Cinderella, At the Ball

Light seeps in around the edges of the door. Not enough to see by, but enough to know it’s daytime and I should stop sleeping now.

I pick at the hole near the baseboard of the closet. Insulation pokes out and makes my hands itch, but I ignore it. I focus on making the hole bigger.

My plan to escape the closet came after hearing mice in the walls, scrabbling around as I tried to sleep. If they can move around in the walls, maybe I can, too.

The only problem is working without making noise. As the wall rips away in my hands, the hole grows, but so does my fear of discovery. They can’t know. They can’t find out.

The jingling of keys forces me to the front of the closet. It must be time to eat. Or maybe it’s time to go to the bathroom. I can’t always keep the schedule straight.

Bright light hurts my eyes and I duck my head down until they adjust. She’s standing in front of me, blocking some of the light. Well, one of them, at least. I can never tell them apart. I think they like it that way.

She thrusts some paper into my hands. No, not paper. An envelope. I open my mouth to ask about it, but she turns and leaves. She doesn’t shut the door again, so I take it as an invitation to leave the closet.

The envelope is heavy in my hands. Who knew paper could weigh so much.

I slit it open with my fingernail and ease the contents out. Frilly pinks and whites surround elegant handwriting.

You are cordially invited to the Branson’s for Emily’s Sixteenth Birthday Masquerade
Saturday, October 31
7pm
Please wear a mask

A masquerade! My heart leaps at the thought of fancy masks, feathers, and ballgowns. I can’t let the twins know about it. They’d never let me go. I burn the invitation.

I count down the days until the ball. Back in the dark of the closet, I have to fight to pay attention, counting meals and bathroom trips. I can’t miss the party.

The hole in the wall is almost me-sized. The pieces are stacked in the back corner of the closet, as far from the door as possible. The ladies haven’t seemed to notice.

I wish I knew why they kept me in here. I wish I could tell them apart. Every time I thought I had a connection with one of them, the other would show up and confuse me again. All I wanted was to get out of this closet.

Saturday comes. Dinner is served. The ladies settle in downstairs for the evening. The soft blare of the tv reaches my ears, muffled through so many walls and doors.

The hole in the wall is big enough. I’m amazed the ladies haven’t caught me. The thought disappears once I wiggle into the space and find my way outside. I had to break another hole in the outer wall, but freedom is worth any price.

I don’t have a dress. Only the rags the ladies saw fit to allow me to wear. I run into the woods near our house. Their house, I remind myself. It was never mine.

Leaves crunch under my feet. Twigs snag my clothes and snap. I fashion a mask from sapling twigs, pliable and strong, and leaves stolen from trees. Acorns adorn the sides where jewels and feathers should be.

I am ready.

People at the party give me a wide berth. I want to dance, but no one crosses the gap between them and me. This makes me want to flip tables over, but I don’t because that would make me a bad guest. I want nothing more than to stay here.

I eat the food and stalk the edges of the crowd. No one speaks to me, but everyone watches me from the corners of their eyes.

A mirror reflects my image as I make my rounds around the room. A waif of a girl stares back at me. Dingy clothes, matted hair, a mask made of the wilds. I don’t recognize myself.

Grabbing the nearest heavy object, a crystal vase with real roses in it, I smash the mirror. The crash satisfies the beast inside me.

The music stops. Everyone stares at me, the wild girl with feral ways and bared teeth. I growl at them. They take a collective step back.

The ladies glide through the crowd, confident and calm. Without a word, they grasp my arms and guide me home. Not to the closet, though. I’ve become too good at escaping for that.

I don’t know what lies in store for me at our home. Their home. It was never mine.

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