That summer God spoke to my little sister: He told her to win the Teen
Miss Florida pageant. Are you sure that’s what He said? I asked. I was
drinking a lot back then and often misinterpreted the Lord’s
instructions. She was more or less certain.
Kids from our neighborhood were not in the business of winning beauty
pageants. That’s why she needed to break her legs. Or just one leg. One
leg would do. The pageant circuit took pity onthe injured—little girls
on crutches who’d fallen from their horses. It pulled at their heart
strings. Get back in that saddle, etc.
So we took a sledge hammer from dad’s tool shed. I expressed my
reservations. About pageants in general. She said what’s so wrong with
commending great beauty? I said what’s in it for me? She considered.
You could write a story about it.
We went out to the backyard and sat on the rusted swing set. Looking at
her posture as she sat—an imaginary encyclopedia balanced on her
head—I thought she really could win. Perhaps even without being
maimed. Why endure the suffering? That’s what’s most beautiful of all
she said. Mustn’t one know great suffering to understand great beauty?
She was fourteen. There were wisps of fine hair on her knees.
As we stepped out into the wet grass I told her we could still call the
whole thing off. She said please sissy and the child looking back at
me was Miss Florida. I could see it; sashes and sausage curls and world
peace but moreover I could see that God was speaking through her. I was
drinking a lot back then. She sat down in the grass and spread her legs
apart making one point of a star. She closed her eyes and clasped her
hands together in prayer. I raised the sledge hammer above my head.
Madeline Cash has stories in Expat Press, Always Crashing, The Baffler,The Literary Review, Maudlin House, and Flaunt Magazine. She also runs a reading series in LA called Forever.