Dinner time on the thirsty school-field. We flop on our backs like caught fish, concertina-folding our blouse hems for the sun to pound our dough-white bellies. Maxine’s is flatter thana slice of Nimble bread, Simone’s is a shallow dish in which the bread could lie. Mine is two,maybe three, compressed cottage-loaves, only a little less kneadable when horizontal.
A bubble of conversation blisters through the baking silence. Maxine and Simone know all their lines, the vital pauses, the essential inflections. I was not given a role, nor invited to rehearsals. I am their singular, bloated audience.
As I listen, a leaf-green ant struggles through wilting towers of clover, weaves through crisping blades of grass, bearing his burden of leaf fragments. When a mutant daisy on a trunk-like stalk blocks his path, he heads another way, skirting and circling until his mission is accomplished.
Beneath the crumbly soil-mound beside Simone’s head, ants have created a colony of interconnecting chambers. Deep inside the cool earth, only human intervention can break the harmony: spiteful rakes, angry brooms, slow-drip poison. People fear swellings, bumps and hillocks. Lawn distortions are interruptions of perfection.
Maxine insists most girls should wear midnight-blue to the summer ball. Sombre tones peel off pounds. Dark colours inject confidence, like an instant remedy.
Remedy? I didn’t know a cure was needed, let alone obligatory.
Simone pinches the resistant skin stretched taut over her rib-cage, fingernails notching pink crescent-moons. “Look at this excess,” she squeals. “I’ll choose the darkest dress on the rack to hide it.”
It seems even a bean-pole mulls over the magic of indigo taffeta.
In the sweltering silence, they let their deep-blue words sink in, drop by medicinal drop. I can hear their glances: the swish of pony-tails, the creak of belt buckles, metal zips tinkling.Perspiration tries to trickle, but surrenders, sealed tight inside my flesh-folds.
Their performance over, they nibble their Nimble sandwiches. Unsure if I’m allowed to eat, I watch the ants shouldering Simone’s lissom crumbs.
“Yes, we’ll definitely wear something dark too,” is the final line of their script.
On the night, Maxine is sheathed in tangerine silk, Simone in oyster satin. I go to the Ladies and rustle out of my navy gown. It drops to the floor, inside-out. I pull it straight back up.
They said nothing about keeping options open. They failed to mention interior material, the intimate information kept under wraps and which is rapidly reversible.
I walk back to the ball, beneath the flash of disco-light balloons, wading through puffy handbag clusters, swishing past the pastel wallflowers. Heads tilting, they blink fast at my livid, leaf-green inner lining, how it catches every light and throws it back: emerald, avocado and dazzling jade.
About the author: Joanna Campbell is a full-time writer of flash fiction, short stories and novels. Her story collection, ‘When Planets Slip Their Tracks’, was published last year by Ink Tears and is currently on the long list for The Edge Hill Story Prize. Her novel, ‘Tying Down The Lion’, was released in 2015 by Brick Lane Publishing and is about divided Berlin in the nineteen-sixties. Joanna is currently writing a novel based on her story, ‘Upshots’, which won the 2015 London Short Story Prize.