Cezarija Abartis

The Angel Fairy

Russian Peasant Girl with a Flower by unknown artist

She was large as a human. She sat on the top of the swaying open door, ducking her head down so that it would not touch the ceiling. She swiped cobwebs from her hands. “Dirty corners,” she said.

Cinderella winced. “Sorry. I can’t reach up there.”

“Didn’t they teach you to use a napkin tied on a broom?”

“I was tired. I’ve been chopping firewood, sweeping the house, carrying water, scrubbing clothes.” She sneezed, and gripped her skirt. “And I have catarrh.” She sneezed again and covered her mouth.

“Complain, complain.” The fairy took a puff from her pipe, blew the smoke out into the shape of a sitting angel.

Cinderella had a smutch on her forehead in the shape of a star. “Sorry. It’s my catarrh. I’m tired and unwell.”

“So you said.” The fairy glided down. Her eyes took in the room, the fireplace with its dying embers, the tattered cloth over the window, the dented pot hanging from the nail. “Used to be cleaner.”

“I know.” Cinderella let out a small cough, bent her head meekly, saw the fairy’s toes approach. She smelled the perfume that she had been told her mother wore Soft Flowers in Winter. Her mother once had been given a bottle of perfume by the lady of the manor, when she retrieved her puppy where it was lost in a wet ditch. The present was not an insult. The lady had just been to the parfumerie and offered what she had in her reticule. Cinderella didn’t know who inherited the bottle when her mother died, but she smelled perfume on the fine ladies as they passed on the street, and now tonight.

The fairy let the pipe float away and dissolve, absentmindedly caressed the blue silk band at her waist. “What will we do about you?” She put her hand to her chin to study Cinderella. “I will get you ready for the ball tonight.” She shook her head, in puzzlement perhaps. “For meeting the prince.” She sighed. “I know about love and obligation.” She touched the belt again. “But I do like you, inept though you are. Something about you seems sweet, vulnerable, foolish, damaged.” She tilted her head affectionately. “Who are you?”


“No, really. In your heart.”

“I’m tired. I don’t know.”

“I suppose you don’t.” She clucked her tongue.

Cinderella shivered. The fairy anticipated her comment, looked around. “It’s cold. You’ll need silver boots. Tomorrow it will rain. Next week the sun will shine. After that, bitter rain and snow, that’s life, you know that. I was a top-class fairy, but look at me now.” She pulled out her skirt as if to show its fullness and poked a finger though a hole at the front.

“What happened?”

“My excessive ambitions.” The fairy smiled and became fragile and beautiful. “That’s not you, I know. You’re mild as tapioca pudding.”

“I tasted that once. At a fair.” Cinderella bent her head acknowledging the shame of this judgment.

The fairy waved away her emotion. “Honey, the world doesn’t care. I learned that. I was once the favorite of the fairy world, raised by the fairy queen, treasured, petted, given sweetmeats, savories. I had a tiny, furry dog that used to wind around my ankles and hum-howl at me. He limped, he never barked, he sang. He ran under a carriage and died. I never wanted another one.”

“Sorry,” Cinderella said.

“There you go again.”

“Sorry. I don’t mean to.” She winced, knowing what would come next.

“Again. You’re saying it again. How am I going to fix you up?” The fairy leaned her head to her shoulder to appraise the human girl. “I’m still the best. I’ll get you ready.”

“For what?”

“What you’ve been mooning about. You’ve been singing, squinting at the stars, skipping around the floor. Your mother asked me.”

“But she’s dead. You knew my mother?”

“That doesn’t mean she can’t talk. Her voice is with me.” She tapped her chest. “We were great friends when she was alive. Your mother gave me that limping dog when my beloved died. She saved my life. She taught me how to tie an endless knot.”

“What’s that?”

“Never mind. You don’t need to know yet. Love…” She shook the thought away. “You’ll find out soon enough. My powers are dimming. I’m an aging creature.” She clapped her hands. “Let’s get started. You sit there. I’ll say my spell.”

“Are you a witch?”

“Witch, angel, fairy–what difference does it make?”

“I was told there are demon creatures and angel creatures.”

“Who told you?”

“My sisters. My half-sisters.”

“They’re half-right.” She slapped her hands together and cackled. She told Cinderella to take off her apron, unpin her hair, bathe in the metal tub that her sisters used in the next room, the water would magically get warm. She closed her eyes and spoke words in a language Cinderella didn’t understand. Cinderella looked gratefully at the old fairy, who wore her hair in braids pinned in a circle to the back of her head, like Cinderella’s mother. The candle flickered. Cinderella dipped her toe in and smiled at the warmth without the effort of boiling the water.

Her cough had disappeared. She liked this angel, who reminded her of her mother–as if she could almost remember her mother. The hands fluttered transparently. She wondered if the fairy was her angel mother returned from heaven.

Her father had loved her mother but remarried–to a widow with two daughters. Cinderella had thought she might like having sisters but they didn’t like her. And now she barely remembered what it was like to be liked. This fairy angel liked her; she could tell.

The fairy sat and waited. The girl toweled herself and put on a shift.

A smile appeared on the fairy’s face. “I was in love once,” she said, and looked away.

“Please tell more.” Cinderella saw the sadness in her face and heart. “It helps sometimes to talk.”

“What do you know? What do you know?”

Cinderella knew she was young, felt empty as water. “Nothing.”

The fairy took a breath. “Very well.” She gathered herself. “There was a mortal once. I serenaded him, brought him sweetmeats, presents, tinkling bells from India, nosegays from English gardens.”

“I’d like to go to India someday–”

“I was talking. Don’t interrupt.”

“Sorry,” Cinderella swallowed, and waited.

Cinderella noted the fairy’s bemused tolerance and murmured softly. “Please continue. I love to hear love stories.”

“I’m sure. And what about war stories, stories about starvation, loss, and death? About drought and diseased animals? Stories about parents losing children? Wives dying from grippe? Fathers marrying hell-mouthed harridans?”

“I don’t know anything about those.” Cinderella’s face was innocent of knowledge, blank as an angel’s.

“I loved your mother, and see what it got me. Demoted.” She sighed. “She was a lovely human.” She looked around. “Didn’t you used to have a dog?”

Cinderella shook her head.

“Not even a puppy?”


The fairy’s silence went on while she paced around the room trying to remember, to put into words her pain. She made a cup with her hands, brought it to her lips, covered her face, let her hands separate, and stepped to the room’s one window, grimy as it was, making the indoors a boggy twilight. The days were getting short. There would be snow soon. “I could not save her. We must hurry. I will succeed this time.” She clapped her hands and a glittering, gauzy gown appeared on the chair back, teardrop pearls dangling from the neckline.

Cinderella slowly approached the almost-breathing dress and gently swished the shining skirt, smelled perfume in its folds. She liked its conversation, closed her eyes to listen. It said, “Soon. Soon. Soon.”

Cinderella cleared her throat, seemed to preen, slyly spoke. “You promised something about a ball tonight. Meeting the prince.”

“So, you do pay attention.” The girl human was oddly appealing, clumsy and fragile, broken and pretty. “Let’s see what we can do with you. Let’s see your hair.”

Cinderella smiled invitingly and displayed how long her hair was, clean now. The fairy told her to go in the closet and get dressed. The girl seemed modest, prim.

The fairy turned around, took in the soot-covered walls, the rickety table, remembered the blue bottle of perfume she had given her mortal friend, sighed. Cinderella’s whole life was in front of her, and yet all she could see was two steps, maybe three, ahead.

She inhaled a deep breath, pointed at the table, and a tiny glass bottle the size of a thumb appeared in the middle. It flashed in the candle light and was the color of lapis lazuli.

When Cinderella emerged, dressed in the fine gown, the fairy smiled. “This is costly. I promised your mother I would watch over you. I’ve used up my thousand years.” She let out a feeble cough. “Dear child, you know that.” She stretched her hand toward Cinderella, who touched the fingertips. The fairy dissolved like a thread of smoke, lifting up and fanning out.

“Where are you?” Cinderella swivelled around, wondered if this was a game, then giggled at the surprise and saw the front door opening. Her life was before her. She waved to the air. “You’re an angel.” The bottle of perfume gleamed on the pitted planks of the table.

She felt a scrape in her chest, as if a sharp-footed insect clawed across in zigzags. She thought of the ball she was going to. She had heard about its brightness, its music and perfume. She smiled and forgot the scratch in her chest.

Her cough had disappeared.

Cinderella thought she remembered her mother as beautiful, soft spoken, and longsuffering goddess or angel, but her mother had died when Cinderella was born. Cinderella had only heard stories about her: how she lit a candle for a neighbor’s deceased granny; how she healed a wounded dog; how she sang in the church choir, the voice clear and steady; how she sewed a dress with a collar; how she planted cabbage and made sauerkraut; how she wanted to learn to read.

In Cinderella’s fabulist memory, her mother had raven-black or golden hair; she was brown-eyed or blue-eyed; she was tall or short; but she was always beautiful and graceful and kind, welcoming and happy. The sun streaming through fluttering leaves. The fresh sweet smell of grass.

Someday she would be such a mother.

She picked up the shining ribbon and sniffed its perfume; she would tie it around her now-clean hair. There was a knot in the ribbon: she tried to undo it, but it persisted. She held it up to the light but couldn’t see through it nor how to untie it. Very well, she would leave it, let it appear a design; she tied two more knots, one on either side, so that these looked like flower buds, soon to unfold and bloom. She pointed to the knot and said that was her; the next knot was her husband; the next knot was their child.

She ran out to the coach waiting outside the open door. She put her foot on the bottom step of the coach and paused.

All would be well. Peace, beauty, health. Only good things. She pulled the coach door closed with a click.


About the writer:
Cezarija Abartis has published a collection, Nice Girls and Other Stories (New Rivers Press) and stories in Baltimore Review, Bennington Review, FRiGG, matchbook, Waccamaw, and New York Tyrant, among others. Recently she completed a crime novel. Abartis lives and writes in Minnesota.

Image: Russian Peasant Girl with a Flower by unknown artist. No medium specified. No size specified. 1770s. Public domain.