A Tale of Two Slippers
(ASLM 15 Jan 98)
It was neither the best nor the worst of times. It was simply a time for facing up to feet, for becoming a responsible toe owner and making the most of alternative footwear. You could say the time was right for change. The Brothers Grimm were stuck in Bavaria attending a family funeral when their collected characters left their pages to create havoc elsewhere. H.C. Andersen was in London, picking his nose in Charles Dickens's study.
It started with the mother of Snow White, the sewing queen, who stared at the sodden landscapes making idle wishes. She wished not for a child, but for shoes, for glass slippers in fact. At the time of wishing she had no idea she was pregnant. Her periods had always been erratic. Nine months later she was pleased enough with her daughter, but her perverse heart remained lodged below her knees, yearning for impractical footwear, until a passing fairy fulfilled her wish.
Here yare, she said with a careless wave of her wand. Keep these and your life will be charmed and perfect. But if you lose or break either one of them, misfortune and pestilence will blight the rest of your days.
What about my nights? the queen asked.
Those too, said the fairy before vanishing with a devilish grin.
And so the queen developed a shoe obsession, visiting her closet repetitively to wipe and polish her glass slippers. She kept them wrapped in cotton wool and watched over them. Meanwhile Snow White was left to entertain herself. Predictably the queens obsession spread to her other shoes. Reluctant to let any of her footwear touch the ground, she started wearing socks over shoes which annoyed the king because she nicked his socks for this purpose.
Who knows what would have happened if another fairy with an eye for fetish footwear hadnt intervened. She crept into the queens closet in the dead of night and made off with a single slipper! The next morning there was wailing and howling such as the palace had never heard. The king retired to his counting house to check and wash his coin collection.
Snow White went even paler. That night the queen died clutching the remaining glass slipper to her bosom. There was a state funeral. The palace flag flew at half mast. There were eulogies and speeches, but secretly everyone was pleased to have some peace and quiet.
Hardly a week had passed before the King re-married. It was a marriage of convenience. Everyone knew hed been carrying on with a huntsman, but in royal circles marriage is a political necessity and he wasnt about to start a revolution. The new queen was remarkably like the old one, only her obsession was with clothes and dieting. A full length mirror distorted her reflection daily and even if it hadnt she would still have been unhappy.
Mutton dressed as lamb, the mirror hissed gleefully. Yes it spoke, but only in cliches and nasty little homilies which the queen took seriously.
She was not the only one to be taken in by the mirror. Everyone took its word for gospel. It was a small kingdom and the mirror had a very loud voice. The king walked around with earplugs and soon the mirror became the legislator in chief. Things went from bad to worse. The queen wandered beyond the palace walls, offering poisonsed apples to children and Snow White left home clutching her mothers glass slipper.
Meanwhile in a cottage on the other side of the woods, a girl sat in a pile of cinders feeling sorry for herself. The slipper stealing fairy just happened to be passing when the sound of sobbing caught her attention. After listening to Cinders going on about her dysfunctional family, she took a firm line.
What do you want to go to the ball for? She challenged. Havent you got anything better to do?
No, said Cinders, I want to be like everybody else.
Well you cant! You must take this slipper and leave immediately! As soon as you find another one just like it, your your life will miraculously sort itself out. The fairy put the slipper in Cinders hands. It was an uncomfortable piece of footwear and she was glad to get rid of it. Cinders looked at the slipper with distaste.
This is no good to me, she whined, Ive got two feet!
So has everybody.
Arent you going to do anything about the mice? She looked imploringly at the fairy.
No! and if I were you Id sling that pumpkin in the compost. Its a health hazard. The fairy vanished holding her nose, leaving Cinders to take charge of her own destiny.
Cinders did as she was bid, blundering footsore and weary towards the depths of the forest until she came to the home of the seven gentlemen of small stature. There she offered her services as a housekeeper. She was after all trained for nothing else and they were only too happy to exploit a young woman of comely appearance. They led her to her sleeping quarters, a cold and draughty attic at the top of the house, where Snow White was already ensconced. Shed arrived only hours previously, but as their home was in a squalid state, the seven gentlemen reckoned on exploiting two young women for the price of one.
That night, in their rickety narrow bed, one thing led to another and naturally they didnt sleep a wink. When each discovered the other had a slipper exactly like her own, their fortunes fell miraculously into place. They left their employers to continue snoring sneezing and grumping and found a cottage of their own with roses round the door.
But happy they were not. Neither slipper fitted any of their four feet, but that didnt stop them from merging identities. The roses round their door grew thorns and soon they were so snarled up, they couldnt see to find their way to a decent shoe shop.
The real heroine of the story turned out to be Snow Whites stepmother who woke up one morning and grabbed the mirror from the wall. She threw it out of a palace window where it shattered into lots of glinting shards. Youd have thought the people would have thanked her for freeing them from the tyrant mirror, but they blamed her instead for the inconvenience that comes with change, nevermind the mess.
The queen became a fugitive and teamed up with the slipper stealing fairy. They kept their separate personalities and lived lives of guilt free crime. Mostly they stole shoes. Now they are extremely wealthy women who have retired from the hazards of breaking and entering. (They saw off mermaids heads from time to time to keep in practice using tools.)
The shards of tyrant mirror remain scattered about in unexpected places in catching sunbeams and starting fires. They wait for the approach of naked feet which is one reason to wear protective footwear or give up walking altogether and only drive, or simply not bother getting out of bed : :>