10:20pm on New Year's Eve and I was sitting on my ownsome on the kitchen floor with my laptop for company. From our bedroom Marie was noisily signalling that she was ready for bed and would not be seeing the New Year in, let alone come out dancing with me. I sighed to myself at memories of parties I had been to back in Europe, of standing outside in the freezing cold as the clock chimed midnight. I contemplated the vest top and faded pyjama bottoms I was now wearing, remembered that it was 26C and unlikely to snow, and sadly concluded I was a latter day Cinderella.
I had been messaging my friend in Ukraine and sharing a little of the excitement at the ball she was attending. She had returned to her room for a sleep before returning to the dance and was describing to me the beautiful white gown she was wearing. I closed my eyes to imagine her better, and when I opened them again there she was in her dazzling white dress! Her shoulders were bare and her hair was pinned up to accentuate her long, graceful neck.
Smiling at the look of astonishment on my face, she knelt beside me and whispered in my ear:
"You shall come to the ball!"
"But I have nothing to wear", I protested half-heartedly.
With one magical wave of her hand, my pyjamas disappeared into thin air and I found myself naked.
"Well, you'd better find something to put on, or you're going to feel very silly!" she retorted mischievously.
I sprang to my feet and tiptoed into the bedroom where Marie was now slumbering peacefully. I browsed my wardrobe and decided upon my "gypsy" dress, my favourite item of clothing that I had made myself and embroidered into its white satin every colour of the rainbow. I started to get dressed then remembered, with pleasure, the yellow knickers I had bought earlier in the year (and smuggled past Marie into the back of our wardrobe). I put these on for good luck, then zipped up my dress at the back. I could find no glass slippers (Marie must have put them in the dishwasher), so I dug out a pair of ballet pumps, which in any case are much more practical for dancing, and slipped them on my feet.
I returned to the kitchen where my fairy friend was rummaging through the cupboards looking for coffee. She smiled when she saw me, then squeezed my hand and whisked me away through the starry night.
We landed at the foot of a great marble staircase. The room was bright and illuminated by an enormous, glittering chandelier. The carpet was thick and plush beneath our feet. I felt small and insignificant in that great room with so many people passing to and fro. But she hugged me round the waist and said:
"The last dance I will save for you".