The Beauty Con­test

This amus­ing short story by Ewan Smith is set in 1976.

The People's Friend Special - - FICTION -

Her fam­ily were sur­prised Ava wanted to en­ter the com­pe­ti­tion, but she had a hid­den agenda!

THE ar­gu­ment raged at tea time. “But we al­ways watch ‘Top Of The Pops’, Dad.” Har­vey snorted. “You watch it, you mean. The rest of us just have to put up with the racket.” Betty scowled.

“I’m sure that Abba will be at Num­ber One this week. Benny is so dreamy.”

“You can dream about him while we’re watch­ing the Euro­pean Cup Fi­nal.”

Her four­teen-year-old eyes flashed in out­rage. “Foot­ball?”

Har­vey nod­ded.

“The whole match is be­ing shown live.”

“It’s go­ing to be on all night?” Betty wailed.

Nora sighed.

“I some­times think we’d be bet­ter off with­out a TV.”

Betty gazed at her mother in hor­ror. But be­fore she could re­ply, her older sis­ter Ava had qui­etly placed a sheet of paper down on the ta­ble.

“Mum, Dad, could one of you sign this? I want to en­ter the Miss Bride­vale 1976 com­pe­ti­tion.”

Stunned si­lence fell.

Betty let out a lit­tle laugh.

“You in a beauty con­test?”

Ava nod­ded.

“It’s two weeks on Satur­day. Be­cause I’m only seven­teen I have to get my par­ents’ per­mis­sion.”

Nora re­alised her mouth was open and closed it.

“That’s rather un­ex­pected, dear.”

After a glance at the form, Har­vey scrib­bled his sig­na­ture at the bot­tom.

“I don’t see why. These beauty com­pe­ti­tions are all very re­spectable.”

“Yes, but . . .”

Nora wasn’t quite sure how to put it. Ava was the last per­son in the world she would have ex­pected to take part in a beauty con­test.

Her sis­ter Betty was ob­sessed with make-up, clothes and boyfriends, but Ava had never shown the slight­est in­ter­est in such things. All she cared about was fos­sils and di­nosaurs.

“What gave you the idea?”

“The Miss Bride­vale win­ner gets to spend a week in Lyme Regis.”

Nora looked puz­zled. “And?”

“It’s the fos­sil cap­i­tal of Eng­land, Mum! Where the first-ever ichthyosaur skele­ton was found. Imag­ine be­ing able to spend a whole week there!”

“You’d be there for the Miss Eng­land con­test, not fos­sil hunt­ing!”

“Nob­bie agrees even find­ing an am­monite would be amaz­ing,” Ava said.

Nob­bie was her pal from school. He was as ob­sessed by di­nosaurs as Ava was. She got to her feet.

“It’s my turn to do the dishes.”

Har­vey checked his watch.

“And I just have time to fill in my pools coupon be­fore the foot­ball starts.”

Betty groaned and stomped off to her room, bang­ing the door nois­ily.

Nora helped Ava take the dishes to the sink. She tried to probe gen­tly.

“Won’t you find this beauty con­test rather tricky, dear? You don’t have any ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Ava shrugged.

“We walk round the room once in swimwear and once in evening wear. Then we an­swer ques­tions from the MC. How hard can it be?”

Put that way, it didn’t sound com­pli­cated.

“Where are you go­ing to get an evening dress from?” Nora picked up a tea towel.

“Mar­lene Briscoe is lend­ing me one.”

Nora’s eyes widened. “Mar­lene from the Fash­ion Bou­tique?”

Ava nod­ded.

“She’s the sis­ter of Mr Briscoe, my ge­og­ra­phy teacher. I told her it would be good pub­lic­ity if I won the Miss Bride­vale con­test wear­ing a Fash­ion Bou­tique dress. She’s go­ing to help me choose some­thing.”

Nora gaped. The Fash­ion Bou­tique had some gor­geous clothes but they cost a for­tune. She couldn’t be­lieve Ava had per­suaded Mar­lene to lend her one. “What about your hair?” Most of the time Ava tied her lovely auburn hair up with an elas­tic band.

“Terri Blake from Hair And Now is do­ing that.”

“Terri Blake? You can’t af­ford her prices.”

Ava shrugged.

“I’ll work a few hours a week in the shop over the sum­mer. She’s do­ing my make-up, too. Don’t worry, Mum, it’s all sorted.”

Nora felt baf­fled. Ava must have been plan­ning this for months.

She shook her head. There were times when she felt that she didn’t know her elder daugh­ter at all.

****

“So, what’s the plan?” Nob­bie was on a bean bag in the cor­ner of Ava’s bed­room. “It’s one thing to en­ter the Miss Bride­vale con­test, it’s quite an­other to win it.”

Ava con­sid­ered.

“We have to work on the judges. They’re the ones who choose the win­ners.”

“Who are they?”

“There’s three. Cedric Fan­shawe, the mayor, Dolores Bastable, the ac­tress in that soap, and Peanut Jar­vey.”

Nob­bie’s eyes widened. “Peanut Jar­vey? The lead singer of In Pain?”

The punk band had ap­peared out of nowhere about six months be­fore and, ever since, the news­pa­pers had been filled with their con­tro­ver­sial ex­ploits.

“That’ll be in­ter­est­ing.” “When I ap­pear in front of the judges on the stage, I want them to al­ready know who I am. I need to stand out in their minds.” “What are you plan­ning?” Ava leaned for­ward. “I want you to start with Mayor Fan­shawe.”

****

“I’m grate­ful you agreed to see me, Mr Mayor.” Nob­bie smiled ea­gerly. “Our school news­pa­per is do­ing a se­ries of ar­ti­cles on prom­i­nent mem­bers of the lo­cal com­mu­nity. It’ll be ace to do one on a per­son as im­por­tant as you.”

He won­dered if he had gone too far, but the mayor seemed de­lighted with the flat­tery.

“Well, my work keeps me in­cred­i­bly busy.” He looked at his watch. “But I have twenty min­utes be­fore a vi­tal meet­ing on dog mess, so I’m all yours. I hope that you won’t give me a hard time, like Robin Day does to politi­cians on tele­vi­sion!” He gave a bark­ing laugh. “Fire away, young man.” Nob­bie be­gan with bland ques­tions about how the mayor spent his day and what he did with his chain of of­fice at bed­time. Then he moved on to the real pur­pose of the in­ter­view.

“About the Miss

Bride­vale 1976 con­test which you’ll be judg­ing . . .”

The mayor’s eyes nar­rowed. There had been com­plaints about beauty con­tests over re­cent years. Some peo­ple felt that they were de­mean­ing to women.

Was Nob­bie plan­ning to ask awk­ward ques­tions?

How­ever, Nob­bie was smil­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally.

“I think this is a great op­por­tu­nity to raise the pro­file of the town.”

The mayor re­laxed.

“I’m glad to hear you say that, young man, be­cause that’s my view ex­actly.”

“Wouldn’t it be bril­liant to have a win­ner who could gen­er­ate lots of news­pa­per head­lines about the town?”

“That would be per­fect, and . . .”

“Some­one keen to pro­mote lo­cal busi­nesses?” “I agree, and . . .”

“A lo­cal girl who could show her en­thu­si­asm for Bride­vale to the na­tion!”

The mayor gave an­other bark­ing laugh.

“Per­haps you should be do­ing my job!” A se­ri­ous look crossed his face. “The trou­ble is that most con­tes­tants just want to win. Pro­mot­ing Bride­vale isn’t a pri­or­ity for them.” Nob­bie leaned for­ward. “Let’s hope this year there’s one con­tes­tant who thinks more of Bride­vale than of her­self.”

****

“You think he got the mes­sage?” Ava asked, sip­ping her milk­shake. They were at the Wimpy Bar by the town hall.

Nob­bie nod­ded, dig­ging into his sun­dae.

“He’s so pompous; it was hard to keep a straight face. But I reckon I got him think­ing it would be bril­liant to have a Miss Bride­vale who was keen to pro­mote the town.”

“Good work. I’m meet­ing a jour­nal­ist from the ‘Gazette’ to­day; that should get things rolling. Then I’m off to the Fash­ion Bou­tique so Mar­lene can help me pick an evening dress.”

“Can I do any­thing?”

Ava looked at him thought­fully.

“Since you men­tion it, I need a cou­ple of full-sized an­i­mal cos­tumes.”

Nob­bie shook his head. “I won’t ask. Two an­i­mal cos­tumes it is!”

****

Nora gasped as Ava ap­peared from the bou­tique’s fit­ting-room.

“Oh, my good­ness, Ava, you look so pretty.”

Ava gazed at her re­flec­tion. The silk dress had a flo­ral pat­tern and the skirts clung to her gen­tly, out­lin­ing her long legs.

“It does look very well on you,” Mar­lene mur­mured. “Try walk­ing in it.”

With one hand rest­ing lightly on her hip, Ava made her way con­fi­dently to the rear of the shop. She stopped, turned to ei­ther side, then walked back. Nora gaped at her.

“You look as if you’ve done that all your life.”

“It’s only walk­ing, Mum.” She looked at her­self in the mir­ror again.

“Is some­thing the mat­ter?” Mar­lene asked. “The dress is per­fect . . .” “But?”

“It makes me look like a seven­teen-year-old girl.” “You are!” Nora cried. “Maybe, Mum. But that’s not go­ing to win me the beauty con­test.”

Mar­lene’s eyes nar­rowed. “You’re right. You have a good eye. Take that dress off and I’ll bring you an­other one; I think I have the per­fect al­ter­na­tive.”

When Ava reap­peared, it was ob­vi­ous to all of them that they had a win­ner. The deep-crim­son dress had an el­e­gant train and, as Ava moved, it seemed to swirl and flow around her.

Nora’s eyes filled with tears. She couldn’t be­lieve that this beau­ti­ful crea­ture was her teenage daugh­ter.

“Wow,” Mar­lene said. Her eyes nar­rowed. “What size are your feet?”

“Size six, nar­row fit.”

“I’ve a pair of shoes which would be per­fect. You can bor­row them.”

They watched Ava prac­tise walk­ing.

“I can’t thank you enough, Mar­lene.”

Mar­lene smiled.

“You have a re­mark­able daugh­ter. I have a feel­ing she’s go­ing to go places.”

“Lyme Regis!” Ava grinned, ap­proach­ing them. “That’s where I want to go.”

****

“From Bron­tosauruses To Beauty Con­tests,” Nob­bie read aloud. “Lo­cal lass

dreams of be­com­ing Miss World.”

He turned to Ava.

“That’s a great story. You don’t re­ally want to be­come Miss World, do you?”

Ava snorted.

“The jour­nal­ist made that up. But it got the story on to the front page.”

“It has a lot about how great you think Bride­vale is. The mayor will love it.” “Fingers crossed.”

“Look – there’s been a break-out from the aquar­ium!” Across the street, two lads were gazing at them in amuse­ment.

Ava waved. She and Nob­bie were mak­ing their way along the pave­ment with friends from the “We Love An­i­mals” group they be­longed to.

Some were car­ry­ing home-made ban­ners; oth­ers handed out leaflets about their up­com­ing Jumbo Jum­ble Sale. They were at­tract­ing plenty of at­ten­tion, es­pe­cially Ava and Nob­bie, who were dressed as whales.

Ava grinned.

“Love these cos­tumes.” “I bor­rowed them from Friends of the Earth. They used them for a ‘Save The Whale’ protest re­cently.”

“Let’s hope they catch Dolores Bastable’s eye. She’s mad about an­i­mal wel­fare. She set up her own char­ity for aban­doned cats. If I can get her on my side in the judg­ing . . .”

They had reached the Grand Ho­tel.

“Right, guys, we want ban­ners wav­ing, chant­ing, singing, lots of noise. All the guests in the ho­tel need to hear us.”

“Why here?” Ta­nia, one of the group, was puz­zled.

“This is where Dolores Bastable, the soap star, is stay­ing,” Nob­bie ex­plained. “She’s here for the Miss Bride­vale con­test. If we can get her to sup­port our Jumbo Sale it would be bril­liant pub­lic­ity.”

Ta­nia looked at Ava. “Aren’t you en­ter­ing the Miss Bride­vale con­test?”

“Com­plete co­in­ci­dence,” Ava replied loftily. “OK, ev­ery­one, let’s do what we’re best at and make some noise. We love

an­i­mals! We love an­i­mals! We love an­i­mals!”

The group was prac­tised at mak­ing a racket in pub­lic. In no time at all they were march­ing about, singing, chant­ing, clap­ping and blow­ing whis­tles.

One or two faces be­gan to ap­pear at the win­dows of the ho­tel.

“That’s it, guys!” Ava called. “Keep it up.”

A smart-look­ing man with a dis­ap­prov­ing frown hur­ried out of the ho­tel. His badge said he was the man­ager, Roger Stone. “What’s all this about?” Ta­nia waved her ban­ner. “We’re pub­li­cis­ing our Jumbo Jum­ble Sale. Maybe you’d like to come?”

His nos­trils flared.

“I don’t think so. Mean­while, you are dis­turb­ing our guests so I would like you to move on.”

“The pave­ment is a pub­lic place. We’re en­ti­tled to be here.”

He sniffed.

“You are caus­ing an ob­struc­tion. If you don’t leave im­me­di­ately, I will con­tact the po­lice.”

The groans of protests from the group changed to cheers as a fa­mil­iar fig­ure ap­peared out of the ho­tel. A new chant be­gan.

“Do-lo-res! Do-lo-res! Do-lo-res!”

Dolores Bastable stood look­ing at them with an amused ex­pres­sion. She lifted a hand.

“What’s hap­pen­ing here, Mr Stone?”

“I’m ter­ri­bly sorry, Miss Bastable. These peo­ple will be re­moved in no time at all, I as­sure you.”

“We’re not do­ing any harm!” Nob­bie called out. “We’re just pub­li­cis­ing a fund-rais­ing sale for our

‘We Love An­i­mals’ group.” Dolores smiled.

“I love an­i­mals, too. Per­haps I should be part of your group.”

Cheers went up.

“Maybe you could come to the sale?” Ta­nia held out a leaflet.

She looked at it.

“Ah. I’m only here for the Miss Bride­vale con­test.”

“We know. Ava here is one of the con­tes­tants.”

Ava waved a flip­per and Dolores smiled.

“Is that the bathing cos­tume you’ll wear?”

Ava grinned.

“I thought I’d wear some­thing else for the con­test.”

“Very wise.” Dolores turned to the group. “Though I can’t be here for the sale, I wish you the best of luck.”

Ta­nia waved her cam­era. “Can we get a pic­ture of you with the group?”

Dolores smiled.

“Of course.” She took the cam­era and handed it to the ho­tel man­ager. “Per­haps Mr Stone could take the photo.”

He forced a sickly smile on to his face.

“My plea­sure.”

“That was bril­liant,” Nob­bie said to Ava as they made their way home. “Dolores Bastable cer­tainly knows who you are now.”

“That only leaves Peanut Jar­vey to work on.”

“What’s your plan for him?”

Ava gri­maced.

“I haven’t come up with one. We’ll have to leave him till the con­test it­self.”

****

Ava looked at the photo. It was of a fos­sil frag­ment, and the magazine ar­ti­cle claimed that it was the tooth of an en­tirely new species of di­nosaur.

But she wasn’t con­vinced. To her, it looked like two ple­siosaur teeth which had be­come fused to­gether in the fos­sil­i­sa­tion process.

She glanced up. She and her fel­low con­tes­tants were wait­ing for the evening­dress round to start. The chang­ing-room was filled with low mut­ters of con­ver­sa­tion. Some con­tes­tants were hav­ing their hair and make-up touched up.

Ava had been given strict in­struc­tions by Terri.

“Don’t think about touch­ing your hair. You’ll be tempted if you see a mir­ror. But don’t.”

Ava had nod­ded.

“I get the mes­sage.”

Terri had smiled at her. “You don’t need any im­prov­ing, girl. You look gor­geous and you’re go­ing to blow the rest of the con­tes­tants away.”

So Ava was sit­ting qui­etly in her swim­suit, read­ing her magazine. Mar­lene had said that she would help her on with the evening dress shortly be­fore the round started.

“It won’t take long and if you put it on too early it’s bound to get crushed and crum­pled. I want it to look per­fect, just like you do.”

The swimwear round had gone pretty much as Ava had ex­pected. The con­tes­tants had come on to the stage to­gether. One by one they had made their way along the cat­walk to where the three judges were sit­ting.

Ava hadn’t felt par­tic­u­larly ner­vous and she was amused by the sight of Peanut Jar­vey.

He was sprawled in his chair in a bizarre out­fit made from of­f­cuts held to­gether with chains and looked ut­terly

bored. It was as if he re­ally didn’t want to be here.

“Ten min­utes till the evening-wear round be­gins.”

A buzz of ex­cite­ment went round the room and Ava put down her magazine. Mar­lene would be here in a minute to help her on with the dress.

In the mean­time, she could be men­tally re­hears­ing her an­swers to the ques­tions the MC would be ask­ing her.

They had been told to keep their an­swers short and sim­ple, but Ava had her own plans.

****

“Tell us some­thing about your­self, Ava.”

Ava re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to change po­si­tion. She had her left hand rest­ing on her hip, her right foot for­ward, her shoul­ders lean­ing slightly back and her eyes fixed ador­ingly at the MC.

She and Mar­lene had worked out that was the po­si­tion that showed her and the dress to their best ad­van­tage.

“I’m a Bride­vale girl, born and bred, and I love it here,” she said, gush­ing with en­thu­si­asm. “There is so much tal­ent in this town and we have such won­der­ful lo­cal busi­nesses.

“Here I am to­day in a Bride­vale dress, with Bride­vale hair and Bride­vale make-up.”

She laughed.

“I’m Bride­vale through and through! If only I had a chance to take that mes­sage to the wider world.”

From the cor­ner of her eye she could see the mayor nod­ding as she spoke and writ­ing some­thing on his notepad.

“What hopes do you have for your­self in the fu­ture?”

Ava adopted the cute­but-se­ri­ous look she had been prac­tis­ing in the mir­ror.

“Ac­tu­ally, my hopes are more for an­i­mals than for my­self. I be­long to the lo­cal ‘We Love An­i­mals’ char­ity and that is such an im­por­tant part of my life. I be­lieve that how we treat an­i­mals is a mea­sure of our hu­man­ity.”

“I agree!” Dolores Bastable cried, jump­ing to her feet and clap­ping.

Her ap­plause was im­me­di­ately taken up by the au­di­ence. Ava tried to stop a wide grin from spread­ing across her face. Things were go­ing just as she had hoped.

The only is­sue now was Peanut Jar­vey. She gave him a quick glance. He was tak­ing a gulp from a small flask he had stashed un­der the ta­ble.

He didn’t seem to be pay­ing any at­ten­tion at all to what was go­ing on. Some­how, she had to get him to no­tice her.

The mi­cro­phone was point­ing at her again.

“Fi­nally, Ava, tell us an in­ter­est­ing fact that we might not know about you.”

Ava re­alised it was time to risk ev­ery­thing.

“I’m fas­ci­nated by fos­sils and my favourite di­nosaur is the ve­loci­rap­tor. They ran about on two legs with a hop­ping move­ment. It’s thought that they may have made a hoot­ing, howl­ing sound.”

She glanced at Peanut Jar­vey, whose eyes were closed. He seemed to be fall­ing asleep.

“That’s fas­ci­nat­ing, Ava, and thank you for your an­swers. Now –”

“They moved a bit like this!”

Lift­ing up her skirts, Ava be­gan leap­ing across the stage.

Ev­ery­one gazed at her in as­ton­ish­ment. Reach­ing the judges’ ta­ble, she threw back her head and let out a se­ries of howl­ing hoots.

Peanut Jar­vey al­most fell out of his chair in shock. “Wh – what?”

“And that is how we think the ve­loci­rap­tor sounded.”

A huge grin spread across Peanut’s face. He be­gan to howl and hoot him­self.

“I’m a di­nosaur!” he shouted, jump­ing to his feet and hop­ping from foot to foot.

The call was taken up by mem­bers of the au­di­ence. Hoots and howls started sound­ing from all sides.

Ava gazed around wide-eyed. What had she started?

She re­treated to the line-up of con­tes­tants as the MC tried to con­trol the chaos.

“At least I got Peanut Jar­vey to no­tice me,” she whis­pered.

****

Ava and the other con­tes­tants were stand­ing in a long line in front of the judges. The sec­ond run­nerup had been an­nounced, though she looked rather sour at not be­ing cho­sen the win­ner. Then the first run­ner-up.

The MC was go­ing on and on, thank­ing ev­ery­one at great length, and Ava’s feet were start­ing to ache in the un­fa­mil­iar shoes.

“And with­out any fur­ther de­lay . . .” the MC fi­nally said.

“About time, too!” Peanut shouted, get­ting a cheer from the au­di­ence.

The MC flushed in an­noy­ance.

“The win­ner of Miss Bride­vale 1976 is . . .”

The au­di­ence be­gan drum­ming their feet, en­cour­aged by Peanut. The sound grew louder and louder.

“Ava Tay­lor!”

For a while, ev­ery­thing was a blur. Ava was over­come by noise and mu­sic and peo­ple shout­ing all kinds of in­struc­tions.

With the crown wob­bling un­cer­tainly on her head she made her way along the cat­walk, cheers and ap­plause echo­ing in her ears.

After­wards there were pho­tos, hugs from the fam­ily, Mar­lene and Terri squeez­ing the life out of her and a lo­cal re­porter de­mand­ing to know how she felt.

It was much later when even­tu­ally she es­caped and headed for the chang­ing room. There was Nob­bie in front of her.

She threw her arms around him.

It was the first time they had ever hugged. She could feel him tense up.

Hor­ri­fied, she be­gan to let go but then Nob­bie’s arms were around her and hold­ing her tight.

She hugged him back, com­pletely con­fused and not sure what was go­ing on. All she knew was that be­ing in Nob­bie’s arms felt right.

After a while, they moved apart. Nob­bie’s eyes were filled with a mix­ture of won­der and puz­zle­ment.

“You look so beau­ti­ful,” he whis­pered.

It seemed to Ava that ev­ery­thing had changed be­tween them. And she liked that, a lot.

Peanut Jar­vey ap­peared round the cor­ner.

“I’m a di­nosaur!” he hooted. “Hi, there, Miss Bride­vale 1976, did you know that I was a di­nosaur?”

But be­fore Ava could an­swer, he was dis­ap­pear­ing again in great, hop­ping leaps.

“It’s just pos­si­ble that he might be com­pletely mad,” Ava mur­mured.

She turned back to Nob­bie but he was gazing at her with a slight frown.

“That re­minds me. You know when you sug­gested that ve­loci­rap­tors made a hoot­ing, howl­ing sound?” Ava felt her­self blush­ing. “Ah, well, yes. I may have ex­ag­ger­ated there a lit­tle.”

“A lot! No­body knows whether di­nosaurs made any sort of vo­cal sounds at all.”

Ava frowned.

“That’s not strictly true. Many sci­en­tists have ar­gued that, be­cause they had fairly sen­si­tive ears, then . . .”

“Hang on, how they heard is a com­pletely sep­a­rate is­sue from how they sounded.”

“That’s not true at all, Ava. If you in­ter­po­late the data from . . .”

The dis­cus­sion quickly ex­ploded into one of their en­thu­si­as­tic but de­ter­mined ar­gu­ments.

Nob­bie’s arms waved wildly about and the crown on Ava’s head wob­bled with pas­sion.

Win­ning beauty con­tests and fall­ing in love was one thing. But work­ing out the truth about di­nosaurs – now, that was a se­ri­ous mat­ter!

The End.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.