They’re there, each morning. Twelve pairs of shoes. All broken, the princesses claim, wrecked, wretched, unusable, unbearable, and they can’t possibly wear them.
So I do.
What a princess calls unbearable and what I call unbearable are two entirely different things. Oh, sure, I can see enough that the shoes are scruffed up, that they’ve got holes in the toes or the heels, that they’re ripped on the top or the side, that the jewels and golden thread have fallen off in places. Still, they sparkle on my feet, these princess shoes, all shiny and sparkling and glittery-like. Some are soft and silken. And others just cover up the mud on my feet. I try to keep them safe from mud, those shoes, not that there’s much point to that, where I live.
I dance in them, the princess shoes, as I go begging in the streets.
They’re under a curse, some whisper, my broken shoes. They must be cursed, or they’d last more than a night. And I’ve heard the tales, of how the princesses dance, night after night, but not in any palace of a mortal king, no; of the wizards and soldiers and princes and kings who have all followed the princesses under the earth to see for themselves the fate of the glittering shoes. They dance in golden caverns haunted by witches. No, they’re witches themselves, the princesses, and that is why they dance. No, the shoes are cursed, and that is why they dance. They whisper of secret doors and floors, of fairies, and magic.
Nonsense, say others, passing me without tossing a coin. It’s only shoddy shoemakers seeking more coin, or spoiled princesses whining about shoes. No fairies, no witches, no magic doors, no happy endings: no fairy tales. The princesses will wed, as princesses do, and then we’ll hear no more of their shoes.
And yet, I keep hearing the whispers, the tales. And I’ve seen the shoes, the holes, and I wonder. I scramble through the mud in those ill-fitting, broken, princess shoes, my hands outstretched for coins, and wonder if the shoes might one day drag me down, through all the mud and all the earth, down to those cavernous glittering halls where princesses and fairies and witches dance, night after night after endless night while I sleep wrapped in my tattered cloak, warmed by the mud. I wonder.
And when my hands are not outstretched for coins, I dance.
Mari Ness‘s work has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Dog Vs. Sandwich, and numerous print and online markets. She keeps a disorganized blog at mariness.livejournal.com. She always wondered what happened to all of those shoes.