She knows there aren't many of them.
Sometimes a prince comes,
though he is never alone.
Always with someone else,
who usually ends up being
the worst sort of scum, and asks for one girl
and then another
if the first isn't pleasing in some silly way.
But they don't matter,
Common as muck,
her ma used to say.
If only her ma could see her now.
She doesn't think about that—
she thinks about the prince.
The prince will take her hand,
and tell her that she is beautiful,
that she is lovely.
And he will be sincere,
as sincere as is possible in her world
of silks and laces,
of rouge and secrets.
All she wants is a gentleman,
a good man,
a kind man.
She doesn't need love.
She gets enough of that.
Quickly, she scans the crowd of men,
toads and frogs mixed in with
weasels and foxes alike,
and she waits. She always was a terrible dancer.
unlike everything else,
has not changed.
Madame will kill her for sitting in the corner,
tucked away from the customers.
In their industry,
based on looks and charm,
attracting the customers
and their wallets
is all that matters.
But really, she thinks,
she's more likely to turn them away
should she dance.
She cut her feet once as a child,
on the remains of a shamelessly decorative glass rose
her ma valued above all else.
It hurts her feet to move to the rhythm,
hurts her heart to remember that day.
tonight, she is lucky. She looks up
and catches the eye of a man. Instantly,
she has found her prince,
her very own, at least for the night.
Hurrying, she gets to her feet,
nearly knocking over the girl next to her,
but she does not stop, does not apologize or even care.
If she did not reach him, another girl would.
She reaches out a hand to her prince,
a shuffling, pleasant-faced man in boring clothes and a shy smile.
He does not want a princess, she knows as she leans in to whisper in his ear.
And for her, that is just fine.
Though she knows of the way particularly fine fabric
slides coolly across one's skin like the trail of a snake,
though she has felt the cold press of coins in her hands,
has worn the necklaces, the earrings, the bracelets—
in the end,
none of those things can make her into one of
those envied, delicate creatures,
with their skin-of-snow,
hair-of-gold, and all that
She is not a princess.
She is a Cinderella,
one of those girls who does not deserve
a fine life, who pastes on a smile
and wears a fancy gown
during the night
in hopes of finding a prince.
for this one night,
he is a prince.
And he is perfect.
She wants a prince for this evening.
He wants a companion for this moment.
In a way,