Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 499
“The Cinderella Waltz” consists of the memories, reflections, and insights of a divorced woman living with her nine-year-old daughter, Louise. The narration begins as she is waiting for her former husband Milo and his lover, Bradley, to pick up their daughter for her usual weekend visit. As she helps Louise pack her usual shopping bag of trinkets and toys, which give her security outside her mother’s home, she thinks back to the final years of her marriage to Milo. She is trying to make the transition go smoothly for Louise, who has somewhat disconcertingly decided to pack a copy of a play by the modern existential playwright Samuel Beckett titled Happy Days (1961). However, she is always pulled back to the feelings of betrayal and abandonment she experienced in the dark period when her marriage to the arrogant Milo began to disintegrate.
She recalls how she and the empathic and considerate Bradley slowly became friends even as she and Milo maintained a cool emotional distance from each other. She has begun to realize, however, that Milo, a cold perfectionist, is finding flaws in Bradley as he once did with her. An even more disturbing issue for the narrator is the way in which Milo continually raises the possibility that he might relocate to San Francisco, a subject that inevitably makes both the narrator and her daughter apprehensive and fearful.
The next weekend, Milo begins to bicker with his daughter Louise, who expresses her growing sense of vulnerability by putting an old doll into her shopping bag. When Louise returns from New York City, where she played hostess for her father at his dinner party, Louise tells her mother that Bradley, who has been unwell and has lost his job, was absent. Later when Bradley phones the narrator and asks to come to talk to her about Milo, this unusual situation confirms the reality that, whether Bradley is friend or rival, their relationship to the touchy and self-involved Milo is essentially identical.
Soon after, the narrator is shocked to learn through a casual conversation with Milo’s sister that her former husband is, indeed, going to California. When Milo proposes a champagne toast to his new life at a Sunday brunch that he has arranged for Bradley and his former wife, his daughter, Louise, bursts into tears and will not be consoled until Milo promises her magical visits to San Francisco, especially a ride in a glass elevator to the top of the Fairmont Hotel. This prospect leads the narrator to remember that Milo used to say that he wanted to give Louise glass slippers instead of bootees when she was a baby. With this memory comes a realization that her daughter is her husband’s new Cinderella, while she and Bradley are discarded partners. The anguish of their rejection is contrasted with Louise’s momentary “happy ending,” which is itself complicated by an anxious recognition that soon Louise herself will know the pain of abandonment by the heartless Milo.
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