Pinkie-promise

My best friend and I are always together. We’ve been friends since we were little and we pinkie-promised that we’d always stay together, no matter what. I know Evie better than I know anyone, which is how I knew something was wrong with her right away. She hadn’t called me in days. She hadn’t come round to my house or invited me to hers. Mum says she’s just poorly and she’ll come back to school soon. Mrs Garrity says I won’t have to partner smelly Richard Jenkins for long because Evie will be back in no time. They’re both wrong.

I’ll definitely have to partner him on the class trip to the secondary school. Next year we’re all starting at St Edward’s. I’ve always been the nervous one, but Evie just grins and says it’s another adventure. We’re always going on adventures, turning our bedrooms into foreign countries and planets with funny names. When we’re at Evie’s her mum even gives us some of her old clothes to play in. My favourite is a red dress with big sleeves and a puffed out skirt. Evie said it was her mum’s ‘going out’ dress before she got pregnant and her thighs got fat.

Dad says I’m too old to be playing dress-up. You’re ten now, Katie, he always says. You’re practically a grown-up. There’s no place for pretend when you’re a grown-up. He thinks I should be reading a book or studying to get ready for secondary school. As long as whatever I’m doing is quiet. Dad likes me when I’m quiet.

Evie sits with me when I’m upset, on the edge of the bed. She puts an arm around me and rests her head against mine. I like it when we sit like that. Her golden hair curls around my mousy brown hair and makes it look interesting. Love you, Katie, she says. Love you more, I always whisper back.

Mum and Dad think Evie’s a bad influence. She’s a distraction, too loud and giggly. But that’s part of the reason I love her so much. It’s difficult to be sad around Evie; she just won’t let you be anything but happy. Her mum and dad are the same. Mum says that’s because they don’t have anything to worry about. Dad calls them snobs behind their backs. He says they buy Evie things to make him and Mum look bad, but that isn’t true. Evie always shares her things with me.

Last Christmas Evie got an iPhone. Dad’s nose wrinkled when I told him. Even though I hadn’t asked, he said I couldn’t get one. I don’t mind so much. Our house phone is right outside my bedroom. Dad works late and Mum goes to bed early, so sneaking it into my room is no problem.

Evie stays up all night with me. We get to school the next morning with dark circles around our eyes, but Evie says she doesn’t mind, it makes us a matching pair. Even as she grew paler and thinner over the last few months she would shrug at me, smiling.

One day she didn’t turn up to school and Mum told me not to worry, She probably just has a cold. I left for school early the next morning, waiting by the gates where her dad usually drops her off on his way to work. But she didn’t show up. She didn’t show up the whole week.

I sleep at Evie’s house most weekends, but this weekend promises to be a lonely one. Weekends at Evie’s are brilliant. Her dad ruffles my hair when he comes home from work and her mum kisses me on the cheek before bed. When we were young, Evie’s mum would lie between us and tell us stories. In her stories no one cries and everyone lives happily ever after.

When Friday arrives it’s the longest I have ever gone without seeing Evie. I stare at her empty seat next to me until Mrs Garrity bangs her hand on the table to get my attention. When I get home, Mum repeats that Evie is probably just sick. But I know it’s more than that now. I know before the familiar roar of Evie’s dad’s car has me running to my window to watch the car pull into our driveway.

I curl up on the edge of my bed and watch as they get out, slamming the doors shut with identical thuds. They’ve never been to our house without Evie before. Evie’s mum’s eyes are red and puffy. She holds onto Evie’s dad, who looks older than I remember. They walk arm in arm to our front door and then I lose sight of them. I catch murmured voices in the hall before the living room door clicks shut. The house becomes silent once more, as if nothing is different. The only hint that it isn’t a normal day is the shiny blue car parked behind Dad’s rusty van.

I turn from the window and fling my legs over the other side of the bed. My eyes fill with tears, as they’ve been doing all week. Dad says he’s getting fed up of me crying over nothing. No one but Evie understands.

I bend my head and look at the mousy brown hair curling around gold. An arm reaches around me, holding my shoulder gently. Our heads move at the same time, touching one another at the perfect moment so we’re both comfortable.

     ‘Love you, Katie.’

     ‘Love you more.’

I know why Evie’s parents are here. They’re here to tell me that I did have something to worry about. They’re here to tell me that Evie was sick, that she’s gone. But they’re wrong; my best friend and I are always together. We’ve been friends since we were little and we pinkie-promised that we’d always stay together. No matter what.

 

Rediscovering old loves…

I rediscovered this list of children’s books. I’ve been trying to get into reading again. As an adult it’s so easy to get lost in work, Netflix, eating (I’m very good at bored-eating.) I’m trying to be healthier in the sense that I’m rounding out my life again. And reading children’s books seems to be a good place to start with that, I think.

Fairytale Corner

And no, I don’t mean that in the ‘person meets an ex and wonders why they ever broke up’ sense. I mean, of course, in the story sense.

This was actually meant to be a very short post. I was online Googling a quote, something short and cute to add to the blog before I went to bed. The one liner in my personal Twitter profile is a quote from Roald Dahl’s TheBFG: ‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words.’ As I was on Twitter, I decided to add a quote from The BFG to the blog and just ended up remembering how much I loved this story. The BFG is probably one of the most adorable, beautiful characters ever created.

‘I is reading it hundreds of times,’ the BFG said. ‘And I is still reading it and teaching new words to myself and how to write them. It is…

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My Favourite Spot

I’ve started reading through some of my old stories from university. When I found this one it made me smile. I really enjoyed writing this piece, and I think it’ll always be one of my favourite short stories. Not being particularly good at short pieces, it’s an easy enough category to get into, to be honest. 

*

     They were always just out of reach. I could sense Emma’s pain, hear her calling for me as those boys jeered at her, but everyone was always out of reach. I’d snarl, running so fast my muscles would burn… and then someone would wake me up.

‘You were having a bad dream, boy,’ they’d say.

But it wasn’t a bad dream. It was a frustrating dream.

From my favourite spot, lying across the back of the sofa, I spotted my youngest sibling Emma pass the window. She was running as the two boys across the road shouted something at her. It was muffled because the window was shut.

I shifted position and pricked my ears forward.

‘Don’t cry, Wobble. Look, Jack, she’s off to snivel to her mummy.’

‘Don’t cry, little girl, Mummy will make it better!’

I whined and ran my nails down the window. I’d get them one day, even if it was only in a dream. Emma fumbled with the gate and it clicked shut on the third attempt. I followed her movement down the garden path, wincing when she slammed the door shut.

‘Oh, you’re home, Ems,’ our mum called out from the kitchen. ‘How was school?’

Emma cleared her throat. ‘Fine, I have lots of homework, though.’

‘Dinner’s in an hour.’

‘Okay, Mum.’

I waited for Mum to call her back, to ask her what was wrong, but it didn’t happen. Again.

People, I thought, they’re so unobservant.

Emma thundered up the stairs and turned her music up so loud it made the floor vibrate. I sighed and slipped off the sofa, padding quietly upstairs. I’d had plenty of practice opening the doors in this house. We’d always lived here and, as long as I didn’t mark the wood, I was allowed to let myself in and out of rooms as I pleased.

I stood on my back legs and used one paw to move the handle down and the other to push the door open. Emma was curled up on her bed, her legs tucked up to her chin. She sat up and wiped her face, her hand stilling when she noticed me.

‘Hi, Dave. Come sit.’ She got up to close the door. I waited until she was sitting down again before I jumped up and settled beside her.

She curled her arms around me and placed her forehead on mine. ‘They came up with a good nickname for me today. They call me Wobble. They told everyone at school.’  Her voice broke and she started to cry again.

Her pain saturated the air around me. People are emotional creatures. When they’re hurt you can almost taste it in the air and, when you love the person, you can almost feel an echo of that pain in your chest.

‘They follow me home from school.’ Emma leaned against the headboard with a sigh, one hand moving through my black fur slowly. ‘The taller boy, Stuart, lives just round the corner. I think they actually wait for me. They were making fun of my flabby bits. Sometimes I wish I could be someone else, you know.’ Emma prodded her stomach.

I placed a paw on her leg and her eyes met mine slowly. You’re completely perfect.

She smiled, touching my paw. ‘Sometimes I really do think you can understand me.’

Despite the smile I could still feel her pain. I stayed by her that evening until I saw the laughter return to her eyes. It always took a while after those boys were horrible to her. It had been going on for a couple of weeks. I’d watched them from my favourite spot, a growl rumbling in my chest. I wanted nothing more than to run outside and tear them to pieces, to show them what real pain felt like. But I couldn’t.

There was no future for a dog that bit a human. In the human world it warranted the final trip to the vets, a trip we all dreaded. But, in the dog world, it was the ultimate shame to hurt a human, unless they were trying to physically hurt a member of your family.

It didn’t make watching Emma return home from school each day easier to handle, knowing I couldn’t do anything to help her. As long as they didn’t touch her, I couldn’t touch them. She’d run across the road, her face averted but dry. They hadn’t managed to make her cry in front of them. But each time she got home I felt her pain deepen until, one day, she stopped smiling in the evenings.

Our parents finally noticed something was wrong. They forced Emma to sit down with them after dinner, when my brothers had gone upstairs. I sat on my favourite spot and Emma sat beside me, her warm body leaning into mine. She sat there until the sky grew dark but refused to tell them what was happening.

I followed her upstairs and lay across her bed, my head tilted to the side.

‘Don’t look at me like that,’ Emma snapped. ‘I couldn’t tell them. You know how lame telling your parents is? I’d be even more of a joke than I am now.’

The next day was one when smaller humans don’t have to get up early. Emma was happier and she took me out for a walk when the air was still cold. We walked together to the park and when the lead clicked, signalling I was free, I bounded away.

I ran from one end of the field and back to Emma before catching the scent of a cat. I bounded away again, not really chasing the cat because there’s no fun in that; they always end the chase by scuttling up a high wall or squeezing into a tight space. Cowardly behaviour, if you ask me.

We stayed out for hours, Emma sitting on the grassy slope, throwing my ball whenever I retrieved it. Some dogs turn their nose up at this game but it makes Emma happy, so I played with her until my legs were weary from running. She clicked my lead back on when I plonked my bum on the grass and we went together to the retrieve the ball she’d thrown.

‘You really don’t have to talk to get your point across,’ Emma laughed. ‘And, Dave, seriously, less drool would be much appreciated next time.’ She held my ball between two fingers and dropped it into the bag she’d brought.

I trotted beside her, relieved to feel happiness rolling through the air around us. She’s always calmer the days she doesn’t have to get up early and go out. Emma hummed under her breath as she unhooked the lead and let me into the house. Mum greeted us from upstairs and my brother patted my head as he passed on his way up.

I waited to hear Emma follow me into the kitchen as she usually did, to give me my after-walk biscuit. I stopped as the door slammed but no footsteps followed. I pricked my ears forward, trying to pick out any abnormal sound around the movement of my family and the roar of a car outside.

Voices. I could hear voices.

I turned and jumped onto my favourite spot. The window was open and scents rode the breeze. I breathed in the mingling scents of human and dog, my shoulders tensing as I picked out Emma’s powdery scent from the unfamiliar. Danger.

Emma was at the garden gate, her hand on it, ready to close it. And on the other side of the road were the two boys that shouted at her, with a dog. I’d seen this dog before, and I’d heard about him from next door’s terrier. Dozer. He was ferocious. He’d been kicked out of three vets because he’d gotten into fights with other animals.

The boy holding the lead was taunting Emma, loosening his grip and holding tight again when the dog went to pounce. The boy named Jack said something that made Dozer snarl and strain harder on his lead. I willed Emma to move back, to run into the house but she was frozen, like a child that first sets eyes on me before realising I’d never hurt them, like a cat caught sneaking through my garden at night.

And then, suddenly, it was too late.

Dozer stopped straining against the lead and, as we both knew would happen, the human’s hand loosened. With a snarl, Dozer yanked himself free. Stuart’s mouth opened in an ‘oh’ of surprise and Emma screamed, abandoning the gate as the dog charged at her.

I rose onto my back legs on my favourite spot and pushed with everything I had against the windows. They flew open fully, creating just enough space for me to lever myself out. In her panic, Emma’s feet tangled together and she tumbled. I reached her before Dozer was across the road and ignored her shout as I jumped over her.

Dozer’s teeth were bared but I knew it was just a scare tactic. I was bigger than him and I was angrier; he’d ignored our one absolute law and he’d tried to do so with my Emma. I couldn’t touch the human boys, but for the first time in weeks that didn’t matter.

I ran to a target that wasn’t out of reach and only one thought entered my mind as I bent my back legs and sprang into the air: Finally.

To Grow Up

While thinking about short story ideas, I decided to have a look at some of my uni work. I’m very into ‘write it now, come back to it later and edit it.’ Fresh eyes pick out mistakes that tired eyes tend not to. It’s been a while since I was at uni, and revisiting some of my old work has sort of felt like stumbling upon a stranger’s work; I don’t remember writing most of it. This one I’m going to post tonight, I have zero memory of writing, but I’m kinda hoping to work with, because it seems to be a good place to start. It definitely isn’t finished, but hopefully I can come back to it and try and stretch it/manipulate it into something more whole

I haven’t written the original guidelines. All I have is its title: ‘To Grow Up.’

*

     ‘Growing up’ when you are young is about changes: spots, voices deepening or menstrual cycles spinning into being, hair growing in places it didn’t once before, terrifying hormones that make you sob one minute and contemplate homicide the next. Growing up is more than just the basic mechanics of the body, though. It’s about what happens after innocence.

Adults smile indulgently at children, pat them on the head, and attempt to make them feel better with platitudes. You’re too young to understand. I’ll tell you when you’re older. Go play, there’s a good girl/boy. They smile indulgently at the innocence they instil. To not know, as a child, is cute, amusing, acceptable. She’s so excited about Christmas this year, she’s baking cookies for Santa. Oh, he said he was going to be the king of the world yesterday, kids, huh? 

     Innocence is to see the world through the eyes of a child, where nothing has yet been tainted by adult cynicism. It is when a person grows up and their innocence matures into naivety that people become crueller, more short-tempered. Naivety, of course, should not be confused with its sibling, ignorance, which is considered to be a form of incompetence. Ignorance lacks the ability to empathise, to change views and see someone else’s. Like innocence, naivety is instilled, but instead of it being the fault of the indulgent parent, the fault lies with the naïve person. They lack experience and judgement to form opinions that won’t make people roll their eyes or laugh in response. You believed him – are you completely stupid, of course you can get pregnant? Naivety is to have knowledge, but to not understand it, which in a way, makes it an innocent version of ignorance.

To believe that Santa can really fly around the world in one night, shows a lack of knowledge and understanding in science, mathematics, fairytales, and legend. When we grow up, we learn from teachers, schoolbooks and taunting in the playground what is real and what is pretend. We get older, we gain knowledge, which all speaks of something we’re acquiring, something positive.

So, what do we lose when we brush away our innocence and attempt to fend off naivety? We lose the ability to blindly believe, to trust, to dream big. We grow up and are expected to become hard-working members of society, to build friendships and relationships, to procreate, to eat well and exercise regularly. The act of growing up becomes a conscious process, one we are constantly aware of and question: Am I doing it right? 

The never ending edit

‘It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.’

C. J. Cherryh

Is it actually a thing to be finished editing? This isn’t the first blog post I’ve ever written about editing and I’m sure it won’t be the last (joy of joys.) I remember reading something (about 90% sure it was a screenshot from tumblr) once on Facebook that went along the lines of:

‘What do you do when you’re finished it?’ – it being your writing, art etc

‘Stare at it until I hate it.’

But how do you know you’ve finished? With shorter pieces there’s a more obvious moment. There are less words to grow to hate, less space for your grammar to stumble awkwardly around. But with a novel, something that’s sitting closer to the 100,000 words mark than the 50,000 there’s this ocean of space. There are so many places for a wrong word or sneaky comma to hide. Finding them becomes a puzzle, one you’ve been working on for months – years – so long the story has become more familiar to you, than the faces of your frankly, quite alarmed family. I’ve lost count how many times my mum’s squinted at me and said, ‘You’re looking very pale.’ It’s because I don’t go outside. Because the glare of the sun makes my laptop screen go dark and sends my iPod into a overheated hissy fit.

But will all of this ever be worth it? Will I ever truly finish something? Or is reaching the finishing line just a myth for creative people? Do published authors feel like their printed babies are finished? Or is it more a case of agents prising manuscripts from their writers’ reluctant hands?

Asking for a friend. Because I’m currently not hunched over my laptop in a dimly lit room wondering…