“You’re telling it wrong,” my teacher says.
“Cinderella’s feet were tiny; no one else could fit into her glass slipper.”
But I am telling the story the way Nainai tells it, on midwinter nights smelling of ginseng and woodsmoke, as I watch her rub balm into her feet with rhythmic, kneading motions. Feet twisted to pixie-small points, gnarled like ancient roots.
“Cinderella’s feet were huge,” she says. “Huge and rough and broad. When she danced, the floor shook with every step. The prince fell in love with this girl who leaped and stamped and spun while the ladies tottered at the
fringes in their lotus shoes.
Her glass slipper was
“And when her ugly sisters tried it on,
it fell right off!” I cry, greedy for the
comeuppance, the happily ever after.
Nainai shakes her head. She replaces the bandages, winding them around and around,
feet turning to tiny, neat-wrapped parcels.
“Her sisters were not ugly,” she says. “They were spoiled with jade and silk and all the latest fashionable things. They had the tiniest feet in the whole kingdom.”
“But they looked at Cinderella, and they loathed her for her long stride, and her great stamping feet, and the way she left with the prince – with a skip, and a twirl, kicking up dust with every step, running towards her future.”
Nainai puts her hand on my arm. I help her to rise and shuffle from the room, in shattered shards of steps, fragments of fractured motion.
About the Author:
Josephine Sarvaas is an English teacher and writer from Sydney, Australia whose work has been featured in NYC Midnight, The Big Issue and Gertrude. As a biracial Asian-Australian, her writing is often concerned with culture, language, mixed-race identity and the relationship between different generations.
We thought carefully about the topic and chose vintage Chinese prints as our design resource. For the glass slipper, we chose a more modern illustration to signal the change from the western Cinderella tale to Josephine’s wonderful retelling in the context of footbinding and the freedom of being unbound.