“Clean the stairs next.”
“And the bathroom after that.”
“I did that this morning.”
“Do it again then. I was in there a few minutes ago and it wasn’t nearly spotless enough.”
“OK, OK, I’ll do it,” said Cinderella. Her two ugly sisters were being particularly demanding today, their foul breath kept brushing across her face with each new instruction. She stifled a cough.
“Hah!” said one of the sisters, “Can’t take a little stink?” she leant forward and breathed heavily in Cinderella’s face, “then you should have set out some breath fresheners after the meal.”
“Let’s get out of here,” said the other, “we need to get ready for the ball anyway. You laid our dresses out earlier, didn’t you, Cinderella?”
“They’re in your rooms,” Cinderella replied.
“Good. At least you can do something right.”
The sisters headed upstairs. Cinderella went to the cleaning cupboard and got out the mop, bucket, three different cleaning products and some marble polish. She went to work on the stairs, grumbling under her breath as she poured the bottles into the bucket. The ball they were heading to was the Prince’s, and tonight he’d choose a bride. Everybody was going. Everybody had been invited. Except Cinderella.
Well, she had been invited, but the card had found its way into the fireplace as her sisters laughed. She had looked on and tried not to cry.
It wasn’t any use anyway. Her breath stank awfully. Everybody’s breath stank, of course, but they all had mints and sprays and mouthwashes and perfumes to cover it up. If you were really lucky, you could get it down to only being detectable within a foot of another person, but that took hours. Cinderella wasn’t given any of that and so her breath could stink out a room. If people didn’t know how to synchronise their breathing with hers then their eyes would begin to water. It really was terrible.
She heard her sisters stampeding down the stairs. “We’re done!” they called, “is the cab ready?”
“It arrived five minutes ago,” she shouted back.
They ran out of the door and fought to be the first to get into it. Each was sure that the Prince would choose them, just like everybody else in the city.
Cinderella got on with the scrubbing. Hopefully, they’d get utterly wasted and spend most of tomorrow in bed. The house was already gleaming, so she could spend the day quietly relaxing, waiting for them to feel well enough to start messing things up again.
Twenty minutes later, a pillar of smoke appeared in front of her. She shook her head and stared at it, wondering if the cleaning products were making her hallucinate again. Gradually, the smoke formed into a solid mass and took the shape of a kindly looking, middle-aged woman. “Hello,” she said. Cinderella sniffed. It was odd. It seemed like this lady had no bad breath. She sniffed again. It must be the cleaning products. Nobody could be this close without her being able to smell them.
“Tell me, Cinderella, are you going to the ball tonight?” asked the lady.
“No,” said Cinderella, looking the woman up and down with a sceptical expression, “I have to get the stairs clean and make sure my sisters’ rooms are ready for when they get back.”
“That sounds very boring, wouldn’t you rather go to the ball?”
“I’d love to, but I have to get this done. And even if it was finished, they tore up my invitation.”
“Well, that’s no real obstacle!” and the lady waved her hands and tapped the wand she was holding onto Cinderlla’s sponge, transforming it into a golden invitation to the ball with Cinderella’s name on it.
“How did you do that?!” Cinderella screeched, “that’s incredible!”
“Magic, Cinderella. You see, I am your fairy godmother, and I am here to make sure that you do go to the ball. Now, leave the stairs, they’ll take care of themselves,” she waved her wand and the stairs were suddenly sparkling, cleaner than Cinderella had ever seen them, “we have to get you into a dress! And get you some make-up! We’ll need to organise transport too, and do something about your breath.”
“It’s awful, isn’t it? My sisters won’t let me use even a little mouthwash. I was removing a bird’s nest from the attic yesterday and one of the chicks died when I sneezed on it.”
“You’re definitely a special case, but I have something that ought to do the trick. First though, we need to change your clothes. That part is easy though,” and with a wave of her wand, Cinderella’s rags and apron were transformed into one of the most stylish dresses that had ever existed. Any light that struck it was absorbed and released gradually in key areas, creating a soft glow around Cinderella’s features and leaving the perfect black base material of the dress unspoilt, though the numerous additions on top of that all caught the light superbly, each bending it or changing it in some strange new way. “Go and look in the mirror. See if you like what you see.”
Cinderella hurried over to the full-length wall mirror that made up part of the entrance hall and admired herself. Make-up had been expertly applied to her face, drawing out the beauty that had been hidden under layers of grime for years. She adored the dress too, and viewed it from every angle, each one just as breathtaking as the last.
“Now take a look outside.”
Cinderella rushed to the door and pulled it open. In the driveway to the house were four large, albino tigers drawing a golden chariot. Cinderella gaped in awe at them, then spun around to face her fairy godmother, almost crying. “But my breath!” she cried, “I won’t even get passed the doormen with it smelling like this!”
“Not to worry,” said the fairy godmother, “I have just the thing.” She pulled out from her purse a small, plastic box and unpopped the lid. She shook it until a small, green pill landed in her palm. “Tic-Tacs,” she said, “two hours of fresh breath at under two calories!”