Drawing of a landline phone. Caption reads: “The landline phone rang.”

Cindy short story by Iris Carden

A long time ago, in a place far, far away… 

No. Sadly no. This wasn’t long ago, at all, and not all that far away. It’s the story of Cindy Castarella, no, not Cinderella, although their stories were strangely similar.

Cindy was exhausted.  Caring for two children, doing housework, and trying to do grade twelve all at once was getting to her.

It hadn’t always been like this.  Cindy had been an only child, and had been very much loved by her mother, and at least tolerated by her father. 

Then, when Cindy was fourteen, her mother had become seriously ill.  Cindy had been her mother’s primary carer through the cancer which had been diagnosed too late. Taking all her time with her mother for most of a year, had made it necessary to repeat a year of high school, but at the time, Cindy felt it was worth it to have those last months with her mother.

The day after her mother’s funeral, her father moved his new girlfriend and her two children into the house.

Almost instantly, Cindy became unpaid maid and nanny.

Now, about to turn eighteen, Cindy had to walk the two young children, who she sometimes suspected might actually be her half-siblings rather than step-siblings, to the primary school, before running to the high school. The children were not to be left until after the first bell, which meant Cindy was almost always late for her own school.  She was tired of having to explain it to her teachers.

In the afternoon, she ran from her school to the primary school, where the two children would be waiting impatiently.  They couldn’t go to after school care, not her stepmother’s precious babies.

After getting the children home, she would do washing and housework, while trying to help the kids with their homework, before cooking dinner for when her father and stepmother came home.

Then she would have to get the kids ready for bed.  It was only after they were asleep that she was allowed to do her own homework.

Her stepmother had made it clear she hated Cindy, and constantly criticised the quality of her housework, her failings in caring for the children, and her just generally being a waste of breathable air.  

When Cindy had asked permission to get a part-time job, her father and stepmother had told her she would need to pay someone to look after the children while she worked.  As childcare would cost more than Cindy could possibly earn, this made the whole thing impossible. Cindy had made the mistake of saying this seemed very unfair, which sent her stepmother into a rage.  

The stepmother was sick of Cindy’s entitled attitude while she lived under their roof and ate the food they provided.  She was so sick of it in fact, that she wanted Cindy to move out as soon as she turned eighteen and was no longer her father’s responsibility.

Cindy was faced with a clock ticking down.  In a matter of months she would have to move out, but in the meantime she was unable earn any money to arrange a place to go. She was still half-way through grade twelve, which didn’t help her employment prospects or availability.

While reading a bed-time story to the children, she thought sadly that it was a pity fairy godmothers weren’t real, and magical beings never came to her rescue.

Cindy didn’t own a mobile phone.  She didn’t have money to pay for one.  Her father and step-mother had them, but decided Cindy would only waste time on one.  They kept the old landline phone, so her father and step-mother could contact her if needed, to give her instructions for work they needed her to do.

One afternoon, the phone rang, startling her as she was walking past with a full washing basket.  

The person on the phone said her name was Maureen, she had been her mother’s friend, and her solicitor.

“Since you’re almost eighteen, I thought we should talk about what you want done with your trust,  when you take it over for yourself,” Maureen said.

“What trust?” Cindy was genuinely confused.

“Your mother’s money.  She left everything to you; her money the house, the car.  That’s what’s been paying your school fees and your allowance.”

“I go to a state school, so there’s no fees, and I don’t get an allowance,” Cindy said. “Maybe you have the wrong number?”

Now it was Maureen’s turn to be confused.  She named a school, and Cindy said that was the school her step-siblings went to.

Maureen said Cindy’s father had been submitting receipts regularly claiming they were for Cindy’s education. Cindy had not been receiving a thousand dollars a month allowance, nor had she been to camps and other things the step-siblings had actually done.

“What about your mother’s jewellery?” Maureen was past confused and working her way to angry.

“My stepmother kept the bits she liked, and the rest I think my father sold.”

“Let’s make this simple,” Maureen said. “You haven’t received anything except meals and a place to live, which is your own house anyway?”

“No.  And they’ve told me I have to move out as soon as I turn eighteen.”

“I’m so incredibly sorry,” Maureen said.  “I just trusted your father, and reimbursed the expenses he sent.  Tell me, would you want your father and step-family living with you if you had the choice?”

Cindy didn’t even have to think about it.  No.  If she had the choice she’d live on her own and not have to be responsible for anyone else’s cleaning or cooking or parenting.

“You’re almost eighteen. My responsibility ends then, though clearly I haven’t fulfilled it properly up until now.  If you want, I can continue on as your advisor for a while until you find your feet taking care of your own investments. In the meantime, I have to fix as much as possible of what I’ve foolishly allowed to happen.”

Maureen ascertained when Cindy’s father and stepmother would arrive home, and told Cindy not to tell them she was coming.  This would have to be a surprise.

That afternoon, Cindy finished the washing, and cooked dinner.  She tried not to let on how excited she was. It didn’t matter. No-one paid any attention to her anyway.

After dinner, her father and stepmother were watching tv, and Cindy was doing dishes while trying to get the children ready for bed.

There was a knock at the door.

Neither of the adults moved, so Cindy went to answer it.

There was a woman about her mother’s age, and two very large uniformed police officers.

“Hi Cindy, I’m Maureen,” the woman said.  “I need a word with your father and stepmother, then we can talk.”

Cindy led the visitors to the lounge room.  Her father choked on his beer.

“Hi Clark,” she said to him.  “I don’t think we’ve met, I’m Maureen, the solicitor managing Cindy’s trust,” she said to Cindy’s stepmother.

“Ah, I’m Claire. I think you’re mistaken. Cindy doesn’t have a trust.  She doesn’t have anything.”

Cindy’s father buried his head in his hands.

“Claire would you be the owner of this bank account?” Maureen asked, showing Claire a bank statement.

“Yes.  That’s the account Clark puts spending money in for me.”

“Hmm, well Clark told me he set that account up for Cindy, and I’ve been putting her allowance in it each month.  According to my records you owe her forty-two thousand dollars. I’m sure you’ll pay that back.  How about we give you until her birthday to refund the money, before we press charges? Now these school fee receipts? Whose are those?”

Clark got up from his seat, a police officer moved closer and suggested he sit back down.

Cindy’s stepmother looked from her husband to Maureen and back again.  “My children,” she said at last.

“Well, you see, I’ve been reimbursing these for three and a half years, on the basis of Clark saying these were Cindy’s school fees.  So that’s another six and a half thousand one or other of you owe to Cindy, and again, as her trustee, I will give you until I have to hand the money over to Cindy on her eighteenth birthday to pay it back before we press charges. Now, the jewellery Ellen left to Cindy, I presume you can produce that, Clark?  Keeping it safe for her until she’s reached adulthood?”

Clark shook his head. He confessed to selling some of it, and to giving the rest to Claire.

“Well then, what’s been given to Claire can be restored immediately, I hope.  I have an inventory.  I will leave it up to Cindy whether she wants to be reimbursed the value of what’s been stolen, or if she wants to have you charged with the theft.”

Cindy, suddenly realising she had a say, said, “I’ll take the money.  Claire still has the pieces that Mum wore most often, and pressing charges won’t get the rest of it back.”

“Very generous of you, Cindy,” Maureen said. “And then there’s just one other thing.  I rang Cindy this afternoon and asked her about the house.”

Claire gasped.

“I have here an eviction notice.” she handed a piece of paper to Clark.  “By law you usually have to have thirty days’ notice.  I’ve filed an application with the court to make that immediate on the basis of your ongoing exploitation of Cindy. That was granted, but of course you can lodge an appeal when the court opens in the morning.  In the meantime, these police officers are here to remove you and the children from the premises. I’ve been granted temporary guardianship of Cindy until she turns eighteen. Again you can appeal, but by the time that gets sorted out it will be her birthday. So you no longer have any responsibility for her and have no reason to be in her house or access her money.  Oh, before I forget, do you still have her car?”

“Claire didn’t like it, I sold it and bought her a new one,” Clark said quietly.

“You want the money or to press charges on this one?” Maureen asked Cindy. 

Cindy, who was starting to enjoy herself said, “I’ll take the money again.  Pressing charges won’t get Mum’s car back.”

“And all of Ellen’s clothes and other personal items?  Cindy did inherit everything after all.”

“All gone,” Clark admitted quietly.

“I’ll let them off that,” Cindy said, smiling graciously.

“And Cindy has the phone her trust has been paying for?”

Clark shook his head.  Claire pulled her phone out of her bag, and handed it over.  “I suppose this is the one,” she said quietly.

“How about you reimburse Cindy that as well, and we’ll get her a new one?” Maureen said.

Claire nodded, and put the phone back in her bag.

“Well, then,” Maureen said to Clark and Claire, “I suggest you pack up what you need for tonight, and tomorrow we can negotiate when to give you access to collect your other possessions. Let me know where you’re staying, and I’ll deliver an invoice for the money you owe Cindy.”

Clark, Claire and the two children were ushered out of the house by the two burly police officers.

In the quiet after they left, Maureen listened to Cindy as she talked about the life she’d lived since her mother died. Then they began to discuss and plan for the future Cindy at last discovered she could have.

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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