Beauty Queen ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
I had fifteen minutes before bus time so, after buying my ticket, I sat down on one of the ratty bus station seats that had some of the stuffing coming out. It had been a difficult week (they all were) and I felt terrible. My toothache was killing me, I felt like I had a cold coming on, and I had heartburn from the Hungarian goulash I had for dinner. I took another one of my pills for my tooth, washing it down with a shot of the watered-down whiskey from the flask I carried. I closed my eyes and felt myself growing drowsy in the warm, stale air of the bus station when somebody sat down beside me. I opened my eyes and saw it was Wanda Guilfoyle.
“How are you, Warren?” she said.
She had never spoken to me before and I was surprised she even knew my name.
“All right,” I said.
“Going home for the weekend?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“It’s always good to get away from school for a couple of days, isn’t it?”
Wanda was homecoming queen and the most beautiful girl in school. She had perfect skin and honey-blond hair that cascaded down her back. She was a drama major; I had seen her in Dial M for Murder in the part that Grace Kelly played in the movie. Everybody believed she would go to Hollywood after she finished school and become a big movie star.
Wanda and I moved in different circles, as you might imagine. The only reason I knew her at all was because her boyfriend, Mickey Farrington, was an acquaintance of mine and we roomed on the same floor.
“Yes, it’s always good to go back home,” I said.
“Did you hear that Mickey and I got engaged?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “When did that happen?”
“At the sweethearts’ dance a couple of weeks ago.”
“I wasn’t there,” I said. “I never go to those things.”
“You should go! They’re lots of fun.”
I shook my head. I was sure my face turned a shade of crimson.
“Some people are meant to go to dances and some are meant to stay at home,” I said.
“Oh, Warren,” she laughed. “You are funny! Don’t you even have a girlfriend?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t want one.”
She laughed again. “Every boy needs a girlfriend. I know three or four girls who would be so happy to go out with you.”
“You mean ugly girls?”
“You’re just shy. You need to work on overcoming your shyness.”
“It’s more social ineptness than shyness,” I said, pleased with my own cleverness and flattered that she and I were sitting there talking about such things.
“Anyway,” she said. “So Mickey and I will be getting married soon.”
“Marriage can thwart your career goals,” I said. I knew I sounded idiotic but she didn’t seem to mind.
“Well, that’s true,” she said, “but to me the most important thing is marriage. Then I’ll worry about my career.”
“Are you going to be an actress?” I asked.
“Who knows?” she said. “I might be a laundress or a clerk in a department store, like countless others. One thing is as good as another.”
“No ambition?” I asked.
“I don’t have any, either.”
“All human endeavor is essentially pointless,” she said.
“I’ve always thought that,” I said, amazed that she and I had anything in common.
“How well do you know Mickey?” she asked.
“Oh, I’ve talked to him a few times. I’ve sat across the table from him in the cafeteria. I wouldn’t say we were friends, though.”
“Do you know a girl named Marsha Dethers?”
“She goes around with all her body parts hanging out. She has no taste and no class. She’s a whore, a total slut.”
“I get the impression you don’t like her very much.”
“I think Mickey is cheating on me with her.”
“That’s a bad sign, isn’t it?” I said.
“If I find out it’s true, first I’ll kill her and then I’ll kill him.”
“Maybe it’s not such a good idea for you to marry him,” I said, “if you already suspect him of infidelity.”
“Oh, he’s the one all right. If I can’t have him, I don’t want anybody.”
“You’re young,” I said, and I knew I was on the verge of saying something stupid again.
“Do you think you could have a private conversation with Mickey, man to man I mean, and find out if anything like that is going on?”
“I don’t think he would tell me, even if it was.”
“You could use your charm on him and draw him out. He loves to talk about himself.”
“I don’t think I have any charm,” I said.
“Invite him to go have a hamburger with you on Sunday evening and get him to talk. Once he starts talking, he’ll tell you everything.”
“He’d think I was making sexual advances. Asking him out on a date.”
She laughed. “You say the funniest things,” she said.
“I wasn’t trying to be funny.”
“I’d make it worth your while.”
“What do you mean?”
“I would pay you for any valuable information. That’s how important it is to me.”
“I couldn’t take your money,” I said.
“It’s very warm in here,” she said, putting her palm against her forehead as if checking for a fever. “I’m sorry. I’m not feeling well at all.”
I was just about to ask her if I could get her a Coke or a drink of water when she began twitching all over and pitched forward onto the filthy floor. She arched her back and, with arms and legs at unnatural angles, flopped around like a fish out of water.
“Could somebody help here?” I screamed, not knowing what else to do.
A bus station employee, an old woman, came out from behind the ticket counter and knelt down beside Wanda. She put a folded-up towel under her head and pulled her legs out straight and turned her slightly off her back onto her side.
My bus was announced. I hated to leave Wanda on the floor like that, but she was being taken care of. With one last look, I went outside and got on the bus.
It was only about half full. I went all the way to the back and slouched down in the seat. I was almost ready to cry at what had happened to Wanda and my toothache was hurting worse now from gritting my teeth. I took two more of the pain pills and two Dramamine tablets to keep from being bus sick. The Dramamine had the added effect of making me sleep.
In spite of the lurching of the bus and the gas fumes in my nose, I went soundly asleep and after a while began dreaming about Wanda. Dreams so real they made me believe she was really there beside me.
“I’m sorry you had to see me that way,” she said, taking my calloused paw in her delicate, soft hand.
“No reason to apologize,” I said.
“It’s ironic, isn’t it?” she said.
“Everybody thinks I’m so perfect and I’ve had these awful epileptic seizures for as long as I can remember.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “We all have things we’d like to keep hidden.”
“You won’t tell anybody you saw me in such an ugly state?”
“Of course I won’t.”
“You’re a sweet boy, Warren.”
“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m mostly a turd.”
“Any girl would be lucky to have you for a boyfriend.”
She nuzzled against me and put her head on my shoulder and went to sleep. We slept there together in that way, side by side, until I reached my destination. I had never been so intimate with anyone before in my life.
My sour-faced mother picked me up at the bus stop in her ancient white Cadillac. She didn’t even look at me. Just puffed on her cigarette and listened to the country music on the radio.
“I have a girlfriend,” I said.
She looked over at me as if discovering for the first time that I was in the car with her. “You?” she said.
“She’s a beauty queen. She’s going to be a movie star.”
“What would she want with you?”
“She thinks I’m sweet. And funny.”
“Maybe she can support you. I’m pretty sure you’ll never be able to support yourself.”
All weekend long I felt a glow inside my chest when I thought of Wanda. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and see her again. I’d call her up on Sunday evening and ask her to go downtown and have a hamburger with me.
Sitting with me in the diner, breathing deeply of the grease-saturated air, she’d reach across the table and take my hand in hers and her eyes would glisten with tears. We’d laugh about her little misadventure in the bus station. I’d tell her to forget about Mickey Farrington. Let the whore have him. You don’t need him. You have me now.
I could see it all happening.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp