“A single inch/separates their two bodies/facing one another/in the picture” – Dunya Mikhail, “Tablets”
She was only one of uncountable numbers. She was the last lost slipper in a sea of slippers, almost too unremarkable to be noticed. But she noticed it, noticed her place among the oceans of others appearing to be just like her. She knew that there must be more to existence than sitting on a conveyor belt inching her way toward packaging, crating, and ultimately shipping.
At the other end of shipping she could be only one of a hundred, or one of thousands. Perhaps a novelty item in a five-and-dime store – or the Dollar Store, as they called them nowadays. Freighted, unpacked and put out on a cheap shelf under buzzing fluorescent lights, to be pawed through and dropped thoughtlessly into a shopping cart, rung up and forgotten in a flimsy plastic bag in the back of someone’s car trunk or upstairs closet.
Yet, who was she? She was gratified to at least be a graceful shape of the lost slipper of a fairy tale heroine, the glass shoe of the illustrious Cinderella, a figure not only of the Northern European tradition notated by Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault – who had entitled his story after her (“Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper”) – but a figure also of many other folk traditions around the world. Korea, China, Africa, South Asia – all had their own stories in the Cinderella tradition. How had she learned this? Although she, a glass slipper ornament, could not read, speak or write, she was fortunate to be stamped elegantly (she thought) with a brief blurb covering the origins of the Cinderella folk tale – the words stamped in lovely gold lettering on the insole of her slipper-shape.
Sitting in the dark, waiting, inside the cardboard box that surrounded her during shipping, she tried not to despair. Perhaps some miracle would occur. Perhaps she would not be doomed to an existence in obscurity and ultimately tossed out – or, perhaps worse – neglected. Lost, again, just another piece of detritus in someone’s junk drawer or closet.
Light spiked into her cardboard box at last. Her carton was being opened up, she was being handled by human hands, she was being placed somewhere. She braced herself for the humming fluorescent tubes, for the vast shelves of sameness. She would retain her dignity, no matter the humdrum fate that awaited her in the stale air and cacaphonous environment that no doubt awaited her. She was a glass slipper, she was THE lost glass slipper, of Cinderella. Cendrillon, ou La petite Pantoufle de Verre, she repeated to herself. Je suis elegante, je suis belle, je suis unique. Where she had picked up the French was anyone’s guess, but there it was.
What was this? She had been set carefully on a small mirrored tray, surrounded by treasured jeweled boxes, sparkling tiara headbands, rhinestone-studded hair barrettes. The air was softly cool and there was music. Not clashy wildly tuneless music, but lyrical symphonic music playing quietly overhead. All along the opposite wall in this small-ish cozy space was an elegant medley of tea services, some bone china, some delicately colored mugs, all soothingly harmonious to her unusually aesthetic sense of taste and style.
A tag was affixed to her heel. The lettering – which she absorbed discreetly from the neatly lettered cardstock through the short piece of twine looped around her slipper’s heel – said “Queen Anne Tea Room.” Queen Anne! Ah! The words chimed inside her, Queen Anne . . . Queen Anne . . . tea room, tea room. She had never heard them before, but she knew instantly that this was it, the fate she had been destined for, the fate for which she had hoped but had almost not dared dream of.
She was, after all, a Princess of a slipper. She had known it from the beginning.
It was only a few days later that a little girl chose her to take home. She was wrapped up – not in a flimsy cardboard carton this time, but enveloped in a purple tissue cloud and embedded with sparkly “princess-packing” in a smart handled-sack – and carried home with the little girl. She was delighted to find her place at the top of a dresser in the little girl’s room, a position that gave her a complete view of the girl’s princess-themed room, complete with castle-mural on one wall and mirror-sliding closet doors on the other. A pastel gauze-tent suspended from the ceiling adorned the princess-style bed, and she was only ever taken down to be admired by the little girl and her friends, never handled roughly, never tossed into the back of a closet or inside a drawer to be ignored. Many years later, when the little girl had grown up and moved away, the girl’s mother saved her. To be enjoyed by yet another little girl, the granddaughter.
It was a life to be envied.
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