The Unreliable Narrator: The Talent Show

“Talentless hacks! Unsophisticated has-beens! Blind idiots! We were cheated, I tell you!!”

Opal related the story to her audience at the hairdresser’s salon for the umpteenth time. “They were all just bursting with jealousy at my gorgeous Raquel. Those other contestants were horrid, to say the least! As far as I’m concerned, no one there was more beautiful or more talented or more confident than Raquel.”

The other ladies in the salon looked on, but offered no opinion.

“Raquel had an outstanding performance. She was the Prima Ballerina and yet they denied her the main prize. I was right there. I even saw her on stage helping one of the more obviously inept dancers with her ballet positions. She wasn’t nearly as talented as my baby.”

The stylist only nodded in silence and continued her job of putting extensions in Opal’s very straight and thinning hair. She was already very familiar with this tale.

Opal continued. “Raquel trained hard for this competition and her baton-twirling act in the talent portion of the show was spot on. Impeccable! One judge even said it was flawless! I can only assume that one of the parents saw Raquel during practice and decided to pay off the judges so that their little brat could win the competition! Yes, it must be the work of sabotage!”

The stylist rolled her eyes and continued her work. If she worked fast enough, in another 45 minutes she wouldn’t have to hear any more of Opal’s stories about her pageant-weary daughter.

At eight years old, Raquel was already a seasoned pageant contestant.

When she was 5 months old, she entered the “Cutest Halloween Baby” contest dressed as a pumpkin. By the time she was 6 years old, she had already competed in the “Mini Miss New Hampshire Beauty Pageant”,  “So You Think You Can Twirl?”, and “The Next Best Thing.”

While other kids her age were learning to ride their bikes or being girl scouts, Raquel was scheduled for ballet lessons, tap dancing, baton twirling, gymnastics, pyrotechnics, and catwalk modeling. Opal, her mother, schlepped her from one activity to the next starting at 5:00 am with gymnastics and ending 6:00 pm with pyrotechnics, on any given day, with a regular school day squeezed in between. All were designed to make her a better pageant entrant.

In her youth, Opal had been a beauty queen contestant who never won the main prize. Raquel had never won a single contest either. Her mother insisted that the judges were vacuous, unfair, racist, sexist, stupid, blind, deaf, pedestrian, old, or any number of adjectives appropriate for the occasion.

Tonight, after several months of training, Opal determined that the title of “Little Miss Sunshine Talent Show” was surely theirs — Raquel’s — to win this time.

Raquel twirled onto the stage with 6 other contestants and a guest Prima Ballerina, whom the other girls would dance around. From the outset, Raquel was unsteady on her feet. She frequently bumped into one of the other contestants and almost knocked over the Prima Ballerina! At one point, the girl next to her had to prop her up so she wouldn’t fall over.

Szene aus Schwanensee (Peter Gerstbach 2004)
Szene aus Schwanensee (Peter Gerstbach 2004)

During the talent portion of the show, Raquel regaled the judges and the audience with her baton-twirling skills, to the tune of Bonnie Tyler’s “I need a Hero”.

She strutted on to the stage, spinning the baton in her left hand. She reversed and saluted. The audience applauded and her confidence soared.

Her next move was a wrist roll while doing a mid-air split, but the baton fell from her and rolled a few feet and she had to stop and pick it up and did not complete her splits. She attempted a two-hand spin with a leap and fell flat on her bum. An audible groan escaped the audience, but as “Hero” played on the vibes did not subside.

Through it all, Raquel kept smiling, as she was trained to. But her insides were like a bowl of jelly and she wanted the ordeal to end.

The final part of her routine included a neck wrap, shoulder pass, and a wrist roll with an arabesque. During the climax of “Hero”, she would launch the baton in the air, pirouette, and then catch it just as the song ended.

Unfortunately, this didn’t go as planned. The baton, instead of being launched overhead, was propelled forward and hit one of the judges squarely in the shoulder. The contest was over for Raquel.

“Someone obviously sabotaged her baton,” Opal seethed to anyone at the salon who would listen. “Just wait until the pageant committee hears from me! We were robbed of that crown!”


For this week’s Writing Challenge, I incorporated the Framing Device in the Unreliable Narrator.

Fiction writers: Draft a short story or flash fiction piece from the point of view of a unreliable narrator. What is the source of their unreliability? In what ways and details can you reveal that this person might not be telling the truth? What kind of setting or situation can you create?

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