This is another story that started as a class excercise. The assignment was to write a story based on a fairy tale, but to put it in a modern setting. I hereby present the 2013 version of The Algonquin Cinderella:
Tallika felt like wax, melting in the corner as the music reverberated through her chest. She stood and watched the people thrashing all over the vast and modern living room, colored lights washed over their bodies. The wall of glass windows looked out on a private beach, but she couldn’t see a trace of it. All she could see was the dancers reflected back at her, purple and green in the lights. She was a fool to have thought she was ready for this, so soon after the accident.
“It will be dark,” said her youngest sister. “No one will notice the scars on your face and you should come. You can’t hide forever, this will be good practice. Besides, you can’t drink on your meds and we need a designated driver. Take one for the team.”
“We can’t miss an Amos Andrews party,” said her oldest sister. “You have to come with us.”
So Tallika hid her face behind a waterfall of black hair, slipped on impossible shoes, and came.
She could see both of her sisters in the crowd. One of them had her arms draped across a man’s shoulders, her legs entwined with his as they rocked to the music. The other struggled to shed her white leather jacket, shimmying her shoulders and sloshing her pink drink across the white rug. Tallika felt the hard expanse of wall behind her back. She switched her full glass of water to her other hand and wiped the condensation on her floral print dress.
A couple with their arms moving frantically under each other’s clothes stumbled out of the crowd and into Tallika’s elbow. Water sloshed across her front.
“Hey!” she said. The man waved an apology, but did not dislodge his lips from the other girl’s mouth.
What a fool for dressing up for this travesty.
She watched the surging crowd and considered leaving; breaking the girl code and going home to her soft bed. But her sisters would be stranded. In a house with strange and drunk men. Who knows what would happen to them. She sighed. The water on her leg was warm now. She looked at the glass, thought of the ocean, and resolved to find the door to the outside.
Tallika took a deep breath and then plunged into the horror of the light hallway, her head down. She did not meet anyone before she stumbled upon a glass door that led out to the sparkling pool rimmed with hydrangeas, and then down to the beach. It was quiet here, only the faint sounds of music bumping through the night air. The blades of sea grass brushed her knees, and her high wedges sunk sideways into the sand. She kicked them off and carried them. A breeze whipped her skirt across her legs.
The grass gave way to pure gray sand, stretching out before her. It was low tide, and she could barely see the glimmer of water in the distance. Instead, the moon glistened on the dark wet sand, making a silver trail to the sea. In the sky, the Milky Way blazed another white trail through peppered pinpoints of stars.
Her sisters danced in the house behind her. In a back room somewhere, the couple that ran into her were stripping off their clothes thinking only of each other. She would never have that now. The scars on Tallika’s face felt hot. She began to cry.
“Surely it can’t be that bad,” said a deep voice to her right.
She turned. A man in jeans and a white sweater sat against the dunes.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone else was here, it’s just… it’s my first time since…” Tallika started sobbing outright, gulps of air shaking her body.
“Hey, hey,” he said. “Are you OK? Do you want me to call someone? What happened?”
Tallika struggled to swallow the lump in her throat. “No, I’m fine. Really I am. I just haven’t been out in a while. I mean, out to a party, and it’s harder than I thought.”
“If someone’s hurt you, we should do something about it.”
“No, it’s nothing like that.” Tallika said. “I promise I’m fine. No one has hurt me. I…” she took a gulp of air. “It’s, it’s this,” she turned, and pushed her hair away from her face so he could fully see it.
She pictured what he saw. A pink melted mass of skin that dripped over her forehead and across her cheek, grotesque. “It happened about six months ago. My older sister, we shared an apartment. There was a party one night, and she passed out with a lit cigarette in my bedroom. It was an accident. ”
He shook his head. “Hell, that’s a tough break.”
Tallika felt a hysterical laugh rise in her throat but she bit it back. “A tough break? It’s a lot shittier than that, my friend.”
“Hey, it’s probably not as bad as you think it is. Your hair covers it, I wouldn’t have known if you didn’t show me.”
“And it’s dark,” she said. “Yeah, that’s what they tell me. I’m still getting used to not having a face.” She sat on the sand near him. “So what’s your story, why are you out here away from the party?”
“Really it’s because I can’t stand those people. My sister says that wild parties and girls are good for my image,” he said, “so here I am. But I don’t have to like it.”
“Good for your image to be seen at one of these?” she asked.
“Well, sort of… OK, you told me yours, I’ll tell you mine… uh,” he cleared his throat. “Amos Andrews, nice to meet you. My sister thinks hosting these parties are good PR. I mean, I guess they are too.”
“Nice to meet you. Yours is much worse than mine. No wonder you ran away!”
“Oh don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?” she asked.
“I have a brilliant idea. Let’s just be normal people, OK? With superficial problems that don’t mean anything. We can keep each other company.”
Tallika smiled. “I’d like that very much.”
Hours later, Tallika looked over at him, throwing his head back and laughing in the moonlight. His curly hair bobbed, his smile was a perfect crescent. A single star fell out of the sky and streaked toward the earth.