MAY DAY | It is the first of May in Sophie Parkes’ short story, and beauty, folklore and friendship collide.
by Sophie Parkes
Simone points to a book open on her desk, leans into her door to close it. Lowers her voice. ‘Come and see.’
Without her glasses and at Simone’s shoulder, Daisy can see paragraphs but not words. Simone reads it with the confidence of practised delivery.
‘“On the first of May, the morning dew is at its most potent. Women who bathe their faces in the morning dew of May Day will be restored to beauty.”’
Simone turns, the desk and book at her back, and looks between her friends. They are expected to say something, Daisy is expected to share in this excitement. It is the first of May tomorrow and they don’t have to go to school. Her mum had forgotten and hurriedly put in a last-minute holiday request from work. Daisy had been relieved; otherwise, she would have had to stay in for her little sister. Stuck in all day, when the weather promised to be good, when she could’ve been at Simone’s, sitting in a sleeping bag and eating takeaway pizza.
‘Well?’ Simone asks, tucking her hair behind her ears and waiting. Sometimes, Daisy thinks, it must be annoying to be Simone: all this disappointment in other people. Most of the time, though, it must be great being Simone, easy. She seems to speak without the words criss-crossing her mind a hundred times before they come out. And she is beautiful, of course, anyone can see that.
‘Most potent,’ Emma says, chewing the words.
‘It means powerful – that it was thought the dew on May morning was powerful. We should do it. In the morning. Sunrise.’
Daisy touches her face. The skin across her cheekbones aches with the heat of acne. Her fingers slide into the pits around her nostrils, slimy with grease. The spots on her chin are volcanic hard and last for weeks.
Restored to beauty. What if the woman had never been beautiful in the first place?
Their socks slide on the lino. There is no dog to betray them, no finicky back door locking system to thwart them. But still Simone keeps a slim finger to her lips. Daisy holds her breath. The UPVC door pops open and the sunlight makes her night eyes blink and well.
‘Don’t go in the middle,’ Simone whispers, swatting Emma into the shade. ‘A neighbour will say something.’
Daisy looks up. Either side, curtains meet in the middle. Nobody would know the sunlight is so strong, the dew so generous. And potent. Nobody would know that three girls in pyjamas stalk the lawn on their hands and wet knees.
“Nobody would know the sunlight is so strong, the dew so generous. And potent. Nobody would know that three girls in pyjamas stalk the lawn on their hands and wet knees.”
‘I’m worried about the powerful bit,’ Emma whispers, lifting a hand to examine the water on her palm.
‘It’s fun,’ Simone snaps back. ‘It’s meant to be fun.’
Emma hovers her knees in turn, looks behind her. ‘So how are we meant to get it, then? I’m not rubbing my face on your dad’s grass, Simone.’
It should be funny, but no one laughs.
Simone folds back her long brown thighs so her pyjama shorts sit neatly on her heels. She was once a gymnast, took dance lessons, but has given up those things since she moved to the fee-paying school. Even though GCSEs are three light years away.
‘Like this,’ she says, and fashions her hands into a scoop which she runs through the grass and presses to her face. She could be in an ad for facewash.
Daisy’s shivers become violent. Her jaw cackles. The shins of her pyjama bottoms are soaked through and the damp of the grass seeps into her knickers. She holds out her arms, goose-pimpled, and crumples her hands together into a begging bowl. The dew taints the underside of her hands so she separates them, shovels, brings them together again.
It is just water, fine, wet water. It is cool. She hadn’t realised the heat of her own face until the water touches it. Her skin tightens, sharpens. She imagines the red and pink ushered away, the anger settling, the friction surrendering. Even the mountains on her chin seem to crumble.
She gathers more dew, sends it over her jaw, up to her hair line. She closes her waxy lids and buffs them with it; presses her index finger to the grass then to the vulnerable skin beneath her eyes. The ridge of her nose is now feathery rather than cloying, her temples no longer skating rinks.
She opens her eyes. Simone and Emma are looking at her, eyebrows perched high on their clear foreheads.
‘What’s got into you?’ Emma asks.
Daisy wonders what she means. ‘It just feels nice.’ It does.
‘Let’s go back to bed,’ Simone says, yawning and blotting her knees with her hands. ‘It’s too early.’
They traipse back into the kitchen and up the stairs towards their sleeping bags, Daisy touching her face as she walks.
There is no need to wash her face in the morning. No need, in fact, to run her packed flannel under her armpits. While Simone and Emma pick the sleep from their eyes, Daisy pops their toast, channel hops, feeds Simone’s fairground fish. Simone’s dad and step-mum have left them to it, a set of gaoler’s keys glinting from the work top.
‘Come on, let’s go to the park,’ Daisy says, ‘see who’s down there.’ She surprises herself. Normally she would prefer the privacy of Simone’s garden, of iPad scrolling on the grass, ice poles from the freezer. Instead, she rounds them up, ushering on sandals, pushing down sunglasses. It’s a first of May like summer and it’s a day off school. They’ve got to make the most of it.
Daisy’s sure her legs are actually as long as Simone’s. She’s not noticed it before; in fact, she’s always felt the opposite. But here, walking in sync, arms looped through each other’s, their strides are matched. Their hips are level. And her hair, though not as long or as definite in colour, is certainly as shiny as Simone’s. Her eyelashes curl just as much as Emma’s do.
They go quiet for a bit as they wait for a lull in passing cars. Finally, they cross the road that borders the park. Already they can see a group of boys hoofing a ball from one netless goal mouth to another.
‘You know that we were messing about this morning, don’t you, Daisy? All that dew stuff. It was just messing about.’
Simone is a head girl in her new school already.
‘Yeah, course,’ Daisy says. Her cheeks don’t redden or flame. ‘Come on.’ She pushes open the kissing gate to the park, spotting three lads from their year at one of the goal posts. She flicks her hair over her shoulder. ‘Let’s go over.’
Based in Greater Manchester, Sophie is currently studying for a PhD in folklore and creative writing at the Centre for Contemporary Legend, Sheffield Hallam University. She has published two books of non-fiction and her first novel is currently on submission to editors.