By Tiffany Chan
The distant clang of the cathedral bells sent a shock running down the girl’s spine – midnight had come. The ball was over.
This peal jolted her into action – it was as if an invisible hand was pushing her out of her seat and kicking her feet into motion, sending her running away from the balcony where her Prince Charming stood, without even a goodbye. She could hear him calling out in confusion and desperation after her, but run she must – disappear before the magic wore out and all went back to normal.
The girl cut a line amongst the dancing couples as she ran through the ballroom. The chiming of the bells meant nothing to these dancers – to them, time meant little more than a signifier of how long the ball had progressed. But Ella did not belong to this world.
The doors separating Ella from the open air loomed large before her now. The back of the room was not well illuminated and the lacquered panels now stood ominously shut before her. It was as if the room was telling her to stay, trying to force her back towards the life of the party and to the prince now approaching ever closer towards her. With her hands on the door handles, Ella looked back.
The dancers seemed so far away now. Standing under the light of the chandeliers, these lords and ladies looked fairy-like as they waltzed gracefully across the marble floors. Ella had only been here for a night, and would probably never come back, but it had felt like forever. Attired in a beautiful sky-blue gown, and those unreal glass slippers; being able to dance not with her broomstick but real people, graceful gents – it was all like a dream. Time seemed to have stopped in her ecstasies. And yet-
It was easy enough to leave, once time had made its presence felt and grounded her in reality again. Beyond the gargantuan double doors laid Ella’s life, the world she had known for years before some phenomenon had whirled her into a castle, some utopian setting she had only ever read about. And as she pushed open the doors, she knew that she would return to her little life bursting with new ideas, but also a newfound peace.
Running down the stairs – the ground was so near now. She would know where she was soon. That was the peace she longed for: to dust off the magic of this night and let it live on only in her memory.
Even so, her life would never feel the same again – she would see the most extravagant delights in place of her jam and bread, imagine satin ball gowns when she opened her meagre closet, curtsey to her broomstick from across the room – but there would be no bittersweetness in any of it. Her mind had been introduced to vivid colours that would sharpen the hues and tints of her life as it was; it was up to her to use them.
And then Ella lost her slipper. There it was, gleaming on the red carpet a few steps behind her. The castle was really pulling her back, telling her to remain in the timeless fantasy of the place. She told herself she would retrieve it and continue down without so much as a glance at the castle. She began back up the steps-
Out of the cracks of the castle doors a dazzling young man came dashing out. Ella thought about the massive gulf between the prince and herself as she was. But it was not a fear of letting him see her in rags that propelled herself down the stairs.
As she raced towards the carriage that would soon become a pumpkin, Ella thought about the shoe that she would leave for the prince. She did not want to be trapped in that place of fairy tales forever. She had been happy, but those glass slippers hurt.
Though, as the magic faded and Cinderella found herself once again draped in the remnants of the family’s satin, she felt like a spell had been cast on her mind forever – she would reimagine her little attic room into a ballroom fit for kings. In fact, this would make a great fairytale, she thought as her pumpkin rattled back home.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova