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It was so fragile it immediately broke in two. The small sunlight that could reach my room glinted off the smaller fragments that tumbled through my splayed fingers. My last pieces of happiness, gone.

“Lessons must be learned. It’ll do you well to remember the consequences of disobedience.”

I felt the wetness of my tears but they only reflected in my step-mother’s harsh brown eyes. People called her warm, homely, endearing, but I never got to see those les when she casted her disappointed glower in my direction. I was bile on her tongue. No matter how much she brushed her teeth, washed out her mouth, or what she ate or drank could get rid of it. I disgusted her. I didn’t know it while I was young and, as I stared down at my mother’s last gift to me, I missed those days of innocent ignorance.

The oppressive chill that trailed after her disappeared behind the room door when she finally left me to my mourning. It wouldn’t last. It never did, not when I had things to do, but I couldn’t stop staring at my broken dream and wondering if the confines of my cramped room were my only sure future.  Were they my eternal prison? No amount of magic, faith, or help from a fairy-godmother could alter my step-mother’s will nor could they do my chores.

I rose slowly and sighed. It couldn’t be helped. There was lunch to be made, bathrooms to be cleaned, cruel family members to be entertained. The list stretched on and yet, my step-mother couldn’t let me have one good thing.

“Don’t I look sophisticated?”

I stopped when I heard the rustling and hushed voices inside my step-mother’s room but I stayed when I saw what her twins were up to. Daniella spun around in a long gown that sparkled more than any woman in her late forties should own. It was probable what attracted Daniella to it in the first place. That and the soft green color under all the jewels and sparkles.

She danced over to the dresser, ignoring her bother’s exasperated sigh, and started her raid. First were the drawers. They held nothing that would interest her picky tastes. Not that it stopped her from pulling out various undergarments to inspect. I couldn’t see much of Christopher through the small space of the ajar door but I knew he was far less interested in searching their mother’s room than his sister was. Least he was till she pulled something out of the top right drawer.

“She still has those?” He chuckled coldly. “I thought she pawned them for something better.”

“You don’t pawn diamonds.”

She put them on and spun yet again. As much as I hated spying, I couldn’t move. They were captivating even when I knew getting caught would get me whipped.

“Those aren’t diamonds, Dani.” Christopher’s feet disappeared. I couldn’t only guess he moved to sit since he was completely out of my view, unlike his sister who wore an unnerving smile. “They’re nothing more than a dead man.”

“True,” she cooed, whirling around to look at herself in the mirror, “men make great earrings. I wonder if mom will use your ashes to make another set.”

“Not funny,” he grumbled.

The mattress moved and he came into view. I wanted to stay longer to hear more but with him up, my time was too. He could head to the door and then what? I couldn’t explain why I was on my knees spying on them so I forced myself away.

Ashes into diamonds. Were they really so cruel? Could it really be done? The questions followed me through my day. They seasoned the soup, cleaned the house, did the laundry, and blanketed me as I lay in bed. If it could be done, if ashes could become something more, a trophy, could I do it?

I slipped from my bed down to the floor. Could I secure my own future? It could be as simple as breaking glass. I cradled the broken pieces against my chest. It would be a deserving twist in fate. Wouldn’t it?

I asked myself that question over and over for weeks after a fire engulfed the house. I couldn’t answer it without traces of guilt weighing down me down but in time, it became easier. My lies were smoother and I could smile. I didn’t mind the whispers behind the mystery. I was the lone survivor and I stood to inherit everything my step-mother tried to keep from me.

“Ms. Cinderson?”

Nodding, I stood up. According to the investigation, I was in the clear. Nobody could blame me for arson. I glanced down at the bracelet that dangled from my small wrist. The three diamonds that rested in it were the only ones who knew the truth but since they were sealed away in a beautiful death, my freedom and future were just that, mine, and I could finally welcome the rebirth of Ella Cinderson.

 

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