The modern versions of fairytales annoy the hell out of me. The heroine is always sweet and beautiful, the hero (generally a prince) is handsome and charming and they always live happily ever after. Well who decides what 'happy ever after' is? And why should we believe them?
After Ever After
The audience was growing restless. Cindy had been in the business long enough to sense when she was losing a crowd and she didn’t need to look to know that the fidgeting had begun. Surreptitiously, she signalled for an ad break.
‘Fraser,’ she sang, disengaging her mike, ‘I’m dying on my ass out here. Who’s up next?’
The floor manager consulted his clipboard. ‘Some woman from the back-end of nowhere. Thinks her husband’s at it with the neighbour.’
Exactly what the audience would think. ‘That’s not going to cut it,’ Cindy snapped, shooing away the make-up girl who was enthusiastically brandishing a powder brush. ‘I think we should go straight to the biggie.’
‘You sure?’ Fraser raised one artfully plucked eyebrow. ‘You’ve got a lot of time to fill.’
Cindy’s gaze swept over the ranks of uncomfortable chairs while behind her a bickering couple was ushered off the lurid pink and purple set. People were checking watches, picking noses and yawning. One woman was even knitting!
‘Positive,’ she said, patting her blonde chignon as she took her cue and smiled into camera three. ‘Welcome back. My next guest requires no introduction. There can’t be a household in the land that didn’t watch with bated breath during what has been dubbed the Trial of the Century. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to Snow White.’
The camera panned left as a young woman swathed in white velvet emerged from a sumptuously curtained archway. They’d done their best but with her pinched face and hard eyes, wardrobe had been hard put to recapture the virginal looks that had had the woman melting the hearts of every man she met.
‘Snow White-’ Cindy began as her guest took a seat.
‘Snow,’ snapped the woman. Her winter midnight colouring perfectly complemented her icy demeanour.
‘White is my maiden name. I prefer simply to be called Snow.’
‘Snow,’ said Cindy, fighting the urge to roll her eyes. ‘I’m sure there’s no need to go over what happened. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know your story.’ She let her gaze roam the studio, noting the audience’s rapt attention with satisfaction. ‘What we really want to discuss today is your reaction to the whole sorry business. Your happy ever after, if you like.’
Snow frowned. ‘Everyone knows what happened. The prince and I married and we have a beautiful daughter, Crystal.’
Cindy’s smile froze. ‘I’ve met Crystal. What a little treasure.’ And screwed-up enough to deserve an episode all to herself. ‘But it’s your emotional journey we‘d like to discuss. For example, how do you feel about your stepmother?’
Snow gestured vaguely.
Cindy gritted her teeth. Come on, she thought, we’ve another thirteen minutes to fill.
Snow White spoke at last. ‘She’s just a sad old lady, isn’t she? My therapist says I should learn to let go, not hold grudges. I suppose I should pity her, really.’
Aaahh, thought Cindy. Smiling, she turned to camera.
‘Although Snow’s story is well documented, very little is known of her stepmother, who became something of a recluse after the trial. It hasn’t been easy, but our research team managed to track her down.’ Cindy sensed her guest freeze. Her own smile widened as she said, ‘Meet Lily White.’
A spotlight hit the archway and the sound system erupted with a slow, sticky beat as a long leg parted the drapes. A body that would have made Jordan look under-developed followed the leg. Sheathed in an emerald sequinned dress, Lily undulated across the floor and took the seat farthest from Snow.
There was a ripple through the audience as a number of men sat up straighter, sucking in guts and puffing out chests like a flock of preening pigeons rearranging their plumage.
Lily carefully crossed her legs to ensure maximum exposure and tossed a waterfall of chestnut curls over her shoulder. Wardrobe hadn’t been anywhere near this one, Cindy knew. Lily had oozed from a taxi at six-thirty that morning looking exactly as she did now.
‘This can’t be right!’ Outrage made Snow sound like a hissing kettle. ‘Your spell backfired! Last time I saw you, you looked like Methuselah’s granny!’
‘When did you last see Lily?’ Cindy enquired.
‘At the trial! After she tried to kill me!’ Snow was on her feet, legs apart and hands on hips.
‘The word is allegedly, dear. After I allegedly tried to kill you.’ Lily smiled as much as the Botox allowed. ‘You know the jury acquitted me. Be very careful - you can’t afford a libel action.’
‘But how can this be? The spell stuck. You had a hump the size of a hatchback and a face like a sock full of marbles.’
‘Cosmetic surgery, of course. I found myself a darling surgeon who didn’t mind trying a few experimental procedures. It’s not as though he could lose his licence to practice twice, after all.’
Snow’s eyes narrowed. ‘How could you pay for that? You had nothing left after the trial. And I can’t believe you’ve got the cheek to still be using poor Daddy’s name - he must be spinning in his grave!’
‘I think we’d all like to know where Lily’s good fortune came from,’ said Cindy. ‘Perhaps our next guest can shed some light on the matter?’
It was the turn of the women in the audience to perk up as a figure stumbled into view. Tall and dark with a strong jaw and bright blue eyes, Prince Percival was classically good-looking in what Cindy thought of as a bland, generic kind of way.
The Prince reluctantly took the vacant seat. He had come to talk about how wonderful married life was and he didn’t like the way this was going. It had taken the floor manager’s foot to propel him through that curtain.
‘Percy!’ Snow’s voice was so high that only dogs should have been able to hear her.
Lily waved coquettishly. ‘Hello, Percy darling,’ she cooed.
The Prince’s eyes swivelled between his wife and her stepmother.
‘Your Majesty,’ Cindy’s voice was full of malicious glee. ‘Can you tell us what’s brought on Lily’s miraculous rejuvenation?’
The Prince shrugged, refusing to make eye contact. ‘How am I supposed to know?’ he mumbled into his collar.
‘According to sources at the palace, you know very well.’ Cindy waved a sheaf of papers above her head. I have here copies of credit card statements, letters and emails that show that you’ve been lavishing money on your daughter’s step-granny -’ Cindy’s grin widened as she saw the Prince flinch and heard the muttering in the audience, ’- since shortly after your own wedding. An occasion that was described as the society wedding of the millennium and was ‘exclusively’ covered by no less than five different celebrity magazines.’
Snow leapt to her feet, towering above her hapless husband and vibrating with rage. ‘Don’t you dare tell me you’ve been giving her money?’ She pointed a trembling finger at Lily’s pneumatic cleavage. ‘All the time you’re telling me we’re skint because of some bad investments and they’re the reason I couldn’t go to Cuba last year?’
‘I . . . felt sorry for her,’ mumbled the petrified Prince.
‘She tried to kill your wife - allegedly,’ Cindy shot a quick glance at Lily, ‘and you felt sorry for her?’
Prince Percy stared at the floor.
‘So it wasn’t hush money, then?’ Cindy persisted.
The Prince’s complexion matched Lily’s outfit. Once again he addressed his reply to his shirt collar.
‘I’m sorry?’ said Cindy, theatrically cupping an ear and setting her earring swinging. Tiny rainbows sparkled and died in the faceted diamond. The silence from the audience was absolute as they waited for the Prince’s reply.
‘I said, she looked after me all right? You know, when my fiancée ran off to live with a bunch of strange men?’ The Prince shot a venomous look at his wife.
Snow‘s shriek covered the audience’s shocked hiss. ‘Oh for the love of - ’ she screamed. ‘Not this again! How many times do we have to go through this? I told you I was running for my life!’
‘Yeah, so you say,’ sneered the Prince. ‘That’s not what the court thought though, is it?’
Before Snow could reply, Cindy addressed the audience. ‘Perhaps my next guests can shed some light on the matter. Please welcome the seven dwarfs.’
The crowd applauded enthusiastically as seven little men trooped on set and formed a protective circle around Snow’s chair.
Cindy smiled. ‘Why don’t you introduce yourselves?’
‘Yeah, don’t be shy,’ sneered Prince Percy. ‘Stand up and introduce yourselves. Oh, wait a minute, you’re already standing up.’
An indignant muttering broke out among the dwarfs. Several made a show of rolling up their sleeves.
Snow’s eyes narrowed. ‘Oh not more of this crap. Will you give it a rest? I’ll tell you this much, each of them is more of a man than you.’
‘One of them is, certainly,’ spat the puce-faced Prince.
‘How many times do I have to tell you?’ shrieked Snow. ‘Crystal was premature!’
Lily laughed. ‘By two months? You can hardly blame poor Percy for turning to me for comfort when you were shacked up with your half-pint harem!’
With a feral snarl, Snow launched herself at her stepmother sending Lily flying backwards off her chair. The avid audience watched as the two rolled on the floor in a flurry of scratching, biting and hair pulling. Some took sides and began to cheer and one entrepreneurial soul started to take bets from those around him.
A tap on his shoulder made the stunned Prince turn. He had time to see one dwarf standing on another’s shoulders before a set of hairy knuckles (bearing the tattooed word Snow) wiped the horrified gawp from his face and he disappeared under a heaving mass of bodies.
Cindy smiled to herself as she pictured the scores of journalists who were undoubtedly bent over their keyboards committing their outrage (or glee) over this little scene to hard drive. This little fracas should guarantee the ratings for a while, she thought . To fill the remaining airtime and to drown out the stream of invective from her guests, she launched into an impromptu monologue and prayed that the guy on the bleeper machine had a quick trigger finger.
A ballistic chair was the cue for the burly female stagehands to break up the action. Cindy, homily over, watched with satisfaction. She still got a kick out of seeing her step-sisters do her bidding for a change, although it rankled that she had to pay them minimum wage when all they’d ever passed her way had been stale food and rags. Still, there was always the chance, as now, that an irate guest might land a lucky punch. She hid a smile as the luckless woman reeled away from Snow, clutching a bloody nose.
Cindy turned back to camera as her signature tune began. ‘Join us next week on The Cindy Reilly Show, where we’ll be discussing why some women stay in abusive relationships.’ Her smile became lascivious as she continued. ’We’ll also be joined by Beauty, who’ll be telling us all about why she really preferred the Beast.’