Queenie's New Clothes

A short story by Tabetha Rogers Beggs - This story was written as part of the KSP Tuesday Writers' Circle  Group Anthology (2015).  Traditional fairytales retold for an adult audience. Queenie's New Clothes is the retelling of The Emperors' New Clothes.

QUEENIE'S NEW CLOTHES

TABETHA ROGERS BEGGS

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest

accomplishment. Ralph Waldo Emerson

    ‘Queenie!’ her mother’s voice carried up the stairs. ‘There’s someone here for you.’


    ‘Can’t you just sign for it?’ Teenage attitude hung off every syllable.


     Queenie’s footfalls were heavy, punctuating her annoyance on each step as she slumped down the stairs. Shoulders hunched she brushed her hair, the blue black of its sheen reflecting like a raven’s feathers.

    Mrs Jones watched her, suppressing the urge to comment on the rare sight of her daughter’s face, void of the black eyeliner and deep purple lipstick she wore daily like protective armour. She wanted to say ‘Why do you hide behind that make-up? You are so naturally beautiful.’ Even with the adolescent look of nonchalance.

     Instead, she watched her. A reoccurring thought in her head. How can Jeremy be dead when so much of him is alive in Queenie. 

     Queenie turned into the entrance hall, stopping in her tracks as she stared at the boy standing there. Matthew McKenna, the prince of Mossroyne Senior High School. Emperor of the cool gang.  The guy who had humiliated her four years ago at Susan Baker’s Year Eight pool party. What he once liked about Queenie had been exchanged for girls with big boobs and the promise of sexual exploits not an IQ and a social conscience. Susan “big boobs” Baker was welcome to him. They were as phony as the Ken and Barbie dolls Queenie detested even as a child.

     ‘Matthew?’ she stuttered, unable to disguise her surprise.

     Matthew stood speechless in his hired tux. His handsome face had escaped the anger of acne, the curse of other boys his age. Instead, his parents had blessed him with both good looks and a strong towering physique. Shoulders like an accomplished athlete.

     His perfect smile sat agape as his eyes fixed on this rare version of Queenie Jones. The smooth canvas of her face emitted light he had not seen since that dreaded pool party. He fumbled with a carefully selected corsage in his clammy hands, a delicate flower resting like Snow White in a glass coffin. He offered it to Queenie.

     Ignoring the gift hovering between them Queenies hands shot to her hips.

     ‘Why are you even here and why are you dressed like that?’

     Queenie’s mum pretended to rearrange the silk flowers in the vase on the sideboard table in the hall way.

Matthew looked self-consciously towards her before speaking.

     ‘I...,’ he stumbled. ‘I thought you wanted me to take you to our graduation ball?’ A blush rose above his starched white collar.

     Mrs Jones let out  a gasp as if it might have been her Matthew had asked out.

     ‘Mum! Do you mind?’ Queenie shot her mum a look that could kill. Mrs Jones went back to the kitchen and busied herself by flicking through the bills lying on the kitchen bench. She was still eavesdropping on the pair’s conversation.

    ‘Why on earth, would I want to go to the ball with you?’ Queenie’s words oozed with venom.

     ‘You sent me a letter. You slipped it into my school bag.’

     ‘No I didn’t.’ Queenie’s stance stiffened.

     ‘Well someone did.’

     ‘Well it wasn’t me.’ She spat. ‘And even if it was, aren’t you a week early? The ball got rescheduled to next Friday.’

     ‘What are you taking about?’ Matthew’s forehead shone with perspiration. ‘The ball’s definitely tonight. I saw at least two limos pull up in our friends’ driveways on my way over here.’

     ‘Your friends you mean? I don’t have any friends, remember?’

     Queenie looked at the floor, her hair falling across her face, a veil against her natural beauty. Her Dad’s Metallica t-shirt hung from her waif-like frame. ‘If the ball is tonight, how come my mum received a letter from the school telling her the ball had been rescheduled to next week?’

     ‘A letter, what letter? Do you still have it?’ Matthew asked.

Queenie disappeared and returned with the document in hand. She passed it to Matthew. Out of his suit jacket pocket he pulled out a similar piece of paper. It looked worn at the crease like it had been folded and unfolded a few too many times. A deep purple lipstick kiss stamped on top it. The kiss of death, thought Queenie.

     ‘What’s that?’ she enquired even though she’d already worked it out.

      ‘It’s the letter you... well, someone posing as you, gave me.’

     ‘Well! I bet all your friends had a good laugh over that one.’

     ‘I didn’t show anyone else.’

     His eyes seemed earnest but she stabbed back regardless. ‘Of course, how embarrassing would that be?’ Sarcasm unhidden in her tone.

     ‘If you must know, I genuinely believed it came from you and I knew you’d want me to keep it private.’

     

     Like a boxing match bell announcing it was time to go back to their corners, the doorbell rang. Matthew stepped aside for Queenie to answer it.

     A deliveryman held a large rectangular box and a clipboard. ‘Sign here please.’ He handed the box to Queenie. She turned to place the box at the bottom of the stairs only to find Matthew had perched himself on the first step with no obvious intention of leaving.

    ‘So, Sherlock, what’s your deduction?’ Queenie placed the box under the coat rack instead. ‘My dear Watson, this is a highly blunderous prank.’

     ‘Is that even a word?’ Despite herself, Queenie laughed at Matthew’s attempted Scottish accent and invented word. ‘Didn’t you win the Performing Arts award this year?’

     ‘Didn’t you win just about every other award?’

     ‘Well, I guess you’re just lucky drama and sport’s not my thing.’

     ‘And as you can see, English and impersonations of famous detectives aren’t mine.’

     Like a ice shelf falling spectacularly away from an iceberg something between them shifted. Laughter flooded the house, Queenie’s shoulders lifting like the iceberg without the weight of excess water holding it down. 

     From the kitchen, Mrs Jones listened. Her heart light as she listened to her daughter laughing. It was the most beautiful sound she had ever heard.

     ‘So, Wordsworth,’ said Queenie, ‘what’s your theory on this blunderous situation?’

     ‘Well, look at these letters. Notice anything similar about them?’

     ‘Yeah, the paper sn’t your regular photocopier stuff. It’s slightly thicker and sort of off- white. Like that fancy stuff you buy for... I don’t know... resumes.’

     ‘Exactly,’ Matthew gleamed. ‘And look at the school logo on your letter. It’s been scanned. The quality isn’t as sharp as the real thing.’

      ‘And,’ said Queenie, her voice escalating, ‘they’ve both been signed with the same pen.’ The handwriting, she’d seen it before. ‘I’m surprised she didn’t use a love heart as the accent over the ‘i’ in my name.’

     ‘She?’ Matthew pointed a finger then rested it under his nose as if it helped him think.

‘Well it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out,’ Queenie quipped, ‘and I’m pretty sure I know who is stupid enough.’

      ‘Susan Baker!’ they exclaimed in unison.

***

Susan Baker was the prettiest girl in senior high school, but not the smartest. Everyone knew she graffitied the words “Queenie Roolz the Wierdos” in permanent marker on the wall of the school toilets but nobody dared to raise the issue of the misspelling. Behind Queenie’s back, Susan and her friends nicknamed her “The Girl with the Untouched Foo Foo” believing she had modeled her macabre look on Stieg Larson’s heroine. Queenie had detested Susan Baker ever since that dreaded pool party, where Susan had pranced around the pool in her bikini flaunting her blossoming bosom and announcing to all their friends, ‘Queenie could never wear a bikini like this because she has a chest like an ironing board.’

     

     ‘I get why Susan Baker wants to humiliate me,’ said Queenie. ‘She’s always hated me but I don’t understand why she would use you to get at me. What’s she got against you? I thought you two were pretty close.’

            ‘We’re not close at all. We might hang out in the same group but she is a pain the arse,’ spat Matthew.

Queenie looked puzzled.

     ‘Remember the night of the pool party?’ Matthew removed his bowtie and loosened his top button.

     ‘Not really,’ she lied as the vision of that night came flooding back.

     

     Matthew had set the bottle twirling and it had landed with the neck pointing between Queenie and Susan. Her heart had raced as the boy she’d dreamt about kissing since kindergarten crawled across the circle towards her. At the moment of impact, Susan pushed Queenie aside, grabbed Matthew around the neck, and started kissing him passionately, pressing her perky peaches into his bare chest. Everybody cheered as they watched. Queenie backed away from the circle and left the party. She hadn’t associated with those kids since.

     ‘Well, I do. It was you I wanted to kiss but you disappeared.’

     Queenie blushed and bowed her head.

     ‘Susan’s been making up stories about me ever since. Telling her friends we’ve had sex and she’s slept over my house. As if.’ Matthew did a little shiver to accentuate his point.  ‘Queenie,’ his tone softened, ‘she’s like a designer dress with nothing inside. Now she’s pissed off because I turned her down when she asked me to go to the ball. I guess this is her pay back.’

     A moment of silence passed.

    ‘But why tell me the date has changed. It’s not like I was going to go anyway!’ Queenie hoped he didn’t see through that lie.

    Mrs Jones cautiously entered. ‘That might have been my fault. I was talking to Susan’s mum and I mentioned I’d convinced you to go. I’m sorry darling.’

     Matthew stood up from the stairs.

     ‘She might think she’s humiliating us by pulling this prank but actually she’s done me a favour. I would never have had the courage to come here otherwise.’ Matthew smiled at Queenie. ‘Would you like to go to the ball with me?’

     Mrs Jones smiled waiting for Queenie to answer.

     ‘But I don’t have a ball dress to wear.’

     ‘Yes you do,’ interrupted her mother. ‘Didn’t your parcel just arrive?’

     ‘Yeah but—’

     ‘But what?’ Matthew asked gently.

     ‘I’m not sure it’s the kind of dress you’d want to be seem with me in.’

     ‘Queenie, you could wear a paper bag and I’d still want to take you to the ball. I love the way you dress. I wish I was brave enough to be more like you.’

     ‘Brave! You think I’m brave?’

     ‘I think you’re brave and smart and beautiful.’ He blushed. ‘And a little intimidating.’

     ‘Really?’

     ‘Go on, Queenie,’ said her mother. ‘Go upstairs and get ready otherwise you’ll be late for the ball.’

     With that, Queenie ran up the stairs, carrying the delivered box in her arms. It was impossible to hide her smile.

***

When Queenie reappeared on the landing, her mother watched Matthew’s face as it lit up at the sight of Queenie. Her black lace dress clung tightly to her petite frame and cascaded dramatically into a fishtail at the base. Her scuffed Doc Martin’s peeped out from the hemline. Her trademark charcoaled eyes and thick sweeping eyeliner accentuated the deep of her eyes. Her deep velvet lips opened with a smile, like the bud of a blood red rose. Atop her head was a black fountain of hair higher than any style she’d previously created. The spikes held together with enough hairspray and gel to warrant its own hazchem warning.

     But it was the boy at the bottom of the stairs who truly stole the show. His transformation was mesmerising. Queenie grinned knowingly at her mum had worked her magic on him. His normally sensible hairdo was ruffled and pointing skyward. He was wearing a touch of eyeliner and his fingernails had been painted black. He was wearing the Metallica t-shirt Queenie had been wearing when he’d arrived, her scent still upon it. Around his waist was a studded belt she recognized as one her father had once worn to a fancy dress party. The collar of his tuxedo jacket was turned up and the sleeves were puckered up to his elbows.

     ‘You look amazing.’ Queenie could hardly get her words out.

     ‘You look stunning.’ Matthew held out his arm to link into hers.

     ‘Wait,’ said Mrs Jones. ‘Let me grab my phone.’

     ‘What’s Susan Baker going to make of you now?’ Queenie joked.

     ‘It’s not the clothes that make the man, Queenie. You should know that!’

     ‘Touché, Mr McKenna.’

     As they walked out the door arm in arm, Mrs Jones snapped away on her phone. She savored the last image. Queenie turning back to smile at her mother, a thank you, a gift.

THE END

Tabetha dedicates this story to anyone who didn’t fit at some point in his or her lives.

Accepting our differences is what makes life so beautiful.