Wednesday

Apr. 9, 2003

The Ugly Stepsister

by Denise Duhamel

WEDNESDAY, 9 APRIL 2003
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Poem: "The Ugly Stepsister," by Denise Duhamel from Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press).

The Ugly Stepsister

You don't know what it was like.
My mother marries this bum who takes off on us,
after only a few months, leaving his little Cinderella
behind. Oh yes, Cindy will try to tell you
that her father died. She's like that, she's a martyr.
But between you and me, he took up
with a dame close to Cindy's age.
My mother never got a cent out of him
for child support. So that explains
why sometimes the old lady was gruff.
My sisters and I didn't mind Cindy at first,
but her relentless cheeriness soon took its toll.
She dragged the dirty clothes to one of Chelsea's
many laundromats. She was fond of talking
to mice and rats on the way. She loved doing dishes
and scrubbing walls, taking phone messages,
and cleaning toilet bowls. You know,
the kind of woman that makes the rest
of us look bad. My sisters and I
weren't paranoid, but we couldn't help
but see this manic love for housework
as part of Cindy's sinister plan. Our dates
would come to pick us up and Cindy'd pop out
of the kitchen offering warm chocolate chip cookies.
Critics often point to the fact that my sisters and I
were dark and she was blonde, implying
jealousy on our part. But let me
set the record straight. We have the empty bottles
of Clairol's Nice'n Easy to prove
Cindy was a fake. She was what her shrink called
a master manipulator. She loved people
to feel bad for her-her favorite phrase was a faint,
"I don't mind. That's OK." We should have known
she'd marry Jeff Charming, the guy from our high school
who went on to trade bonds. Cindy finagled her way
into a private Christmas party on Wall Street,
charging a little black dress at Barney's,
which she would have returned the next day
if Jeff hadn't fallen head over heels.
She claimed he took her on a horse-and-buggy ride
through Central Park, that it was the most romantic
evening of her life, even though she was home
before midnight-a bit early, if you ask me, for Manhattan.
It turned out that Jeff was seeing someone else
and had to cover his tracks. But Cindy didn't
let little things like another woman's happiness
get in her way. She filled her glass slipper
with champagne she had lifted
from the Wall Street extravaganza. She toasted
to Mr. Charming's coming around, which he did
soon enough. At the wedding, some of Cindy's friends
looked at my sisters and me with pity. The bride insisted
that our bridesmaids' dresses should be pumpkin,
which is a hard enough color for anyone to carry off.
But let me assure you, we're all very happy
now that Cindy's moved uptown. We've
started a mail order business-cosmetics
and perfumes. Just between you and me,
there's quite a few bucks to be made
on women's self-doubts. And though
we don't like to gloat, we hear Cindy Charming
isn't doing her aerobics anymore. It's rumored
that she yells at the maid, then locks herself in her room,
pressing hot match tips into her palm.


 

Literary Notes:

It was on this day in 1865 that General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army of Northern Virginia, bringing to an end the American Civil War. Two days before, Ulysses S. Grant had written to Lee saying that continuing to fight was hopeless. Lee, who had been through some of the bloodiest battles in history, responded, "Though not entirely of the opinion you express of the hopelessness of further resistance on the part of the army of Northern Virginia, I reciprocate your desire to avoid useless effusion of blood, and therefore, before considering your proposition, ask the terms you will offer, on condition of its surrender." They sent each other several more letters over the course of two days, negotiating the terms of surrender before their meeting at the Appomattox Courthouse, and they both signed each letter, "Very Respectfully, Your obedient servant."

It's the birthday of J. William Fulbright, born in Sumner, Missouri (1905). A senator from Arkansas, he gave his name to the Fulbright Scholarships, which provide for the exchange of students and teachers between the United States and other countries. He said, "In the long course of history, having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine."

On this day in 1945, the pacifist theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis. During the years of World War II he joined the resistance movement in Germany. He was a pacifist, but he participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler.

It's the birthday of songwriter and satirist Tom Lehrer, born in New York City (1928). He began writing and performing strange and morbid songs when he was a graduate student and teaching fellow in mathematics at Harvard University in the early 1950's. He said the songs just came to him and that he wrote them in about the same amount of time he spent brushing his teeth. After college he got a job at the Atomic Energy Commission's scientific laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Before he went there, he wrote "The Wild West Is Where I Want To Be," with the lyrics "'Mid the yuccas and the thistles/I'll watch the guided missiles,/While the old F.B.I. watches me."


Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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