FICTION: A Husband by Midnight

You’ve heard my story. My kind, beautiful mother died, leaving her faithful, doting husband—my father—with a hole in his heart. Shortly thereafter, a wicked woman filled that hole as though it was the inside of a cake, bringing her two spoiled daughters as cherries on top. But nothing about these women was sweet. Three months after they came to live with us my father began to cough blood. Three months later he was dead.

Before my father was buried in the snow-covered ground, my stepmother and stepsisters changed my status from a maiden to a chambermaid. Then they changed my name to Cinderella after the ashy embers left in the bottom of the fireplace in the kitchen, my new workspace and bedroom. These women saw me as a field mouse, something tiny and meek, easy to control or crush. I was just a thing to them; a dirty house wench, an ungrateful stepdaughter and sister, and their ticket to getting their grimy hands on jewels and land.

My weak, idiotic father left his entire fortune to them. He couldn’t see that they were winter and I spring.

I was born in early April, a month where a thick blanket is all that’s needed on cooler mornings. I was born with a different name, one that resembled a flower instead of dying flame. I bet you didn’t know that.

These vultures may have taken my agency and my fortune, but they have nothing to do with my future. I don’t need their money to plan my escape. I’ve learned there are two kinds of currency in this world—gold and chastity.

I no longer have the former, but I can use the latter to my advantage.

I am as pure as ladies come. The only man I’ve ever known was my father, and his flesh barely ever brushed mine. Before his frequent trips for work, he would timidly peck my forehead before hurrying away. I am untouched by man. I am pure as a fresh snowfall. And this will get me far, or at the very least, far enough away from the cackling witches who have taken over the place I once considered home.

Society likes to say it always knows a chaste girl. But how can it tell what has gone on beneath my skirts? Society likes to think of itself as all powerful, yet really it receives its breath from the hens and roosters clucking and yelling at parties, pubs, and brothels. It knows only what it hears, and everyone knows chickens run around with their heads cut off.

I am chaste because I come from good breeding, fortune, and my name has never been uttered in gossip circles unless in pity for my father remarrying so soon after my mother’s untimely passing. It’s true I haven’t had many opportunities to tarnish my name and that my virginity is intact, yet there’s nothing chaste about my soul. You have to be devoid of propriety to become business savvy.

Tonight I am at a ball. You probably have in mind the fable society has told you—a maiden goes to a dance where she falls in love with a handsome prince who will take her away from her miserable life of servitude. I’m afraid that is just a bedtime story, a wish for a better, happier world. This evening will not be about falling in love or escaping for a night. There is no fairy godmother or glass slipper in this story. I am the only one who is going to save myself.

Tonight is my chance to escape for eternity, leaving this life in the dust. Tonight I will find a husband and sell my virginity to the highest bidder.

When it comes to finding a husband you must have the mindset of a hunter stalking its prey. But not just any hunter—a lioness. Female lions are superior hunters to their male counterparts, and are responsible for catching and killing most of their pride’s food. I bet you didn’t know that.

Choosing and trapping a husband is similar business; you must be graceful, fearless, and make sure he never sees you coming. You must make him believe you are the prey and he the predator, the lamb brought willingly to slaughter.

If you are familiar with my story, you’re probably wondering how I was able to go to the ball undetected by my stepmother and sisters. The tale that I work all day for the chance to go to the dance and put on my dead mother’s dress that mice and birds have helped me fix up only to have it ripped to shreds isn’t exactly how it went down. My stepmother and stepsisters wanted me to go to the ball with them because they believed it would make them look better. No man would want a working girl whose hands and back were bent and worn from hours of labor. Look at her hands, they rehearsed saying, snickering to one another. Barely 20 and she walks bent over like a crone.

I accounted for this, however. All of my chores were performed with good posture, my neck, shoulders, and back so straight I could balance a book or two on my head. After which I soaked my hand in butter. It was slimy and mushy, yet left my hands silky smooth. My hands appear as untouched by labor as my stepsisters’ do.

The one part of the story that is true is that I am wearing my mother’s dress to the ball. My stepmother and sisters didn’t tear it to shreds, though. I chose this dress for a very specific reason: it’s demure. On my slim figure it reflects a sweet, humble young woman with family values. Everyone at this ball is touched that I still wear my mother’s dress, and impressed with how petite my waist is. The dress makes me stand apart from the gaggles of women spun in ruffles and prints and loud colors, which is exactly what I’m counting on.

Twenty minutes have passed since I arrived at the ball. I have already dismissed four possible matches on account of the following characteristics: absurd hairiness, to the point that black curly wires protrude from his jacket sleeves and neck; a hyena laugh because, well, have you ever heard a hyena cackle before?; a gambling problem in the form of a gentleman who says he has “new money,” but everyone knows it’ll be “old money” or “gone money” in the next few months if not sooner; and lastly, a groper. When I walked by, he pinched my bottom, and that’s just not how a proper gentleman treats a lady. I turned and took his hand in mine before digging my nails into the soft flesh. That will teach him.

I’m not naive enough to think I’ll meet a perfect stranger at the dance tonight who doesn’t do anything that annoys me or makes me want to retch. There’s only a three-hour courtship window—now two hours, 37 minutes, and 16 seconds—you have to work with what’s available. I’ve come prepared; I have a system. Spend no more than 3-5 minutes becoming acquainted with a gentleman unless he 1) is filthy rich, 2) flatters you without being menacing (this means absolutely no groping or touching of any kind), and 3) insinuates he’s ready to settle down. Immediately. I don’t have time for the wishy washy type who want all the perks of a wife, but might need a six-month or yearlong courtship to decide if I am the maiden of his dreams.

The trick is to seem quiet, yet not mute, to smile and laugh at all of his jokes, to blush slightly whenever he compliments you, and to tell him the story of the real life fairytale marriage your parents had…before she died…and before he died, leaving you an orphan. Of course, you have your stepmother and stepsisters, but the manor seems so empty and dreary now without your beloved parents. You can only dream of finding a man as handsome, funny, and driven as your father (you never discuss wealth, as it spooks the cattle) who will take you away to a manor or castle you can make your own. To make you an orphan no more, but a proper lady. A wife. It’s all you’ve dreamed of since your father passed away two years ago.

Then you cast your eyes to the ground so that you seem embarrassed. Maybe even your cheeks redden a little—you’ve practiced this in the reflection of the serving tray every morning—and say, “It may sound like a silly dream to you, but—” You pause just the right amount of time to make him think it’s a natural one. And if he’s a viable candidate, he will in ten seconds or less say, “Not at all. It sounds like a lovely dream.” You slowly lift your gaze to meet his and smile as you look at him dreamily. Again, if he’s a real possibility, he’ll then say, “For a lovely girl. Will you give me the honor of a dance?” He offers his hand to you. That’s when you know you have your claws in him. When the music ends after your first dance and he doesn’t let go of your waist and hand, you know he’s your next meal.

In the span of 2.5 hours you can have about a dozen of these exchanges with eligible bachelors. With my screening process, I’ve done about half. The gentleman I’m currently dancing with (for the fifth song in a row) is a merchant. We’ve bonded over this, as my father was also a merchant. I love to travel, I say. But of course, I am always happy to stay behind to keep everything in order at the manor. This bachelor is handsome in that pubescent way men in their mid-twenties can be. It doesn’t appear as though he has any body hair from his smooth chin and cheeks and the naked, pink freckled skin protruding from the collar of his shirt. His eyes are chocolatey and kind, and his mouth is thin and serious. You can tell he is formidable in business, and possibly in the bedroom. Which I’m not opposed to, if, of course, we are officially husband and wife. I only think that though; a chaste lady never discusses such things. The gentleman has just told me his parents are around here somewhere, and he’d love for them to meet me. Apparently his mother went to boarding school with mine. What a sweet coincidence, I say. I smile at him warmly, as I’ve practiced. He may just be my happily ever right now, folks. But first he has to pass my final test.

It’s a simple one really. At the end of the night, we will say goodbye to one another with clasped hands begging not to be separated and a kiss on the cheek. He will ask if he can call on me in the next week. I will say yes, that would be lovely. And he will follow through. There will be no glass slipper left behind or great search for the maiden it belongs to. He will know me, and he will come for me. He will get down on one knee and proclaim his love. He will ask me to be his bride.

None of this is the test; it is guaranteed. The test is what happens afterwards. Once he takes me to his manor with the sprawling gardens and stables, will he sign on the dotted line? I wouldn’t marry a man without drawing up a contract first, of course. In fact, it’s already drafted. It states that my noble status and spotless reputation dictate particular things, such as a separate, soundproof suite to stay in, wherein no sexual acts will be performed, until after the marriage ceremony; a handsome allowance each week that I can spend at my own discretion; and that I will be properly fucked no less than three times a week. My premarital suite will be transformed into a playroom with all the sex toys and trinkets I desire. It will be kept private, not even servants of the household will know its true purpose. If the conditions of the marital contract are not upheld for any reason, I will fillet him, exposing every dirty little secret his family keeps under lock and key. I have taken the liberty of listing enough damaging information about his family to show I’m not bluffing, such as the embarrassing truth that his sister wed her cousin because no one else would marry her, or the salacious detail about how his father likes to entertain transexuals in his private chamber. If my betrothed doesn’t sign the contract and marry me, failing this final test, I will release all of his family’s secrets.

It’s not the prettiest of tactics—some might even say it’s wicked—but sometimes you must reveal your cards. It shows you’re the real predator, and everyone else is your prey. That anyone who gets in the way of your happily ever after will be devoured.

Christina Rosso is a red-headed siren and bookstore owner living in South Philadelphia with her bearded husband and two rescue pups. Her work has been featured in Twisted Sister Lit MagAcross the Margin, FIVE:2:ONE Magazine, and moreVisit or find her on Twitter @Rosso_Christina.

Image: The Slippers of Cinderella, Aubrey Beardsley, 1894

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