The Boss

I’ve decided to enter a short story competition, and this is my first attempt at the beginning of the story. What do you think? Honest opinions welcomed…

The Boss

The first time Matt slammed Annie’s head into the wall he said it was an accident. He was going to punch the wall, he said, but her head had got in the way. It was her fault, naturally. It always was. The second time was harder for him to deny. They’d been having breakfast in the conservatory on what she remembered to be a hot and sticky summer’s day. He’d asked about her male colleague, Sam, who he’d met at a work function the previous evening. Had they ever been alone together, he’d wanted to know.

She should have said no but she told him the truth; that of course they had on the odd occasion, travelling to meetings and so forth. It was the wrong answer. She spent that night in A&E with a split lip, black eye and bruised collarbone. He’d been treated for scratches where his hand had made contact with the glass of the conservatory. They knew, the hospital staff, it was obvious. But though they pleaded with their eyes for her to tell the truth she knew the consequences of doing so were far more dangerous than even they realised. And so she stayed silent.

It hadn’t always been like this, of course. When they met at Matt’s university’s graduation ball five years ago he’d bewitched her. Six foot two with gladiatorial stature and eyes the colour of swimming pools he’d not only been her type, he’d been her Adonis. Annie hadn’t thought it possible such a man could exist; as it turned out, he didn’t. When she looked at him now she saw not infinite possibility in his azure eyes, but infinite cruelty – how had she not seen it before?

He was an excellent liar – that much became apparent early on in their relationship, when she started to find the receipts in his jacket pockets, the clichéd lipstick on his collar. She should have left him then, of course, but she was pregnant with Jack. How could she have left? Her parents were dead, she had no savings to her name – he’d made sure everything was in his name. So instead she stayed, played the role of the oblivious wife perfectly. He never suspected a thing.

If there was any solace it was that he didn’t lay a finger on their son. The beatings lessened in severity during the pregnancy, and he was careful not to punch her near her stomach. He may have been a soulless man, but even he knew harming his unborn child was going too far. Instead he slapped her face, burned her legs with cigarettes, just enough to keep her in line, to show her who was boss – oblivious to the fact she would soon show him that it was her.

Beauty Queen

Blankly she stares through mascaraed eyes, a soulless being with a painted face. For hours a tumultuous swarm of activity has ebbed and flowed around her. It is only now, with moments to spare, that the hurricane winds gather pace. Faceless fingers tug her hair into a style that defies both gravity and reason. Yet more tend to her nails, pinch her cheeks, tweeze her brows. Quietly she sits in the eye of the storm; watching, waiting.

From behind the chair upon which she is borne aloft a camera clicks. She smells the cloying odour of stale alcohol before she sees the photographer’s face in the mirror. Sweat oozes from his forehead like ectoplasm, sticky and wet. His lips purse, he blows a kiss at her then laughs, spittle forming at the corners of his mouth. She does not respond, merely looks away.

Her rosebud lips are painted pink, a final wash of blusher applied to the apples of her cheeks. She steps down from the chair. Her vantage point lost, she feels her diminutive stature acutely. The layers of cream and pink tulle on her princess cut dress are adjusted. Her feet are prised into crystal slippers; replicas of Cinderella’s, or so they told her. A cloud of perfume and hairspray shrouds her, stinging her eyes and throat like nettles. Now she is unrecognisable even to herself, she is ready.

The curtains pull back and she steps onto the runway, drawing collective gasps. “Isn’t she beautiful?” “What a darling little thing.” “Only five years old, you say? Well I never.” “Adorable.”

In the glare of the studio lights nobody notices the single tear that slides unbidden down her painted face, dropping from her chin into obscurity.

This gorgeous little girl was at a centre for disabled children that I visited in southern India. She’s quite the opposite of the girl in my story – naturally beautiful and enjoying her childhood, just as she should be.