Damage

In Littleton Village Hall there’s a subdued hubbub in the tiny side room where a dozen young girls wait excitedly for their interview. Among the faded and out of date posters and flyers on the notice-board, we see a “Call for Entries for the May Festival Queen.” Ella and Tanya, best friends since school and College, are checking each other’s hair and makeup and whispering excitedly. They are both at the end of the list which the Mayor’s secretary has just read out, so the tension rises as each contender is called to the main hall. As they leave by a different door, after another tortuous hour, only Ella and Tanya are left waiting. They hug and giggle nervously as Ella is finally called in and they agree to meet for coffee afterwards.

By four o’clock, the selection committee has interviewed all the girls and to their delight and surprise Ella, Tanya and one other local girl, Melanie are on the short list.
‘Well,’ says Tanya ‘It’s got to be either you or me, cause Melanie’s a bit wishy-washy after all isn’t she?’
‘Oh, unkind,’ says big-hearted Ella, ‘But you are right.’
It so happens that not only would the winner be crowned May Queen, but a lovely prize of a holiday for two in the Bahamas had also been donated by the local Travel Agent.
‘Looks like it’s practically in the bag then,’ crows Tanya. ‘Get your bikini packed! They’re doing second interviews at six o’clock this evening and announcing the final decision.’
‘Can’t wait, lets have a drink at the Cat and Cow and come back then, it’s still a couple of hours to go.’

In the lounge bar whilst nursing her second cocktail, Tanya quietly ponders what she could do to make sure she was the winner. Much as she loves her friend, she does feel she really deserves to have the prize. Just suppose Ella didn’t quite look her best for the final choice. Maybe if she messed her hair or makeup? No, it’d need to be a bit more than that. ‘Maybe, I dunno, something… but what ?’

‘Hey, it’s nearly time, we’d better freshen up and go back don’t you think?’ she says.
They gulp down their drinks and head for the Ladies, with Tanya taking the lead swinging her large bag excitedly. She pushes the door and turns quickly ‘accidentally’ catching Ella a smart clip round the side of her face with her bag.
‘Oh my God! I’m so sorry darling, are you OK? Let me have a look.’
Ella staggered back against the wall, her hands around her left eye, her mouth wide in shock. As she rushes to the mirror lowering her hands it’s clear there’s a huge swelling and the beginnings of an angry bruise.
‘Shit, shit! Look at that…I’ll never get through to the contest now.’
‘I’m so, so sorry Ella, it looks like it’s gonna be a real shiner. I didn’t realise you were so close behind me.’
Tanya was so pleased with the success of this move she couldn’t conceal the smile which crept onto her face and tried to turn away as Ella, who’d glimpsed it in the mirror turned on her.
“You Cow. You did that deliberately – what a bitch you turned out to be!”
Before Tanya realised it, Ella lunged at her, grabbing her hair and kicking her shins and in minutes they were locked in a serious battle. They punched and scratched, the feathers flew and the air was blue which brought Rose running in from the Bar. The sight which greeted her was beyond belief. What had been two of the prettiest young girls in the village dressed up to the nines, was now two battered, bruised heaps of anger holding up the hand basins and glaring at each other like wildcats. Their tangled hair, torn clothes and rivulets of mascara streaming down their blotched faces was the sorry witness to the end of a long friendship. The hard mirror-tiles told them it was true and they could finally see the havoc they’d wrought.

“Well this is a fine to-do.” remarked Rose “I’ve never seen the like of this before. Look at the state of you silly girls, I suggest you go home and sort yourselves out pretty quick. Though I can’t see the judges are going to be very impressed at the look of you two…”

Exhausted and ashamed, they stood in the tense silence as Rose went out, neither girl keen to be the first to leave. Finally, Ella rushed out past the regulars in the saloon and headed home as fast as she could. A shocked silence fell on the bar room as Tanya, tight-lipped and disheveled stalked out past the assembled drinkers. No one spoke, but somehow the news of this unhappy debacle spread round the village like a rash.

That evening the judges, having allowed an extra two hours ‘due to unforeseen circumstances,’ waited in the Hall for all the finalists to appear. Eight o’clock though, saw only one contestant at the door and so the honour of May Queen was duly presented to Melanie who accepted with characteristically modest charm.

Twenty years later…
The TV was on in the bar of The Cat and Cow. It was leading up to London Fashion Week and the Supermodels were commanding the Catwalks. Behind the bar, Tanya was polishing glasses and wearily wiping the pumps looking forward to the end of her shift. A few late summer visitors had arrived at the weekend and she chatted and flirted with one of them as she took his order. She took quite a fancy to this one and breaking her own rule, offered to bring his drinks outside for him.
‘You never know when you’ll get another chance to meet a gorgeous man,’ she told herself, ‘especially in this out of the way place.’
He smiled a disarmingly charming thank-you and strolled outside. Tanya’s plump face glowed with delight as she hurried to get the order ready.

Standing at the door with her tray and slightly dazzled by the bright sun, she scanned the pub garden for her ‘special’ customer. She finally spotted him under a shady umbrella with two other women. As she approached she noticed how stylish and well-dressed they all were – Designer outfits and expensive hairdo’s.
‘Oooh I wish!’ she said to herself, but stopped short as a sudden moment of recognition took her by surprise.
‘Surely that cool, flashy woman can’t be Melanie?’
A shudder of something like embarrassment shook her and yes, the other woman in the group was her old friend and enemy, Ella who’d just looked up and seen her.

Not one to back out of a situation, Tanya decided to grasp the nettle and brazen it out. Pretending delight and surprise she managed a passable imitation of pleasure at seeing them again. They in turn were quite surprised to see Tanya still in the village as she’d always been the most ambitious one. They insisted she stay and have a drink with them, and her curiosity being stronger than her embarrassment, she agreed. It was after all twenty years since their falling out and a lot had changed since then it appeared.

It turned out the charming man, Louis, was Melanie’s husband and Ella a business partner in his Designer Fashion House; They’d come back to the village for ‘old times sake’ and some fresh air before returning to London for ‘The Week.’ He, however hadn’t heard the story leading up to the competition all those years ago, so was surprised when finally the talk inevitably turned to the three women’s younger days in the village and the relating of the sorry events of that distant time. It turned out that Melanie as the winner of the May Queen’s crown and, of course, the luxury holiday for two in the Bahamas had found herself with a tricky choice. Who should she share this lovely prize with? When she heard the story of the ‘accidental swinging handbag,’ she was utterly shocked and being a generous soul, she decided to offer it to Ella, a girl she’d always rather liked. This was the start of a long friendship, not to mention a very wonderful holiday.

The holiday itself had opened doors and Melanie and Ella had both shared in the good fortune which resulted from it. Melanie had met and married Louis – a ‘name’ in the glamorous world of Fashion, and Ella, by then much recovered from the unhappy events at home was talent spotted by him as a modelling sensation. A short but happy career which morphed into her position as top buyer in the Design House.

Tanya, listening and seeing their obvious success and confidence had begun to feel more than a little sick. How come she was still stuck here in this boring little village? Her greatest success being ‘Barmaid of the Year, two years running. No fella either, let alone a handsome wealthy one, and not many prospects in that or any other direction.
‘All that could’ve been mine, if only…’
With gathering unease she cleared the glasses and said her goodbyes.

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