by Andrea Lowne
Grace peered into her bedroom mirror and winced .Her reflection stared back at her smugly. Grace gave herself the finger and groaned.
The reason for Grace’s distress was not, as one might think, the fact that she was, to put it kindly, somewhat on the tubby side. Or even that her face seemed to have erupted, yet again, in pustules doing a fair imitation of Krakow’s craters. Hair, lanky as a pubescent youth, flopped listlessly over her forehead and no amount of face paint quite managed to disguise the scarlet scar furrowing her chin, the result of an altercation between Grace, whose sight left something to be desired, and an inconsiderate and apparently invisible lamppost.
All this Grace felt she could cope with, at least most of the time. No, Grace’s current dissatisfaction was caused by something of a far more fundamental nature, namely her handle.
“Why the hell did she have to call me Grace?” she’d wail plaintively and on a regular basis, to Quasimodo. Quasimodo, perfectly content with his own descriptive moniker yawned and, bored with futile and fruitless attempts to figure out the mystifying machinations of the human brain, would limp off in search of more interesting and less self-pitying company.
Grace’s Ma, now residing peacefully under the sod was, of course, quite unable to answer. Had she, however, still been in the land of the living, this rhetorical question from her one and only offspring would have rendered her uncharacteristically speechless and not a little hurt.
So delighted had she been with the arrival, albeit prematurely, of the infant she’d tried for so long to conceive, that she’d failed to notice the poor child sprouted ears like Dumbo, had eyes so close together as to be almost one and was in possession of a nose which bore a striking resemblance to that of Miss Piggy. This, coupled with lanky limbs that flailed like a windmill in a force 10, made for an infant so singularly unattractive, that even the midwife had trouble finding a kind word to say.
“Er…well…um…a healthy pair of lungs!” she’d finally managed.
“She’s just perfect, ain’t she?” enthused Grace’s Ma, gazing lovingly at the hideous bundle gnawing hungrily at her left mammary.
“…and such an appetite…” marvelled the midwife, agog and trying her best to make it sound like a plus, “What are you going to call her then?”
“Well, Grace, of course! What else? Have you ever seen anything so beautiful…?” and she’d painfully prized her newborn from her throbbing boob in order to gaze rapturously at her daughter. The newly christened Grace, eyes screwed tightly shut and mouth flapping like a stranded cod, wailed desperately at having been so unceremoniously removed from her food source. Ma hastily exposed her right breast and Grace attached herself to it like a limpet.
“Ah, Grace, yes, lovely choice,” said the midwife, already concerned for the future of such an unappetising sprog and making a mental note to pop the name of a reputable child psychiatrist into Grace’s records, should such a service become necessary in later life.
Grace, however, smothered as she was in motherly adoration, remained blissfully unaware of her shortcomings throughout most of her childhood. The cruel taunts of unkind fellow-pupils rolled off her back like mercury spilling from a broken thermometer.
Adolescence, however, came as something of a nasty shock. Grace couldn’t fail to notice, for instance, that her best friend Gertrude’s budding boobs attracted much flattering attention from the male contingent in the school, Grace’s own chest, needless to say, remained as stubbornly flat as a Dutch landscape. Gertrude’s glittering blonde locks, sparkling white teeth, wispy waist, cornflower eyes and languorous limbs seemed to have a similar effect. In short, Gertrude had something for everyone, whatever their penchant.
“Well, why don’t you do something about it then?” asked Gertrude, a kindly girl and one with just sufficient brains to realise that modern surgical techniques could, for a price, work miracles in the looks department.
“Like get your ears pinned back. Or your boobs made bigger. Or, for a start, your hair done…”
“Ma won’t let me,” Grace would reply gloomily, “she says I’m perfect as I am. Too young for all that nonsense, she says. And I ain’t got any money of me own, have I?”
All this was undisputedly true and thus it was that poor Grace was, for the foreseeable future, destined to remain the slightly less desirable half of the duo.
When Grace was 20 and rather larger than she should have been, due to an overindulgence of comfort eating, her Ma, inconsiderately succumbing to a nasty bout of pneumonia, was sadly, and amongst much sorrow, laid to rest.
Grace, understandably distraught, failed to realise for quite some time that she was the sole beneficiary not only of the bad-tempered feline Quasimodo, but also the tidy little sum of ten thousand quid. Ma, it appeared, had been squirreling money away over the years in order to ensure a secure future for her beloved offspring.
Thus it was that Grace, now regarding herself sadly in the mirror and only vaguely aware that Quasimodo was surreptitiously supping lamb leftovers in the kitchen, was faced with something of a moral dilemma.
“What shall I do with the dosh, then?” she asked Gertrude, who was sprawled elegantly on the bed filing her nails, “Ma wanted me to save it for me future…”
“Well, as I see it, you won’t have much of a future unless you tart yourself up a bit. It’s either that or change your handle to Butch or something.” Grace, aware that Gertrude’s heart was more-or-less in the right place, took no offence and conceded that this, however unpalatable, was probably true.
“Change your name or change your image, is my advice…” continued Gertrude, applying scarlet nail polish with furrowed concentration.
“Yes, but how?” wailed Grace, who was beginning to think that the former was the simpler of the two options.
“Tell you what,” said Gertrude, suddenly inspired, “we’ll both write a list. I’ll write what I think you should do, you write what you think you should do and then we’ll compare notes and decide, ok?”
“Er…ok, then,” agreed Grace dubiously and a date was duly set for a week hence.
“Right then,” said Gertrude the following Sunday. She produced two crumpled sheets from the depths of her bag with a flourish and smoothed them out on the bed. Grace laid one crisp and barren sheet next to it.
“Is that it?” yelped Gertrude.
“Yep, ‘fraid so…” said Grace contritely.
Gertrude sighed and they both bent over to scrutinise Grace’s future.
Gertrude’s list was as follows:
1. GET TITS MADE BIGGER
2. GET EARS PINNED BACK
3. GET ON A CABBAGE DIET
4. GET A FACELIFT
5. GET HAIR AND NAILS DONE
6. GET EYES DONE
7. GET NEW CLOBBER
8. GET LIPOSUCTION
9. GET BELLY TUCKED
10. GET LAID
Grace’s contribution ran thus:
BUY NEW SHAMPOO
“Is that all?” squealed Gertrude, horrified.
“Couldn’t think of anything else…”
Grace, an avid watcher of Kilroy and therefore convinced of the painful pitfalls of plastic surgery, eyed Gertrude’s list with mounting trepidation.
“I ain’t doin’ it!” she said finally,
“What, none of it?”
“Er…” Grace read through the list again, “I ain’t doing any of that plastic stuff, that’s for sure. I’ll go for three, five and seven, though. Only not the cabbage diet. Gives you wind an’ I hate cabbage, anyway. Just a normal diet, with fruit an’ veg an’ stuff will do nicely, ta.”
Gertrude, a girl not averse to giving nature a helping hand if at all possible, was deeply disappointed by this unfathomable obstinacy but, despite a prolonged and somewhat heated discussion, during which both parties became rather irate, Grace refused point-blank to be swayed. The list was therefore amended thus:
1. BUY WONDERBRA
2. GROW HAIR LONG TO COVER EARS
3. GO ON FRUIT ‘N’ VEGGIE DIET
4. GET NAILS DONE
5. GO TO HAIRDRESSER
6. BUY NEW MAKE UP
7. HAVE FAKE FACELIFT
8. GET NEW CLOBBER
9. GET DE-FUZZED
10. GET LAID
Both agreed that the last item should remain, as a goal to work towards.
The next few weeks saw Grace and Gertrude in a flurry of frantic activity. Quasimodo, who’d never watched telly and was therefore blissfully unaware of Al Quaida, was nevertheless convinced the world had finally gone mad. Hideously confused, he spent the duration of the transformation skulking under the bed, alternately purring and growling and praying that some kind, animal-loving soul would swiftly invent and manufacture Prozac for cats.
Grace’s hair, newly razored, styled, volumised, coloured and coiffed, rapidly grew to cover and disguise her elephantine lobes. Her faithful daily consumption of the obligatory five portions had resulted in a remarkable weight loss and glowing complexion. Her nails, now unbitten, filed and professionally manicured, were decorated with the latest shade of burgundy. Diligent and careful application of expensive, allergy-free make-up successfully hid her scar and outlined pouting, ruby lips. The non-surgical facelift, albeit only temporary, smoothed her chin admirably and accentuated her eyes. Careful choice of the latest togs and tasteful, colourful accessories further outlined her bodily attributes whilst concealing yet-to-be-discarded flab and her painfully de-fuzzed legs were now as smooth and tanned as an Italian gigolo.
She twirled in front of the mirror, brimming with unaccustomed self-confidence.
Gertrude gazed in awe-struck admiration tinged with not a little jealousy.
“Blimey,” she gurgled, “you look fantastic!”
“Ta,” grinned Grace, grabbing her lippy and stuffing it into her new Gucci. She picked up her keys.
“Where’re you going, then?” asked Gertrude, mystified
“Well where d’you think?” smirked Grace, “ I’m off to sort out number 10, ain’t I?”
© Andrea Lowne 2004