Alright.” The King set down his props. “Let me describe it more scientifically.”

“You don’t need to! I get it! I promise!”

There was no stopping him. From his robes, the King withdrew a large rolled-up poster, which he unfolded. It was a highly detailed diagram of the female anatomy. It looked like a piece of fruit long past its expiry date.

“Have you been carrying that poster around all day?” Ryan said.

“Do you know what this is?” the King asked.

“Uh, yes,” Ryan said uncomfortably. “I came out of one.”

“Yes! Yes, you did!” the King said. “But in order for you to come out, I had to go in. My son, you look unwell. I am not surprised. The beauty of a woman’s private place has caused many a man to lose his mind. So much so that, at times, you may find yourself unable to rise to the occasion, if you follow my meaning. But that’s perfectly natural. I’d be lying if I said that I’d never had difficulties fulfilling my duties in the bedroom with your mother.”

“May I please be excused?” Ryan begged.

“Not until we’ve finished our lesson,” the King said firmly. “Now, let us talk about your bride’s monthly bleed.”

*

Patricia was reading her well-worn copy of Cinderella. She was so engrossed in it that she didn’t notice her hair was hanging down into the noodles she’d had delivered. She looked up as the elevator doors opened and Dorothy stepped out.

“Mrs Weaver.” Patricia smiled at Dorothy, a stray noodle on her chin. “Have you eaten?”

The fatty, spicy smell made Dorothy feel queasy. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“I’ve been trying to detox for the last two months,” Patricia said. “But the diet doesn’t count when you’ve got a work crisis. That’s the rule, isn’t it?”

“Um …” Dorothy said.

“Not that you have to worry about that sort of thing,” Patricia said, eyeing Dorothy in a way that made her uncomfortable. “You’ve always been so little, haven’t you?”

“Er …”

“Still, I’m sure even you could do with some comfort food. It’s been quite a day, hasn’t it? My phone has been ringing off the hook.” Patricia closed her copy of Cinderella and leaned back in her chair. “I’ve read through it a few times. The stepsister’s stunt is really going to hurt us.”

“Yes, but I think we can minimise any long-term impact, especially now that we’ve identified the intruder. An act of terrorism wasn’t exactly foreseeable.”

“Well, we can worry about longer-term impacts tomorrow,” Patricia said. “But what about today? What will our readers be reading today?”

“They’ll be reading a slightly altered version of Cinderella,” Dorothy admitted.

“It’s completely mutated.”

“A slightly altered version,” Dorothy insisted. “There is nothing to stop the Prince and Cinderella still getting married and living happily ever—”

“Homosexual.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your prince,” Patricia said. “The boy that you approved is a homosexual.”

Dorothy was shocked that Patricia knew. How could she have known? She was struck by the terrifying possibility that Patricia had bugged her office.

“I am still confident that he will marry her,” Dorothy said. “I don’t think he’ll let us down. He’s gotten us out of two very sticky situations. First, getting Cinderella to the Ball and secondly, getting the shoe on her despite the … amputation.”

“He is a quick-thinker,” Patricia agreed. “But I’m not sure that any human being can fake falling in love. I thought you would’ve known that better than anyone.”

*

Back on the twelfth floor, Dorothy found Burnham sitting outside her office door, sipping another coffee, and reading Cinderella. She pushed the envelope into his hands.

“The papers,” she said. “Signed along all the dotted lines.”

“Oh.” Burnham was surprised. “I didn’t think you’d have enough time.”

“A signature takes less than a second to write,” Dorothy said.

“I just thought, you know ... some signatures take a bit longer.”

“Do you still have the security tapes that were sent up this morning?” Dorothy asked.

“Uh, no, I sent them back down to the basement. There was nothing. I told you.”

“I’d like to view them myself,” Dorothy said.

“I looked through them all. There’s nothing there.”

“I want to be sure,” Dorothy said.

Burnham shrugged. “Well, it’s too late. I just sent the tapes off.”

“Well then, you’ll have to get them sent back up,” Dorothy said.

Burnham put down the book. “But I’ve told you, I watched them all with my own eyes and there’s nothing.”

“Right now, the only pair of eyes I can trust is my own,” said Dorothy.

Burnham laughed out loud. “You suspect me?”

“Well, what do you think?” Dorothy said. “The terrorist arrived in the story two months ago. Back then, I think you would’ve done anything to hurt me. I am going to see those tapes for myself.”

“Fine.” Burnham slammed the book shut. “Watch them. Watch them all. After wasting five years of our lives, what’s five more hours?”

Dorothy had hoped that invoking anger would cancel out the immense sadness that she felt. But, like every time before, she had been wrong.

Copyright © 2020 Richie Tennyson; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Great chapter, we are left with loads of unanswered questions, but we know that Dorothy doesn't trust anyone anymore. Ryan and Cinderella made it back to the palace.

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I'm not sure if I'm supposed to sympathise with Dorothy, but I don't. Burnham's not an angel either, but he can definitely do better than her.

I wonder what happens when Cinderella ends? Do they start the whole thing all over again - with only Bjorn and Ryan retaining their memories?

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“Not until we’ve finished our lesson,” the King said firmly. “Now, let us talk about your bride’s monthly bleed.”

Aren't we missing some fluttering blue swallows, singing gaily and chirping happily in the background, with Bambi and an array of forest creatures looking on doefully? That's how i imagined fairytale, sex ed would be.

This incarnation of Cinderella, isn't at all charming, witty or intelligent. She couldn't hold anyone's attention, straight or otherwise. Ryan's is not the main problem with the failed love plot.

I imagine Dorothy wants to watch the tapes for a dual purpose: to see how she could have been the only one to miss spotting the homosexual. She clearly has no interest in anything but her work. And while he's  not much better i cant see what Burnham saw in her.

Right, time for Ryan to put all that sex ed to good use. And don't forget the swallows!

Edited by Bard Simpson
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If you might be interested there's an interesting history and investigation of sex and violence in fairy tales, the origins and different versions. It's a downloadable PDF https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/jpc.12432

Some selected extracts from the paper by Professor David Isaacs Editor-in-Chief Children’s Hospital at Westmead, New South Wales Australia:

Many of the fairy tales we know came from Charles Perrault’s Les Contes de ma Mère l’Oye (Tales of my Mother Goose), published in Paris in 1697 when Perrault was almost 70. Perrault’s version of Little Red Riding Hood concluded with our heroine being eaten by the wolf.

The Grimms were not averse to describing violence graphically. They heard two different endings to The Frog Prince. In one, the princess kisses the frog that turns into a prince. In the other, his transformation comes when she throws the frog against the wall in disgust. They chose to use the latter. Not for nothing are they called the Brothers Grimm.

Giants represent grown-ups and Jones emphasises the sexual significance of dwarfs and jesters. One may scoff that everything has sexual significance for psychoanalysts, but the sexual nature of Rumpelstiltskin is implicit in the story and one suggested meaning of his obscure name is ‘wrinkled foreskin’.

The tale The Girl Without Hands was originally about an incestuous father, whom the Grimms changed into the Devil. In Donkey-Skin by Perrault, the King has an unrestrained passion for his own daughter. Fairy tales described child sexual abuse long before paediatricians acknowledged its existence.

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Great article @Talo Segura

It ends by saying...

Some of the power of these stories may be that they help children confront and come to terms with their own sexual and aggressive thoughts and feelings. Recognising the psychological basis of the power of these fables and stories should not detract from their magic.

Clearly Happily Ever After Ltd have far more latitude than they thought. Little Red Riding Hood getting eaten by the Wolf, ought to be fair game and true to the story's origins. So having Cinderella ditched on her wedding day by her gay boyfriend is just preparing children for life's possibilities 😉.

Edited by Bard Simpson
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On 4/4/2020 at 4:48 AM, Bard Simpson said:

This incarnation of Cinderella, isn't at all charming, witty or intelligent.

@Bard Simpson I love this observation. Traditional incarnations of the Cinderella character are rarely witty or intelligent (although more modern/recent ones have been slightly better). But historically she is often completely passive - and perhaps a bit whiny even!

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1 hour ago, Richie Tennyson said:

@Bard Simpson I love this observation. Traditional incarnations of the Cinderella character are rarely witty or intelligent (although more modern/recent ones have been slightly better). But historically she is often completely passive - and perhaps a bit whiny even!

Fascinating. I hadn't thought of that until now. I suppose docile traits were probably demanded of women, when this was first written and kids would have been happy with that too.

We must naturally fill in the blanks with what would make them of interest, to us now. Why else would Prince Charming be so captivated by her, that he'd go to the trouble of testing a slipper on every maiden in the Kingdom, her beauty and chest size, notwithstanding. 

Edited by Bard Simpson
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On 4/5/2020 at 10:34 AM, Bard Simpson said:

Why else would Prince Charming be so captivated by her, that he'd go to the trouble of testing a slipper on every maiden in the Kingdom, her beauty and chest size, notwithstanding. 

My interpretation of the traditional Cinderella narrative (and most fairytales) is that Prince Charming was predominantly motivated by her physical attributes - it is a fundamental problem with the "love at first sight" trope in fairytales. Thanks again for reading and commenting, it's been much appreciated :D

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