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The Beauty Pageant

By Natascia Sakamoto

The Beauty PageantAs long as Arthur isn’t here – it’ll be okay. I’m late, I’m always late so I’m running down to the the pool. I can hear kids calling my name, I don’t stop. I push my way through the crowds; bodies watching, holding ice creams. I hear shouts, swearing as I push people. Don’t care. Someone won’t budge, some fat bloke, three times the size of dad. I crawl through his legs to get out, his son tries to step on me as I crawl through. But I’m out and I can see her and it’s all alright. I get the gum out of my pocket, pop it into my mouth. They’re all walking round the side of the pool in their swimsuits looking pretty. But they have nothing on her. She’s wearing white. My own swim suit is red; I look down at it, shabby, worn, my belly sticking out. She’s slim, long-limbed, blonde.
***
This is the best part of the day. And as long as you’ve got a good home to go home to, then it’s alright. I was there late. But that’s normal for me. It’s not dark yet. It will be dark. But not yet. Because I’m late, nobody else is walking home my way. I like this the best. I have one sandwich left in my pocket, so I walk across to the other side of the park and wait for her. I put a crumb down at the bottom the the tree trunk, waiting. The boys are playing football. Their ball goes near me. It frightens her. It’s fallen underneath some bushes next to me. I go to get it. One of the boys comes over; I pass it back to him. He nods at me, as if to say thanks. He’s not from my school. He goes to the posh school. He doesn’t know me. Of course, they do know us, the kids from normal schools, they know us when we go out in packs; they know us when we walk home from school at the same time as them. But I don’t do that any more. I’m always late now.
The game moves down to the other end of the pitch, up by their goal. It gets quiet where I am; I call for her, put out more crumbs. And here she is all of a sudden, down the tree, holding on with her little claws, always so well-balanced. She comes and takes the crumbs off the tree so I put more down for her. Each time she gets a little closer. I speak her name and ask her what she’s been up to today. She goes straight for the brown bag my sandwich is in. I open it out for her. Then I get my homework out of my bag. I look through my homework diary; look at what the teacher has written that we need to do. There’s some maths. I do it quickly, counting on my fingers, using pencil so I can rub out each time. Then there are some spellings we have to learn. Some for the class, some Miss Lilly gives me as extra work. I learn them both, practise with her, but she doesn’t say much because she’s a squirrel. I look out over where the boys are playing. He sees me and gives me a wave; I give him a wave back. Then I take out my sketch pad, try to sketch the squirrel but she keeps moving. So I try to sketch the tree. But can’t get the angles quite right. Its trunk is twisted in an unusual way. I’m staring up at it when he comes over.
   “Good game?” I ask him.
   “It’s not really a game, is it? Not with Macintosh playing.”
   “Then play with some other people,” I say.
   “No they’re all crap, it’s fine.”
   “Did you do your homework?”
   “Not yet, do you want to take a look? There’s an English composition that’s right up your street.”
I take a look at it. It’s all about polar bears for some reason.
   “Why’s this about polar bears?”
   “I’ve no idea.”
   “Do you want to head to the pool then?”
   “Have we got time?”
   “We’ve got time.”
   “Let’s go then.”
***
She is the most beautiful girl there by miles so I don’t have to worry. Not sure why my heart isn’t listening to that. I shuffle from foot to foot, end up jostling a couple of boys next to me, but they can go to hell.
   “Move over!”
   “That’s her sister,”
   “Is it? Is it your sister?”
   “The one in white,” I say.
   “The blonde one or the dark-haired one?”
   “The blonde one.”
   “How come she’s thin and your fat?” He asks me.
   “Don’t know,” I say. “That’s how God made us.”
He laughs. Apparently I said something very funny.
   “Kathleen’s very clever,” he says, coming through the crowd with his sister. The one that goes to the school for kids who can’t write or anything. Some of them can’t walk properly. She looks fine though. And I see her, every day after school, here at the pool, late, as the sun is coming down. She draws the pool. Or writes in his English book. He says she’s good at writing stories.
   “I don’t need you to stick up for me,” I tell him.
   “I wasn’t, just stating a fact. Your sister’s very pretty.”
   “She is.”
   “That’s another fact.”
   “Why does your sister always do your homework even though she goes to a special school?”
   “Why are you here every night even after it gets dark?”
   “Shut up,” I say.
   “You shut up,” he says and shoves me softly, his shoulder against my shoulder.
While he’s looking at my sister walking round the pool, turning and smiling, turning and smiling, I glance to look at him. His messy hair falls over his face so I can’t see much, but I can smell the fabric of his blazer. It smells expensive. How can something smell expensive? It makes me feel hopeful. Like when everyone else has gone home from the pool, and it’s just us left, us and a few teenagers and his odd little sister, with the sun going down over the pier, towels round our shoulders, still dripping from the pool, talking about whether or not Shakespeare was a cheat for stealing other people’s ideas, but not really caring either way, dangling our legs over the side of the pool as the wind begins to pick up.  

This page was amended on 09/04/2014
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