The Beauty Queen is a weird story about two girls whose mother is very vain and obsessed with looks and appearances.
My sister, Sarah, disappeared a week ago. My mother hasn’t gone to the police. We haven’t put up any missing posters. We aren’t looking for her at all. That’s because we know exactly where she is.
Our neighbors think we don’t care about Sarah. They think we aren’t doing enough to find her. Some people are spreading rumors that we killed her and buried her body somewhere. Others suspect we are keeping her hidden in the basement.
They’re all wrong. There is no body and she’s not hidden, but nobody will ever find her. I’d like to tell them what happened, but they would never believe me.
There was always an empty bottle of perfume sitting on the dressing table in my mother’s bedroom. I never knew why she kept it there. As far back as I can remember, it was just there.
My mother was a beauty queen. She was crowned Miss Virginia 1990. She played the video for us many times. She looked perfect, standing there on the stage with her long brown hair, her big green eyes, her perfect teeth and her sparkling gown.
She sang “God Bless America”. She juggled sparklers. She replied to all the judges’ questions with a smooth answer and a gleaming smile.
“If I had just one wish, I would wish for world peace,” she said. “I’d like to make the whole world hold hands, because you can’t make a fist when you’re holding hands.”
She looked like the perfect American girl. She looked like… America. She looked like patriotism, idealism and pink bubblegum all rolled into one.
My mother made us watch that video over and over again until we had memorized every line. My mother knew all about being perfect and wanted us to learn to be perfect just like her.
She won the competition and was crowned Miss Virginia that year, but when it came to the Miss America pageant, she didn’t even place in the top 20 contestants. That put an end to her career as a beauty queen.
Two years after that, she met my father. A year later, they were married. Soon afterwards, Sarah was born. Two years later, shortly before I was born, my father left and never came back. Sarah doesn’t remember what he looked like. I never even met him. My mother threw out all the pictures long ago.
Sarah was two years older than me. She was always the pretty one. She got all the attention. She had long blond hair and bright blue eyes. She had pale, milky skin and her favorite color was pink. She always had a smile on her face. She learned how to turn her frowns upside-down. My mother had big plans for Sarah. She wanted her to be a beauty queen, just like her.
It all started on Sarah’s 13th birthday. She blew out the candles and cut the cake.
“You’re getting fat,” my mother told her. “We’ll have to put you on a diet.”
Sarah didn’t eat any birthday cake that day. After that, she spent a long time staring at herself in the bathroom mirror.
“Look at those chubby cheeks,” my mother would say. “You need to lose weight.”
I didn’t think Sarah was fat, but I didn’t dare disagree with my mother. After all, she was the beauty queen.
“Look at those thighs,” my mother would say to her. “It’s disgusting. You’re turning into a big fat lump.”
A few weeks later, my mother told Sarah she should stop eating food altogether. My sister reluctantly agreed. Girls always listen to their mothers.
My mother took control of my sister’s diet. She started feeding my sister one spoonful of pink jelly at every meal. She said it contained almost zero calories.
Sarah began rapidly losing weight. After a few months of this, she was painfully thin and frail. She was starving. Her body was wasting away to practically nothing. She got dizzy whenever she tried to stand up. The jelly diet went on for a month, until Sarah was so weak that she couldn’t even get out of bed.
One morning, I heard my sister calling me.
“Helen,” she wailed, “I’m melting.”
I ran into her room and saw that her fingers were sticking to the bedsheets. A thin pink goo was beginning to ooze over the sides of the bed, dripping onto the floor. When I pulled back the sheets, I was horrified to see that her body was slowly dissolving into a pink jelly. Her legs had melted together. She looked like a mermaid.
Sarah’s thin lips twisted into a weak smile.
“I feel so beautiful,” she whispered. “So very beautiful…”
I ran downstairs to fetch our mother. She hurried up the stairs but when she entered Sarah’s bedroom, she didn’t seem at all surprised.
“Help me move her,” my mother said.
Together, we scooped up as much of Sarah as we could and carried her into the bathroom. My mother filled the bath with warm water and we carefully lowered my sister in.
We knelt beside the tub for a while, watching my sister dissolve. Soon, there was nothing left but an empty nightgown floating in the pink liquid.
My mother turned to me and said, “Helen, go get the perfume bottle on my dressing table.”
That’s where my sister is now.
Every day, I sneak into my mother’s room and stare into the perfume bottle. It looks so beautiful. The pink liquid inside swirls around gracefully and the pink bubbles rise to the top. If I squint very hard, I can almost imagine my sister’s beautiful face swirling around in the liquid.
“It’s better this way,” my mother said. “Now, she’ll always be young and beautiful…”
This morning, when I sneaked into my mother’s room to look at my sister’s remains, there was another empty perfume bottle sitting beside it on the dressing table.
I think it’s my turn to be a beauty queen…