Sunday, July 15, 2012

Free read: Desirous of Shoes

Every month on the fifteenth day, I post up a new free read on my web site. Though most of what I write for money is very, very naughty, most of what I write for fun is, well, not. This is one of the not stories. But just check out those shoes! -- viv

"Desirous of Shoes"

~1,700 words

PG Rating | Fairy tale (with some tongue-in-cheek allegory)

Summary: Princess Sparklebutton wants, more than anything else, some fabulous shoes that fit, but asking anything of her self-absorbed parents is an exercise in Disappointment. Until Cornelius comes to court to set that shit straight.

In a pearl palace by the sea lived a princess, Sparklebutton. She was a good princess, always obedient. She studied Deportment, Duty, Diligence, Daughtering, and Dancing, and all of these with bare feet because no shoemaker in the kingdom could fashion shoes that would fit. Her feet, you see, were super tiny. Not tiny in the cute little “Well, ain’t that dainty!” sort of way, either. More like, “Da-yamn, are you sure those are feet and not butterfly wings?” The exclamations had long since turned to sniggerings, but they weren’t what hurt the most. Sparklebutton was so used to the cuts and scrapes on her feet -- and the heckles in her ears -- that she had long since given up complaining. She took her studies to heart and kept her mouth shut.

Mostly because she knew no one would listen if she did whine. Papa-the-King (whom schoolchildren read about in Despot lesson) was most often overseeing the court or closeted with his council or observing a beheading. He had a lot on his mind. Mama-the-Queen (mentioned in Demand lesson) kept herself similarly occupied. Not that she accomplished much, but lordy did she talk about things that needed doing. Mama-the-Queen kept the whole court hopping -- sometimes literally -- with her barrage of commands and constant stream of complaint.

One afternoon, whilst Papa-the-King gleefully offered a foreign ambassador some poisoned mutton and Mama-the-Queen hit a dramatic point in her litany of personal ailments, trumpeters signaled a fresh visitor to court. Papa-the-King couldn’t be arsed to greet the newcomer, but Mama-the-Queen descended to the dais, still prattling to her clique of ladies-in-waiting, and flexed her wrist, indicating that the visitor could come forward.

The man was small, with a balding pate and a bulbous belly and a set of eyes that sparkled like the whole world was a big fat joke. He bowed as best he could and introduced himself as Cornelius Farnsworth, artisan journeyman, “at your service.”

“Your trade?” prompted a page.

Cornelius spread his hands wide, gesturing toward his unopened pack. “I am a cobbler, your majesties, good sirs. I’ve heard that such skills as mine are particularly needed in this realm.”

Papa-the-King perked up just long enough to hear “cobbler,” and as the foreign ambassador had just declined the mutton, that wily monarch said, “Indeed? Give him some cherries and send him to the kitchens, then. You do like red cherry cobbler, don’t you Lord Woovering, heh?”

The queen heard “artisan” and immediately, even  before he had confessed his area of expertise, compiled a list of tasks for her newest subject: craft her a new necklace of sea-fire opals, repair the trellis in her garden, re-lead the window in her sitting room, concoct a deep-moisturizing lotion from her stores of butternut aloes. And so on. Not a thing of which had to do with shoes.

Princess Sparklebutton said nothing, but her hopes fluttered. For she alone seemed to know what a cobbler was. All that study in Dictionary was finally paying off! When the household servants led Cornelius away, she followed, silent on her butterfly feet.

Her lessons in Discretion and Ducking and Disingenuousness proved useful too, for that whole fortnight, as Cornelius wrought, among other things, a perfect pair of tiny sandals from blush-orange rose petals and gilded mouse hide, Princess Sparklebutton watched in secret. At last he set a buckle atop, shaped like a butterfly, one on each shoe. The princess could feel the quilty softness of real-life shoes on her feet already. She felt taller just looking at them, and she could hardly contain her desire to touch them, to possess them. But she’d also studied Denial, and so she waited, coveting the shoes on his workbench all night long.

She was very sleepy the next morning when she joined the court, but she made certain not to be tardy. Today was a special, special day.

Cornelius arrived just before tea, and Papa-the-King nearly burst a gut from glee.

“Oh, excellent,” he chortled. “Have you something for me, journeyman?”

Cornelius bowed low, creaking his stays, and held out a satin-wrapped box. A footman took it to the king’s table and opened it. Within lay a pair of cherry-red boots, knee-high and with perfect one-inch heels and gem-crusted toes. The leather had been tooled with gold along the tops and loops, blazons of the kingdom’s coat of arms intertwined with that of its ally. Papa-the-King looked, at best, underwhelmed. Sparklebutton feared for poor Cornelius’s life, especially given her father’s delight in beheadings. But before the king could say a thing, Lord Woovering leapt from his chair, looking alarmingly healthy, and snatched up the boots.

“Oh, Your Majesty! How did you know that my favorite color was red? And this very shade? You do love me, you do!”  He immediately kicked off his court-heels and pulled on the delectable boots. His face pinched a bit when he took his first wobbly steps, but he shrugged off the discomfort as just needing to work in the leather.

Cornelius bowed again, slightly, and his eyes sparkled.

It was at that moment that Mama-the-Queen swept into the chamber, an attendant with scroll and pen in hand fiercely scribbling in the wake of her machine-gun instructions. “The fountain in the formal garden has sprung a leak -- again! -- and Mrs Heartshorn should be told, not by me, that I can tell the difference between fresh-laundered linens and those just sniffed a bit first and left to molder another day -- Oh, how do I even endure this life? -- and also you must inform Lady Midgeon that she has a hole in her winter mitten, the right one, and should have it mended immediate... Wow, what are those?” She peered at Lord Woovering’s elegantly shod feet. He’d gone a bit pale, possibly from the pinch, but he stretched them out proudly for her inspection.

“Your Grace, if you will permit me...” Cornelius bowed his lowest yet. He looked like he might teeter over entirely but caught himself just before.  All the while, he held out a slim white box to the queen. It was done up in silver tissue and had, instead of a bow, a bunch of pure white feathers at its top.

The queen grabbed up the box herself and yanked off the wrappings with her very own dainty hands. She even ceased talking whilst she did it. Whether for that or for the beauty of what was in the box, everyone at court turned and hissed in a breath of appreciation when she pulled free two silver-and-white slippers. So soft, so fragile, they looked as if a drop of rain might melt them. The queen toed off her own shoes right away and slid her tired feet into those cool white pillows.

She closed her eyes. She sighed. She stood right there in the middle of the throne chamber and said nothing at all for several moments. Finally her lips parted, and one word escaped: “Bliss.”

Lord Woovering cracked the silence with a cough that turned into a choke. By the time the assembled ministers and sycophants had turned, though, Lord Woovering was already stiff as a scepter. Papa-the-King watched his ally’s minister tip over onto the floor, steam coming out of his ears and blood dribbling from his eye sockets.

“Pity,” the king murmured. “Clearly a rare and noncommunicable variety of plague. Haul him off now. Mutton anyone?”

As footmen lurched to do their master’s bidding, and as the queen balanced in bliss atop her perfectly pillowed feet, the court settled into a dull hum of chatter. Cornelius allowed himself the slightest of grins as he backed out of the chamber.

Princess Sparklebutton watched him retreat with horror, but her lessons in Disguise and Dismay kept her facial expression neutral. She could even weep and no one would know it, and she found herself very close to doing so now. Where were her shoes, her perfect shoes that would do the very thing she wanted most? She had seen them, even, and knew they existed. But Cornelius hadn’t presented them to her.

The princess then did a very unprincesslike thing. She observed the assembled company, the sycophants and servants and parents. None of them gave a thwack of mud at her suffering. None of them gave a thwack of anything about her. Perhaps they never had.  The princess rose from her tiny chair and left the room.

No one said a thing. Not even the queen.

That night, Princess Sparklebutton packed up her barest essentials, filched a cheap gray kirtle from the downstairs maid, and crept down to the secret abbey gate, the one that priests and kings could use to escape in case of siege. She probably should not have known where to find it, but her lessons had strayed, as lessons sometimes do. The fact was that Sparklebutton knew a great deal about a great number of things, and no one in her kingdom cared to hear about it. Well, she’d show them. She’d make it on her own, out in the great wildering world. And she’d do it shoeless, curse that Cornelius.

At the far side of the moat bridge, beside the road leading to Elsewhere, sat a pink package, mottled dark by the starlight. It was about the right size. Sparklebutton knelt and opened it, and despite all her mastery of lessons, she had to bite her lip to keep from weeping.

Within that box sat the butterfly shoes. She knew as she fit them on to her feet that they would be perfect. In those shoes, she felt known, brave, and sufficient, maybe for the first time in her life. A tear or two escaped. And that was even before she read the letter from Cornelius:

“Tiny princess, you’ve done so very well at your lessons. The grandmaster has told me all about it. You’ve mastered Derivation, Drudgery, Dismal, and Deadlines. Doormattery, Duty, Dusting, Derision, and Dwindle. All of the Ds, in fact, every single one. And clearly, if you are reading this, you've set out on the road to Elsewhere already. So I’ve matriculated you on to the next letter. Try a skip with those shoes, and you will see that you can near fly in them, cover vast swaths of this realm in a single leap. Indulge, my dear, for your first lesson, Freedom, will require extensive practice.”

The End.

Story copyright 2012 by Viv Jackson. Shoes by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen: observe them in all their glory here

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