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After the Ball (A Fairy Tale with a Happy Ending)

August 4, 2004
By The Plaid Adder

Once upon a time in a rich and prosperous kingdom, there lived a young woman named Cinderella. Actually, that was just what her evil stepfather called her - as in, "Cinderella, wax my Hummer! Cinderella, bring me porkchops! Cinderella, authorize the use of force against King Heinous of Womdyland!"

She herself didn't think much of her stepfather. He had married Cinderella's mother when she was a healthy, happy single woman with a good-paying job, and in four short years that man had turned her into a hard-drinking, paranoid harpy with too many guns and a mouth like a sewer.

So she tried not to answer to Cinderella if she could avoid it. She told her friends to just call her Blue.

As much as she hated watching her stepfather squandering her mother's resources, she hated her stepbrother more. Red could do no wrong; he was always swaggering around the house like he owned the place, treating everyone like dirt, and then going out all night to spend the family's money on expensive debauches with his rich friends. Any time Blue went to her stepfather for money, he would rant about entitlement and fiscal responsibility and tell her to go get a job.

Blue was in fact working three jobs, but she couldn't seem to stop herself from sharing her money with her hard-up friends. A lot of them had been out of work for a long time and some of them were sick and didn't have any money for medicine. Blue had tried to explain that to her stepfather, but he just told her that she was preventing her friends from learning to take responsibility for their own problems, and that as a lesson to her he would reduce her allowance.

Things came to a head when the king and queen announced that it was time for a ball to be given in the honor of their daughter, Princess Swingvoter. Blue had never seen Princess Swingvoter and wasn't quite sure what she looked like, but everyone said she was the most beautiful and sought-after person in the whole kingdom, and she was going to have to choose her spouse from among all the dignitaries who attended the Conventional Ball.

The law of the land wouldn't allow Princess Swingvoter to marry her, but all the same Blue wanted to go to this ball and maybe dance one dance with Princess Swingvoter and then at least she would have some happy memories to fall back on when Red came home and boasted about how much he'd guzzled and how many important people had groveled to him and how his father's family was going to fix it so he could marry Princess Swingvoter even though she thought he was an ugly weasel with a serious mean streak.

But even though the ball was supposed to be open to everyone, it was obvious that Blue would never be able to go. First of all she got pressed into service trying to pretty up Red for his big night, which was no small task. Then one day Red was hassling her about something and Blue lost her temper and told him where he could shove it, and he ran and tattled to her stepfather and he grounded her.

So when the big night came, she watched from the garage as the chauffeur fired up the Mercedes SUV and rolled on out to the castle, with Red sticking his head out the window and hooting idiotically.

Blue went back down to her room in the basement and got on the internet. She wasn't supposed to have internet access, but she had figured out how to recycle one of Red's many discarded laptops and poach dial-up access off his private line. She was right in the middle of posting a very long rant to a notorious left-wing discussion forum when she heard a melodious voice behind her.

"Easy now, Blue. We don't want all that negativity ruining your big night out, do we?"

Blue spun around in her previously-owned desk chair, almost snapping the seat right off the shaft. "Who the hell are you and how did you get in here?" she demanded.

The young man lounging on the half-deflated beanbag chair in the corner by the bookcases was friendly-looking enough - tall, slender, and dressed with impeccable taste even if his outfit was a little self-consciously hip. His narrow oblong spectacles flashed as he took in Blue - or rather her self-administered haircut, work boots, jeans and patchwork jacket - and her equally scruffy surroundings. He stood up gracefully, the spiky ends of his highlighted hair almost touching the low ceiling.

"Relax, honey," he said. "I'm your fairy spin doctor."

Blue decided she would log off for the time being.

"We don't have a whole lot of time, sweetheart," said the young man. "You want to get to this Conventional Ball, right?"

"Yes, but how - "

"Honey, maybe you don't know this, but there are millions of people all over the world doing nothing but praying night and day that you get to that ball and you sweep Princess Swingvoter off her feet. I aim to make it happen. You with me?"

"But... why would they care?" Blue demanded.

"Because whoever marries Princess Swingvoter will rule the world. The world doesn't want to be ruled by Red."

"Well, I can sure as shit understand that," Blue snapped. "He's been making me miserable his whole life without even trying. Who knows what he could do to an entire world if he really put his mind to it."

"Now that's exactly the kind of thing we can't have tonight," said the fairy spin doctor. "You're going to be wooing royalty. Princess Swingvoter has led a sheltered life and she's delicate. She doesn't like a lot of anger or pessimism or calling a guy a lying sack even if it's true. She likes things to be happy and polite and for everyone to be the best of friends. You know Red is an irresponsible unprincipled lunatic who can't be trusted with so much as a remote control, and I know Red is an irresponsible unprincipled lunatic who can't be trusted with so much as a remote control who wouldn't know a decent-fitting suit if it snuck up on him in a dark alley and beat him senesless, but you can't put it that way to Princess Swingvoter or she'll just think you're mean."

Blue thought that this was very unfair, but she really did want to get to that ball, and now the fairy spin doctor was motioning for her to stand up and do a twirl so he could start thinking about outfits. She heaved herself out of the chair and did a little pirouette.

The fairy spin doctor studied her sadly. He was looking mainly at her jacket, which rather hurt Blue's feelings. She had pieced it together herself out of scraps that meant a lot to her - a green and white peace symbol, triangles of pink and lavender, one sleeve made out of the remnant of a black and white civil rights banner, a big blue patch on the back that she had embroidered with a picture of the globe. The lapels were constructed entirely out of layoff notices that her friends had been served with and she had sewn about a thousand union labels together to make the lining.

She loved that jacket, and now here was the fairy spin doctor surveying her grimly from the venus symbol patch on her left elbow to the cadeucus patch covering her right, looking as if only a lifetime of carefully inculcated good breeding was preventing him from weeping in despair.

Finally his eyes lit up. "Hey, Blue," he said. "What are those ribbons and things sticking out of your right-hand pocket?"

Blue glanced down. "Oh," she mumbled, as her throat constricted. "Those are my combat medals from the Last Big War."

"Your what now?" demanded the fairy spin doctor, cupping a hand to his ear. "Excuse me, Blue, but did I just hear you say you actually served in the kingdom's army during the Last Big War? In combat? And got decorated for it?"

"Well, yes, but it was a long time ago, and - "

"Damn, girl!" shouted the fairy spin doctor, clapping his hands in glee. "How come you got the medals stuck where nobody can see 'em? They're your best feature!"

Blue dropped her eyes, suddenly desperately uncomfortable. She didn't know how to explain to the fairy spin doctor that these medals everyone got so excited about were attached to very painful memories, and that whenever she looked at them she felt a horribly confused mix of emotions that was impossible to put into words.

"Well, Mr. - "

"Just call me F, honey."

"You know, if I had told them the truth about who I was they would have never let me in the army in the first place. And I mean... I'm glad I was able to save those people, and I'm glad I could help the kingdom, but I shouldn't have been in that war at all. That war shouldn't have happened. It was wasteful and horrible and totally unnecessary and it was all for nothing. I hated what it did to people and I don't ever want anyone to go through that again."

The fairy spin doctor put a hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes.

"Honey, all wars are wasteful and horrible and I would say 85% of them are totally unnecessary. But what we're doing tonight has got nothing to do with reality. Princess Swingvoter is real impressed with bravery. And ever since that attack on the castle a few years ago, she's gotten reeeeeeeal nervous. She's looking for someone who can protect her from her enemies, and kid, she is going to love the new you."

The fairy spin doctor waved one fluttering hand at her. A cloud of golden glitter flew out of it and danced in the air around her as her clothes began magically transforming themselves. Some of the glitter seemed to migrate up to her hair, too, and by the time it had all drifted down to sparkle in the mildewed basement carpet, she hardly felt like herself at all.

The fairy spin doctor grabbed Blue's Pride March poster off the wall and transformed it with one flick of the wrist into a gilt-framed full-length mirror. "You look FABULOUS!"

Blue squinted into the mirror, blinded at first by the silver and bronze glare of her metallic jacket. Her eyes followed the swirl of red, white and blue that united the whole ensemble, from the epaulets on the shoulders to the polished wingtips of her shoes.

"I look like a guy," Blue said, dejectedly.

"Now honey - "

"I look like a straight, white, guy - "

"Listen to me, Blue," snapped the fairy spin doctor. "I know you want Princess Swingvoter to love you for who you are, and who knows, maybe one day she will. But if you walked up to the gates of that castle in that jazz you had on, you wouldn't make it past the guard dogs. And for damn sure nobody's going to let you dance with Princess Swingvoter thinking you're one of those women who go around encouraging nice girls like Princess Swingvoter to leave their husbands, practice witchcraft, kill their children, and undermine capitalism. You want to go to this ball, you're gonna go in drag. Simple as that. Now do you want to go or not?"

Blue shook her head at the image in the mirror and sighed.

"I want to go."

"Dior be praised. Come on through the garage."

The fairy spin doctor wrinkled his nose at Blue's old bicycle, and it morphed into a stretch limo. Her pet hamster was transformed into a chauffeur and installed in the driver's seat. Blue tried to tell the fairy spin doctor that she didn't think the hamster should be driving, and anyhow he had never been quite right since that incident in the lake, but he just waved her into the back.

"Good luck, honey," called the fairy spin doctor as he shut the door. "Just remember: NO NEGATIVITY. Any negativity and your whole setup turns right back into the junk it started from. Knock 'em dead!"

The fairy spin doctor winked at her and disappeared in a poof of glitter. Blue's erstwhile hamster threw the limo into reverse and backed out of the garage.

+++

Blue was pumped. She had never even imagined a place like this in her dreams. Everything was so clean and bright and color-coordinated, and it all went perfectly with her outfit. All the people she met told her how great she looked. She had never felt this happy or had this much fun in her entire life. The music was fabulous, there were flags everywhere, the crowd was elated, and best of all, she was doing a slow waltz with an arm around Princess Swingvoter's waist and Princess Swingvoter's head nestling happily on her shoulder.

"Oh, Blue," sighed Princess Swingvoter. "You're so handsome, and so kind, and such a good dancer. You're the nicest, most intelligent man I've met in a long time."

Blue gulped. She knew she should make some kind of reciprocal compliment but she was afraid that whatever it was would startle her. She was really starting to fall for Princess Swingvoter.

Princess Swingvoter pulled back to look into Blue's eyes.

"If someone was trying to kill me," she said, "you'd fight him for me, wouldn't you?"

"Of course I would," said Blue.

"What about if someone said they wanted to kill me?" Princess Swingvoter said. "You know, didn't attack me, but just kind of stood there and threatened me? Would you fight him for me?"

"Well..." Blue started thinking about it, but as soon as she paused she felt Princess Swingvoter's body get a little more stiff in her embrace, and Princess Swingvoter's smile began to disappear. She panicked and rushed onward. "Sure. Sure I would. If I had good intelligence, you know, that it was a credible threat."

"What if some guy just looked at me funny?" said Princess Swingvoter.

By now Blue was starting to feel extremely uncomfortable. Memories of her time in the Last Big War were making their way up from her unconscious, and she wasn't sure she could go on with this, no matter how hot Princess Swingvoter was.

"Princess, could we talk about something else?"

"What else matters?" Princess Swingvoter frowned as Blue led her into a twirl. "There are a lot of people out there trying to kill me, Blue. I don't even know who they all are. I need someone who's ready to fight for me at the drop of a hat."

Blue wasn't entirely sure that was what Princess Swingvoter needed. She was wondering how it was that the royal family had managed to generate so many enemies. It might be there was no good reason for it; but after her experience with the Last Big War she felt like it made sense to try to look into the question before throwing down gauntlets to half a dozen kingdoms.

Fortunately, the song ended. Blue bowed, and said, "Can I get you something to drink?"

Princess Swingvoter smiled, although not as warmly as she had before. "Thank you, Blue."

Blue pushed through the crowd to the bar, where she was surprised to see her fairy spin doctor behind the counter pouring something from a cocktail shaker into a martini glass.

"F?" she said.

"Shh." He finished fixing up the cosmopolitan that Princess Swingvoter had asked for and handed it to Blue. "Nobody can get by on one income these days, Blue. What's your poison?"

On cue, Red came barging through the crowd, trailing his entourage. Blue had to admit he looked better than usual. He had made a real effort with the outfit, and he was almost behaving himself. At least he was until he bumped up against a waiter who had been carrying a tray with some glasses of red wine on it, and one of them tipped over and spilled all down Red's front.

The waiter apologized immediately, and put the tray down so he could start mopping up the front of Red's suit with his napkin. Red pushed him away. As the waiter staggered backward, Blue could see the telltale signs of one of Red's signature tantrums coming on.

"Why don't you pay attention to what you're doing?" Red shouted.

"I'm terribly sorry, sir," the waiter said. "It was an accident."

"My ass it was," Red said. "You're just incompetent. You shouldn't even have this job. I bet you got it through affirmative action."

The waiter blinked, as if he couldn't quite believe what he'd just heard. "I beg your pardon?"

"You heard him," said Johnny the Zealot. He was one of Red's most assiduous flatterers, and also one of the ugliest, with a neck like a bulldog's and a face that could stop a truck. "How dare you sass your betters back? You should be grateful for all Red's done for you and your kind!"

"Oh, I get it," said the waiter, folding his arms across his chest. "You're race-baiting me, right? I'm sorry, your wit was so diabolically subtle it took me a minute to pick up on it."

The fairy spin doctor couldn't quite suppress a laugh. Red looked up at the fairy spin doctor and his face went purple with rage.

"What are you laughing at, queer guy?" Red demanded. "Did I pick on your boyfriend? Are you gonna go home and cry to your mommy now?"

"Or to his box turtle," taunted Rick Sanctimonious.

The fairy spin doctor looked a little nervous. While Red was talking, some of his goons had put on their brass knuckles, and Rummy the Wack was starting to giggle and play with his electrodes.

"Leave them alone!" Blue shouted. "They're not bothering you! Why do you have to treat people this way? It's mean and hateful and it's not gonna make Princess Swingvoter like you. It's not their fault you're a cruel, ignorant, selfish bastard who goes around ganging up on people just to make himself look strong! Why don't you pick on someone your own size?"

"Blue," whispered the fairy spin doctor urgently. "Ix-nay on the egativity-nay..."

Red shouted back at her. "Why don't you just shut up, you spawn of Satan hirsute pie-wagon?"

Blue's left fist flew almost of its own accord. It connected with Red's jaw, and drove him back against a table which he knocked over, spilling marinara sauce over himself and everyone within a ten-foot radius.

"What's going on here? What's - oh my God! Blue!"

Blue raised her eyes to meet Princess Swingvoter's shocked and appalled face. Behind her, she could see the equally shocked expression on the face of Princess Swingvoter's overprotective father, King Pollster.

Blue knew, just from the way they stared at her, that her nice shiny suit had turned back into patchwork and denim, that her hair had grown longer, and that somewhere in the castle's enormous parking garage, a very confused hamster was dangling from the handlebars of her battered old twelve-speed.

"Blue," Princess Swingvoter repeated, stammering. "You're... you're a woman!"

"Yes," Blue said wearily, flexing her stinging left hand. "I'm a woman. And you know what else, Princess Swingvoter? I'm queer, I'm poor, I'm not white, I hate war worse than anything, and this right here is exactly what happens when you go around starting fights based on your gut feelings instead of sound intelligence and good judgment."

"I'm sorry, angel," said King Pollster, reaching for a walkie talkie. "I don't know how she got past security." He raised the walkie talkie to his lips. "Fox! CNN! NBC! Come quick! We have a situation here."

"I care about you very much," Blue shouted, as three burly security guards came through the crowd, each hanging onto a bunch of growling, snapping dogs. "And if you were in real danger, and it was the only way to protect you, I would go to war to protect you, but is it too much to ask you to spend half an hour considering a few alternatives?"

Princess Swingvoter tried to answer, but Blue couldn't hear her above the yapping of the dogs. One of the pit bulls on the end of Fox's leash leapt at her throat, trying to get his teeth into her jacket.

"You better come with us, Ma'am," said Fox. "If there's any color O'Reilly here hates more than blue, it's pink. And once one of 'em draws blood, it gets kinda hard to control the other dogs."

"Wait!" Princess Swingvoter called out, as the guards and their dogs led Blue out of the hall. "I wanted to hear what she had to say!"

"Too bad, honey," said Red, who had been wiped off, dusted up, and handed a spanking brand new jacket by one of his lackeys. "She was no good for you. Now me, I'm all man. I'll treat you right, and anyone who looks at you funny, well, he won't be a problem for you or your allies any more."

Princess Swingvoter looked at him, snuffling up tears of vexation and regret.

"Wanna dance?" said Red.

"Well," said Princess Swingvoter doubtfully, "all right."

+++

Princess Swingvoter looked up at the clock. They had been in the back room of the Oil's Well That Ends Well Saloon for three hours. She should never have agreed to leave the ball with this jerk. All Red had done since they got here was talk to his buddies, who were all soused and starting to creep her out.

Rick Sanctimonious was collapsed on the table weeping over some beautiful little dog he had had as a child, Johnny the Zealot was singing, badly, and some pasty-faced walking corpse they called Uncle Dick had spent the whole night sitting in a corner feeding champagne and truffles to a fat old whore named Hallie Burton who had a bottomless pit instead of a stomach.

She was immensely relieved when she finally saw the bill arrive. Red reached for it and pulled something out of his pocket.

"Wait!" Princess Swingvoter shouted, as Red extracted a credit card and laid it in the tray. "Is that my wallet?"

"Look!" shouted Tom Chickenlittle, pointing to a group of men gathered around a table on the other side of the room. "That swarthy-complexioned guy over there just insulted Princess Swingvoter!"

"What?" Red roared, leaping unsteadily to his feet. "I'll kick his ass! Which one was it?"

"I dunno," Tom said. "With all the chatter, it was hard to be sure."

"Better kick everyone's ass, just to be on the safe side," said Johnny the Zealot.

He and the boys - except for Uncle Dick, who was apparently not well enough to walk - crossed the room, while Red sat back down and calmly handed Princess Swingvoter's card to the server.

"Wait!" Princess Swingvoter started across the room after the goons. They had reached the table, where Rummy had singled out the smallest, richest-looking one and was challenging him to a fight. "Please - don't start anything - they weren't bothering me! I don't want any more trouble!"

It was too late. While the melee erupted across the room, Princess Swingvoter went dejectedly back to Red's table.

"Can I have my wallet back, please?" she said.

"Sorry, honey," Red said, putting an arm around her waist and squeezing her too tight. "It's my wallet now. You left the dance with me, didn't you?"

She realized with horror that Red was now attempting to plant a large, slobbering kiss on her. She pushed him away.

"Come on, baby," Red said, leering into her face. "There's plenty of room out in the stretch Hummer. Let's go dance."

Princess Swingvoter almost laughed in disbelief, before she remembered that she was the only woman in the bar and she didn't know how to get home from here. "Not tonight, Red. I don't have any condoms with me, and - "

"Don't worry about it, Princess," Red said boozily. "Johnny the Zealot doesn't believe in those things anyway. Just close your eyes and trust in the Lord."

Princess Swingvoter decided that a walk home through the back streets of an unfamiliar city in a pink tulle ballgown would be preferable to spending another thirty seconds with Red and his friends. A brief struggle in the booth ended with Red doubling over in agony, a high heeled pink pump clattering from his crotch onto the floor, and Uncle Dick shouting, as Princess Swingvoter limped in a hurry to the exit, "If I've told you once, Red, I've told you a thousand times - you don't screw the voters until after the wedding!"

The door of the bar banged shut behind her. Princess Swingvoter took a look around.

The bar was the only establishment on the street that was still open. Everything else seemed to be out of business - boarded up, barred, abandoned long ago. There was a sign on one door that read "Gone To Malaysia."

When her eyes adjusted to the bad light she could make out the huddled forms of people sleeping in doorways. Half the streetlights were out and the road was pitted with cracks and gaping holes in the asphalt. Trash had piled up in heaps on the sidewalk, waiting for someone to get around to taking it out. Princess Swingvoter took a few halting steps down the street, staring wide-eyed at the desolation around her.

From the other end of the block, Princess Swingvoter could hear two voices murmuring, and the tick-tick-tick of a bicycle wheel.

Two figures had just turned the corner. One was a tall, slender man with spiked hair, and the other was a shorter, broader woman wearing an oversized jacket and pushing a battered old bicycle.

"I'm sorry all your hard work was for nothing, F," said the woman.

"Don't be, honey," said the man beside her. "I'm just sorry you didn't hit him harder."

Princess Swingvoter reached down, removed her one remaining pump, and began running up the street.

"Blue!" she shouted. "Oh, Blue! I'm so glad I found you."

Blue stopped the bicycle. "God, Princess," she said. "You look like hell. What happened to you?"

"I'm sorry, Blue," said Princess Swingvoter. "These balls are so much pressure and it's all so confusing and you're really not what I was expecting, and I'm sorry I made the wrong decision but I want to be with you now."

The man next to Blue was looking at her with extreme skepticism. Blue looked more serious.

"Princess," Blue said, "I would really love that. But you have to understand, it wouldn't be the kind of life you're used to. You wouldn't be able to snap your fingers and get everything you want just like that. It would take a long time for us to figure out how to solve some of your problems and it might be a while before you saw the results. I can't promise you that I will always be able to prevent anyone from hurting you. You'd always come first with me, but there are other people in the world that I care about and don't want to see hurt, and you would have to accept that. And sometimes, I would ask you to spend some of your money to help out people who are really in trouble. But I wouldn't do it without your permission, and I wouldn't blow it all on fancy toys and bullshit that's no use to anyone, and I would never disrespect you or treat you badly."

Princess Swingvoter suddenly started to cry.

"Nobody ever tells me the truth," she sobbed.

Blue dropped the bike and ran up to give her a hug. Princess Swingvoter held onto her and kept crying.

"Aww," said the man with the spiky hair. "Y'all are gonna have to cut that out, because I'm just about dead from the cute."

Behind her, Princess Swingvoter heard the roar of an engine, and the sound of wheels coming to a screeching halt.

"Princess Swingvoter!"

She let go of Blue and turned around.

Red's limo was parked lengthways across the street, belching clouds of exhaust. Red stood on the pavement with a bunch of people that Princess Swingvoter had never seen before ranged in a semicircle behind him. He had sobered up somehow, and now all of a sudden there was music blasting out of the limo's sound system.

"I'm sorry, Princess Swingvoter!" Red protested. "And look, I came out here to serenade you and make it up to you!"

"Oh no," Blue muttered.

The staid, respectable, multicultural group of men and women behind Red began to hum along with the music as Red launched into a frenetic tap dance.

"I'm MODERATE!" Red shouted.

"Oh so moderate!" repeated the backup singers.

"They say I'm at war with half the world -
Well, I say those are hateful, lying words.
I only went to war because I had to -
And anyway, it's closer to two-thirds!"

Blue groaned. Red bawled out the refrain again.

"I'm MODERATE!"

"Like us, he's moderate!" sang the chorus.

"Why, some of my best friends are black and gay!
I'm MODERATE!"

"He's really moderate!"

"I would never take your right to choose away!"

Red got down on one knee, put one hand on his heart, and flung out his other hand for the big finish.

"Except by standing idly by
While one by one providers die,
Or cutting all the federal funds
So only rich girls get it done,
Or only teaching abstinence
Though practically that makes no sense,
Or packing every circuit court
With pigs like John who grunt and snort,
I'd never take your right to choose awaaaaaaaaaaay!"

The backup singers stopped dancing. Red was left in his pose, waiting for applause that did not materialize.

"Red?" said Princess Swingvoter.

"Yes?" he said.

"Go fuck yourself."

While Red choked on his own spit, Princess Swingvoter turned to Blue. "How fast does this bike go?"

"I love you, Princess Swingvoter," Blue said, picking up the bike and holding it steady for her to climb aboard.

"You don't have to use my title, Blue," said Princess Swingvoter, balancing herself gingerly on the handlebars of the bike and gathering a confused little hamster into her lap. "I never liked it anyway."

"Well then what do you want me to call you?" said Blue.

Princess Swingvoter looked over her shoulder and smiled.

"Why don't you just call me your base?"

Blue leapt onto the seat and started pedaling. Behind them, the fairy spin doctor waved a hand and performed one last bit of magic. The sound system of the limo suddenly blared into life, playing a completely different tune.

"Because we made a promise
We said we'd always remember,
No defeat, baby,
No surrender."


The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the same can be found at the Adder's Lair.


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