Cindy’s Fairy Godmother
Originally published in Spellbound Winter 2001.
Mother gave me an encouraging smile as she gestured at the ancient-looking woman standing next to her. “Cindy, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
I scrutinized the old lady. She was probably a visiting dignitary, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing her before. “Who is she?”
A small laughed escaped Mother. “Your fairy godmother. I’m surprised you didn’t recognize her.”
I remembered her now. She was that old lady who used to visit when I was five or six. “Why didn’t she come before?”
My fairy godmother caught me with her beady eyes. “I was busy,” she said waspishly. “A pleasure to see you too, Cinderella.”
I scowled. “Cindy. Mother’s Cinderella.”
“Do forgive me.” I caught a sarcastic glint in her eyes, and it annoyed me. “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here?”
I shrugged, though I was dying of curiosity. “I don’t care.”
A mocking smile appeared on her lips. “Same reason I came to her mother when she was twelve. Don’t suppose you’d be interested?”
I reluctantly confessed to a teeny spark of interest.
Her eyes glinted. “Just after her father died. I came to grant her her one or three.”
She was baiting me, but I had to ask. “One or three what?”
The mocking smile widened. “Wishes. Which would you prefer?”
“Wishes?” I stammered. My eyes must have widened. “Real wishes?”
“One or three.” The old fairy seemed to be enjoying herself. “Take your pick.”
That didn’t seem a difficult choice to me, unless there was something else I didn’t know. “What’s the catch?”
“Very good. Your father’s daughter too, I see.” My fairy godmother pulled four ribbons from a pocket I hadn’t seen before. She held the white one in her right hand, and the others in her left. “The one wish lasts permanently. The other three end at midnight.”
A flash of inspiration came to me. “The balls! The ones where Mother met Father! That was you?”
“Very good.” I detected a hint of a sneer on her lips. “Now choose.”
It wasn’t an easy decision. “Can I think about it first?”
She thrust the ribbons at me. “Think later. Choose now.”
“You will have all four, eventually,” Mother offered, glancing at my fairy godmother. “You gain the one or three later, at eighteen.” She gave me an encouraging smile. “I chose the one first, but you’re welcome to choose either.”
I hesitated, but the old fairy shoved the ribbons in my face.
“Choose now. Choose, or lose them all.”
Afraid she would make good on the threat, I reached out a hand and touched the hand with the three ribbons. I turned to Mother with a questioning look on my face.
She said nothing, so I let the ribbons fall into my palm.
“Done!” my fairy godmother cackled. “Your first wish has to be made tonight. The second comes tomorrow, the third the day after. Skip a day, and you lose a wish.” She gave me an unpleasant smile. “Understand?”
I wanted to scowl at her, but thought better of it. “I understand.”
* * *
Invisibility was the best wish I could think of for the first day. I had a lot of fun sneaking up on people and making them think the castle was haunted, but that got boring after awhile. I focused on Ellen, my governess, for an hour and nearly had her in hysterics before Mother thought to tell her about my wishes and apparent invisibility.
I didn’t have as much fun with her after that. Every time Ellen heard my voice, she started lecturing, and I couldn’t even filch desserts from the kitchen after Ellen talked to the cooks. At least Ellen couldn’t trap me in any of her lectures; I snuck off whenever she started one.
I had fun teasing the crocodiles in the moat, but Ellen put a stop to that as soon as she realized the stick poking at them was mine. By that time, I was tired of being invisible anyway, so I let her march me inside and try to give me another lecture.
My mind was too busy to pay a drop of attention, though. By the end of the lecture, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my next wish. The crocodiles had given me the idea.
* * *
I held up the yellow ribbon. “I wish to be able to breathe water!”
The red ribbon had disappeared when I wished to be invisible, so I was a little disappointed when this one didn’t. I was about to repeat my wish when I heard my fairy godmother’s voice.
“Breathe water or breathe in water?”
I was so startled, I dropped the ribbon. After a moment, I recovered the courage to pick it up again. “What’s the difference?”
The voice sounded grouchy. “Vast. Breathing water requires changing your entire respiratory system. Breathing in water requires making a simple addition. Which do you want?”
I was starting to have second thoughts about my second wish. “Maybe I’ll wish for something else.”
The voice sounded triumphant now. “Oh, no you don’t. You made your wish, now choose.”
I shrugged, considerably irked. “Breathing in water, I guess. But I want to be in water when the wish starts.”
I thought I heard the fairy mumbling under her breath, but she did it. The next thing I knew, I was staring into a blurry mess of wetness. I choked when I tried to open my mouth, but I breathed fine when I kept it closed. The only problem was, I had to hold my nose to keep water from going up it and making it itch.
I may have been able to breathe underwater, but I couldn’t see very well. I think I passed some interesting fish, but it was hard to be sure. I was sick of the wish in no time at all, but I still had several wet and miserable hours left to go.
* * *
My third wish had to be a good one. I thought and thought, but nothing occured to me until breakfast the next morning. I looked across the table at Mother, and I knew what I wanted my wish to be. It was a brilliant wish, but I wouldn’t tell anyone about it, even Mother. She’d probably figure it out on her own, like she had with the invisibility.
I certainly didn’t tell Ellen when she tried to demand my plans for the day. It would serve her right if she thought I’d gone invisible again.
In the privacy of my room, I held up the blue ribbon. “I wish to visit Mother when she was my age!”
I shouldn’t have been surprised when the third ribbon spoke, but I hadn’t been expecting it. At least I didn’t drop it this time.
“Do you have any idea how difficult time travel is?”
I felt a perverse satisfaction at annoying my fairy godmother. I certainly didn’t know anyone who deserved it more, except Ellen and Grandma Morgana. “That’s my wish.”
I think the ribbon growled. The next thing I knew, the scenery around me dissolved, and I was standing in a grand home. Nowhere near as grand as our castle, but much more ornate.
“And make sure that grate stays clean!”
My eyes widened as I recognized Grandma Morgana’s voice. I should have remembered she would be here. I managed to hide behind a drapery just in time.
When she entered the room, dragging Mother, she screamed a tongue-lashing Ellen would have coveted. Mother looked like she was going to cry. She kept trying to say she had cleaned the grate, but Grandma Morgana wouldn’t listen. I think she would have scolded a lot longer if the butler hadn’t shown up and said there was someone there to see Aunt Agatha.
Grandma Morgana swept from the room, and Mother bent slowly to clean the grate again. Indignation shot through me. Mother wasn’t a servant! She was a queen.
I was about to venture from my hiding place when Aunt Agatha pounded down the stairs. With that familiar sour-apple expression, that ugly girl couldn’t have been anything but a younger, thinner, whinier version of Aunt Agatha. A scowl crossed her face as she caught sight of Mother.
“Mama! You can’t let the Cindersoot downstairs when we have company!” Aunt Agatha stormed towards the room I could only assume was the parlor. “You have no idea what a humiliation — oh, Auguste!” Her tone changed abruptly, becoming syrupy-sweet. “What a pleasant surprise!”
I breathed a sigh of relief as Aunt Agatha disappeared from sight, and slipped out of the curtains.
Mother squeaked in surprise when she saw me. “Who are you?”
I smiled nervously, hoping I looked friendly. “I’m Cindy.”
A frightened look flitted across her face. “If my stepmother catches you here, we’ll both be in trouble. Are you one of Cook’s nieces?”
I repressed a shudder at the thought. “I came to see you.”
Her eyes widened in disbelief. “Me?” She scrubbed her eyes, and I realized they were red from crying. That made me feel awfully awkward. I hadn’t known Mother used to cry. “My stepmother hasn’t let anyone come to see me, not since Papa died —”
She took a deep breath, and I realized she was trying to stop herself from crying. I jumped in before she could start.
“Your fairy godmother’ll make everything better.”
Mother looked confused now, and a little disbelieving. “I don’t have a godmother.”
“Yes, you do, and she’s a fairy. She’s mine too, and she’ll grant you a wish, and you’ll be happier. Honest.”
Mother opened her mouth to reply, but Grandma Morgana stormed in before she could.
The result was catastrophic. I was thrown out of the house, and I didn’t dare try to get in after the butler caught me on my third attempt. In the end, I wandered through the streets, wishing I could walk in the castle gardens instead. When night fell, it was freezing, and I shivered in my thin dress as I tried to doze off in the bushes near the house.
For the third time in three days, I was relieved when I woke up to find my wish over. But this time, I didn’t have a new wish to replace it.
* * *
I ate my breakfast listlessly. I’d wasted all three wishes, and none of them had been much fun. What kind of a wisher was I, anyway? At this rate, I’d be miserable when I made my one.
Ellen was visiting her sister, the only consolation I could see about the day. I brightened when Mother offered to take me for a walk through the gardens. I wanted to talk to her about my wishes, but I didn’t know how to begin.
Halfway through the rose arches, I managed to summon my courage. “Mother, did you really use all three of your wishes to go to a ball?”
Mother laughed softly. “Three balls, one after the other. I couldn’t think of a better use for the first one, and after that — well, I’ll admit to wanting to see the prince again. He was attracted to my unfeigned interest, and I fell in love with his charm from the start.”
I nodded. I’d heard the story. “What happened after that?”
“He searched me out and we ended up getting married. You know the rest.”
I felt stubbornness rising in me. “No, I don’t. I don’t know what you used your one wish for.”
Mother didn’t respond for a long time. Her eyes focused on something far away, and I got the impression she was remembering something. Finally, she spoke.
“I suppose I can tell you now. You were the one who gave me the idea, Cindy.”
I gave her a quizzical look. “I thought you made the wish before you even met Father.”
Mother nodded, and I suddenly realized what she meant.
“You don’t mean yesterday? When I went to the past and — and —”
Mother nodded again, and I felt my eyes widening.
“What did you wish for?”
“The wisest wish I think I could have ever made.”
She smiled. “Happiness.”
I repeated the word in disbelief. “Happiness? But that’s so — so ordinary!”
“Happiness.” Her voice was firm, and I realized she’d never regretted her permanent wish. “Happiness, no matter what my situation. Happiness, which I had precious little of after my father’s death. Plain, ordinary happiness.”
And we turned and headed back to the castle.
Available in print or e-book format through the Worlds of Wonder anthology.