Editor’s note: Rachel Fitch, a Summit High School student, won second place in the annual Summit Daily News/Summit County Rotary short story contest.
“Julia, Julia, JULIA!” My wondering eyes snapped back from the dreams formerly keeping them occupied.
“Stop picking at your collar. You will wrinkle it before we even arrive.”
Why bother? The community picnic was like a shark tank and I was a bleeding carcass. I can never do anything right, everyone knows it. My mother doesn’t actually care, and I sure as hell don’t care. Actually, that’s a lie, she just doesn’t care about me. Her only worry towards the general vicinity of me is what I will do next to inevitably embarrass her. She never understood my aversion to all things petty and frivolous; it was useless trying to explain any of my thoughts to her.
“And keep your shoulders back. It is unattractive when you slouch.”
I’ve heard that before. Guess I’m just an unattractive person. I could live with that, all the ugly can blend together, at least mine’s on the outside.
“And for God’s sake look at me when I am talking to you!”
My eyes snapped to her immaculately done make-up, glossy ringlets, and her monstrosity of a necklace. That ostentatious eye sore must have cost daddy a good part of this year’s salary. My gaze settled on her nose. It’s a little to big at the bottom that curved up in contempt, giving her a permanent air of superiority. It was, perhaps, ugly. That muzzle was her least preferred feature, but it was my favorite. It gave me the sense that she wasn’t as perfect as she wanted everyone else to believe. That flaw filled me with satisfaction that the monster underneath a perfectly groomed lady could not completely hide itself. I hoped one day fate would come back and make her as ugly as I saw her to be.
“Yes,” I spoke with a small smile on my face as I returned to my window, “ma’am.”
“Julia, get out. We are here.”
The car sputtered in almost as if it could sense my reluctance. I couldn’t help the little droop in my shoulders and drag in my step. The energy went right out of me. I hated these women and their cold, cloned daughters.
“Julia stand up strait, pick up your feet, smile. And so help me God, if you embarrass me today you will be sorry,” she said, all of the sour under a sweet smile, like everything else.
The lady coming saved me from answering because I don’t think I had another ‘yes ma’am’ left in me. A finely dressed woman, the hostess, came to greet my mother with a wide smile. Maybe it was only me who saw that it never reached her cool eyes.
“Lilith, you look stunning as per usual! How do you get your hair to stay like that is beyond me. I never can get my hair out of this tangle,” Kendra Bellingham said with perfect enunciation. She gestured to her professionally done up-do. I thought it kinda looked like a bird was hidden in the huge mass of hair.
“Nonsense, Kendra. Your hair looks as good as it always does. Perfection!”
“Oh, you flatter me! And, Julia uhh...” She paused trying to pull a complement out of her hat of insults. Judgment, I’ve come to realize, is done quietly behind secretive smiles. These women are hard pressed to find anything good in anyone, too self absorbed to process anything different.
“Your dress is very nice.” She finally managed to pull out. My mothers eyes tightened ever so slightly but I caught it.
“Dear, why don’t you go say hello to all of your friends?” My mother stared, daring me to protest.
“Yes, ma’am,” I managed to choke out.
I arrived at the circle of young girls, with a heave. Why girls always shaped into circles is one of those questions in life that has no answer. Everyone lifted their eyes and smiled just as fake as their mothers’. Rebecca Bellingham took a slight step in front.
“Julia, you just look lovely today.” Another thing I never understood was why girls were so nice to people they hated. Rebecca has never liked me. I never understood why. I guess it could be that I never liked her, but then again I didn’t like any of them. But she is especially viscous. Rumors, backstabbing and bitter manipulation all traced back to her. I smiled tightly at her and a sat down with my back to them.
“Girls, I never appreciated orange on a lady. I alway thought it most...unbecoming.” I looked down at my peach-tinted dress. Well, they couldn’t hate it as much as I did. Maybe next time I would just wear trousers under my dress then when my mom wasn’t looking I could tuck the dress away. Ha, that would be a scandal.
“Like a rotten orange,” Rebecca continued unaware of my complete disinterest, “that stinks up an entire room.”
These little barbs were what I’ve come to expect. Men are all anger and fists. Like a shotgun or a sword, obvious, loud and solve the problem immediately. Women are all secrets and shadows, a poison or a dagger in the back. You never see it coming until the devil wears one of those wide smiles. I never understood why men thought themselves superior to the females, who are highly more dangerous. I think females plotted it this way so when the world flipped and men were slaves, they would be wondering what the hell happened.
I just shrugged all the comments and hostile glances. I was used to it, my skin was so thick bullets couldn’t break it. Their meaningless chatter continued and I zoned out, backing into a better place. I wonder if the clouds actually made the weather or predicted it. The fluffy puffs always looked so innocent but brought such disaster.
“Emerie’s her name.” Rebecca whispered behind me. Her gaze was on a young woman I had never seen before. She had bouncy blonde curls, perfect white teeth but more importantly, sincerity in her blue eyes. “I heard her daddy killed her mama. A-uh he went to jail and everything. She’s a psycho, stuff like that doesn’t just skip a generation.”
I saw Emerie’s shoulders get gradually lower as if every word was a pin poking her in the back. She seemed like a nice kid. Full of too much naiveté to be good for her but I just couldn’t stand to watch this anymore. I could see the grey chipping at her innocence. The mean taking away all the light, one word at a time. I could not take it anymore!
“Shut your mouth.” I said calmly as I stood up and faced Rebecca.
“What did you say to me, you little psycho?”
“Shhhhhhhut. Upp.” I said it real slow so she would have enough time to process that someone was calling her on her bullshit.
“You little whore! Thinking you are all better than everyone. Well I have news for you, you are a nobody.”
I’ve heard that before too. Maybe I am nobody but if I’m nothing then Rebecca and all these women are less than nothing. Something that should be forgotten like a peace of tasteless gum. Gum’s nice until the flavor runs out and then it clings to what’s left of its former glory, forgotten, merged to the sole of a shoe.
“‘I would rather be a little nobody, than to be a evil somebody.’” And as no one can beat Honest Abe, I turned away from her ugly snarl.
I heard her footsteps before anything else. They weren’t nearly as graceful as she pretended; they were more similar to an elephant than anything else. I turned and nearly laughed out loud. She looked like a mess and it made my day. Her curls came out of their delicate gold clips, her mascara smeared in angry tears and best of all, the scowl contorted her face into a resolute kind of ugly. Looks like the monsters were coming out to play. She reached me, her claws reaching and I stepped aside. Casually sticking my leg out for her feet to conveniently catch on. She went flying. The best part was that there was a table behind us that I hadn’t noticed. It was where the desserts sat. One thing I can say about this small town’s women is they know how to make cake. It seems I got more satisfaction watching perfect Rebecca Bellingham eat it, face first. Alright, this time I did laugh. My laugh was the sole sound keeping a looming silence from consuming the entire courtyard.
“You can...” I had to stop myself because I was laughing so hard, but this was a opportunity I couldn’t pass up. “You can have your cake and eat it too! Ahhhahahahah!” With Rebecca‘s face in cake, the entire feminine population gaping at my antics and my merriment still reverberating in my chest, I did what I have always wanted to do—I walked away.
That flaw filled me with satisfaction that the monster underneath a perfectly groomed lady could not completely hide itself. I hoped one day fate would come back and make her as ugly as I saw her to be.