And so it came to be, as it very often is, that the true monster of the tale was revealed long after you, Dear Heart, had toddled off to bed.
But have you not yet grasped that, “And so they lived happily ever after,” is but a cue for innocent heads to rest on welcoming pillows and dream before said dreams have learned to sharpen their teeth?
Do you not realize that children are to be sent away at Intermission, but you, Dear Hardened Heart, must carry on?
Thus our story continues.
After the festivity had yawned its last—with final stumbling royal toast, wistful maidens whisked home by chaperones, iced cakes tucked into glittering pocketbooks, fading orchestral strains to be hummed upon waking—the moment arrived for the couple’s first bedding.
Cinderella knew she was ignorant and she was eager to be taught. She knew her Prince to be gentle. Charming. She longed to be swept away to unbounded joys.
The next morning, a chambermaid swallowed a gasp. She was alone in the cavernous room, arms overflowing with abundant fresh linens. This maid had anticipated a deep blot of virginal blood—the head laundry matron had forewarned her with a nodding smirk. Nevertheless, youthful as she was, she wondered all day long, and the day after that.
Should there have been quite that much blood everywhere? But she kept her questions to herself.
Two years later, this very chambermaid had been elevated to the post of sole lady’s maid to the Princess. She was called Haneul. Only Haneul was trusted to dress Cinderella and assist with her bath. On the rare occasions the maid was unable, Cinderella saw to her own ablutions independently, over shocked protestations. A royal simply cannot clean or dress herself! On this matter she was known to be silly, obstinate.
In everything else she was perfectly malleable. Such a dear princess.
Cinderella once believed: If you tell a wish, it won’t come true. Thus, if you do not tell, might not your deepest desires come to pass?
Her eligible, enviable monster unveiling the truth of that lie.
And then one evening,
Welts rose high, screaming, from her undressed back, her inner thighs. Haneul eased bathwater over Cinderella’s wounds, face crumpled with compassion. Earlier that day, her Princess had joined the maid in tidying the bed chamber, deft and practiced, in discreet companionship. Side by side, with none to disturb.
Now it was time for Haneul to ready her mistress—gleaming, fragrant, should the master choose to have her again that night. Now it was time for water—cleansing, stinging.
This should not be, she thought.
Heads held close, soon both were weeping. Silently, for the room did echo.
Bruises merging with mercy and love. Tasting of salt, rose, tender heat.
Haneul ventured a whisper.
“You can run.”
And resigned no longer to pace out destinies imposed upon them, serving themselves up to masters and monsters—appeasing, smiling, pleasing—these two women, mistress and maid no more, now planned, as priceless nicked glass slippers in a corner sat and accumulated dust.
For My Dearest, this was not the end, merely the next Intermission.
Was it The End?
My pages have been lost in the maw
of churning waters—
Yet I know that they planned…
And after they planned, they leapt, off lowest cliffs into softest waves, toward frigid blackness concealing untold beasts within, in chase of a faraway home which knew them not—yet past boundaries they would cross nonetheless, and they leapt, leapt breathlessly hand in hand, breaking apart mid-air. They leapt side by side.
I witnessed them.
Thus, My Red Heart, we draw close to the awaited
And so they lived
About the Author
J.E. Seuk is a writer, editor, and former English teacher who studied English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She is currently pursuing her master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge. She’s a member of the West Hill Writers Group and has been published in Kissing Dynamite as a featured poet, Ellipsis Zine, Ghost Heart Literary Journal, and elsewhere; she was recently shortlisted for the 2021 FAB Prize. Still a New Yorker at heart and a ‘1.75 generation’ Korean American immigrant, she now resides in Brighton, England where she enjoys music-making, sea air, and walking behind dogs on sidewalks.