The Stepsister’s Tale

The Stepsister’s Tale
by Theodora Goss

It isn’t easy, cutting into your feet.

Years later, when I had become a podiatrist,
I learned the parts of the feet. Did you know your feet
contain a quarter of your bones? Calcaneus, talus, cuboid, navicular.
Lateral, intermediate, and medial cuneiform.
Metatarsals and then the phalanges, proximal, middle, distal.
They’re beautiful on the tongue, these words from a foreign language.

My sister cut into her heels, which are in the hindfoot.
I cut into my big toes, called the halluces.
She cut into flesh and tendon and sinew.
I cut into bone, between the phalanges,
through the interphalangeal joint.
That’s in the forefoot, which bears half the body’s weight.
To this day, both of us walk with a slight limp.

The problem is you do desperate things for love.
We loved her, the woman who wanted us to be perfect:
unblemished skin, waist like a corsetier’s dream,
feet that would fit even the tiniest slipper.
And so we played the aristocratic game
of identify-the-princess.

Sometimes it’s a slipper, sometimes a ring.
Oh mother, love me without asking me to scrape
my fingers like carrots, cut off my heels and toes.
Eventually, she became your favorite daughter,
the cinder-girl, the princess-designate.
She was the best at being perfect, but abuse
will do that to you.

A woman comes into my office, asking me
to cut off her little toes so she can wear
the latest fashion. I sit her down and say
did you know your feet provide the body
with balance, mobility, support?
Come, let me show you a model: here’s the toe,
metatarsal and phalanges. You can see
how elegantly they move, as in a waltz,
surrounded by your blood vessels and nerves,
the ball gown of your soft tissue,
a protective coat of skin, the delicate nail.

Look, underneath, how beautiful you are . . .

Illustration for Cinderella by Charles Folkard 2

(This illustration is by Charles Folkard, for an edition of Grimms’ fairy tales.)

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8 Responses to The Stepsister’s Tale

  1. Aura Eadon says:

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  2. Dana in new hampshire says:

    Love this. We could all be step sisters, couldn’t we?

  3. lexy3587 says:

    fantastic – really interesting perspective on the story. I like that it’s a modern take with old fashioned references in it.

  4. andreablythe says:

    Another utterly stunning piece of poetry. Makes me want to cry.

  5. Thank you all so much for the kind words. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. It’s one of my favorite poems of yours. I love it so much. And it’s so relevant.

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