Drizella, Alison Cao
CW: domestic abuse, reference to pregnancy/birth, death
Cinderella has a terrible, shameful secret. She is in love with one of her evil stepsisters—Drizella, the older one, the uglier one. She knows she shouldn’t be. Her sisters treat her like shit. They make her scrub the floors of their house until she gets splinters in her slim pretty white hands. Her only consolation is that her hands are pretty and slim and white, and she knows that for this reason Drizella will never stop looking at them. Drizella’s gaze sometimes feels tangible to Cinderella, like cockroaches are crawling up her spine. It doesn’t feel good to her. It feels inevitable, like how when someone tickles her all she can do is laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
Cinderella knows that Drizella will never love her back. Or if she does, it will be the love of a dog for its favorite stump to piss on. But Cinderella loves Drizella like a sunflower loves its namesake, like a compass loves the earth’s blind, roiling core. Hers is a love that does not need answering. It was woven into the sound of her name.
Once Drizella tells her to sweep the ashes off the fireplace. Cinderella says no before she realizes what has come from her mouth, and Drizella slaps her on her cheek. She puts both hands over Cinderella’s mouth and says, Don’t talk to me like that again. Ever. Cinderella falls asleep that night remembering the flush of Drizella’s palms, on her face, on her lips. She cups her left hand to her right cheek, preserving the heat, a candle searing the underside of her skin. It burns her behind the eyelids. It feels like she has a star in her belly.
Overnight Cinderella’s stomach distends to the size of a watermelon. Something is pushing up the bottom of her intestines, like a terrier nosing at her hand. The skin around her navel feels hot and tense, as if her body has swelled up in response to an injury she cannot perceive, shielding some vulnerable, fractured thing at the center of her flesh. Nobody notices, although Drizella sometimes squints at her when Cinderella’s back is turned, her face crumpling like a collision between two tectonic plates.
Whenever this happens, Cinderella bends her head down and concentrates on whatever she has been ordered to do: she wrings out suds from the sisters’ ball gowns, she scrubs off the dust that has petrified on their high-heeled shoes. Her meals, undigested, creep up her gullet; stars explode psychedelically in her peripheral vision. The ordeal is unquestionably painful, and sometimes agonizing, but it is something she can lose herself in. When she closes her eyes, the rush of nausea that follows reminds her of wind skidding past her cheeks, as if she has climbed to the roof of her house and leapt.
It becomes almost unbearable after a week. All day Cinderella has felt dizzy and sluggish, and now she cannot not sleep for how badly the pain scrapes at her organs. She grinds her teeth and rubs the ashes that have crusted in the crook of her elbow. Finally she squats on her pallet beside the fireplace, and she reaches inside herself with her second and middle fingers. She has seen the midwives in her village care for women in pain, and she knows what is happening to her.
The delivery takes all night, and sometimes she bites her lip so hard that her canines are tipped with blood, but when it is over something small and seedlike slips out into her hands. She watches it rise from her palms, blooming open into the humid air like a drop of paint in water. It has a mouth, and it shines, and its edges dissolve into the air like smoke. Under its light, the ashes smeared on Cinderella’s thighs seem to smolder again, as if the flame they once caught has not been entirely extinguished.
It says, I’m your fairy godmother. Tell me what you wish.
Cinderella looks across the room to Drizella, whose sleeping face is obscured by the shadows.
She remembers almost nothing of the ball, only how lifeless the prince’s face seemed, perfect in the way that marble statues are; she imagines striking a pickaxe against him and watching the fractures web across his skin. Around her waist, his hands feel like cages, or corsets of bare whalebone. He asks her name but she pretends not to hear him; the entire room is too radiant and loud, and it blares into her eyes and ears both. She wants to ignore him until he says it again, insistently, so in response she mouths Drizella’s name, quietly, slipping it below the din. The sound is a scar across her mouth, a canker sore, raw and red and open.
And then it is all over; she is married; her stepmother dances on hot coals on their wedding day. Cinderella watches the soles of her feet dissolve on the charcoal. She sees the granite creeping up the necks of her stepsisters. The prince orders them to be hauled to the gates of their castle, to serve as guards, or gargoyles, or both, and he says that it is a better fate than either of them deserve.
Cinderella stays behind after all the workmen have gone. It has begun to snow, and she waits for the flakes to settle on Drizella’s shoulders. She had acne when she was alive, and now her cheeks are pitted with quartz, and when the snow lands on her skin it does not melt anymore. Cinderella cups Drizella’s frozen jaw in her hands, puts her tongue, lightly, on the pupil of each open eye. She wipes the snow off of Drizella’s upper lip with her index finger and puts that finger in her mouth. Just once did Drizella touch her, just once when both of them were alive, and that was all she had ever wished for, all she had ever wanted.
Cinderella blinks away the snow from her eyelashes, and she feels it fall down her face. The cold has blued the skin beneath her fingernails. She slumps down to Drizella’s ankles, holding on to one of her wrists, the snow dissolving like glass inside her neck.
Alison Cao (she/they) is a Chinese American high school senior from Irvine, California. She is a graduate of the Adroit Summer Mentorship Program, the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, and the Kenyon Young Writers Workshop. She still hasn’t told her mom about her stick-and-poke tattoo.