'Beware: Swans' by SJI Holliday
Remember that girl from school? The one with the braces and the stringy hair, the long gangly legs; the flat chest. She was never quick nor funny enough with her comebacks, so in the end she just stopped trying and retreated into her oversized shell.
You meet her again; years later.
Technically, you’re middle-aged. Boys are receding and paunchy. Girls are all dark roots and whatever-fits clothes.
You all trundle along to the reunion hoping for cheap booze; memories of fumblings behind the bike shed and the day that Jonny Parker set Mindy Collins’s hair on fire in the science room.
You don’t recognise her at first.
‘Who’s that with the tight dress and the smooth legs and the big hair?’
‘She’s talking to Old Beaker, the science teacher. Is she at the wrong reunion?’
‘She’s looks too young to have been in our year – we’d remember her, wouldn’t we?’
Salivating men gravitate like bees to nectar; bitches huddle
‘Maybe she works here. I don’t recognise her, do you?’
‘Who does she think she is, dressing like that? Showing us up…’
You look down at the identical glittery tops you’ve bought from the same High Street store, only difference being some have bought the red and some the blue. No one’s bought the black because you’re all wearing same style black trousers; cheap polyester-mix straining over inactive rumps.
‘Whatever happened to Mindy Collins?’
‘Wonder if that bald patch ever grew back?’
You ladle punch from a bowl the size of a wash-basin, refilling your little plastic cups more often than you take breath.
The woman walks away from Old Beaker and you hear him say: ‘Nice to see you again, Mindy. So glad to hear you’ve done well for yourself.’
Your mouths hang open.
‘Catching flies, ladies?’ she says, smiling.
You don’t know that she’s tipped a little packet into the punch bowl; the crystals dissolved in an instant. Mindy was always good at science.
One by one, you collapse.
In the end, the whole tragic event will just get blamed on the dodgy prawn vol-au-vents.
* * *
Originally published in Once Upon A Time: A Collection of Unexpected Fairytales (2012)