You are standing still, waiting for the chimes to tick off the last seconds of the hour. Against your better judgment, you showed up for the party. The valet stands with one hand on the car door. The other is stretched out waiting for you to release the keys. He is young and beautiful in the way young men often are. There was a time you would have taken his hand and seduced him away from his post for a moonlit liaison, an attempt to capture all those years lost to a banal marriage filled with obligations and platitudes. But you know how that story ends: false compliments and maxed out credit cards.
You feel like you’ve been waiting your whole life for something magical to happen. The perfect wedding to the perfect man was supposed to have been that magical moment, but nobody warned you about the mundane affairs that follow the happily ever after. No one told you how difficult it would be to wear glass slippers and a ball gown while breastfeeding babies and changing diapers. No one told you that you might eventually find your Prince Charming in bed with a younger, prettier version of yourself. Imagine that.
Ladies. Have you ever noticed the ridiculous restrictions placed on fairy tale heroines? It would be much easier to take on the role of the villainess. Their stories are filled with fierce passions, stormy rages, and calculating finesse – story arcs you missed while mingling with aristocracy and mincing about in crystal shoes two sizes too small.
The cabinets in your closets are filled with dozens upon dozens of boxes containing high heels of every imaginable cut and color, but tonight you opted for a sensible pair of ballet flats. (You are done with fairy tales that are hard on the feet.) The valet clears his throat and you decide to get back in the car and drive far away from the parties and popinjays. After all, what could you possibly hope to find in the bottom of yet another shot glass?
But before you can tell the valet that you’ve changed your mind, you are stopped in your escape by a naughty giggle and the sound of your name.
“There you are,” Kenny calls. He owns the posh club and knew you once upon a time. He likes to keep you close, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. Wolves are like that.
You don’t understand while he bothers. The women who wander in out of his story tend to be sassy and seductive. They are the type of women who wear scarlet lipstick even though their mothers warned them red is a whore’s color. They are the type of women who would laugh at a marriage proposal, let alone a prenuptial agreement. You hate them all on principal even though, deep in your heart, you wish your fairy godmother have given you some of their courage and aplomb. After all, gifts of wit and grace will only take you so far in a world filled with plastic people.
Kenny’s hair is teased and oiled in a way a 1950s bad boy would’ve envied. His ears are too big and his eyes are too small, but he walks with the confidence of a man who knows his worth. The mirror he looks into must tell him he is the fairest in the land, because that is exactly what he believes. It seems as if everyone else believes it too –everyone, except for you.
Kenny is shorter than you are. Back in the days when you used to wear high heels, his nose would rest right into the hollow of cleavage created by your impressively expensive pushup bra. It used to drive your Prince Charming mad with jealousy – until it didn’t. Kenny frowns when he realizes you’re wearing flats and the best he can do is to kiss your throat. You smile tightly.
“You’ve met Barb, haven’t you?” He puffs up with pride and tilts his head toward the living doll clinging to his arm.
A quick once over reveals that Barb is about the same height as you – if you had worn the high heels Kenny (and your ex-husband) adore. She flaunts long legs and curvy hips without a hint of shame in a white halter dress bedecked in pink flamingos. Her face, framed by the hot pink beehive and pink flamingo earrings, seems familiar, but the woman’s enormous breasts make you think you must be wrong. It isn’t possible that this plastic doll with her sparkling diamond tiara, white kid gloves, and pink rhinestone bracelets ever waltzed in the same circles you did. Or is it?
Kenny smiles knowingly. “Whatcha think?”
You think you are underdressed and say so.
“This is Barb,” he says. “Isn’t she fabulous?”
You nod, mute, hesitant to mention you might have met her once upon a time –when she could still see her shoes.
He looks at you more closely. “What are you wearing?”
“This is all I had.”
Barb looks at you in a way that reminds you of your fairy godmother and you take a step back.
Your fairy godmother hasn’t bothered to show up since she pawned you off to the highest bidder and added matchmaker to her resume. So what if you were a little naïve and failed to read the fine print? What good is a fairy godmother if she can’t even be bothered to negotiate a standard marriage contract?
“She’s not bad,” Barb says.
“She looks like she’s been cleaning the bathroom,” he counters.
You don’t say anything, but his comment makes you think of a time when getting the stains out of the sink were the least of your concerns.
“It wouldn’t take too much,” Barb champions.
“Can you do it?” Kenny asks.
“No problem.” Barb snaps pink gum between perfect white teeth. “I made this dress, didn’t I? It’ll just take a few minutes. Thirty tops.”
“Let’s go then,” Ken says. “It’s time to get this party started.”
Barb takes your arm and pulls you towards the service entrance of the club. No pumpkin this time. Somehow you have gotten caught up in a game of cat and mouse. You are still protesting in your mind, but you haven’t voiced your opinions in such a long time that your objections just echo in your head.
“Cat got your tongue?” Kenny teases.
You think the sex kitten might have his, but refrain from making too much about it. With a gentleness that surprises you, Barb guides you into a dressing room fit for a Las Vegas showgirl. She firmly shuts the door, locking Kenny out of her feminine domain.
“A girl should have a little privacy now and then, don’t you agree?” Her smile appears less vacant than it did a moment ago.
She chatters about fashion and frivolity as she pulls an assortment of glittery gowns from her overflowing closet. Each dress is wrapped in a protective casing of plastic, but you can see a pattern forming. She bypasses fabrics in the colors you normally wear: blue, green, gold, black. Instead, her hand is drawn to the sultry colors you’ve always avoided.
“Do we know each other?” You can’t get rid of the nagging sensation that you’ve met her before, but you can’t quite place her face.
Barb doesn’t miss a beat. “We do now.” She adds another hanger to the growing stack of gowns.
Obediently, you try on dress after dress. She stops your progress when you don a sequined hot pink number that matches the exact hue and shade of Barb’s beehive.
“That’s the ticket,” she says, snapping her gum.
You look in the full-length mirror dubiously. Your black bra fills the open space in the deeply cut V in the back and the undergarment’s heavy duty inch-wide straps stand out against the gown’s slinky beaded banding.
“That has to go,” she says.
In a motion worthy of a quarterback or a stripper (take your pick), Barb deftly unsnaps the back of your bra and whips the unwieldy undergarment out of the dress. Your breasts sag under their own weight. Barb looks at your problem for a few seconds, pushes a shot of tequila into your hand, and then promptly leaves without a word.
Standing there staring at your own reflection, you wonder if you’ve somehow become trapped in-between stories. How else can you explain it? Back when your Prince Charming swept you off your feet and carried you away from the turmoil of a blended family, you talked yourself into believing that he loved you for who you really were as a person. And every time he said you were beautiful, you heard him say he loved you. The wedding followed a whirlwind romance. He told you the prenuptial agreement was just a formality and if you loved him – truly loved him – you’d sign it. No questions asked. And you did.
So you did.
Barb returns with a roll of duct tape in her hand. Kenny dogs her steps. Mortified, you attempt to hold the fabric in place even as Barb is prying it off. Kenny is smiling with bubble-headed brilliance.
“Don’t mind him,” she says. “He’s harmless.”
At that moment, Kenny reminds you of your Prince Charming and that just pisses you off.
Who would have ever thought that your stepmother had the right of it? That you should have poisoned that prick of a prince when you still had the chance? Instead, your once upon a prince is living the high life with a silly twit of a singer, young enough to be his daughter. The kids have flown the coop and you are left alone with nothing but the scars of childbirth on your breasts, stomach, and hips. Perhaps, you think, you should have invested in plastic – unlike paper, plastic will never degrade. It survives forever.
Seeing your uncomfortable irritation, Kenny says, “Don’t be shy. Boobs are never perfect.”
You remember when yours were.
Caught up in the moment, Kenny unties Barb’s halter top and pulls the fabric down to reveal her overinflated tits. You are too shocked to protest when Kenny grabs your hands and places them firmly on Barb’s breasts.
“They feel real, don’t they?” He doesn’t really expect an answer, which is a good thing because a cat must have caught your tongue after all. “Best birthday present she’s ever gotten.”
Barb just looks at you with a quirky smile.
Under your touch, Barb’s breasts feel like balloons that are ready to pop. You wince and wonder if it hurts. Instead of replying, you just nod and let your hands drop to your sides.
“Don’t worry about it,” Barb says with a sly wink. “They’re community property.”
With measured calm, she slips the roll of duct tape onto her wrist and then deftly re-ties the straps around her neck.
“What’s with the tape?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” Barb says.
It doesn’t take her long and there you are standing in front of a magic mirror. How else can you explain the transformation from frumpy hausfrau to cat woman? Sure, the duct tape is uncomfortable, but your bosom hasn’t looked this perky in more than a decade. Best of all, there was no surgeon’s knife involved. The pink sequins sparkle and shine in a smooth cascade (it’s amazing what illusions you can create with the right undergarment) to your toes which are encased in black, five-inch stilettos. Black elbow-length gloves, a fluffy feather boa, and velvet kitty ears complete your costume.
“You are absolutely foxified,” Barb exclaims.
Despite your protestations otherwise, you are starting to believe her.
Barb finishes off the ensemble by branding you as Kenny’s accessory with a necklace adorned with a black glittery “K.” You and Barb complement each other perfectly. Kenny is so excited that you expect him to start singing, which reminds you of your prince’s new girlfriend and puts a frown on your brow.
“None of that,” Barb says as she kisses you on the cheek. “It’s time to party!”
You look in the mirror one last time. Despite the costumed extravagance, the reflection reveals a beauty refined and elegant. The girl you once were has transformed into the woman you were always meant to be. Why did it take a makeover from a plastic princess to make you see what had been there all along? And what might happen if you were to spend more time with this pink-haired enchantress? You think it might be a communion worth pursuing.
Waltzing into the club, you and Barb play bookends to Kenny. People are staring, but you don’t care. Instead you take the opportunity to flirt outrageously with every man who makes eye contact with you, which is every man in the club.
Kenny notices the attention. “Your tits look great,” he says with a squeeze to your closest asset.
You ignore his clumsy manhandling and attempt to direct a reassuring smile at Barb.
“I have a great idea,” Kenny exclaims. “I’ll throw a boob benefit in your honor. Then you can get your tits fixed so they look like this all the time.”
He looks like he expects you to start applauding.
The duct tape is starting to pull at your delicate skin, but you ignore the discomfort and stand even straighter. You and Barb exchange a knowing glance.
Kenny rambles on and on about his next great charity case – you. But you aren’t so sure you are buying into it. What you really want to do is to pull Barb aside for a female conversation. How can she stand being an accessory when she could so obviously be the star of her own show?
Lost in your musings, you almost run into a giant of a man. He is tall and strong, a knight perhaps. To your surprise, he stops when he sees you and falls to his knees. Kenny takes a step back with Barb glued to his side as they watch the spectacle unfold. The dark knight is handsome and fervent in his praises of your beauty and charm. You think he has had a few too many drinks, but you smile graciously – something you learned from being married to an egomaniac for half of your life.
“My name is Magnus,” he says. “I am from Russia and you are the first real woman I have met in this strange country.”
You think he needs to work on his pickup lines and you tell him so.
The clock chimes midnight. You’ve finally had enough and turn to leave, but your stiletto is wedged in a crack. Your ankle twists free and you are standing lopsided, looking for your shoe. You feel the presence of someone at your side and think it is Magnus, the dark knight, until you recognize Barb’s gentle touch at your elbow. You look over and meet Barb’s eyes, which sparkle with good-humor and intelligence. In that moment, you finally recognize her. Why didn’t you see it before?
“You look different,” you say.
“Body dysmorphic disorder is a bitch,” she says with a deliberate wink. “I’m finishing my dissertation in psychology.”
There are questions you want to ask and stories you want to tell. You think a bottle of chilled tequila and late night conversations next to a fire would be the best way to start the next chapter of your story, so you ask Barb if she wants to get out of this place, maybe draw up a titillating business plan for a new line of undergarments. There are other things to talk about, but those topics would be best discussed behind closed doors.
“I thought you’d never ask.” Barb smiles and offers you the slinky black stiletto.
You take it without hesitation.
If the shoe fits, wear it.
Once upon a time, Carina Bissett wrote travel articles and books about the Southwest. These days, she spends her time crafting twisted fairy tales and cross-pollinated mythic fiction. Her short fiction and poetry can be found at the Journal of Mythic Arts, Mythic Delirium, The NonBinary Review, Timeless Tales and other assorted journals and anthologies. For links to stories and poems, stop by www.carinabissett.com.