Read Pretty Ugly: A Novel Online
Authors: Kirker Butler
Tags: #Fiction, #Humor, #Literary, #Retail
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For my mother,
who, when I was in seventh grade, said, “Hey, you should choreograph this pageant for me.”
For Indie and Cleo,
who inspire me every day with their beauty, innocence, and humor.
And always, for Karen,
who said, “Hey, you should write a book.”
Miranda Ford never expected a simple trip to the drugstore to change the course of her entire life. She’d really just popped in to pick up her mother’s Klonopin refill, but when she saw that stack of applications on the counter next to the fishbowl of complementary cigarette lighters, something deep inside her shifted. Urgent letters streaked across the page: “The 18th Annual Miss Daviess County Fair Pageant Is Looking for Contestants!” Until that moment, beauty pageants had seemed as foreign and exotic as Mexican food, but this felt different. At fourteen, Miranda was too much of a teenager to want to appear genuinely interested in anything, so she skimmed the application while projecting an aura of boredom and indifference, the same look she’d perfected while staring at Mike Greevy in algebra class and Kandy Cotton’s boobs in gym. The headline was followed by the alluring question: “Are
the next Loni King?” Miranda raised an eyebrow.
Loni King, a superfriendly strawberry blonde, had been crowned Miss Daviess County Fair a few years earlier and then became a star. Soon after graduating salutatorian from Apollo High School’s Class of ’89, Loni left her hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky, and moved to Nashville, where she quickly landed a recording contract with Ichthus Records, an independent label specializing in praise and worship music and Bibles on tape read by celebrities.
her debut album of contemporary Christian music, sold more than two million copies and won three Dove Awards. Hoping to expand her music and message to a wider audience, she recorded a love ballad with Daryl Hall from the secular rock band Hall & Oates: a man who was not her husband. The song reached number eight on
’s Hot 100 and completely alienated Loni’s Christian fan base. In June 1991 she married a bank executive who, threatened by her celebrity, encouraged her to quit music and start a family, which she did, for six months. After the couple’s “scandalous” divorce, Loni quickly released an ill-conceived comeback album of honky-tonk-flavored country songs that sold a disappointing fifteen thousand copies and further turned off her godly fans. One of Loni’s cousins had recently told Miranda that the singer had rededicated her life to Jesus and was in Atlanta recording an album of traditional Christmas hymns. Maybe Miranda wasn’t supposed to be the next Loni King, but she was pretty sure she was supposed to be the next something.
The application continued: “Make New Friends While Competing Against Them for Cash and Prizes!” Miranda
like cash and prizes. She read on: “Learn poise, confidence, and public-speaking skills you may use for the rest of your life!” Miranda’s guidance counselor had told her that without good public-speaking skills one had
chance of becoming successful in
career. Her interest fully piqued, she read the rules:
Contestants must be at least 14 years old and no older than 19 years old by July 1 of this year.
Contestants must be a resident of Daviess County, Kentucky. (U.S. citizens only, please.)
Contestants must not currently be married, or have ever been married.
Contestants under the age of 16 must have written consent from parent or guardian to compete.
All races, creeds, and ethnicities are encouraged to participate. (Again, U.S. citizens only, please.)
A $25 registration fee is required of all contestants. Corporate and/or business sponsorship is accepted/encouraged.
Contestants must not currently be pregnant. (Girls with children are eligible to compete if they are single—see rule #3.)
Contestants will be judged in three categories: sportswear, prom/evening wear, and bathing suit. (Tasteful one-piece suits only! Two-piece suits will NOT be allowed! This is a family event!)
All decisions made by the judges are final and cannot be challenged in any court of law.
Failure to comply with any of these rules will result in immediate disqualification and banishment from the Daviess County Fairgrounds for 1 calendar year.
But it was a simple line at the bottom of the page that really hooked her: “All body types welcome!” As a proud member of the Interfaith Christian Alliance—an after-school fellowship group tasked with the seemingly impossible goal of bringing together Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and even Catholics—the statement appealed to Miranda’s egalitarianism. Miranda had learned “egalitarianism” as a vocabulary word the previous semester, and liking both its meaning and sophisticated sound applied it to herself whenever possible.
Miranda took an application from the stack and slipped it into her backpack. Years later, while writing her memoirs, she tried to explain why she felt compelled to enter that pageant.
“Maybe it was fate. I don’t know. Maybe it was a desire to try something that scared me. Maybe it was God opening the door to the next part of my life. Either way, it just felt like something I needed to do. And why not? It was right there in my hometown, and the local girls weren’t
much prettier than me. Besides, maybe I’d been wrong about the kind of girls who did pageants. Maybe they weren’t all dingbat, stuck-up phonies. Maybe they were smart, and interesting, and down-to-earth like me.”
As soon as Miranda decided to enter, she began plotting how she could win. Sportswear wouldn’t be a problem. She’d always been active and owned many casual shoes. For evening wear she could reborrow her cousin Denise’s prom dress she had worn to the previous year’s eighth-grade dance.
But the bathing suit,
Miranda thought, looking down at her figure,
the bathing suit is going to be a problem
. Flat chested and hipless, the girl’s fourteen-year-old body looked more like an eleven-year-old boy’s. The A-cup bra she insisted on wearing gave her more of a psychological lift than a physical one. She knew she had a cute face, and she’d even been called “attractive” by some of her dad’s friends, but if she was going to compete against girls as old as eighteen, she’d need to figure out a way to augment what little she had. All body types may have been welcome, but not all body types could win.
She collected her mother’s pills and crossed to a shelf stocked with vitamins and dietary supplements, scanning it for anything labeled “female” and “enhancement.” The bottles promised stronger bones, shinier hair, and healthier skin, but Miranda didn’t need that. She needed boobs. Pendulous, award-winning boobs. And she needed them right now.
A product called Nu Woman, a homeopathic hormone supplement for postmenopausal women, looked promising, so she dropped it in her basket and continued browsing. X-trogen promised to “promote and enhance all aspects of the female anatomy,” but the woman on the package, an obviously naked Asian with the contorted face of an orgasm, totally freaked her out. She looked away, embarrassed, and that’s when she saw it: a long-forgotten tube sitting alone on the bottom shelf. Peering coyly from the dusty, time-faded label, a buxom Tinker Bell–ish wood nymph waved her magic wand over the tempting words, “Her Curves All-Natural Breast Enhancement Cream.” Miranda looked around, then leaned over pretending to study a bottle of children’s multivitamins.
“Noticeable results in as little as 30 days! Guaranteed!”
Perfect. That gave her a month to grow them and a month to get used to them before she debuted them at the pageant.
The line at the pharmacy counter was now six deep, and Miranda felt a rush of panic. Mr. Wiggins, the pharmacist, was a family friend. He’d had coffee with her father every morning back when her father was still alive. He would know the cream wasn’t for Miranda’s mother, whose breasts were years past the point of concern. There was another register in the front of the store being manned by Mr. Wiggins’s son, Jed, a good-looking basketball star at Miranda’s school, but she’d sooner have Jed ring up a hundred boxes of ultraabsorbent maxipads than a single tube of magic breast-growing cream. But she could not leave the store without it. It had suddenly become the single most important thing in her life. Looking again at the sexy sprite’s heaving bosom, Miranda felt a singular focus overtake her, and with a flush of guilty adrenaline she slipped the tube into her backpack. And to make sure she was completely covered, she took the Nu Woman pills as well.
It was her first crime, and Miranda could feel her heart pounding through her soon-to-be enormous chest. Hoping to mask her guilt, she casually meandered through the aisles, stopping to admire a new arthritis cream, a porcelain figurine of former University of Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall, and a
magazine before making her way to the exit.
“Bye, Jed,” she said a bit too loudly to the disinterested boy behind the register, and slipped out the door.
Miranda sprinted the half mile to her house, then raced to her room, tearing off her shirt and bra as she went. Standing topless in front of her full-length mirror, she studied her prepubescent form and tried to create a mental “before” picture. She then smeared a generous dollop of Her Curves All-Natural Breast Enhancement Cream all over her chest. Instantly, her skin began to tingle, and she couldn’t help but smile. Buzzing with expectation, Miranda lay back on her pink canopy bed and waited for a visit from the boob fairy.
* * *
Six weeks later, a few red streaks were all that remained of the second-degree chemical burns caused by the unholy Her Curves All-Natural Breast Enhancement Cream. The tingling that had so excited Miranda quickly evolved into a searing pain that felt like a fire-breathing cat clawing its way out of her chest. She spent the rest of the afternoon under a cold shower, praying for forgiveness and an end to the torrent of angry blisters erupting on her skin. Only after covering her entire torso with plastic bags of frozen deer meat did she finally get any relief.