Authors: Jenny Twist
By Jenny Twist
Jenny Twist, Copyrigh
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Editor: Emily Eva Editing
Cover Art: Novel Prevue
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This story originally appeared in the
published by Whimsical Publications, LLC. All rights have now reverted to the author.
For Tara Fox Hall my fellow author and
very dear friend
. . .In the south of Spain at the beginning of the twentieth century, village people still believed in this particular fabulous beast. Sometimes they called it a mantequero, and sometimes a sacamantecas; it was a monster which looked like a man, but which lived in wild places and fed on human manteca or fat . . .
June stood at the edge of the precipice, the wind whipping at her clothes as she looked down into the crevasse. Far below, the river was a tiny silver snake. An eagle circled beneath her, its wings stained red with the light from the setting sun.
What would it feel like?
What would it be like to just lean forward and launch yourself into the void?
She imagined herself gliding on the warm air currents, floating, gradually going down, down... You would just have to flex your legs and arch your arms upwards into the air. Unconsciously, she flexed her legs.
Strong fingers gripped her shoulders and pulled her back from the edge.
She turned to look at her would-be saviour and smiled.
He was a young man, tall for a Spaniard, and pale, but with that arrogant beauty so many young Spaniards had. His eyes were so dark they were almost black below the sweeping lashes.
“Hello, Beautiful,” he said.
She could still hardly believe she’d done it. In all her life, she had never before gone on holiday on her own.
As a child, they had hardly ever had holidays. There had never been any money. Apart from the occasional day trip to the seaside, she could only remember one disastrous stay in a caravan in Rhyl. It had rained for the entire week, and her father had paced about in the tiny space, consumed with suppressed rage, whilst she and her sisters sat in mute terror waiting for him to explode. Not long after that, he left for good and there were no more holidays after that, ever.
When she left home to go to university, she’d barely had enough money to live on, certainly none for holidays. And when she finally got a job as a teacher, she had the money, but no-one to go with. So she’d gone on school trips, always getting a place because she was the modern languages teacher and could act as interpreter. She had been to Paris and Rome, Venice and Athens, taking gangs of unruly teenagers to cultural sites and spending all her energy keeping them in line and in the right bedrooms.
There’d been none of that for her when she was a teenager. June had been a fat child and had grown fatter as she grew older. She couldn’t count the number of times that somebody had thought it funny to sing the opening lyrics to ‘
June is Bustin' Out All Over’
as she entered the room.
She had had one short, glorious flowering when, at the age of twelve, she had developed breasts before anyone else in the class and had briefly received a lot of attention from boys who wanted to investigate them behind the bike sheds. She hadn’t let them. She hadn’t known then that it would be her only chance. That she would grow and grow like Topsy, only sideways, until she was as wide as she was tall and that no boy would want to kiss a girl as fat as that, even if she did have magnificent breasts.
Thank God at least she was now Miss Blacker and not June.
She was good at her job. She might never know love and marriage and children, but she was good at her job, and the kids respected her. Her form class was always the best-behaved in the school, and all her classes did well in exams. The only reason she had still not made Head of Department was that she was fat. Fat people didn't get promoted. Fat people were assumed to be lazy and stupid. She had now been passed over three times, and she had resigned herself to remaining at her present level. She didn't mind so much. Promotion meant more responsibility, more administration and less hands-on teaching. And after all, why had she become a teacher in the first place, if not to teach?
When she first became aware of how fat she was becoming, she had tried everything–diets, exercise, Weight Watchers. None of it made much difference. She might lose a few pounds, but as soon as she started eating normally the weight would begin creeping up again–slowly, inexorably–until she was way off the scale and had to buy all her clothes from Evans, the shop that specialised in large sizes. Eventually she decided she would rather be fat than be on a diet and miserable for the rest of her life. Her life had improved from then on.
Her sisters had not succumbed to the fatal fat. All three of them remained slim, despite having children. She used to rail at fate for giving her this peculiar metabolism that made her put on weight just
about food, when her sisters could apparently eat anything they liked without putting on an ounce. It was so unfair. Didn't they share the same genes?
But it was pointless wasting energy fuming about things she couldn't change, so she gave in gracefully to her fate and became the best auntie in the world, always available for baby-sitting and days out. She could enjoy her nieces and nephews and then hand them back at the end of the day. In many ways she had the perfect life, no one to worry about except herself. No need to explain or justify what she did. No problems.
She concentrated on the things that she was good at and she was, after a fashion, happy.
At least, she was happy until Patsy's birthday party.
Patsy was her youngest niece and her favourite, although she tried not to show it. She loved precocious children, and Patsy, at seven, had the vocabulary of an adult. Better than some adults she knew. Some of her students' parents could barely read and write, judging from the notes she received, and their level of conversation at Parent Teachers' evenings could be abysmal.
But Patsy was a delight. The week before the party, she stayed with June for the weekend while her mother and father went for an anniversary break, and she and June had spent many happy hours playing Junior Scrabble. June had to hold back a little, but not as much as you might expect.
She was surprised and slightly worried when Patsy came up with FONDLE and BREASTS. “Where did you learn those words?” she asked.
Patsy put a U and an N in front of PROVOKED. “They were in the newspaper,” she said, without looking up from the board. “I asked Mummy what 'breests' was, but she wouldn't tell me. I knew
June laughed until the tears came to her eyes, and then she told her. “It's pronounced 'brests' and it's another word for a lady's chest.” What a joy that child was!
The party however was a nightmare.
When June was a child, birthdays had been simple affairs. Her mother had baked a cake and made jelly and sandwiches, and invited all their cousins and any special friends of the birthday girl in question. There had been balloons and a few small prizes and they had played Hunt the Thimble and Pass the Parcel and Musical Chairs with Mother playing the piano. She remembered parties as being happy, rowdy occasions.
Admittedly somebody would probably be sick, usually Ellen, who tended to get over-excited. Occasionally there would be a small accident – someone would fall down the stairs or out of a tree, but no bones were ever broken. And at the end of the day, the guests went home, and she and her sisters went happy to bed.
That wasn't good enough these days, apparently. No. It wasn't a proper party unless you held it at McDonald's or a theme park or hired a hall and caterers and an entertainer.
When June expressed doubts about this, her sisters looked at her as if she had suggested that the moon was made of green cheese.
“June,” Ellen said, in the kind of patient tone you use when addressing a rather stupid child, “children expect a proper party these days. You can't get away with the amateur productions we had as children. They expect a properly-organised party with proper entertainment and party bags and presents.”
“Party bags?” June was out of her depth here.
“Each child,” May said, in exactly the same patronising tone as her sister, “Has to be given a party bag with sweets and small toys and party favours, like balloons and squeakers and streamers.”
“And then, when they go home,” Rose added, “they each get a present.”
get a present?” June was appalled. Her nephews and nieces already had far more toys each than she and her sisters had ever had between them. What was the point of filling people's houses with more and more plastic rubbish which would never be played with?
“And it has to be a
present,” Mary said. “Nothing cheap and nasty.”
June thought about the cheap and nasty presents she had received as a child. Paint by Numbers sets, cut-out dolls, jig-saw puzzles, and remembered how much she had loved them, especially the cut-out dolls. You could get them for sixpence a book from the market. And that was in old money–only two and a half pence in new money. She had played with them for hours on end, laying them out on the floor and dressing them in their paper clothes. She loved them. Patsy had a bedroom full of My Little Pony sets. Dozens of them. June had never seen her play with any of them. It was obscene when there were children in the world dying for lack of food or clean water.
She was on the verge of saying so when Rose patted her on the arm and said kindly, “Of course, Sweetie, you couldn't be expected to know.”
A white hot wave of anger threatened to engulf her, so intense that it robbed her of the power of speech.
Of course she could be expected to know.
She spent more time with Rose's kids than Rose did. This was nothing to do with what the children wanted and everything to do with her sisters keeping up with the Joneses. She was fed up with being treated like a half-wit because she didn't belong to their bloody Mother and Baby club. Everything her sisters said to her implied she was a failure just because she had not married some boring bloke and produced children that nobody could be bothered to spend any time with.
But before she had pulled herself together sufficiently to deliver the most stinging rebuff she had ever composed, her sister Ellen cut across her with an even deadlier remark.
“We've been thinking,” she said, “about Mother. She's getting more and more absent-minded. It's probably time you moved in with her.”
June sank back on her chair, numb with horror. So that was it, then. She was to become full-time carer as well as convenient baby-sitter and general factotum.
Good old June.
She was hopeless, of course, fat and stupid, but she was always there when you needed her.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. She was the clever one, the one who was brilliant at languages, the only one in her family
to go to university. She was supposed to have a glamorous life. She was supposed to travel to exotic places and meet interesting exotic men, one of whom would prove to be her soul mate, sweep her off her feet and marry her. She wasn’t supposed to spend her waking life trying to cram a modicum of foreign language into the brains of teenage louts at the mercy of their hormones, who were unable to think of anything but sex. And she was
, under any circumstances, supposed to end up as a dried-up old maid looking after her senile and no doubt eventually incontinent old mother.
She was thirty-two and her life was over.
“We thought,” said Mary, “that it would be a good idea if you could move in before Christmas.”
“Out of the question,” said June. “I'm going away this year.”
It was almost worth the anguish to see the expressions of surprise on her sisters' faces.
“But where? Who with?” said Ellen. “Is it a school trip?”
“It's not, as it happens. I'm going with a friend.” And she got up and walked majestically out of the hall, leaving her sisters staring after her, open-mouthed. Ha!
Of course, having said that, she now had to do it.
Strike while the iron is hot,
she thought and headed off to the travel agent she used for booking the school trips.
By the time she got to the travel agent, she had decided where she wanted to go. Not Germany or Greece, it was too cold in December. And not Italy or France. She had been to both countries so often on school trips, she could write travel books about them. But Spain, Spain was perfect. Warm winters and lots of interesting places she had never visited. For some reason Spain was seldom considered as suitable for school trips. There weren't enough people studying Spanish for a start, although God knows why when it was the most popular language next to English for commercial companies. But also Spain was regarded with disdain as of insufficient cultural interest. There was a general idea that it was all tacky resorts and plastic donkeys.
June knew better. Spain was full of fascinating history. For hundreds of years it had been ruled by the Moors, and they had left behind many beautiful buildings, mosques and palaces. Especially in Southern Spain, the last stronghold of the Moorish kings. Not for her the dreadful eighteen to twenty resorts full of bright red Brits looking for fish and chips and discos. She wanted to lose herself in another culture. She would go to the Alpujarras, and stay in one of the tiny mountain villages where no-one spoke English. She would visit the fabulous Alhambra Palace in Granada. She would wander about in the old Moorish district and visit Arab tea-houses and drink mint tea whilst sitting on cushions on the floor. She would leave her mobile phone behind and tell no-one where she was going. She was amazed at her own daring.