Pumpkin: A Cindermama story by Innes Johnson
Girl On Her Own Horse
Have you been paying attention to the evolution of the Cinderella story? If you’ve watched the Disney blockbuster, Frozen, then you have. Young girls and women are no longer waiting around for a man to come by on his horse, sweep them off their feet, and give them shoes.
Okay, I doubt any of us would turn down the shoes!
My point is that women are now taking the reins of their own stories and rejecting the Cinderella trope of changing themselves into someone new. In many, dare I say most, of these stories the prince doesn’t pay attention to the Cinderella character in her ordinary world of working 9-5pm with grime under her nails and threadbare clothes. He doesn’t look her way until she gets magicked into expertly applied makeup, a binding, shape-shifting corset, and brand new shoes.
My first notice of this was in the film Working Girl. This 80’s retelling of the Cinderella story featured a bright secretary who had dreams of entering the boardroom with a briefcase instead of coffee. When her wicked boss steals her idea, the secretary seizes an opportunity to steal into a high profile business meeting by pretending that she’s her boss, while also wearing her boss’s dress and shoes. Melanie Griffith, as the secretary, uses Harrison Ford’s charming character to get her into the board room’s door. When the business deal goes south, Griffith doesn’t wait for the knight in a business suite to rescue her. Instead, she shows off her ‘head for business and bod for sin’ in order to win a business deal, thwart her boss, and get her man.
A decade later Drew Barrymore retold the Cinderella story in Ever After. In a pivotal scene when Barrymore’s character, Danielle, has been taken prisoner by the evil Pierre Le Pieu, the audience holds their breath as the prince leaps onto his horse and heads off to rescue her. But Danielle picks up not one, but two swords, and swashbuckles her way to an escape. As she’s walking out of the castle a free woman, the prince arrives moments too late with her shoe in hand.
Nearly another decade later came another retelling with Penelope. Penelope is an heiress born under a curse that can only be broken in the face of true love. The problem? Penelope’s face doesn’t inspire sonnets and poems as much as it does a hankering for breakfast meats. Penelope’s snout nose has caused her to be rejected her whole life, including rejection from her own mother. When she finally finds a man willing to tolerate her looks and break the curse, she comes to the realization that she likes herself just the way she is. And just like that, the curse is broken and Penelope’s outside matches her glowing inside.
In today’s stories, women don’t wait around for men on horses. They take the reins, defend themselves, and declare love to their own reflections. They’re now even qualified to deliver true love’s kiss to their own sisters as we saw in the blockbuster Frozen.
In my fairytale retelling, Pumpkin: a Cindermama story my heroine has given up on fairytale love. Single mother Malika “Pumpkin” Tavares lost faith in fairytales after she fell for a toad. Town royalty Armand “Manny” Charmayne has been searching for his soulmate all his life, whom he’ll recognize at first sight by a golden aura, that only he can see, surrounding her person. Manny doesn’t see gold when he meets Pumpkin, but the more he gets to know her the more he considers defying fate, if only he can convince her to take a chance on love again.
Single mother Malika “Pumpkin” Tavares lost faith in fairytales after she fell for a toad. Now she believes she’s not cut from the storybook, heroine cloth and searches for Mr. Good Enough amongst the sidekicks and supporting men of the town.
Love at first sight isn’t a cliche for town royalty Armand “Manny” Charmayne. For generations the Charmaynes have spotted their soulmates by seeing a golden aura the first time they laid eyes on The One.
When Manny meets Pumpkin he sees…nothing, but sparks fly off the richter scale. The more he gets to know her the more he considers defying fate, if only he can convince her to take a chance on love again.
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Read An excerpt
The Meet Cute
Pumpkin turned and stopped in her tracks. Not because of the near collision, but because of the Adonis who stood before her. Tall and lean with dark, thick curls atop his head. But it was his eyes that arrested Pumpkin. They took her back to her teen years, watching Donnie Simpson on Video Soul; or farther back to Smokey Robinson doo-wopping with The Miracles. They were a pale gray. And he smelled… edible. Like fresh baked, butter croissants sprinkled with earthy spices.
“Excuse me,” he repeated, with a slight Southern drawl that was more refined than lazy. He prolonged his vowels just enough to let you know he was Southern, but the consonants he pronounced perfectly. “Are you Heather?”
And of course, he was looking for someone else. “No, my name is Malika.”
He looked at her and squinted. Then his eyes rolled past her up the steps of the Department of Family And Child Services building. “Oh, sorry. I thought you could have been one of my volunteers.” He stepped away, clearing her path to the entrance.
I thought you could have been one of my volunteers.
Pumpkin looked beyond him to see a voter registration table.
I thought you could have been one of my volunteers.
Part of her knew she should simply walk into the DFACS building to find her cousins and her son, because who knew? LaRon and LaTom could’ve let him go to the bathroom by himself and just forgotten about him —again. But another part of Pumpkin smarted. He’d taken one glance at her, paired it with her Eubonic-consonant-rich name, added it to her current location, and come away with an incorrect assumption.
“You know, I could have been yours,” she said.
He turned back. “Mine?”
“I mean, I have done something like this before.”
“Something… with me?”
“No! I’ve never met you before.”
He opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, then started again. “What exactly are we talking about?”
This was not going the way she’d planned. But what exactly had she planned when she opened her mouth? Her filter malfunction needed to be repaired soon.
Pumpkin took a deep breath, clearly aware of his smokey eyes watching her with… was that wariness or amusement? Growing up in her family, she had trouble deciphering the two.
“I mean, I have been a volunteer. I’ve done a voter registration drive before.”
Having cleared up that misjudgment, Pumpkin assumed the conversation was over. Only, he looked doubtful at her proclamation.
Pumpkin gave her internal filter a kick. In response it sputtered, “I organized it, actually.” Pumpkin gave it a mental shove to keep quiet. And then, “It was very successful, actually.”
“Where did the drive you organized —successfully— take place?”
“Oh,” she said. “At my school. My college —university, actually. Louisiana State University.”
“I know LSU,” he grinned.
Good. Grinning meant amused. He had a nice grin, Smokey Eyes. Straight white teeth. Plump lips that stretched wide. Maybe a little too wide. Almost big bad wolf wide.
“Well,” she said. “There’s a community college with the name Louisiana so…”
“You have a problem with community colleges?”
“No! I just… I just wanted to make sure you knew… which one I meant.” Pumpkin wouldn’t have thought it possible, but his grin stretched even wider.
“My opinion matters to you that much?”
Definitely a wolf.
Then, in confirmation, his eyes slipped from her face and did a quick assessment of her body: the B-cups she no longer bothered to pad, the stubborn muffin top she’d given up on a year ago, the wide hips that looked voluptuous on her cousins but pear-shaped on her.
“I don’t even know you,” Pumpkin said. And she had no intention of getting to know him. Wolves blocked the paths of good girls whether in the forest or on the road of life. Pumpkin had no intention of getting jammed up by a man, ever again.
“Yet, within sixty seconds of meeting me,” he said, “you offered to be mine.”
“No I… That was a misunderstanding, and you know it.”
A chuckle escaped through that predatory grin. The sound rumbled through Pumpkin’s body like a divining rod sensing danger.
“I’m sorry, Malika.”
But then, with the sound of her name on his lips, the humming of the rod ceased. All previous warning signals muted and Pumpkin’s feet took root in the concrete.
“It’s been a long day,” he smiled and a small sigh escaped his lips at the same time.
She’d read the term Cupid’s Bow in romance novels, but the visual didn’t do the term justice. The top of his upper lip, where you’d handle the bow was in the shape of a perfectly symmetrical M. Stretched in a smile, his full bottom lip made her wonder what it would be like to get caught in the crosshairs of his kiss.
“I couldn’t resist having a little fun with you. I hope I haven’t kept you.”
Pumpkin took her eyes off his lips to gaze into his smokey eyes. A smile started to creep over her face, too. “No, you haven’t kept me.”
“You’d better hurry. I’m sure they’re about to close soon.”
“Yeah… wait. What?” Pumpkin followed his gaze to the DFACS entrance. Everything unmuted and red flashed behind her eyes. “I just told you, I went to college.”
“Oh?” His gray eyes furrowed this time. “So, people with degrees don’t fall on hard times?”
“Well… yes. They do. But I’m fine,” she insisted, tapping her new shoes on the pavement for emphasis. “I have a job.” A job that she hated, but it paid all her bills. No government checks came for her and Seth. No child support checks either.
“So, you’re not here to volunteer to help. And you’re not here seeking help. What? Are you here to gloat?”
He chuckled again, but Pumpkin was no longer amused.
“I’ve taken advantage of some social programs, like federal grants for the university I attended while on academic scholarship.” Pumpkin conveniently neglected to mention that her childhood kitchen had been stocked from food stamp monies. “But I’m not gloating about my successes because I’m resentful that this society assumes that I can’t succeed without its help.”
He cocked his head, eyes intent on her. “So, you’d rather the rules be unfair and harder for you so that you can save face?”
Pumpkin blinked. “No, that’s not what I mean.”
What did she mean? How did she get into this conversation? All her life, Pumpkin typically kept her opinions to herself. It had been the safest way to navigate her adolescent and teenage years in a household where the family motto read: everyone for themselves.
“You know how they say if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day,” she continued. “But if you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat forever?”
Smokey Eyes nodded.
Pumpkin hesitated, realizing he was actually listening to every word she said, and waiting for her to say more.
Why not? Her internal filter had taken the day off. “I think the flaw with social programs is that the poor start to believe they can’t do for themselves without it and the rich believe the poor can’t act without their help. And it winds up being a vicious cycle with each side resenting the other.”
Pumpkin glanced at the DFACS door remembering her son was still inside with two professional “cyclists.” She turned back to Smokey Eyes.
He stared up at the clouds in concentration. She could see him turning her words over in his head. It gave her a thrill. She was used to men leering at her body, because, though her curves weren’t artful like her cousins’, they were round enough to grab attention. Watching Smokey Eyes focus inward and contemplate her words was possibly the most intimate experience of her thirty years.
After a moment, his tongue peeked out, like an arrow, to pull taut his upper lip. Pumpkin’s own lips parted as a quiver went through her long dormant core. Any moment now, he would aim words at her.
Any moment now.
Turning his gray eyes back to her, he said, “I do see your point. But I also feel that with great wealth comes great responsibility. And if you’ve caught a lot of fish, you should share. It’s good manners. It’s how I was raised.”
Pumpkin gave a woeful shake of her head at that. “I was raised by people who wouldn’t fish; would take yours; and then demand you go get more.”
“But not you.”
It wasn’t a question. There was something behind those smokey eyes. Not empathy. He was obviously moneyed, in his expensive shirt and tailored pants, where Pumpkin’s teen closet had been sponsored by Goodwill, and her adult closet now sported Target.
“Me? No,” she said holding his gaze.
“And you wouldn’t ask for any food off my table? Even if I’m willing to share?”
It seemed like a trick question. On the one hand, Pumpkin harbored an image of him feeding her bits of food. On the other hand, “Is there something wrong with a woman who is self-sufficient?”
“No. Those are my favorite kind.” He grinned again, the wolf rising to its haunches once more.
Ines writes books for strong women who suck at love. If you rocked out to the twisted triangle of Jem, Jericha, and Rio as a girl; if you were slayed by vampires with souls alongside Buffy; if you need your scandalous fix from Olivia Pope each week, then you’ll love her books!
Aside from being a writer, professional reader, and teacher, Ines is a very bad Buddhist. She sits in sangha each week, and while others are meditating and getting their zen on, she’s contemplating how to use the teachings to strengthen her plots and character motivations.
Ines lives outside Washington, DC with her two little sidekicks who are growing up way too fast.