Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Eldest Sister

This upside-down fairy tale leapt out of the dark and moldy recesses of my brain without a warning or explanation.


The Eldest Sister

~ A Fairy Tale ~

Anastasia wished she were an only child. And an orphan. Her father died when she was seven. She vaguely remembered the funeral; being stuffed into uncomfortably stiff clothes and suffering through a boring and tedious ceremony. At the time she had a hard time understanding why she was required to feign grief over a man she barely knew. It was not in the custom of her class for parents to be personally involved in the upbringing of their own offspring; that was strictly for the lower classes. Anastasia and her younger sister Drizella were dolled up like miniature adults and trotted out for major family occasions a few times a year, but they did the majority of their growing up under the watchful eyes of the hired help.

The only person who ever truly cared for Anastasia, who was there for her when she was sick or heart-broken, who hugged her and read her bedtime stories, was Rosario, her nanny. Rosario secretly indulged her many un-lady-like impulses, like climbing trees and running barefoot in tall grass. She even sneaked books out of Anastasia's father's library - books deemed unsuitable for the delicate sensibilities of young ladies. Anastasia liked reading adventure stories, tales about monsters of the oceans, faraway lands, and the strange people who inhabited them. She especially loved maps, and could pore over them for hours on end. At first she tried to share her daydreams of fantastical adventures with her sister, but Drizella was only interested in fairy tales about princes and princesses.

Anastasia's own mother only began to take notice of her when she turned fourteen, and thus became eligible for marriage. Once her mother had taken care of her own future by re-marrying to Lord Tremaine, her main goal in life became to find advantageous matches for her two daughters.

Anastasia's fourteenth birthday was also the day when Rosario was sent away. She would have been let go sooner if it were not for Drizella, who was two years younger. Anastasia pleaded with her mother to keep Rosario for the sake of their stepsister who was only ten at the time, but Lady Tremaine drew petty joy from slighting her stepdaughter. From then on Anastasia was entirely in the care of a herd of tutors who taught her how to twitter and prattle in French, draw, play the piano, sing, dance, act like a proper wife material, and hide any evidence of possessing a brain or personality. Of course, this sort of education started years previously, but at least before she had Rosario to turn to for solace.

While Anastasia kept giving their tutors headaches and paroxysms, the two younger girls were model students. Especially the youngest one. Her name was "Cinderella" – a fittingly frilly name for a frilly girl. Cindy was fashionably thin and pale, flaunting the delicate and anemic look that was widely considered proper for young ladies of their social standing; no doubt, thanks to her picky eating habits and her regular "purges". She was also a complete airhead who liked pretty dresses, pretty flowers, pretty songs, pretty animals - mostly from the distance, and as long as their smell and dirtier habits didn't intrude upon her.

The death of Lord Tremaine - he choked on a rabbit bone - passed almost unnoticed by the women of the house. He was a doddering old man to begin with, who had spent most of his days napping in his study. His passing only affected Cinderella, who was now even less shielded from the trifling slights of her stepmother. Lady Tremaine considered her stepdaughter as an unwelcome competition to her own daughters. She expressed her dislike by denying Cinderella her own maid, limiting the number of new dresses she could have each year, and other similar petty insults. Of course, listening to Cinderella you'd think she was made to scrub the floors, or live in the attic. Not that she complained - oh no! Cindy was the master of suffering in silence. She raised passive aggression to an art form.

Years passed in mind numbing boredom of learning fatuous skills, and not learning any useful or interesting ones, going to balls and garden parties with people who had mastered those very skills, following the latest changes of fashion. Anastasia's only confidante and escape from the tedium was her maid Rosa, the very niece of her beloved Rosario. They were of the same age, and similar temperaments, but while Anastasia's flights of fancy were only limited by her own imagination, Rosa's were tempered by the practicality of her own class.

Whenever she had the chance Anastasia stole away to spend time with Rosa, or invented activities that required the presence and service of her maid. During their many conversations Anastasia discovered that there was a whole another world she knew little about, that was almost as foreign to her than those distant lands.

As Anastasia came to realize, Cindy was a drama queen - life to her was a never-ending melodrama in which she played the central role, and everyone else was relegated to be supporting cast. The current play was "The Grand Suffering of the Beautiful Young Maiden". Needless to say, her theatrics eventually caught the attention of one "Prince Charming" at one of the many balls the Dowager Lady Tremaine ushered the three girls. By this time Cindy was fifteen, Drizella seventeen, and Anastasia the ripe old age of nineteen - and all unmarried! Drizella had numerous suitors, but unfortunately all of them too low in social standing. Anastasia who had no intention of marrying did her best to discourage young men without being too obvious about it.

Naturally, when it was Cindy who caught the eye of the young royal, Lady Tremaine was spitting in rage, and did her scheming best to steer the amorous attentions of the young man from her stepdaughter to one of her own. Alas, her machinations came to naught.

The Prince was "charming" by default of his rank and marital eligibility, just as ladies of Anastasia's standing were considered "genteel" regardless of their true personal virtue or quality of mind. Anastasia found the Prince rather a bore, with the face and laugh of a horse, soft, effeminate lips, and a weak chin. His main interests were hunting, riding, and going to balls - all the necessary qualification for a future king. As a result, he and Cindy were perfect for each other; they were equally superficial and vacuous. They had the makings of a happy couple. Cindy no doubt would enjoy her next role as the "Beloved Queen of the Land".

The kingdom itself comprised of a handful of towns, a smattering of villages, mostly farmland, and a section of a river shared with five other "kingdoms".

"There's no greater royalty than the rooster residing over his rubbish heap," Rosa repeated the folk saying to Anastasia in confidence once. The truth of it hit Anastasia with a sudden brilliance: her mother's ambition, her stepsister’s soon-to-be domain – they were all nothing but rubbish heaps to the greater world outside. She knew without a doubt what it was she really wanted, and would be a fool not to pursue it.

The busy chaos of the wedding and the ensuing party provided the perfect opportunity. Anastasia had already had stolen a couple of coin purses from her mother. A few well-chosen words to Drizella would ensure that their mother would be distracted for the whole night. Rosa took care of the necessary supplies, men's clothes, and the two fast horses. By the time anyone they were discovered missing they were be far past the borders of the Seven Kingdoms, on their way to the distant shores of the sea. They were travelling as Sam and Bill, sons of a tradesman, out to make their own fortune in the world.

They lived adventurously ever after.

1 comment:

  1. Woohoo! Now that's my kind of fairy tale, Vanda.
    A brilliant and witty retelling indeed.

    I can only hope the dark and mouldy recesses of your brain startle us with some more tales along these lines.