Marnie Sleightholme was well chuffed when she got the chance to be carnival queen, and she couldn’t give a shit if it was true what folk were saying about her only getting picked because she’d had her right arm ripped off.
Ever since the accident, Deborah Bullock had been using twice as much make-up to disguise her rage. Marnie being picked as carnival queen had only made her pile it on even thicker. Deborah Bullock told anyone who would listen how it was a complete piss-take to give the job to a cripple.
‘Imagine getting a wedding cake covered in frosty decorations and shit like that, but it’s already got a big chunk bitten out of it. Well, that’s exactly how it is.’
Deborah Bullock had dreamed of being carnival queen since more or less the start of primary school. She used to tear their pictures out of the newspaper and dress up to look like them, and tell Marnie she never could because she was too fat and ugly even to pretend.
It was Deborah Bullock’s on-off boyfriend who’d been driving the car Marnie had been sitting in when it veered off the road and crashed into a tree halfway down Back South Lane.
It was pointless trying to hide the truth. There was only one reason anybody went down Back South Lane at that time of night, and the flashing blue lights illuminated the exact location for the whole town to see.
When Marnie came round in a hospital bed, the first face she saw was Deborah Bullock’s. She felt an ache in her side and blinked her eyes. The room was bare and cold. There was an empty chair in the corner. Deborah Bullock slapped some cheap flowers down on the bed and leaned in. She smelled of talcum powder and nicotine.
‘Do you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is you’ve finally lost some weight. The bad news is, they’ve chopped your right arm off. So you’re still a fat bitch.’
Deborah Bullock’s mouth curled into a satisfied smile and she got up. She snatched back the flowers and walked away. Marnie looked down at where her right arm should be. It was so thick with bandages she could hardly tell if it was still there or not.
Marnie had been secretly going with Deborah Bullock’s on-off boyfriend for three months up to the accident. He was a little bit taller than her with short black hair and a gold stud ear-ring. She liked the way he had a good body from working out, and how he didn’t go round shouting his mouth off about how easy she was. Most of all, she liked the way he was Deborah Bullock’s on-off boyfriend, and how every time she went with him it made her feel better about the shit things Deborah Bullock used to say and do to her when they were kids.
When Marnie came out of hospital, her step-dad glanced up from his dinner plate and said, ‘You should be getting yourself a nice bit of compo out of that, love.’
Her mother started treating her like she was some kind of idiot. She spoke loudly and more slowly, and was always checking she’d remembered to go to the toilet or have something to eat.
Marnie got a letter to say she was going to get sixty-three grand for the accident. She read it twice then folded it up as tightly as she could with her one good hand, and stuffed it deep in a ball of tights she never wore. She phoned her job at the animal feeds factory and told them she needed a little more time.
When they asked Marnie to be carnival queen she said yes straight away. She knew nothing would piss Deborah Bullock off more. She even thought if she’d known how pissed off it was going to make her, she might have chopped her arm off herself a long time since.
She looked forward to sitting down on the cane chair on the lead float, wearing the same kind of snow-white dress and sparkly tiara Deborah Bullock used to not even let her pretend to put on.
She imagined seeing Deborah Bullock in the crowd, and how she might shape a single V-sign in her direction. She didn’t care if anyone else would see her do it, or if Deborah Bullock might flick two back and say, ‘beat that’. None of that would matter. Marnie would know at that moment that everything had worked out fine.