The Second Most Beautiful Girl in the World

(Darla دارلا Hueske [CC / Flickr])

The girl stood at her bedroom window and watched the sunrise. Her day had come.

She was ready for it. She’d been ready for hours. She hadn’t slept since last night’s news on the radio. The moment the announcement came in, she’d changed into the dress she’d last worn the last time she left the house. She’d been standing at the window, willing the sun to emerge over the horizon ever since.

As soon as there was enough light, she turned from the window to the mirror. She’d been made up by some of the top professionals in the business in her time, but that was when she was a frame to display a designer’s clothes or the vehicle for an artist’s vision. She would be both those things again but not today.

Now she could finally leave her house, she would do it as herself. She trusted no one else to accentuate her features without obscuring who she was.

She left her bedroom and descended the stairs to the front door. Her rival stared back at her from a print of the portrait that the art critics had universally agreed depicted the most beautiful model in the world and, with that moment of accord unheard of among critics, confined the girl whom they had banished to second place to never leaving her home while her triumphant rival lived.

The girl who was once again the most beautiful model in the world paused, recalling her whoop at the newsreader’s doleful announcement of her rival’s death after a prolonged illness. She felt as if she could float out of the door on the joy that was still with her.

She lifted the portrait off its hook and flung it to the ground. Her imprisonment ended in the crash of breaking glass and splintering frame.

She stepped through the door on to a street. The sunlight made her blink. It was far brighter out here than when it was filtered through a window.

She turned her back on the sun so it wouldn’t make her squint and started walking. Her back was straight, her eyes were level and her hips were swaying as if she was back on the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week. She’d been practicing her posture since she was old enough to know what posture was and she hadn’t neglected it in her years of confinement.

A man walked past her, peering at the palm of his own hand. It took the girl a moment to see the phone in it. She’d seen people doing that through her window but had never got used to the idea that phones were no longer as securely tethered to the wall as they had been when the critics shut her away.

That man had no idea what he’d missed when he didn’t notice her.

She turned on to a busier street, with more people of whom only some were looking at their phones. Several of them must have seen her, but their gazes passed over her as if she were as ordinary as anyone else on the street.

Except for one. A boy of four or five was staring straight as her as he held his father’s hand.

She suppressed a smile of anticipation, forcing her face to stay impassive. Her father looked like a man to appreciate a beautiful woman and the child’s regard would draw his attention to her.

The child pointed at her. “Daddy, why has that old girl painted her face like a clown?”

The child’s father looked mortified. “I’m so sorry…”

His voice fell silent as he looked at her face. Try as she might, she couldn’t persuade herself that his wide eyes and open mouth revealed anything other than pure horror. He picked up the child and half ran across the road.

The most beautiful model in the world caught herself frowning but didn’t recompose her face. How long had she allowed her rival’s portrait to keep her in her in her house?

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