Beauty Queen

Curling like old tobacco papers, I merge into dingy pub corners, folding as a onyx butterfly. I’m too tired to open my clipped wings, even endeavour to do so. Mostly, I’m invisible, keeping my prestigious markings, bursts of colourful pigments, enclosed, pressed into forgetful darkness. Most ignore me. Some stare, gawp even, not attempting to hide their disdain, marking me with smudges of prejudice that mar my mind like muddy footprints on once pristine white carpet. I think if I was them, I’d look away, turn the metaphorical other cheek. I harbour some respectful pride in obscurity, but I’m having to coax it loose, in minuscule fragments, from dusty floorboards.

I’m not sure how I arrived here. I know I didn’t buy a ticket, for if so, I’ve not got the return counterpart. Somehow life’s conveyor belt transported me to this living, panting oubliette, where no bars cross my vision, yet I feel their tightening cold in each movement, even down to a tiny eye flicker. In some ways, this living entombment isn’t a surprise, yet, I still flinch at each advancing metallic shudder, dreading the envisioned, wispy bars which surround me as an ice dove’s wingspan. Sometimes, it may be safer to step out, flee from the macabre umbrella that encases, fringes like icing, my being. Would I long for its metallic pang? Miss the frigid gasp of loss of breath? Search for stilling metallic grasps to pin me down like a prized butterfly in the display cabinet of an entomologist?

I rub two pound coins together with aged, yellowy fingers, daubed with hard living, an unrepentant youth hood. I’ve made poor decisions, some abysmal. I teeter here on the cusp of disappearance. Today, nobody, thankfully, even summons a whisper of a glance to my forgotten corner. I’m as faded wallpaper in an abandoned 1960’s prefabricated house, lost to a decade that most have streamlined, day-to-day, from their minds. Daffodil curls have lost their yoke: a previous tangerine punch in sepia photos. My hues now lay defeated, pummelled clear of vibrant tang; they are today a stifled life nectar, struggling for breath and royal jelly sheen.

I’m dissipated as a toppled daisy in the breeze, watching virginal petals frolic on borders.

I, too, quake as a toppled beauty: a once carnival queen trembling in back rooms with smeared, misjudged lipstick caking an expectant, intrepid face. Any time in the limelight: my own, and that of many other countless women (or men), is curtailed, cut too short by gregarious scissors in the clasp of a restless hairdresser.

Beauty Queen 1967.

A maiden of the north, a barmaid beauty, whom dazzled as stardom in a director’s offering hands. That was me. Everyone wanted a look, a touch, or curious feel, of my radiance. I shone then, too brightly. Camera clicks were frequent, ubiquitous as boyfriends – bounding flashes dazzled, stunned my awakening eyes, as first love. Stupidly, I thought it would last, stretching into adulthood and awkward age, but its tassels were truncated, harshly so, quickly disappearing from view as a magician’s rabbit, perpetually lost in a black hat void.

At first, the men kept visiting, some still remembering my iridescent sash: ‘Prized Beauty Queen’; glimmers of its sheen reverberating in their minds like a Ferris wheel and its spots of primary colours. I seemed to never be alone then. The interest kept me buoyant for years, maybe five, until the handsome hands of the men of the town, stopped reaching across the bar to hold my hand as I pulled their pints. Only the old, lecherous ones remained, clustered at the bar, like decaying bees, desperate to form a hive. Some went too far, grabbed, lashing out for a flash of flesh: a daring peek at fading attraction, like a dimming lamp, too close to annihilation. I used to take longer breaks, sitting uncomfortably atop beer crates in the back cellar, composing myself with criss-cross lines stamping an imprint.

Around about then, I stopped looking in mirrors, binning my folded lipstick case with its gilded edges. The lines, prominent wrinkles, troubled me, leaping out as missing punctuation, as my gaze coursed an antique map. It was safer not to try. I didn’t want to be a sheep’s in a lamb’s disguise, so the make-up soon followed.

I stood one day by the river, allowing my once prized cosmetics to sink to the bottom, dulling waters quilting them. Parts of me remain on the riverbed, rusting, decaying edges, that bruise: tainted brown dust bleeds dirty ribbons into clearer currents above, marring distillation.

I’m contaminated. So, I hide.

I’m wrapped tight, wedged into the same pub corner, where I once beamed resplendent, catching a glimpse of dalliance in beer ponds, lined up along the bar.


Emma Wells is a mother and English teacher. She has poetry published with various literary journals and magazines. She enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories also. Her debut novel, Shelley’s Sisterhood, is due to be published in 2023.