November 29, 2013

Ashes to Ashes, By Shari L. Klase

Editor's note: It's not often that a real new twist is put on "Cinderella," but Shari has done so with this thought-provoking story.

Her name was Ella. These days she was a bag lady, sorting through recyclables for tin cans and glass bottles. Her friend called these items treasures at fifty cents a pound. Some of her friends preferred trash because you could resell trash. One man’s trash was another man’s treasure. But Ella preferred the cut and dry, less complicated recycling bins. She didn’t want to get personally involved in people’s lives, sorting through their identities.

She wasn’t always like this. She had an identity too once. As the mayor’s daughter, she sparkled as a child. She was a spelling bee winner in elementary school. In high school, she was a cheerleader and a member of the homecoming court. She grew up too fast, married too young, divorced too soon. After her marriage tanked, her job fizzled and crumbled into ashes. Now she was a collector of other people’s castaways; she herself being a throwaway of society.

It was this way that Mike Ballast, CEO of Trophy Line, exiting from his taxi, encountered Ella. Mike’s status was prominent in the community. His position was as far above Ella’s as whiskey is from a wine cooler. He was a proud owner of the social graces. But with all his charm and persuasiveness, he had forgotten compassion. He was a self-made man who did not know how he had achieved his true self. His introduction to Ella was a rough one. In his usual hurried gait, he tramped smack into her and would have run over her as if she were litter on the ground if it would not have been for Tipsy.

Ella’s dog, Tipsy, was one that she was never able to disassociate from, despite her circumstances. Tipsy was a feisty little poodle that bit first and determined facts later. When Mike ran into Ella, Tipsy sprang to her rescue, sinking his sharp teeth into Mike’s heels.

“Watch where you’re going!” Ella snarled at Mike.

Mike hardly heard Ella as he was busy dancing around Tipsy, shaking his leg to relieve himself of the vicious little dog.

“Hey, call off your dog,” he snapped at her. Mike was a very snappy person, both in appearance and personality.

Ella turned to face Mike; picked herself up off the ground she had been rudely shoved on and brushed her hair from her face.

“What if I don’t want to?” she answered angrily.

“Suit yourself,” he growled back. “Maybe I’ll just call the police.”

“Police don’t care about little dogs,” Ella said, scooping up Tipsy, who had tired of attacking the kicking man anyway. “Besides, you hit me first. It was self-defense.”

“Do you have any idea who I am?” he boomed arrogantly.

“Of course, I do. I’ve seen you on buses and billboards. Money talks, doesn’t it?”

Mike sighed. He had no time for skirmishes with bag ladies. He would handle this problem the way he tended to all his difficulties. He pulled out his wallet and sorted through his money. He squinted at Ella, sizing up what it would take to shut her up. He sifted through his assortment of bills and tossed a twenty at her feet. Ella looked to him like a girl that would be thankful for anything. She was a $20 impediment in his path. At the same time a rectangular piece of paper floated down to the ground, but Mike was too absorbed in his desire to re-enter his life of office politics to notice. He turned heel and clambered off to the 37th floor of the building he lived and breathed in, leaving Ella like the discarded trash she made a meager life out of sorting through.

The moment he had disappeared Ella’s eyes had shifted from his lofty heights to the ground on which the small rectangular shape had landed. Tipsy was nosing around it unconcerned now about the previous events. Ella swept it up in her hand and peered ominously at it.

Pumpkin Ball
October 23rd
Grand Hall Reception Room
The Merryville

She gasped. It was a ticket to the Pumpkin Ball. It was worth far more than the $20 he had callously tossed her way a few minutes before. Only the socially elite were invited and only those with deep pockets came. Ella narrowed her eyes.

“Thank you for inviting me, Mr. Ballast,” she whispered, “I think I will attend.”

In the local public restroom, she examined her appearance; tangled hair, rumpled sweater, bad fitting slacks. Certainly she was no candidate for the Pumpkin Ball. Once she would have considered herself an applicant for the dance. She had been a princess but now even with her ticket she wouldn’t be allowed to enter in her disheveled state.

The door opened a crack and Ella whirled around. She had to be prepared for anything. Bag ladies and their homeless likes were despised by all. But it was only Lisa, her friend and compatriot. Ella sighed in relief.

“What’s up?” Lisa asked jovially.

“Glad you asked,” Ella responded with a smile. “I’ve been invited to the Pumpkin Ball.”

By Herbert Cole, from

Lisa laughed heartily as Ella told her tale. It was almost too incredible that someone in her or Ella’s position should hold in her hand the key to the inner works of the upper class. She took the ticket from Ella and studied it.

“Well, of course you are going, Ella,” she said in a matter of fact way.

“Look at me. I can’t wear this. Everybody else will be wearing Prada or Dior.”

Lisa’s eyes twinkled. “Come into my larder,” she said, pulling Ella out the door of the restroom. “If you dealt in trash instead of recyclables and visited free clothing bins like I do, you’d have a stash of stuff like me.”

Lisa led Ella down the street to a garage, locked up tight and secure. Tipsy followed eagerly alongside them with his usual gaiety. It was where Lisa conducted her business, at least the storage part of it. On occasion, she even slept there. Homeless people had to make due with whatever accommodations they could scare up. Ella was mesmerized as Lisa started pulling clothing out of boxes and propelling it swiftly to all sides, rifling through, calculating value to each article.

“I’ve made a lot of dough off of collecting some of this stuff. You’d be surprised.”

Then she pulled out a lovely, shimmery, silvery gown. She handed it tenderly to Ella, like it was a new-born baby. It settled softly on her hands like gossamer.

“I was saving this for the right buyer, and now I know who.”

“Lisa, it’s gorgeous. You can’t part with this,” Ella shook her head as she pushed the gown back at her friend.

“Relax,” Lisa said. “It’s on the 24 hour loan system. Just return it by midnight on the 23rd and we’ll be square.” Then she spied Ella’s worn and spackled sneakers. Ella followed her friend’s glance and sighed.

“They don’t exactly go with the dress, do they?”

Lisa smirked. “Only if you need them for a fast getaway.” Then she shoved boxes aside and produced a pair of sparkling heels with a smile. “Keep these. They’ll take you farther. They’re my gift to you.”

Ella gave her a hug. “You’re a saint.” Then she handed Lisa her precious twenty dollar bill. “Rental fee?” she asked.

“Nah,” Lisa dismissed it with a wave, “Use it for a taxi. Every bum needs to be a princess for a day.”

It was then that Ella and Lisa heard the sound of scuffling among the boxes and both remembered Tipsy. He had found a dog’s heaven foraging among the storage in Lisa’s garage. The sound of a contented canine chewing caused Lisa to dive through her inventory and make a wild grab for Ella’s pesky poodle. Tipsy very easily dodged her grip, escaping with a slipper. He sat there, tail wagging, proud of his accomplishment. Lisa frowned at him.

Ella cleared her throat. “Oh, by the way, Lisa, would you mind dogs sitting for me while I’m at the Ball?”

Lisa looked up at her friend from the disarray of boxes. “You know, I never pictured myself as a godmother to a mutt.”

“Well, you certainly qualify as mine,” Ella told her appreciatively. “I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”

“Just have a great time, Ella. And if you run into a prince, be sure to send him my way.”

As Ella stepped lightly from the taxi, she had the air of elegance. She had undergone transformation. She was no longer a miscreant. She fell into her place like a piece of the puzzle. Her gown flowed from her like an extension of herself. Her hair, once disarranged and disorderly now shone sleek like sealskin. Her eyes sparkled almost as luminously as her dress. Completing her classy touch were the translucent heels that clicked out a beat of superior confidence. Ella took the whole scene in her stride.

She melted into the sea of faces at the ball as if she was a pebble on the beach. She washed over them and they meshed into her perfectly. Nobody knew who she was but it didn’t matter. She was just “Ella”; one of their own. She danced and ate the dainty trifles. Was that caviar? Were these truffles? She wasn’t sure. She sampled each one like a kid with a hand in the cookie jar.

“Enjoying yourself, Miss…?”

She whirled around at the familiar voice of Michael Ballast. He was staring at her. Had he recognized her?

“It’s just Ella,” she said simply.

Then she knew that he didn’t know her. What was more; he was running his eyes approvingly over her, like she was expensive merchandise for the buying. Before he considered her a pig in the sty, now he recognized her as a pearl.

“I’m Mike…”

“I know who you are,” she cut in, her words slicing the air.

He smiled at her with all the fawning of a lion cozying up to its prey. “Would you care to dance?”
She nodded curtly and he folded her into his arms. She felt her power over him and it intoxicated her. She smiled deep inside herself because she had the upper hand and it felt good. At the end of the dance, he handed her a drink. He did it proudly as he did everything. She laughed. He looked confused.

“Do I know you?” he asked, his words pouring like olive oil.

Ella winced. “No, I can honestly say, you’ve never known anyone like me before.”

He smiled at her. He found her strangely tantalizing. She was beautiful and mysterious, exactly the kind of woman he had always wanted to meet, but had never found.

“I don’t know why I’ve never seen you before. You are so familiar. Perhaps in Paris? I’m sure I’ve seen you in my travels.”

Ella laughed. “Well, I do get around, and we may have bumped into one another.”

Mike frowned. “Well, I wish I had taken a second look. How could I have stumbled upon you before and not noticed you? You are so beautiful.”

The words cut into Ella’s soul, and she turned away. She knew herself, and she hadn’t felt beautiful for a long time. Hearing the words come from him, though, made her cringe. She suddenly felt her value to be far above the price Mike Ballast placed upon her. She pulled up her chin and stared icily at him.

“I can’t figure out what you are thinking,” he said to her.

“It’s better that way,” she replied.

“I’ve never met anyone like you. Can we get out of here? Will you come with me?”

She couldn’t believe it had been so easy. “NO,” she said flatly. “I’m afraid you’re not my type.”

She turned on her heels and glided from the room. When she reached the doorway, she removed her stilettos and placed them on a table like a calling card.

“Ella was here,” she whispered softly to herself.

She was suddenly glad she was herself and not this new “Ella.” Then she left the building with all the grace and style of a bag lady.

Shari L. Klase spends her days writing and playing with her corgi and her evenings as a custodian, cleaning and devising story lines.


Aliza Faber said...

Such a beautiful story :) I love how you managed to completely take Cinderella out of context and still make the shoe fit perfectly.

Unknown said...

Thought-provoking story. Interesting twist on Cinderella, who didn't need the wealthy prince after all!

Laura B. said...

Fun adventure with a fun ending!

Anonymous said...

I’m so glad the Ella stayed true to herself! Even if she looked like a princess for the night she didn’t forget where she came from and was proud that she wasn’t one of those snooty rich people like Mike who look down on others for being less fortunate. Though she may be less fortunate she will always have more than Mike. She will have more in love and friendship and he will never be as humble or as grateful as she is for the little things that he takes for granted daily. She triumphed over him, someone who has a much higher status than her, with sweet rejection! That was her final FORGET YOU to that rich and ungrateful lifestyle. She almost seemed appalled by it and left her fancy shoes behind, symbolizing the life she now knows she could so easily have but refuses to indulge in. I would say the moral to this story is don’t judge a book by its cover because you couldn’t possibly know what’s inside. This is the best story I have read in a while.
Paige F.

Anonymous said...

What a perfectly modern and empowering take on the classic Cinderella story. Not every girl is a princess, and certainly not every guy is a prince. Rarely, in fact, do princes uphold the classic character of what a prince should be. Sticking to fairy tale tradition, this “prince” is classically creepy near the end of the story, where he does nothing but size up and ogle our “princess”. Before becoming a more charming creep, this “prince” was a classic jerk, going as far as pushing around those that don’t matter to him, quite literally, in fact. His disregard for others is more than maddening, it’s unnerving. The best part of this new take on a modern tale is the ending, where our “princess” could have gone very far with revenge, but didn’t. Instead, she took control of the situation, and hopefully showed our “prince” that not everything he touches turns to gold.
Rachel B.