First line: 'Not like that...' - Runner Up

Ellen Evers

Runner Up
Our Very Own Marilyn Monroe
First line: 'Not like that...'


Ellen is a seventy something retired teacher from Cheshire who enjoys writing short stories and non-fiction When she's not writing she likes walking and keeping fit, being with her family and lots of travel. She loves history and enjoys being a tour guide which sometimes inspires her writing!

Our Very Own Marilyn Monroe By Ellen Evers

“Not like that!”
Mum sighed deeply and mashed her cigarette into the saucer.
“You’ll be the death of me, our Rita. For the last time push ‘em forward like I’ve shown you. Squeeze your elbows and breathe in.”
“Have another go. Push out, elbows in, breathe,” urged Mum as she demonstrated (her bosom as lacking as mine) but I failed again and she was losing patience. I tried, honest to God I tried but I just hadn’t got what it took to be Marilyn in the bust department at least and time was running out.
Every year Mum and me saved for a week at Butlins where we had a wonderful time and I entered the beauty contests and usually won or came second. The prize money paid for the holiday Mum said.
I was the dead spit of Marilyn Monroe, everyone said so, especially after I bleached my hair just like Marilyn had done. (She wasn’t a natural blond.) Imagine our excitement when we found out this year the big contest was to find the girl who looked most like Marilyn. That must be me!
But my lack of bust was a problem.
“Two fried eggs on an ironing board.” moaned Mum.
 “No matter how you push them together and out you won’t have the hourglass figure of Marilyn.”
At first the answer seemed to be a good bra with ‘falsies’ until Mum saw in the rules that a nurse would ‘check all the girls’ attributes to ensure every entrant’s curves were their own.’ The cheek of it!
But Mum wouldn’t give up. She’d always dreamed of a life on stage but the war and expecting me had put paid to that. (I was even named after Rita Hayworth.) No matter. She’d live those dreams through me, and I hated disappointing her.
She looked through every woman’s magazine she had (and Mum had a lot) hoping for inspiration. My job was to find articles about Marilyn and study them. She was called Hollywood’s Most Valuable Property and not just a dumb blond. I’d be the best Marilyn Monroe lookalike I could be.  
“Look at this!”  Mum stabbed a finger at an advertisement from Woman.
“The scientific and easy way to enhance your bust” she read out. The article claimed two pints of full fat milk a day, a rich diet of meat and fish and regular bust enhancing exercises would do the trick. (Not to mention a daily rubbing in with olive oil.)
She passed me the article. I thought I’d struggle to drink two pints a day but Mum had that glint in her eye which meant she’d made up her mind. The exercises looked like hard work too, but the rich diet sounded good and I didn’t have much option, did I?
It was hard work and Mum wouldn’t let me relax at all. She threatened that she’d keep me in and I wouldn’t be able to see my boyfriend Ron if I didn’t try my best. I struggled to eat all the food Mum made for me and the smell of olive oil made me feel a bit sick but I stuck to it.
   To my surprise and Mum’s delight, after a few weeks it seemed to work and I was almost thirty-six inches around my chest. I practised Marilyn’s pout and stuck out my bosom with pride.
Ron approved of my new curves but not why I needed them.
“You want to stand up to your mum, Rita. She walks all over you.” He was always saying that. Mum didn’t like him; said he was common and I deserved better than a mechanic in a rundown garage where I was the receptionist.
“I know what you mean, Ron,” I soothed as we curled up in the back of a Mini  in the garage.  It wasn’t the most romantic of places but at least we had some privacy.  I had the keys, and we’d sneak in after closing.
“But Mum looks out for me and I’m the only person she’s got since Dad died.” This would make me teary and Ron would have to cuddle me better. He was the spit of Elvis; well, his hair was. Always combing it. His pride and joy. Black and greasy.
“Like his hands,” Mum would snap. He couldn’t help it, could he? Dirty job being a mechanic. I loved him and I was almost sure he loved me back.
If Ron wasn’t moaning about Mum, he’d be complaining about me taking part in beauty contests.
“Don’t like the idea of other blokes ogling you, Rita, especially in a bathing costume. You’re my girl so don’t forget that.” I would snuggle up to him then, pleased that he was jealous but knew he was as possessive as Mum. I seemed to spend my life keeping them both happy. One pulled one way, one the other. It was very wearing. He threatened to come down for the day to Butlins to make sure I was behaving myself but I knew Mum wouldn’t stand for it. And anyway, his sulky face would spoil our fun so I didn’t encourage him.
The camp at Butlins had a great atmosphere and it was so easy to make friends. There were a lot of mums with their daughters and at night we’d go for our meal and then to the Crazy Horse Saloon. We were too young to drink but there was always someone with a little bottle of gin to liven up our lemonade.
I soon chummed up with Eileen, who was also with her mum who too was determined to get her daughter into modelling or even films. Eileen had dyed her hair like me and had a curvy figure but she was as plain as a dustbin, despite her heavy make-up.
“You’re bound to win Rita, you’re so pretty, and your figure is so Monroe’s.” She’d say every night as we sneaked around the back of the chalet for a crafty fag and I felt a bit sorry for her. That’s probably why I told her about the bust thing. Mistake. I wished I’d kept my big mouth shut.
She gave me a strange look and lit up another cigarette, squinting through the smoke at my chest in its tight bodice.
“You reckon two pints of milk a day, exercises and lots of nosh gave you a pair like that?”
I blushed. “And olive oil …”
“Don’t take this the wrong way but my sister’s just had a baby and that’s what happened to her. Flat as a pancake ‘til she fell pregnant.”
I felt sick and it wasn’t the gin. My monthlies had always been all over the place. When was the last time? I couldn’t think. Ron had been careful, hadn’t he? He said he’d take care of things. . . whatever that meant.
Eileen dropped her voice.
“Could you be, you know . . . expecting . . .?”
I cried then. It wasn’t the milk, food or exercises that gave me my bust. I’d felt queasy a lot but put that down to nerves (and olive oil). What an idiot I’d been.
“I won’t tell a soul, Rita, honest,” Eileen whispered, “I’ll keep your secret . . .”
The contest day dawned. I hadn’t slept and just wanted it to be over. I couldn’t look at Mum who thought I was just nervous and kept up a brisk pep talk. The day was cold and we stood shivering in the breeze, goose-pimpled, moaning that Marilyn didn’t have to freeze her watsits off like us. We smiled until our faces ached; answered a lot of daft questions in a breathy, Monroe type of voice. Then the results in reverse order. Someone came third, it wasn’t me.
Eileen had come second.
“And the winner is . . .  Rita Dunbar!” There were a lot of wolf whistles and someone came towards me with a sash and flowers. Before I could take them there was a kerfuffle on the judges’ table where I could see Eileen’s mother whispering to the head judge. He pulled the other two judges into a huddle and a conflab. He turned to the microphone.
“Sorry folks, Rita Dunbar has been disqualified. Eileen Jones is declared the winner.”
In the confusion I just stood and watched as my mother grabbed the judge by the arm. I read the look of horror on her face as he said something, but closed my eyes as she stormed towards me.
 “Mum, please, slow down.” My words fell on deaf ears. She was dragging me so fast I was tripping up in my stilettos.
She pushed me in through the chalet door and then onto the bed. I cowered and covered my head. I really thought she was going to slap me. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
“You ungrateful little slut! How could you do this after all I’ve done for you? Showing us up like that. We’ll never live it down, we’ll be a laughing stock. Won’t be able to show our faces here again . . .”
She slumped on her bed, put her head in her hands and sobbed and it was all my fault. Weeks of planning gone. I’d messed everything up and Mum only wanted the best for me. It was hard to know who cried the hardest that night.
That was my last beauty contest. Ron agreed to marry me as I was definitely in the family way. Mum forgave me eventually and even called a truce with Ron. When our baby girl was born, I wanted to call her Marilyn but Ron and Mum decided my Monroe days were over. They said it wasn’t fitting for a new mum.
Mum suggested Shirley like the film star Shirley Temple. She said there was a lot of money in child stars. . . and she was right on to it.
So, it all turned out for the best.
“Like Marilyn said,” I whispered to Shirley, “Never have regrets because at one point everything you did was exactly what you wanted.”
And I really want to believe that…

Judges Comments

The runner up in WM's First Line Short Story Competition is a wonderful comic cautionary tale, 'Our Very Own Marilyn Monroe' by Ellen Evers.

It's a witty delight of a period piece, narrated by Rita, an innocent abroad whose calculating mother is scheming so that her wide-eyed daughter will be the winner of the holiday chalet beauty contest. Rita's downfall is inevitable as her domineering mother, her possessive boyfriend and her own trusting nature set her up for disaster, but it's a complete treat for the reader, lightly written, full of humour and nuggets of pitch-perfect vernacular: in the family way; kerfuffle; freeze her watsits off.

Ellen has created a loveable, hapless comic heroine in Rita: guileless, gullible and good-natured, going along with her disgusting bust-enhancing diet and seeing the best in everyone and everything. She may not have the figure of Marilyn Monroe but Ellen has definitely given her some of the iconic movie star's appealing attributes, and even though Rita, like Marilyn, misses out on a happy ending, in this story she's definitely a star.