They watched her from the verge, big cats eyeing the prairie. Their arms folded, their shoulders back, they rested their weight on the fence, each with one leg lying on the ground, the other bent at the knee; a thigh pointing out from their skirt like a weapon.
‘Look at her, the poor lamb,’ said one, dark straightened hair running from under her boater and into a ponytail that sat on the green of her blazer.
‘Yes, poor, poor lamb,’ said her companion, a still taller girl whose fair bob was, under the shadow of her brim, considerably lighter than the deep tan of her skin. Her long dark legs, like those of her friend, interrupted under the knee by the white of sock, told of many holidays spent abroad, in the heat of the Mediterranean. Sensible flat shoes anchored them both to the grass, and with them, the poises of women for whom there was nothing now left that they could possibly learn. School, exams and the rigours of discipline were a dreary formality for them. They already knew all that was of use, their bodies said. The world was theirs.
‘I mean, just look at her,’ said the ponytail, ‘it’s awful. She just doesn’t know, does she?’
‘No,’ sighed the bob, ‘does not have a clue.’
‘Poor, silly lamb,’ said the ponytail.
‘I hate her,’ said the bob.
‘So do I,’ replied the ponytail. ‘I suppose we ought to go and say hello.’
She looked down at the ground as she shuffled, her fringe covering too much of her face; split-ends in need of cutting popping out from under her awkwardly-fitting boater. She did not see them coming.
‘Hello, we’re over here!’ said the ponytail, waving her hand in front of the smaller girl’s overgrown fringe.
‘We’ve been standing here for ages waiting for you to see us, but your hair was too long.’
‘Sorry,’ mumbled the girl, only glancing briefly to see who was there before looking down again at the ground.
‘Can’t hear you!’ said the bob.
‘Sorry!’ said the girl, a failed attempt at volume turning her voice into a squeak.
‘Sorry!’ squeaked the ponytail, in mimicry.
‘Yes, sorry!’ The bob did the same.
‘Sorry!’ ‘Sorry!’ ‘Yes, sorry!’ The pair of them burst into giggles at their own joke, a naughty look passing between them as they pretended to try to hold them back. The girl shifted her weight from side to side, as if wanting to make an exit, but sensing that she would be barred from doing so if she tried. ‘Sorry!’ ‘Oh yes, ever so sorry!’
‘Seriously though,’ said the ponytail, ‘you’ll need to have that cut. It’s messy. Don’t you think so?’
‘Oh yes,’ said the bob, ‘and you should do something about that skin too. It’s very bad.’
‘Well, that’s your opinion,’ said the girl to the socks that had rolled halfway down her shins towards her scuffed and shineless shoes.
‘Speak up!’ snapped the bob. ‘We can’t hear you when you mutter. And look up, for Christ’s sake!’
The ponytail started pulling at the lapels of the girl’s blazer. Even though it was a summer’s day, she wore a jumper underneath. ‘Oh dear,’ said the ponytail, ‘we’re really going to have to do something about this. Everything’s scruffy. You’re a disgrace to the school, you know. Look, I can see your shirt hanging out from your jumper, although why you’re wearing one in this weather I don’t know. I hope you’ve got on plenty of deodorant. Actually, I don’t think you do. I can smell something. Can you smell that?’
‘Yes I can, unfortunately,’ said the bob. ‘Rank.’
‘Yeah, well,’ said the girl, looking away, ‘why don’t you, well, you know, mind your own – ’
The ponytail grabbed the sides of the girl’s head and twisted it round to face her. ‘Listen,’ she snapped, ‘don’t take that attitude with us. We’re the only ones who are going to help you, because obviously no one else likes you and quite frankly you don’t have a clue yourself, do you?’
‘It’s yourself you’re hurting,’ said the bob.
‘Yes, you can give us all this attitude, but these are the best years of your life, and you’ll regret in years to come if you throw them all away being surly. Not to mention spotty, hairy and smelly.’
‘And you won’t get a boyfriend,’ said the bob. ‘I bet you’ve never had a boyfriend have you?’
‘N-n-not really,’ spluttered the girl, her head still pressed between the palms of the ponytail.
‘Not really?’ said the bob. ‘Have you even kissed a boy?’
‘Um, sort of…’
‘Come on, either you have or you haven’t,’ said the ponytail. ‘You haven’t have you?’
‘Oh, we have boyfriends,’ said the ponytail. ‘We have sex. The other day I had sex with my boyfriend and I must have had twenty orgasms. We were doing it for hours.’
‘I had sex with my boyfriend,’ said the bob, ‘and we were both having orgasms constantly all afternoon. We couldn’t stop. It was wicked fun.’
‘But you’re going to miss out on all that if you don’t smarten yourself up,’ said the ponytail, ‘do you want that?’
The girl shook her head as much as she could in the ponytail’s grip. Then she started to cry. The ponytail let go of her head and hugged her.
‘There, there,’ she said, ‘it’s OK. We didn’t mean to upset you, poor lamb. We just want to help, that’s all.’
The bob leaned in and hugged her too. The girl could not have moved had she wanted to.
‘Yes,’ said the bob, ‘we’ll look after you. I’m not saying we won’t make you cry again, but it’s all for your own good.’
‘Of course,’ said the ponytail, what you’ve got to realise is that you can’t expect people to respect you if you don’t respect yourself. I mean, you’re just asking for it, the way you’re going.’
‘Yes,’ said the bob, ‘For instance, you can’t really blame me for doing this –’ She grabbed hold of the girl’s cheek and squeezed it hard.
‘But I can’t be blamed for doing that, don’t you see?’ said the bob, leaning in closer, ‘because you’re making it happen with your messy hair. Nobody can be blamed for that sort of thing if they smell you.’
‘In fact, said the ponytail, ‘the only thing they can be blamed for is shagging you, because you’re certainly not asking for that!’
They both moved still closer, still tighter. The bob let go of her cheek.
‘But we want to fix it,’ said the ponytail. ‘We want to look after you. We’ll fix up your hair, get you dressing smart; try and get you feeling good about yourself. Because actually, believe it or not, we happen to think you’re worth it.’
‘Yes,’ said the bob, ‘and you’ll be fighting off the boys with a stick, just like us!’
The ponytail released her hold then, and the bob followed suit.
‘Now stop your snivelling, lambikins, and run along,’ said the ponytail. ‘You know where to find us, and when you’re ready to make an effort, we’ll be here for you.’
‘Um, well, thanks,’ said the girl. She sounded surprised herself that she had said it.
‘Go on,’ said the bob, ‘shoo!’
‘Right, OK,’ said the girl, and ambled away, as if in a daze.
They stood again on the verge the next day, arms folded, straight backs against the fence, one thigh each pointing to the sky from under their skirts.
‘He showed it to me last night,’ said the bob.
‘Did you touch it?’ said the ponytail.
‘Oh no. I won’t until he says he loves me. Unless he doesn’t before the May Ball. Then I suppose I’ll have to touch it anyway.’
‘Oh no,’ said the ponytail, ‘there’s that awful girl again.’
‘Oh god,’ said the bob, ‘she’s looking over here.’
‘Oh god,’ said the ponytail.
‘She’s an absolute disgrace,’ said the bob, ‘looking at her makes me sick.’
‘Yes,’ said the ponytail, ‘I want to squash her and kill her.’
‘Hang on,’ said the bob, ‘she’s coming this way!’
The girl approached. Although at first it seemed she walked with some reluctance, at some point in her journey something must have moved inside of her, for she was almost running as she neared the verge.
‘Poor lamb,’ said the ponytail, ‘she really does not have a clue.’
And they turned their heads towards her and, hidden under folded arms, their claws tingled with the promise of blood.