A fairy tale for Yom HaShoah
by Lawrence Schimel
She wore glass spectacles
for her vision was clouded,
as if that night her family's home
was burned to the ground in a pogrom
the smoke had gotten into her eyes
and never left them.
They named her Cinderella
when they pulled her from the ashes,
their hearts going soft because
she was only three years old.
Years later, her stepsisters teased
that she was named Cinderella
because she was dark as soot.
They pinched her bold nose
and pulled her black hair
and powdered their pale faces
to go to parties with the Vienese elite.
Cinderella was never invited
to attend these lavish functions;
her foster family left her at home,
working while they danced,
dreaming of the day she was asked to accompany them.
She was always certain it would not be long,
and therefore worked unfailingly, hoping
While her stepsisters primped and prepped
to waltz among princes, Cinderella walked
to the market, stepping over sewage in the gutters,
dodging the nimble rats that boldly crossed
the streets in search of food. A kindly frau
who sat beside a cart of squash--yellow gourds
and fat pumpkins like lumpy little suns--stopped her.
She took Cinderella's hands into her own.
"You look so sad. I will help you."
The woman drew Cinderella into the shadows
of the alleyway, and pulled papers from her pocket.
"Take these," she said. "They are mine,
but I am old. Go to America instead of me.
Find a new life. Send for your family,
if any are still alive. I am too old to begin again.
But for you, there is still hope for you."
Cinderella stared at this woman."I am
no Jew," she said, handing back the papers.
She walked away, but the frau's words--
the insinuations, the generosity--
haunted her. She walked faster,
trying to outrun the echoes in her mind.
Passing a shop window, Cinderella saw
a pair of slippers made of glass.
If she had been invited to the ball,
she thought, she would wear those.
She stared at them,
and her reflection stared back:
swart, square. Semitic.
She bought the slippers with the grocery money
and hurried back to the now-empty house.
Cinderella powdered her face
with the stepsister's cosmetics,
put on one of their dresses.
She tied her dark hair in a knot
hiding it beneath a silver scarf.
But still her nose betrayed her.
She didn't care. She slipped on her glass shoes
and made her way across town to the gala,
dreaming of finding a prince who would love her
and adore her and take her away to an enchanted life
where it did not matter that she looked like a jew.
The party was as dazzling as she had dreamed.
No one stopped her at the door, or paid her any
notice at all, it seemed, though some people stared.
No one spoke to her. And then a shriek
made Cinderella the focus of six hundred eyes,
as her two stepsisters ran toward her.
"You are not fit to be seen here!" they cried.
They snatched the spectacles from her face
and, in front of the assembled crowd,
crushed them underfoot with a delicate
twist of the toe, grinding downward.
Cinderella's vision blurred without her glasses.
Tears burned in her eyes, and then suddenly
the smoke that had clouded her sight
for as long as she could recall
lifted. She saw, at last, what she had always
refused to see before: these people had killed
her family, had meant to kill her as well.
She stood there, numb, as the stepsisters
poked and pushed her. They stepped
on her toes and broke her glass slippers
into hundreds of sharp splinters.
Cinderella left the shards of her glass shoes
on the dance floor and walked barefoot
out of the hall, leaving footprints of blood
behind her. She was never seen again.