Drum roll please. Dim the lights, pour a drink, sit back and enjoy the first chapter.
Let me know if you'd want to read on.
May I present ...
All her life Persephone has been branded a
Criticised by her perfect mother,
dearly loved by her father,
‘Queen of Low Self Esteem’.
Finding herself suddenly
immersed in a world of
glitz and glamour,
where nothing is quite as it seems,
will she finally realise:
‘It’s what’s inside that counts’?
My mother would have said it served me right - which in some ways, it did.
‘Go nosing around and you’ll be sure to find stuff you don’t like, Persephone.’ I could almost hear her tinny voice ringing in my ears and see her standing in her usual elegant pose, as I stared at the photo on the mobile.
And, as it wasn’t my mobile, I was indeed nosing and being shocked by my findings. ‘Your punishment, darling.’ Again I could hear my mother almost goading as I lost myself in the smiling face on the screen.
That punishment came in the form of the most stunning girl I’d ever set eyes on. Blonde, petite, dainty and everything I wasn’t. I would have laid my last tenner - which was probably the sum total of my bank account at the time - that she was a size zero, 32B bust and a neat 3 in her elegant leather ballet pumps. I just knew that when she walked in to a room, silence fell and heads turned - and not because she’d got loo roll sticking out of her trousers or her hairbrush forgotten in a tangle at the back of her head. Yes, I’d been known to hush entire crowds on many occasions too - none of them good.
I felt the familiar prickle of tears start to gather - how cruel it was that the one feminine quality I’d been blessed with was daft, girlie emotions. And then I heard Adam cough behind me.
‘What you doing, Perce?’ He sounded tense as he subtly strained his neck to see over my shoulder.
I snapped the mobile shut and blinked the tears away. He’d made it more than clear that he didn’t deserve me, so he didn’t warrant puffy eyes. They were the one part of me I actually liked, so I’d make damn sure I came out of this awkward encounter puff-free.
Back in control, I turned and pulled myself up to my full height - all 6’ 2” of it - and fixed him with a stare. ‘Who’s the girl on your mobile, Adam? And please, no bullshit.’
He had the good grace to look embarrassed which, in itself, told me everything I needed to know. She wasn’t his sister, his aunt or a friend. He’d been playing away with a creature who looked like she could live in a doll’s house - but unfortunately for him, his Amazonian girlfriend had caught him out.
‘She’s called Cindy and I’ve … well I’ve been seeing her for a couple of weeks. I meant to tell you, Perce, but the time just never seemed right.’
My brain began to process his words, slowly sorting out the sentences and turning them into logical thought. I shook my head and blinked, trying really hard to construct an answer that would leave me with my dignity intact.
‘The time never seemed right? What, not when we were out having a meal or in my bed making love? Not when we were at that bar last week or when I was ironing your shirts last night? None of those times seemed right?’ The tears were threatening again and I fought to keep them at bay.
Adam shuffled uncomfortably, looking from his mobile to the front door, clearly wanting to be anywhere but in my flat. ‘I’m sorry, Perce. What can I say? Cindy’s just everything you’re …’ He trailed off, not wanting to finish the cruel sentence he’d started.
‘She’s everything I’m not. That’s what you were going to say, isn’t it?’ It wasn’t difficult for me to fill in the gaps. I’d heard the words so many times in my life before but they never failed to hurt. But I’d been really keen on Adam and this time it hurt quite a bit more.
I took one last look at the man I’d shared the past six months with - taking in his floppy hair and his chocolate brown eyes that turned me to mush - and then, with a heavy heart, I gave him his ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card. ‘Probably best if you go now, eh?’
I’ve seen blokes shift quickly in my time but this parting was a record. He flew from jacket to mobile to car keys and door in under thirty seconds.
And once again, I was alone.
What can I say?
I’m a big girl. And I don’t mean a Jerry Hall, statuesque type. I mean BIG in every sense of the word. Oh, I’m not fat but I’m taller than your average man, have large, heavy bones, gargantuan feet and hands a scaffolder would be proud of.
‘Don’t exaggerate’, I hear you say. I’m not. I can’t be. I’ve heard my mother tell me so often it’s now ingrained in me.
I once heard her on the phone trying to set me up on a blind date with a friend’s son and she actually said, ‘Think Miranda Hart combined with that woman in ‘The Life and Loves of a She-Devil’ but slightly more attractive.’
She actually said that. My own mother.
But then this was from the woman whose favourite dinner party story was how she was ripped asunder by a ten pounder. It usually ended with, ‘Can you imagine? With a frame as delicate as mine to give birth to one so alien! Of course, I blame Gordon!’
And it was always poor Daddy who bore the brunt of all of mum’s anger. If the post was late - it was his fault. If her new shoes blistered her feet - she’d bought them to look attractive for him. The unnaturally large taboo of a daughter she’d been saddled with? All down to Daddy’s genes!
He once told me, on one of our many secret drinking sessions in his beloved shed, that my mum turned from ‘goddess’ to ‘cranky old bat’ on the day that I was born. It was probably the single malt making him talk but it made a lot of sense at the time.
You see I was, and continue to be, a disappointment to her.
My mother had spent nine months in floaty gowns with a beatific smile plastered to her exquisitely made-up face, imagining the joy of dressing a tiny, perfectly formed dolly - a Cindy! A boy had never been on her agenda. And as for a large girl? The idea never entered her pretty little auburn head.
But she got me!
And as much as I infuriated my mother, I swelled Dad’s heart with pride. He couldn’t have asked for a better daughter - he told me often enough - and I couldn’t have wished for a more loving dad. Which was just as well really because for most of my life my mother had made me feel like a worthless excuse for the female gender, purely because of my size. You can’t be a lady if you’re big!
Had it not been for my dad, her constant jibes could have bordered on mental child abuse but I’d always felt loved and secure because of him. While she cocooned herself in her vanity and overt femininity, we’d be laughing in the garage as we sanded down furniture or chopped up fire-wood. Big hands were good tools and my dad taught me how to use them well.
But those same hands weren’t so great for the many talents my mother would have liked me to perfect - embroidery, baking, make-up and manicures - I did them all badly and accompanied by the sound of her tutting. The first time I attempted a hint of blusher and mascara for a school disco, I could still hear her laughter ringing in my ears as I set off down the road to meet best friend, Mia.
Of course by the time I got to Mia’s house the mascara had been smeared by tears and was making streaky trails into the blusher. They sorted me out though, Mia and her lovely Mum, and by the time I hit the disco I actually felt like a normal teenage girl and not the monster my mother believed me to be.
In some ways Mia was my saving grace, always there to pick me up and sort me out - the sister I never had. But the downside was … she was tiny. We’d spent most of our school lives saddled with the nickname ‘Little and Large’ - even the teachers used it. ‘Little off sick today is she, Large?’ our form tutor would ask me and I’d nod my head and smile, concealing the pain that the name caused me. I didn’t want to be called ‘Large’ and I didn’t want to be called ‘Persephone’ - another bloody stupid idea of my mother’s which my dad gave in to.
I wanted to be called Percy. The name suited me and those that loved me respected my wishes.
My mother refused. She’d chosen Persephone so that’s what she’d continue to call me. Because my feelings didn’t come into the equation.
They never did.
I’d had plenty of practice tending a broken heart. Nigh on twenty failed relationships had provided great training - the problem wasn’t getting a man, it was keeping him. Of course, my mother said it was because of the novelty factor and men only dated me out of curiosity - a bit like a circus freak.
So after Adam left, I went through the familiar routine. I made hot chocolate, grabbed the emergency biscuit tin, called Bogey and flipped open my laptop.
Bogey appeared from the bedroom, blinking and checking the coast was clear. He was the cat with the attitude of Humphrey Bogart - a gangster cat - and the feline equivalent of me. Huge, lumbering and clumsy. Most cats could jump on shelves effortlessly, dodging ornaments with skilful grace - Bogey would land with a thud, skidding to a halt and shattering everything around him.
We were two of a kind - kindred spirits.
But he hated any man I’d ever brought into our world. Oh, he wasn’t vicious. He wouldn’t attack or scratch. He’d just give them ‘his look’ and that said it all. Roughly translated from cat-speak it would say, ‘WTF! Another loser. Excuse me while I go and take care of my bottom’. And if he was really peed off, he’d simply flop on the floor, open his back legs and start a thorough clean-up interspersed with noisy slurps and a defiant stare that said, ‘What you gonna do about it, big guy?’
So Bogey was delighted to find that he had me and the flat to himself again and he settled on my lap, purring noisily as I checked the dire state of my financial affairs through my online banking account.
My suspicions were confirmed. £8.53 to my name and no pay cheque due that month. I sighed and petted Bogey’s ears. He looked up at me with questioning eyes. I often thought he was tuned into my feelings but he was probably just thinking that eight quid was enough to cover the cost of his cat food, so what was the problem?
The problem was I could match my disastrous love life with an equally depressing employment history. I’d left school at eighteen with absolutely no idea of what I wanted to do with my life. Mia was determined to marry young and breed for
but I was totally clueless. And so I’d
drifted from one unsuitable job to another.
I’d had a go at most things but rarely found joy in any of them.
Daddy said my true talents lay with people and that I had a knack of making them feel comfortable and at ease. People liked to talk to me to tell me their troubles and I’d sat for many hours at bus stops or on trains listening to a life story or the tale of a messy divorce. But I wasn’t clever enough to be a psychiatrist or a counsellor so the door to those professions was firmly closed. Dad would regularly email adverts to me for receptionist positions with cheery little notes - ‘Saw this and thought of you. Bet you’d be great. Just smile and chat to people while they’re waiting for their appointments.’
But what he didn’t realise was that I’d been turned down for more receptionist’s jobs than my mother had shoes. Companies didn’t want gawky - they wanted model looks with Tipp-Ex-white teeth and glossy blonde extensions. These stunners were the first port of call for a customer, the shop window, and nobody wanted to put me on display.
So I’d given up applying. I’d seen the look on too many interviewers’ faces. It said, ‘Oh purlease! You? Greeting our guests? Next!’
Which meant I found myself trawling the web and applying for mindless, brain-numbing jobs which paid a pittance. Customer service call centres were really all I was suited to - I could talk but no one would have to see me.
Only my close friends knew my real dream was to be a writer. Through my words and in those pages, I could be anyone I wanted - a ballerina, a model, a wife. I could be loved, admired and lusted after.
As with all my other non-existent talents, I suspected it was something else I wasn’t very good at. I certainly wasn’t overly committed to my art because at the whiff of a new man in my life, my storyline would be forgotten and not another sentence constructed. It was almost as if I could only write when I had a broken heart - I needed to be a tortured soul.
But would it ever earn me a living? £8.53 wasn’t going to see me through the week, let alone the month.
I opened my document entitled, ‘Love, Lust and Lies’ and scanned the last words I’d written. At the time they’d seemed perfect, now I wasn’t so sure.
‘He took her delicate hand in his and kissed her perfectly formed knuckles. Her heart was racing in her tiny chest and her pert bosoms rose and fell with each breath.
‘This is forever, my love. You know this, don’t you?’ he purred.
She nodded her head and licked her lips, waiting for his kiss. It was forever, that was all she needed to hear. Forever.’
Well, I’d read worse. I’d also read better, but if I could just force myself to finish it I could ask Mia what she thought and then maybe send it to some agents.
It wasn’t going to be an instant boost to my financial status, though. I’d heard it took ages to secure a book deal and even longer to see any money from it.
Closing the document and vowing to write at least a thousand words the next day, I sipped at my now tepid chocolate. There was only one thing for it. I’d have to talk to Daddy about a loan and pray that I could secure a quiet moment with him without my mother preaching or belittling me.
I hated asking my dad for money because he never said no or made me feel awkward. It was almost as if he wanted to do it to make up for my lousy mother. He showered me with love, time, gifts and cash as a kind of compensation and I didn’t want to take advantage of him. I was twenty-eight and should have been fending for myself, not running home for hand-outs all the time. But even if the best job ever came up, right at that second, I’d still need money to see me through.
‘Bum, bum and bum!’ I said out loud to myself, startling Bogey who looked at me with disdain. ‘How dare you wake me from my slumber if it’s not for love or food?’ And he jumped from my lap, landing awkwardly and sending the biscuit tin flying.
It was that act that sent me over the edge. My bottled-up emotions suddenly came flooding out as I surveyed the broken Hob-Nobs and crumbs of Bourbon. Bogey tried to apologise, not realising the biscuits were the least of my worries. He snaked in and out of my legs as best as his portly frame would allow as I howled and bawled, sweeping up the remnants and chucking them in the bin.
Exhausted, I sunk to the floor and hugged my cat to me, rubbing my tears in his fur. ‘Oh, Bogey, what are we going to do?’
Of course he didn’t answer. The only response I heard as I sniffed and sobbed was the voice of my mother, once more in my head.
And again it was mocking me with its stock-standard phrase of my childhood.
‘Pull yourself together, Persephone! Big girls don’t cry!’