From toilets to riches./That story.
–Anne Sexton, “Cinderella”
Cast of Characters
Once upon a time, the bathroom of a fabulous mansion. The stepsisters, dressed in their finest, hold an invitation. Cinderella wears a tattered, tacky and outdated gown—perhaps an old bridesmaid’s dress. She is brushing her sisters’ hair and helping them get ready. Makeup and beauty accessories are strewn everywhere.
* * * * *
Cinderella: I simply wondered if I could borrow one for the ball. You must have a hundred!
SS1: (to SS2) Can you believe this ingrate? (to C) We don’t have a hundred dresses. We have, like, ninety-eight, maybe ninety-nine—
SS2: A hundred. Sheesh.
SS1: Like we didn’t give her that very dress on her back.
SS2: From our very own closet. Out of the goodness of our hearts.
SS1: One of my favorite dresses, too. Do you know what that cost when I bought it?
Cinderella: I didn’t mean to sound ungrateful—
SS2: Isn’t this always how it is with them? Never satisfied. Gimme gimme gimme. (beat) What next? You’ll need some shoes, I suppose. You’ll just have to have a pair of stockings. Oh, and don’t forget a coat because it’s so “cold” outside. Next thing you know our closets AND our pockets will be empty. (beat) She’ll be our ruin, you know.
SS1: Sucking us dry.
SS2: Squeezing blood from a stone.
Cinderella: No, no, no! I’m so grateful—
SS2: Put a house over her head.
SS1: Bread on her table.
SS2: The pleasure of our company. (beat) Ouch! Not so hard!
Cinderella: I’m sorry! I’m sorry! (beat) I just, I just really wanted to go to the ball. You’re right. It doesn’t matter what I wear. This dress is perfectly fine. Really. I love it. The stains, they’re kind of—postmodern, you know? I could patch these holes…
SS1: What do you think sis? Maybe we should let her come with us.
Cinderella: Really? You mean it?
SS1: Sure. Why not? You’ll get your chores done?
Cinderella: Of course!
SS1: And you have your photo ID right?
SS2: You know they’ll be checking at the door. Can’t get in without one!
Cinderella: But I don’t have an ID.
SS1: What? No ID?
SS2: What kind of person doesn’t have an ID?
SS1: You trying to hide something?
Cinderella: I wanted to get one, I did, but my chores always take into the wee hours of the night and the office closes at five every day…
SS2: Oh? So now it’s our fault?
SS1: Because we actually asked her to earn her keep?
Cinderella: I’m not saying that—
SS1: You know, it’s like anything else. If you really wanted it badly enough, you would have found a way. Too bad. We tried. Guess you’ll have to stay home after all. (beat) That looks good. Spray it already! Do I have to do it myself?
Cinderella sprays both the girls’ hair,
they all cough. The girls prepare to leave.
SS2: You know, Cinderella, it’s really all for the best. If we gave you a new dress to wear, drove you there, found a way to slip you into the ball without an ID—we wouldn’t really be doing you a favor.
SS1: a disservice, actually. Really, we’d be enabling you.
SS2: What’s the bottom rung of a ladder there if not to climb?
SS1: You know what they say—buy a girl a fish and she eats for a day, but teach her to fish—
SS2: And she can make a fine kettle of sushi! (pause) Wait, no, teach her there’s a lot of big fish in the sea even if she’s feeling small (pause). No. That’s not it. I know! Teach her to bury the bones under her bed—
SS1: Would you shut up? (beat) The point, Cinderella, is: would you rather be a taker or a maker?
Cinderella: Ummm… a maker…?
SS1: Exactly. (beat) Look at the time. We must be going. Speaking of making, don’t forget what I said about my breakfast tomorrow. Over easy. You always cook the eggs too long and then I have nothing to dip my toast into. I mean, that’s not really how you want me to start my day, is it?
Cinderella: No, stepsister.
SS2: Oh, and sweep the roof outside my window. I think there’s a bunch of birds trying to build a nest up there. They creep me out. I feel like they’re just waiting to swoop in and peck my eyes out or something.
Cinderella: Yes, stepsister.
The stepsisters exit. Cinderella waves at them
through the window, then returns to scrub
the toilet. She stops, sits on the toilet to rub her foot.
FG, appears in a poof of smoke. She’s smoking.
She drops a heavy bag on the ground beside her.
Cinderella coughs, waves the smoke away.
FG: Don’t worry. It’s not REAL smoke. Vapor. I’m trying to quit. There’s this rewards program at work—
FG: Sorry. Long day. And that commute!
FG reaches into her bag, pulls out a folded stack
of clothes, hands them to Cinderella.
Here you go.
Cinderella eyes the clothes skeptically.
For the ball. I know! I know! You were expecting a little more “pizazz.” I told them you kids were going to be disappointed. But you know how it goes. Everyone’s pinching pennies. Tightening their belts. Wadding their tights. Can’t “itemize” pizazz…
Cinderella: You’re my fairy godmother?
FG: Who were you expecting? Ryan Seachrist?
Cinderella: Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of wand-waving?
FG: Oh that. They took our wands last month. Had all us fairy godmothers, good witches, leprechauns on a family plan, but the rates skyrocketed. Not to worry. We can make do—
SG reaches into her bag, digs around, finally
pulls out a small American Flag, shows it
to Cinderella. Cinderella shrugs an assent.
FG flourishes it like a wand.
Cinderella: That’s it?
FG: I’ve got some glitter in here—hold on.
She digs around in her purse.
Oops. That’s gum.
Throws it in the wastebasket. Pulls out
a bottle of Viagra. Shakes it.
For Prince Not-So-Charming. Gotta leave some things to the pharmacists, if you know what I mean.
Winks. Shoves them back in.
Oh! Here we go!
Pulls out a vial, sprinkles glitter into her palm,
throws a handful at Cinderella.
(beat) Bippety Boo?
Cinderella unfolds the clothes, holds them up to her
in front of the mirror, inspects the tag.
Cinderella: Ooooh! You’re not messing around! Are those Jimmy Choos? All for me? For free?
She starts to undress.
FG: Well, not exactly free. There are certain limits. You’ve got to be home by midnight. You can’t use your fairy bucks for soda or beer. Oh, yes, and a teensy weensy drug test.
She pokes Cinderella with a needle
Cinderella: Ouch! Watch it lady!
FG: Hey, not my idea. But you know people. Want to make sure their taxes aren’t going to some wicked welfare queen. Now come, come. Tick tock. Don’t want to turn into a pumpkin shell or something like that.
Cinderella: Hey, what size are these shoes? They’re a bit big—
FG: You know how hard it is to find women’s shoes in a four? Don’t give me that face. Just stuff some of that toilet paper there in the toe—
Cinderella, unwinding toilet paper.
Cinderella: They won’t slip off?
FG: Just don’t try any of those fancy dance moves—electric slide, lambada, tweeting-
Cinderella: You mean twerking?
FG: Whatever it is you kids are calling it these days. Now scoot along, you. I’ve got a long list of disenfranchised orphans to check in on before the old clock strikes twelve.
Cinderella: Wait. Aren’t you MY fairy godmother?
FG: Oh, I hope you don’t mind. Sure, in the good old days they’d give us two, three cases, tops. But with the recession and more of you lining up every day—You know, originally you weren’t even assigned to me.
Cinderella: What do you mean?
FG: You were supposed to be the mirror’s case, that old kiss-ass. When they cut our benefits, he nabbed a job working as a life-coach for some queen up on the hill. Dumped all his cases. You ask me, I think he sold out.
Cinderella: How so?
FG: It doesn’t pay much, but it feels good to help a sister, you know? After all, aren’t we all just one glass slipper away from scrubbing toilets and talking to mice? There but for the grace of this wand go I…But enough of that. You ready? ‘Cuz I’ve got a pumpkin with your name written all over it. (beat) Well, not literally all over it. But I did get you one of those dangly dice, you know, to hang from the mirror—
FG reaches into her bag.
Cinderella: Wait a minute. All this talk of helping people has me thinking. You’re not one of them socialist fairies, are you?
FG: Socialist Fairies?
Cinderella: You know. The dress. The shoes. The free cell phone. My sisters warned me…
FG: Well, like I said it’s not really free. Think of it as an investment.
Cinderella: How do you mean?
FG: We invest in you, you go to the ball, marry the prince, become a pillar of society, give back—
Cinderella: Give back? To “society”? I knew it! Quick! You’ve got to get out of here before my stepsisters come home…
FG: What? You silly goose! I’m totally Laissez Faire! In fact, you might want to call me your Laissez-faire—y Godmother!”
She elbows Cinderella.
Cinderella: (recoiling) Lazy?
FG: No. Laissez-faire—it’s French. I was punning.
Cinderella: I don’t speak French. Fox news says the French—
FG: You watch that crap?
Cinderella: Stepmother usually has it on when I’m shaving her legs.
FG: Look, I’m no socialist. Trust me. I’m a card-carrying capitalist! Invisible hand! Horatio Alger! Rags to Riches. All that jazz. I’m just trying to give you a leg up—and a fine leg it is for dancing. (beat) Wait. Are you limping?
Cinderella: Oh, that. I banged my foot last night when I was going to bed. Stepmother is trying to save on the electric bill, so I’m supposed to use candles now and what with the draft in the shed—
FG: the shed?
Cinderella: You know, where I sleep. The flame blew out and there I was in the dark and I heard the mice scurrying around and I freaked out and tripped over the rake. Clumsy me!
FG: It looks awfully swollen. Is it—oozing?
Cinderella: I think one of the mice bit me when I fell—
FG: Maybe you should see a doctor…
Cinderella: Stepmother says she can’t afford to put me on her health insurance. Besides, between working all day here and then picking cabbage for Mother Gothel on the weekends, who has time to see a doctor?
FG: You really should take it easy tonight—let me see if I’ve got a nice pair of orthotics in here somewhere. Definitely not a size five, but I’m sure we can work something out—
Cinderella: Actually, maybe I should just stay home. My stepsisters—
FG: What? And miss your chance for love at first sight? I’m pretty sure I’ve at least got an ankle wrap. These bags! You buy a bigger bag to hold all your stuff, and then POOF! everything just disappears.
As she talks she throws various magical items from
her bag: four leaf clovers, some apples, a rabbit,…
Cinderella: Look—it’s awfully kind of you. I mean, I, like totally appreciate your help—
FG: Maybe a crutch—
Cinderella: Really, it’s fine. I’ve got this toilet to clean, the fireplace to sweep. My sisters’ underwear to scrub. (beat) Besides, don’t you think it’s kind of unfair?
FG: Absolutely! Your stepmother should add you to her health insurance. And a shed? I don’t understand why you don’t just walk out.
Cinderella: No. I mean sneaking into the ball. I don’t want to traipse in there like, you know, one of those Mexicans sneaking across the border.
FG: But you were invited. All the girls in the kingdom were.
Cinderella: Even if I don’t have an ID?
FG: It says right here:
She pulls out a scroll and reads
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses—”
Cinderella: You sure you’re not a socialist?
FG: Oh, wait. Silly me. Wrong invitation. Hold on.
FG digs around. Pulls out an invitation.
“All ladies of the kingdom are invited to the Prince’s ball. BYOBB.”
FG: Bring your own bippety boo.
She throws more glitter at Cinderella,
then hands her the vial.
Cinderella: I don’t know. I should at least pay my own way, don’t you think? Buy my own dress? Pull myself up by my own (beat) slipper straps?
FG: Slippers don’t have straps. Besides, how are you going to even afford the cab fare?
Cinderella: I’m expecting a raise any day.
FG: Don’t you need a wage to get a raise?
Cinderella: Sssh! Keep it down. If Stepmother hears you she might think I’m a rabble rouser. Or worse. A liberal! I can’t afford to lose my job.
FG: YOU WORK FOR NOTHING!
Cinderella: She says if she has to pay me, that she won’t be able to keep the house. And then where would I live? How would I eat?
FG: Your stepmother lives in a castle. Your stepsisters winter on the Riviera. They own a private jet for Chrissake. You don’t think she could afford to pay you a living wage? You’re totally exploited!
Cinderella, having never owned anything
begins to take possession of an idea.
Cinderella: That may be true. But you know what else I am? An American. And I have a dream. Just like my father did. And his father. And his father before him.
FG: Here we go.
Cinderella: My ancestors were born on this soil, worked their way up from the dirt, proud, hard, American dirt so one day I could be here (beat) Well, not here in this bathroom exactly, but you know what I mean.
FG: Hmm. That’s not entirely true.
Cinderella: Excuse me?
FG: Your ancestors—they’re Chinese—at least that’s what most literary historians believe.
Cinderella: I don’t follow—
FG: Yeah. Horatio Algier—he’s American. But, you my dear, you’re probably from Asia. That’s why your feet are so small. You know. The whole foot fetish thing. Foot binding. Kind of a kinky story for kids, if you ask me—
Cinderella: That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Does my name sound Chinese to you?
FG: Well, Cinderella isn’t actually your name. It’s your nickname. Because you work in the cinders. The dirt. You really should think about asking them to call you something different, you know. Can’t be good for your morale.
Cinderella: Whatever. You’re just trying to upset me.
FG: Upset you?
Cinderella: Swooping in here with your wand and your orthotic shoes and your historical “facts,” wanting to “change” me. (beat.) You know, I’ve heard about people like you. Flitting around, what with your hand outs, your public assistance, your empathy, ‘blah, blah, blah, let’s redistribute the wealth; it’ll be good for the people’ blah, blah, blah.’
FG: Well, I admit I’d like to see more equity—
Cinderella: Trying to give me “free” things. Well, no thank you Miss Fairy Godmother or whatever your real name is. You know who’d like your handouts? That broad down the road—“
FG: Sleeping Beauty?
Cinderella: Yeah, that’s the one. Sleeping her life away. And what about that Snow White and her seven brats? No father in sight. She’s a piece of work, I tell you, over there leeching off the system, claiming she’s got some disability, food allergies or something—and all of them working under the table in that mine. I saw her the other day at the grocery store. You know what was in her cart?
Cinderella: Lobster! Can you believe that? Here she’s paying with fairy stamps and she’s buying lobster. Like ramen noodles and a bag of apples aren’t good enough—Ouch!
Here, you can have these back.
She takes off the shoes, sits down,
rubs her sore foot.
FG: Are you okay? Seriously. You really should see a doctor.
Cinderella: That’s another thing with you people! Always trying to give us health care. Go see a doctor. It’ll be good for you. Medicine is so wonderful. Here, have some medicine. Blah blah blah. You think you can just wave your little “antibiotic” wand and make an infection disappear?
Cinderella: Next thing you’ll be telling me you want to help me get an education—and POOF! free books and night classes. Well no thank you lady!
FG Has reached into her bag and is holding
books in her hand; she quickly shoves them
back into her bag. Cinderella makes some sort
of conciliatory gesture.
Cinderella: Look. Maybe you mean well—
FG: I do—
Cinderella: But I say, if poverty was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me. Did Jesus have a fairy godmother? Did Jesus ride around in a pumpkin coach? You never saw Jesus dancing with a prince and he turned out just fine. He ate his fish and drank his wine and didn’t ask for more. He slept in his dark, damp manger with all the mice and didn’t complain. He read his Bible– not some Economics 101 textbook. And he turned out just fine. That’s what I say to myself, you know, when I’m feeling low. I say, Cindy, what would Jesus do? And then that’s what I do. (beat)
She realizes she’s holding up the toilet wand
like a scepter and becomes self-conscious; she puts
it down, reaches past FG for Windex, begins to polish
the mirror—maybe leans in, knocks on it to make sure.
FG: So let me get this straight. You don’t want help getting to the ball. And you don’t want help getting a doctor. And you don’t want help going to college. Is there anything I can do to help you?
Cinderella: Oh my god. I’d really love to be on The Bachelor. Think you can pull some strings?
FG sits down on the toilet, pulls out a pack
of cigarettes. Lights a cigarette, rubs her temples.
Elizabeth Johnston‘s teaches writing, literature, and gender studies at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. Her fascination with gender and mythology infuses her creative work; since 2011, her poetry, which has been nominated for a Pushcart and “Best of the Net,” has appeared in a variety of print and online journals and edited collections. You can read her most recent poems in New Verse News, Mom Egg Review, NonBinary Review, The Luminary, Rose Red Review, Carbon Culture, and cahoodaloodaling. Her co-authored play, FourPlay, was featured at the 2014 Rochester Fringe Festival and received honorable mention in cahoodaloodaling’s 2014 In Cahoots Collaboration Contest. Elizabeth is a founding member of the award-winning writer’s group, Straw Mat.