Sisters, Slippers and Mirrors

Retale Values book coverWhat do you think it’s like being called ugly? Not that ugly was the word always used, sometimes it was ‘plain’ or ‘interesting’. That was worse in a way. At least ugly tells it how it is. Clarissa (she’s my younger sis) and me both have faces that look like the different parts have been put together wrong. We’ve got big hands and feet and lots of body hair where we shouldn’t have and vice-versa. We never look right in dresses. To be honest we never look right, full stop.

One person who didn’t seem to notice what we looked like was our Dad. ‘My two little ugly ducklings’ he used to say ‘ but one day you’ll be swans’. Had his head in the clouds, did Dad, obsessed with his garden and his bees. When he got ill and faded away somehow it just seemed inevitable. He left us with nothing except debts so me and Clary weren’t surprised when Mum remarried within six months. We didn’t like our stepdad but he was loaded so we didn’t blame her. After all, we should have been off her hands long since. And it would have been alright, we could have ‘coped’ as they say, if it hadn’t been for her – Ella, our stepdad’s daughter. She was beautiful: tiny with shiny blonde hair that came down to her waist and perfect features that looked as if they’d been painted on the face of a china doll. I couldn’t stop looking at her but when she asked if anything was wrong I’d give her a chore to do – sweeping, cleaning, washing – just so she wouldn’t think there was anything pervy going on. Clary did the same. Mum, no spring chicken, backed us up because Ella was the spitting image of our stepdad’s first wife who by all accounts had been drop dead gorgeous. A shrink might say that we were punishing her for being pretty. I don’t know about that. It’s just the way it was and everything was hunky-dory until the Ball.

The town’s annual charity Ball was held at The Palace, a poncy hotel, all chandeliers and polished floors, just up the hill from us. It was basically a cattle market where all the local lasses tried to nab themselves one of the rich bankers and wankers who strutted their stuff there. Of course we’d never had an invite before but Mum nagged our stepdad relentlessly until one arrived by special courier whereupon she just about wet her knickers with excitement, no doubt thinking that at last she might be able to get shut of Clary and me.

There followed weeks of shopping, trips to the hairdressers and ‘beauty’ treatments. Ha bloody ha. A total waste of money but it wasn’t us who was paying so what the hell. Of course Ella started bleating that she wanted to go too but I told Clary there was no way we were having that. For one thing she’d show us up even more than we were going to be anyway and for another she was still young. Plenty of other years she could go to the Ball and meet her Prince Charming! In the meantime, I decided, it wouldn’t do her any harm to get her pretty little hands dirty so I got her scrubbing all the floors on her hands and knees.

The Ball was not a great success. In fact, it was a total bloody pantomime. I didn’t get asked to dance at all and Clary only took to the floor once with an old bloke with rotten breath and dandruff you could build a dry ski slope with. I had one too many Jack Daniels and late in the evening tripped over the hem of my dress and went arse over tit. My knee and elbow were grazed so I went to the bog to recover, if not my dignity, then at least my breath. There I couldn’t help seeing my reflection in the many mirrors angled on every wall so that whichever way I turned, there it was: a grotesque caricature with a mask of heavy make-up, a ludicrously high pile of hair and a ballgown that was impressive only because of the range of fabrics, colours and adornments it managed to combine in one giant, shameful confection.

The event’s prize catch had to be the son of The Palace’s owners. If ‘tall, dark and handsome’ floats your boat then lots of boats, or in some case bloody great ocean liners, were bobbing around in his wake, preening, pouting and posing. Not that he seemed to notice as he spent the whole night slobbering over a petite blonde who played it really cool because when she dashed off for her taxi at midnight it turned out she hadn’t told him her name. He then proceeded to spend the rest of the night mooning around with one of her shoes that she’d left behind asking everyone if they knew who she was. For God’s sake!

I had a steaming hangover the next morning and me and Clary were nursing cups of coffee at the kitchen table when there was a ring on the front door. I yelled at Ella to answer it and blow me if a few minutes later she didn’t come into the kitchen followed by a posh geezer who was carrying a shoe on a cushion. I ask you, on a cushion, not in a shoe box like any normal person would do. How pretentious was that! And of course it was that gross shoe, perspex with glittery bits on, from the night before. Then he asked, in this dead plummy voice, if the slipper, as he insisted on calling it, fitted anyone in the house because whoever it did fit loverboy at The Palace planned to marry. I mean, Duh! For one thing there was bound to be more than one person who the shoe fitted and for another what about shared interests and sexual compatability?

Now I was guessing that this shoe was a size three or four. Me and Clary are both size eight, extra wide fitting, and are happiest in open toed sandals or wellies. There’s no way either of us would wear anything like that and I was about to say as much when out of the corner of my eye I caught Ella looking all smug as if she knew something we didn’t. So just to spite her I said I’d try the shoe on. Well, I rammed my foot into it but the flesh oozed over the sides like freshly risen dough and I was so embarrassed that I chucked it over to Clary who had to try it on and be humiliated too. Then bugger me if this bloke didn’t insist that Ella tried it, even though I told him that she wasn’t even at The Ball.

The shoe fitted her like a glove. Well, not a glove, obviously, but you get my drift. Suddenly it was tears all round, hugs and kisses and she was whisked away up to the Palace to be reunited with Mr Right. Later she claimed it was her who was the blonde at the Ball (yeah, right) and spun us a yarn about a fairy godmother providing her with the dress, shoes, transport and so on. Fairy godmother my very considerable arse! More like a Sugar Daddy! It goes without saying that she didn’t get into trouble for sneaking out that night and making Clary and me look like total dickheads. Oh no, she’s the cash cow now and it’s all wedding plans. Nothing but guest lists, place settings and order of service. She didn’t want us as bridesmaids and made up all sorts of stuff about Clary and me bullying her. What a load of crap. No girl who looks like her gets bullied, not really, they always live happily ever after. Anyway, the real reason was that she didn’t want us to spoil the wedding pictures.  ‘ My Ugly Sisters’ I overheard her describing us to The Man of her Dreams which was so mean that I went and gave Clary a smack to make myself feel better.

So… life goes on. Our stepdad works away a fair bit now and Mum, who had hoped to be asked up to The Palace much more often than she is, spends a lot of time in her room crying. Clary and me have to do most of the housework which is not great. We’re still waiting for our Fairy Godmother to arrive in a sprinkling of magic dust and a puff of smoke but to tell you the truth we’re not holding our breaths.