Picture Perfect Princess

Janice bought the doll for fifteen bucks at a secondhand shop. She would have paid twenty. Shit, she’d have paid fifty. The doll was the most beautiful thing that Janice had ever seen. She wore a purple velvet dress and a choker at her neck. Her hair balanced in a pile on her head. She kept her eyes wide open, lashes black.

Years passed. Janice’s first marriage broke down. Her second settled into steadiness and silence.

She kept the doll in the living room. In a glass case, like in a museum. She was fragile, the doll, and Janice was terrified that too much air or heat or light or smoke would bleach her skin or dry her hair or fade the purple velvet of her dress.

Janice would sit and look at the doll, safe behind her glass, and she would dream of a daughter just like this: a picture perfect princess.

Lucy-Ann was born before the silence began. Round and red, pissing and puking, a shock of thick black hair on her sticky scalp.

As Lucy-Ann grew older, she grew thinner, prettier. Janice started to lighten her hair, to pinch her cheeks to make them glow, to pluck her stubby thumb from her mouth to keep her teeth straight.

When she was five, Lucy-Ann entered her first pageant. She wore a pretty green dress and green and orange ribbons in her hair. She sang Yankee Doodle Dandy and danced like she’d been shown.

She came ninth of nineteen.

Janice cried all the way home.

When she was six, Lucy-Ann entered her second pageant. And her third. And her fourth through tenth. Soon, the judges came to know her by name. Other mothers smiled at her. The green dress was gone, replaced by gingham, blue and white. She sang Over The Rainbow. Bluebirds flying, week in, week out. The best she got was fifth.

By the time she was seven, Lucy-Ann was bored of pageants. Janice was not. She would look at all the other girls, read the magazines, watch videos online. She kept notes in a small red book.

When she was eight, Lucy-Ann told her mother that she didn’t want to go to pageants any more.

Janice did not speak to her for a week.

Eventually, Janice said this: for me, sweetheart, just one more. Just one more pageant. For me.

Lucy-Ann said OK. They hugged.

Two nights later, they got Lucy-Ann ready for the pageant. She wore a purple velvet dress and a choker at her neck. Her hair balanced in a pile on her head. She kept her eyes wide open, lashes black.

When Lucy-Ann was dressed and ready, Janice hugged a pillow in her hands and said: that’s it.

The next day, Janice sat in the living room and looked at the glass case. Safe behind the glass, two dolls. Two picture perfect princesses.

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Lizzie Boyle

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