It’s Hard to Be a Beauty Queen From Scaggsville

The problem was that Miss Scaggsville 1999 lost her clique. Her best friends and runners-up got married late and recently moved away to be closer to in-laws and better school districts and towns with Starbucks. Miss Scaggsville 1999 herself of course got married on time, when she was still quite fertile, though that part of the deal never came to fruition. The problem was that her husband was dead. To her, anyway. 

            Every day since the divorce, she went to the diner for afternoon tea. She ordered chamomile, for her nerves, and a small muffin, the smallest muffin in the batch. Never a muffin with nuts. She was deathly allergic. She sat at the same booth, with the reddest leather and broken mini jukebox, a price she was willing to pay for that extra visual flare. The view of the parking lot was preferable. She made note of who was meeting whom, which of her neighbors she saw at the pharmacy across the street, and predicted what the weather would be in a few hours and if that would affect what she wanted for dinner. She craved steak for clouds, romaine for breeze, and pasta salad for sun.

            The problem was that Miss Scaggsville 2003 started coming to the diner at that time, with Miss Scaggsville ’98 and Miss Scaggsville ’01. They all had kids in the same grade and became friends after they all got mixed up and brought the same treats to the class Valentine’s party. What a disaster! they’d giggle at dinner parties and Miss Scaggsville events, But what a blessing indeed! and our Miss Scaggsville 1999 would smile one millimeter.

There wasn’t much wrong with ’98, she was polite, a real pushover, with hooded eyelids and clumpy mascara, and ’01 was always hosting dinner parties with a new pyramid scheme product to sell. Miss Scaggsville 1999 liked to go for the gossip and chance to freshen her perpetual manicure. The Miss Scaggsvilles 2008-2013 almost always fell for the scheme. They had little social media skills and were now stuck with boxes and boxes of detox tea and vitamin-enriched shampoo samples. The youngest Miss Scaggsvilles already had their Instagram sponsorships locked in. They promoted skin health.

The younger Miss Scaggsvilles were no threat to Miss Scaggsville 1999. They saw ’99’s streamlined abs in the old brochure photos, they saw her current smooth, pink cheekbones, and expensive purses. They saw the delicate crow’s feet, so lightly and jovially carved, they shook her soft hands, they envied her unabashed confidence and expert lip liner. The younger Miss Scaggvilles, with their lives ahead of them, so vast and unknown, had more time to offer, sure, but far, far fewer stories.

All the women wanted was to stay good and beautiful. Their belief in the cheerleader effect fueled the monthly get-togethers, either at a pyramid scheme party, Sunday brunch, or cookie exchange. The most recent Miss Scaggsville event was a potluck dinner. Miss Scaggsville 1999 brought the most popular main dish: the best beef Wellington any of the older women had ever had, and the only beef Wellington any of the younger women had ever had. The praise was overshadowed by scandal: Miss Scaggsville 2017 brought leftover cake from her mother’s bakery. The other Miss Scaggvilles will talk about the leftover incident until another event is ruined by a similar faux pau.

            Scaggsville was small. Everyone got to come together for the Miss Scaggsville pageants. It was an honor to participate and a serendipity to win. Winners rode in a float and waved at the tiny, future Miss Scaggsvilles. The grass in Scaggsville was always green but overgrown. The roads always had fresh paint but the same potholes. Shallow public beauty was paramount to the Scaggsville experience.

Her house was quiet place. Everything stayed put. It wasn’t that she was constantly cleaning, it was that she was never touching much. Her bed, her cosmetics, her dresser, her couch, and every single item in her kitchen. She coveted each tool in her kitchen: the lemon squeezer, the spiralizer, the little claws for pulling pork. All her knickknacks stayed put. Most lights stayed off. She was against animal companionship – the germs, after all. And those longing eyes.

Miss Scaggsville 1999 admired the plastic peonies on her windowsill as she buttered both sides of bread. She layered the grilled cheese contents and stuck it all in a hot pan. She mixed honey and Dijon mustard to dip the sandwich. The dishes she dirtied were swiftly loaded into the dishwasher. She ate by the window and nodded when it started to rain.

The next day was wet and humid. Scaggsville was stuck in a cloud. It was late afternoon on the dot, 3:30pm, when she walked in. She smiled at the hostess and made her way to that good red booth. Miss Scaggsville 1999 halted. Three bodies in those red seats, three heads turned to that nosy view. An audible gasp must’ve escaped her lips for they all swiveled in her direction. They waved their long fingers. “You’re right, it’s just the best seat in the house,” ’98 cooed. ’01 looked to her hands clasped on the table.

“Yes,” our Miss Scaggsville said. “Yes, it is.”

And Miss Scaggsville 2003 said, “Yes, indeed.” She took a sip of her ice water and added, “Well, enjoy your tea.”

The three heads turned back to the window, with its white, overcast light. Miss Scaggsville 1999 bent for her umbrella and marched out of the restaurant. She didn’t wave to the hostess and she didn’t want to cross into that parking lot in the eye line of those women. She went down the street instead, huffing and puffing and cursing ’03, cursing the clique, promising herself she wouldn’t want to be in their company anyway. Who wants to talk about children, husbands, cats, dogs, longing eyes? Who needs all of that noise?

            She walked the same street with her head down, looking up only to cross to the next block, keeping her eyes from the reflections in windows and doors and cars and especially shiny poles. She walked until little blisters started to form on her ankles. These weren’t her walking shoes – she was planning to sit and look. She crossed again and the sidewalk changed, wider and whiter. Then, there was that heavenly smell.

            It was sweet and warm, she could taste the butter. She kept walking, that white pavement stayed. Finally, she looked up. The sun was lower in the sky and she was on a side of town she hadn’t been to in years. She stopped right in front of the shop window. Inside, couples of people were listening intently to a woman at the front of the store. They were all behind wooden countertops with dough and rolling pins set before them. Miss Scaggsville 1999 approached the window. She saw parents and children, husband and wife, wife and wife, friend and friend, sister and sister. Other pairs she couldn’t quite pin down. They picked up their rolling pins and rolled forward, backward, turned the dough, forward, backward, again.

            Miss Scaggsville 1999 watched them worry about the state of their dough, feed it to each other, pile cut fruit inside, fold the dough over, take turns disappearing behind a door to presumably load the pastries into the oven. She thought they were supposed to be galettes, Some of them, anyway. The woman at the front opened wine bottles and poured glasses to happy participants. Someone pulled her aside and gestured sheepishly to the woman in the window. Miss Scaggsville 1999 braced herself when the woman approached the door.

            The door opened and Miss Scaggsville 1999 spoke quickly. “I smelled whatever else you were baking earlier and I peered in. I was curious. I bake all the time. I apologize for the intrusion.” She turned in the direction from which she came. The woman reached out, “It’s no intrusion. Would you like to come in for a drink? And maybe a bite?” The sky was dark and the light behind her was yellow.

            And Miss Scaggsvile 1999 decided to join.