I close my eyes. The smell of ripe pumpkins rises from the memories. I remember that night so well. How couldn’t I?
The sound of glass tumbling down stone steps—without shattering. I remember the tickle of a magic spell cast on the body, and the incredible pain of transfiguration. The way it felt to wear shoes and coattails. Not every rat can say he’s been a man.
You’ve heard the tale by now. Gossip travels fast. The girl ,Ella, with the evil step-sisters. The girl who used to scrub the floors, and make the breakfast, and sit by the fire and daydream. A commoner, only she wasn’t common at all. Not to me.
It took incredible magic and a glittering sequined gown for a prince to notice her. It took a rotting pumpkin turned into a dazzling carriage, and rats turned into a footman and coach. But I loved her long before that.
I would follow her around the house while she tended her chores. She never chased me around with a broom. Instead, I’d find scraps of cheese left out for me near the door of my home (a small hole chewed out of the baseboard). When her sisters would torment her, I’d run through their bedrooms forcing them onto chair tops screeching. I’d leave them gifts on the floorboards to their rooms.
Ella’s kindness was genuine. It was easy for me to see past the rags and the soot, but maybe such a thing is easy for a dirty, old rat.
Her fairy godmother recruited me to be her footman for the ball. To take her hand, and guide her into the carriage, and as she climbed in, her eyes met mine with recognition. She knew me, and smiled, and thanked me. If only the godmother could have transformed me from a rat to a prince!
Now, another prince has tracked her down and come to take her. Carrying around that glass slipper from house to house like he couldn’t recognize her without it.
I follow them to the castle, avoiding the carriage wheels and the mighty hooves of the horses. Women scream when they see me clambering down the sidewalk. I don’t care—but still, it would be nice to be seen for who I am, and not just seen as some disease carrying rodent.
I follow without thought or plan. No idea what I will do when I get there. I only know I need to stay with her. To watch over her.
When I find her, she is in her new chamber, dressed in silks. I am captivated. She is alone in her room, with a platter of fruit and cheese on a table beside her. I squeak once, and quickly run my paw repeatedly over my face so I might be somewhat presentable. I am awed and intimidated by her beauty and cleanliness. She turns and looks at me, startled at first, I think. Then, she smiles warmly.
“Did you follow me from home?” she asks sweetly. I knew she’d recognize me! She picks up a generous slice of cheese from the plate in front of her, and kneels down in all her finery, holding it out to me. I move cautiously towards her. Sniffing the air, nervously. I am right beside her now, setting my paw on her hand, just like the night I helped her into the carriage.I take a bite of the cheese.
It tastes better than it has ever tasted before.
Image by AH Watson.