Work and Grimmcome
Satire by Lyndon Hood
Homeless people are finding themselves thousands of dollars in debt to Work and Income for money loaned to them to stay in motels.
— Radio New Zealand News
A rich man’s wife became sick, and when she felt that her end was drawing near, she called her only daughter to her bedside and said, “Dear child, remain pious and good, and our social welfare safety net will prevent your standard of living ever falling below an acceptable minimum level.” Then she closed her eyes and died.
The girl went to her mother’s grave every day and wept, and she remained pious and good. When winter came the snow spread a white cloth over the grave, and when the spring sun had removed it again, the man took himself another wife.
This wife brought two daughters into the house with her. They took the girl’s beautiful clothes away from her and dressed her in an old gray smock. She had to do hard work from morning until evening and sleep by the hearth in the ashes. Because she always looked dusty and dirty, they called her Cinderella.
One day, shortly after she came of age and while her father was away arranging taxpayer subsidies for a Saudi Arabian sheep farm, Cinderella overhead her stepmother and sisters talking about her.
“She’s really old enough to fend for herself.”
“Sheltering her like this is impairing her self-sufficiency.”
“If she didn’t buy so many wide screen TVs she’d be able to afford her own house by now.”
“She needs to get out more. She talks to small animals and household objects!”
“Let’s just throw her out!”
In desperation, Cinderella ran through the house asking all her friends what to do. The teapot thought she should go to Hollywood and become a famous movie star. The cat suggested dealing drugs. Finally the little brass key to the toilet door reminded her about her fairy godmother.
So here she was, standing in the street without a penny and apologising to a woman with a wand.
“Yes, but you see I wanted an address, not a dress. I mean, it’s a very nice dress,” she said, glittering anxiously. “But… I don’t mean to be ungrateful. Thank you? Um. I’m sorry.”
“Quite. Well, let’s see what we can do for now. Let’s get you to the palace!”
“The palace?!” A look of astonished joy flew onto Cinderella’s face.
“It’s not really the palace. I just call it that because it costs about the same to stay there. But for transport… Reducere in Pretium Vitae!”
There was a shower of sparks and an ear-popping woosh of air as a discarded soft drink can turned into a luxury hatchback. Cinderella, overwhelmed with excitement, leapt into the driver’s seat, ignoring whatever it was the fairy godmother was trying to tell her. The key was there. She turned it.
The ignition turned over but the car did not start.
“Petrol is extra,” repeated the Fairy Godmother.
“What use is giving it to me without… Wait – I have to pay?”
“You already owe me for the car. And the dress.”
“But… I don’t have any money. That’s the whole reason I called you.”
“Then how are you going to pay for your room? It’s commercial rates.”
“Are you getting a commission or something?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“So you’re just subsidising overpriced landlords for fun?”
“I thought you were a pious and good child!”
“Yeah, that hasn’t worked out very well so far.”
“Besides, it won’t leave you with all that much debt. We’ll throw you out on the street before it gets too bad.”
Cinderella thought about her promised accommodation. In her mind, it was rather nicer than it in fact was, so she became all the more sad.
“Oh well,” she finally said. “I shall have to try something else. Thank you for the car, anyway.”
The seats looked potentially comfortable to sleep on and Cinderella was even more tired than she was before the conversation started.
“You’re welcome,” said the fairy godmother.
“And thank you for the dress. And the… the glass shoes.”
“Boots, I think you’ll find.”
“I’m sorry if I’m harping on about this but they don’t seem very practical.”
“Ah, but note the bootstraps. Be sure and pull yourself up by them. Before midnight. All of this wears off at midnight.”
“Oh yes. Of course it does. Fine. If you don’t mind my asking: Why?”
“I need to get you off my books. Frankly this case load is ridiculous and also I’m behind on my monthly quota. I can do without being shamed by a bureaucratic middle manager on top of everything else. Though I’m sure you don’t know what that’s like.”
“No. I just don’t have anywhere to live.”
“You should have thought of that before you became homeless. I don’t see why I should take responsibility for your poor choices.”
“What poor choices?”
“Well, it looks like calling me in wasn’t the brightest move.”
“That wasn’t even my idea, I asked the…”
“Yes, I know, the john key told you to do it. I imagine you’ll know better than to listen to him next time.”
“I don’t suppose I have any other entitlements you could…”
“Well, goodbye. I’ll send the debt collectors round in the morning. Reperio Officium!”
And the fairy godmother vanished as if she had never been there at all. Apart from the crippling extra debt.
“…Okay, then. Goodbye.”
But at least now she had a plan. Sell the dress before it turned back. Get half a night’s sleep in the back of the car. Then take the dress money and try the cat’s suggestion. And live happily ever after.
1) Reviews of the welfare system have consistently found that it should provide everyone with the means to participate in society rather than merely a minimum standard of living. But Cinderella’s mother appears to have been, at least to that extent, a realist.
2) I believe I got the ‘john key’ pun from visiting comedian Glenn Wool on 7 Days.