Our short story series is back! Last year, we started publishing a collection of short stories with disabled characters as the hero or heroine, or where disability is central to the storyline. Working with disabled writer Hayleigh Barclay and disabled illustrator Philip Hoare, we want to ensure disabled people can see themselves reflected in fiction, and encourage more disabled writers to create books with disabled characters.
Julie flicked through the glossy holiday brochure sitting on her desk. Parisian weekend break… her mind drifted. Eat croissants along the Seine, take in a sunset at the Eiffel Tower, gasp in wonder at the Mona Lisa.
“How’s about it?” she said, whispering into the phone.
“I can’t afford a baguette, let alone a holiday to France,” replied her sister Jen, who was at home searching through online job ads.
Julie took a bite of her apple and rolled her eyes. “I know. I can’t believe I work for one of the largest travel agencies in the industry and yet they won’t give me two free nights in a local basement never mind a major European city!”
“Nothing comes for free these days,” said Jen, uploading her CV for the hundredth time.
“I got a free dinner from Greig the other night,” Julie replied, with a slightly smug smile.
“That wasn’t for free, love,” remarked Jen.
Just as Julie was about to impart her infinite wisdom about how Jen’s snarky opinion was actually anti-feminist, Julie’s boss appeared beside her, making her jump.
“Do you think you could actually do some work?” he said leaning against the wall. The coffee stain on his white shirt did not match his tie.
“So that’s fourteen nights all-inclusive to Mexico. That will be £1,600 per person,” Julie sang into the phone in that rather annoying voice she felt the need to do whenever Willie, the boss, was around.
“What?” Jen said, clicking on an ad for a market researcher in the glamourous world of garden hoses.
“Yes, I believe enchiladas are Mexican.”
“Willie the dick is there, isn’t he?”
Julie turned around to find her boss picking his nose as though nobody was watching. “Oh God, it’s going right up there,” she said under her breath.
At that moment, a young, blonde woman with humongous lips and bread knives for nails sat in front of her. “I wanna holiday!” she said, flinging her £5,000 designer handbag onto the desk.
Willie leered at the woman with his upper lip twitching. Julie pointed to the phone and held up her hand. “That’s the confirmation email sent to you, Ms Roberts. Have a good day now.”
Julie hung up the receiver. The blonde sucked her teeth. Willie walked away in the general direction of the bathroom.
“How can I help you?” Julie asked.
“I’m not doing it!” Jen said, moving her wheelchair towards the couch. “People already think I’m a freeloader.”
“Oh, come on,” Julie replied, handing her sister a cup of coffee. “It’ll be just like the good old days. You and me, teaming up. The two wheelies they used to call us.”
“Amongst other things” quipped Jen.
Julie swiped a few biscuit crumbs off her armrest and leaned over to show Jen her Instagram timeline. “They’re called internet celebrities. The blonde airbag that came in today was telling me about it. She gets a ton of free stuff online.”
Jen grunted and turned the volume up on the TV.
“Besides,” Julie continued, “this is what you’re good at. Plus, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but, you’re unemployed.”
One sunny afternoon, about a week later, Julie and Jen sat in front of their laptops holding a banjo and a set of homemade maracas made from coffee jars and lentils.
“Do you remember the words?” Julie asked, staring into the webcam and applying a thick layer of baby pink lip gloss.
“Uh-huh,” Jen sighed. “I can’t believe you actually think this will work!”
Julie gazed into space. “This time tomorrow they’ll be in the post; a pair of red suede Huey Kitton stilettos with 5-inch heels, platinum faux buckle, and the trademark green soles.”
Jen strummed the banjo and pressed record on the webcam. “Let’s just get this over with.”
Ask someone to think of a song and they’ll probably come up with some pretty decent classics – pop, rock ‘n roll, jazz. There’s also a good chance they’ll reel off a few stonkers – there’s even more of them to choose from.
However, the musical atrocity that was about to make its way to unsuspecting YouTube viewers could rival even the worst of novelty one-hit wonders.
“Dear Mr Kitton,
We hope you sing along.
Help a girl in need.
We’d like a pair of shoes,
To take away our blues.
Please send them in the post
While we eat jam and toast.
And if you wonder why,
We’re not gonna lie.
It’s a good in.vest.ment.
Cause we can’t ruin heels,
Whilst sitting in our wheels… Chairs.”
They hit upload.
Julie sat back looking a little bit too satisfied with herself. “This is totally the best idea I’ve ever had.”
85 million hits, 23 million thumbs up, 15,000 thumbs down and 38,000 comments later, Jen and Julie were shocked. Some people laughed. Some people cried. A lot of people found the two disabled women brave and inspirational. 2,000 men told Jen she should smile more.
Then, one random Wednesday, they arrived in the post; two pairs of red Huey Kitton stilettoes. Julie thought it was the siren call of her voice that lured them to her door. Jen said she was deluded.
To be honest, the PR department at Huey Kitton was so fed up with the song being stuck in their heads, they sent the shoes in the hopes that the damn video would go away. It didn’t.
Suddenly, the good people of social media cried out for the two wheelies to create their own YouTube channel, Instagram, and range of cookery books. Neither of the women cooked. Yet! Of course, Julie (and eventually Jen) obliged. Thus, J-SquaredCominAtcha was unleashed.
It took Willie seven weeks to realise Julie no longer worked for him. As a goodbye, she left a rancid pineapple on her desk, a stack of tampons that had been dipped in ketchup, and a garden gnome wearing bondage gear.
To be fair, the pineapple sold more holidays than Julie ever did during her employment. At least that’s what Willie said when a mass of fruit goo exploded in his face. But his attitude soon changed when Julie appeared on national radio. Then, he tried to sell the tampons on Ebay.
“You look like you handed a three-year-old a crayon and they ran wild with it over your face!” Jen said, going through a box of FREE vegan-friendly make-up that had been blessed by a secret society of nomadic squirrels.
“It’s called contouring,” Julie replied. “Can you hand me a lipstick?”
“Sure. Do you want the pink blossom or blossom pink?”
“What’s the difference?” Julie said, re-applying her eyeliner for the 10th time.
“I honestly don’t know.”
Four hours later and the two women looked preened, plucked, and perky. Carefully placed cushions, candles, and gadgets gave the impression that although their exteriors might portray high powered, career-driven ice maidens, while on the inside, they just wanted fluffy kittens, snuggly jumpers, and world peace.
Products, products, products. If J-SquaredCominAtcha loved them, then EVERYBODY LOVED THEM!
“We got an e-mail today from a company selling mobility aids. They’re wondering if we’ll feature them?”
“Are they sending us free stuff?” Julie replied, whilst writing her latest blog entry on the benefits of a moisturiser whose main ingredient is spiders’ webs.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jen laughed with a mouthful of mass-produced doughnuts that just happened to need advertising on Instagram.
“Then NO! When they’re free we can talk.”
“But other people have to pay for them,” Jen said, inserting blue hair extensions into her purple hair.
“Exactly! They shouldn’t have to.”
“And what’s the difference between that and all this other free stuff?”
Ignoring her sister, Julie picked up a notebook and scribbled the lyrics for their latest marketing hit, These Rollo Jeans Make Sitting Down Feel Good.
95 million views. As nobody says, it was pure influential gold. Just like the classics, Manicures Make My Wheels Look Pretty, Toe Are Pointless Unless You Wear 24 Carat Toe Rings, and I Carry My Pucki Bag on My Lap.
Agents called. Magazines proposed a 10-page spread and promised not to use the word inspirational. Fashion brands offered the two women their own lines.
Somewhere along the way, Jen’s two-bedroom flat became so overloaded with ‘stuff’ that she had to move into a penthouse overlooking the Clyde. It may, or may not have been given to her as part of a marketing ploy trying to attract more A-listers to Glasgow.
“Are things getting out of hand?” Jen said, testing scents for their new perfume range. Turns out Jasmine doesn’t mix with Eau de Saffron.
“Not at all!” Julie replied. Her phone vibrated. “That absolute skank,” she hissed, checking her notification.
“She started it!”
Jen took a swig of her pine tree smoothie. “That’s your fifth one this month.”
“I did not use a filter!”
“You probably did.”
“This is just petty jealousy!” Julie said as her face turned scarlet.
“It’s really not.”
“Look, I’m telling you-“ Julie said, but was interrupted by her phone ringing. After many high-pitched giggles, half-hearted compliments, and promises of meeting up for cocktails, she hung up.
“What was that?” Jen asked.
“We’ve been offered a cookery show.”
“But neither of us can even boil an egg.”
Julie bit her bottom lip and smiled. “Well, I suggest we learn pretty damn quickly how to make Coq au Vin.”
Jen looked at her sister with a mixture of befuzzlement and boredom.
“They want us to do a special in France,” Julie replied, rolling her eyes.
As the realisation of eating croissants down the Seine hit Jen, she smiled and immediately started searching for her passport.
“See?” Julie cried out whilst downloading a recipe app, “I told you we’d get to Paris.”
Story by Hayleigh Barclay and illustration by Philip Hoare
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