Archive for April, 2018

  • Happy Endings

     

    No one in our class really understood Marie. We were only about six when she joined our school, and even then, in that instinctive way that kids sometimes know things, we could all tell she was different. Most of us accepted her, though. People always say how kids can be cruel—which is true—but I think we just wanted to have fun back then. And fun meant having as many friends as possible and seeing who could do the best cartwheels on the school field.

    Even in those days Marie had funny clothes; she said that her parents let her wear whatever she wanted, which made me so jealous. She wore mismatching colours that were so bright it looked like she’d coloured herself in with highlighter pens. Me and Stan thought she looked like a bird because of all the colours, her big nose, and her skinny arms and legs. Stan thought calling her a bird was an insult, but I loved that she was like a bird, and I reckon that I loved her even then, on the first day, when she came up to me in the playground.

    ‘I like your hair,’ she said to me.

    ‘I like your jumper,’ I said.

    ‘Thank you. It’s my favourite. Can I ask you something?’                                                 

    ‘Yeah.’

    ‘Can you tell that I have magical powers when you look at me?’

    ‘No,’ I said. ‘Do you?’

    ‘Maybe,’ she said, smiling her goofy little kid’s smile that she never lost completely. Then she skipped around the playground and I ran after her. We talked about magic some more and pulled sticks off one of the hedges to use as wands.

    We were a wee gang from then on— me, Stan, and Marie—but I can’t remember a lot of what we got up to. And it’s funny, ‘cause even though I’m almost seventeen, I can only really remember the last two years properly. Being a kid seems to have turned into one big day, maybe ‘cause it went by so fast.  I’ve got memories of Marie from back then, but they’re more like separate feelings and images rather than complete stories:

    We went to my house a lot, where we mostly played with my toys and watched TV.

    I was confused once ‘cause she cried when I gave her one of my Barbies. It wasn’t even one of my good ones and I didn’t really like Barbies.

    Mum got annoyed once ‘cause we ate all the bread and jam. But it was Marie who ate most of it. I remember she had jam all over her face and her and Stan couldn’t stop laughing. She chased after him saying, ‘I’m gonna jam kiss you to oblivion!’ I didn’t know what oblivion was, but it was so funny and Stan couldn’t run or breathe he was laughing so much.

    Marie usually got sad when it was time for her to leave; she sometimes found some reason to stay a while longer.

    We danced to Spice Girls and even Stan joined in, but he made us swear not to tell anyone. There was nothing as wonderful as seeing Marie dance. It was mostly ‘cause she didn’t give a toss, but she was also pretty good at it. I didn’t have any rhythm and I felt embarrassed at first, but after a while it was impossible not to join in, ‘cause it was so great watching Marie flail around like a mad swan, moving however the music swayed her. So I stopped giving a toss too, and it felt great.

    We were watching Disney films one night. Just me and Marie. ‘I think they should make Bambi again,’ she said, ‘and her Mummy should be okay this time, and the film can just end with them all playing.’

    Marie stopped coming into school at some point; I don’t know when exactly ‘cause she missed school lots and it wasn’t weird that she hadn’t been in for a few days. Then Mr Kennedy, the headmaster, came into our class one day in his big cloak that made him look like Professor Snape. He told us that Marie had been in an accident, but that she was going to be okay. But he didn’t say what had happened and he still wouldn’t tell me and Stan when we asked him at lunchtime; he just said she’d been in an accident and that it was private.

    We heard rumours about her. Some people said that she’d gotten very sick; others said that her stepdad had burned her and that she was in hospital. Some said that her family had been in a car crash and that they’d moved afterwards—which sort of made sense, ‘cause they had actually moved out of the house; I know ‘cause me and Stan went to the house one day to see if maybe she was there.

    Some of the windows were smashed, but it looked like the kind of house that always had smashed windows. There was a pile of leaves on the doorstep that Stan just kicked aside, which bugged me ‘cause it seemed sort of disrespectful. We peeked through the letter box and saw about a hundred letters on the floor, so we pretty much knew she wasn’t coming back. But I still hoped she’d come into school one day and just sit beside me as though nothing had changed. A month passed. Then a year. And I eventually stopped hoping she’d come back. One day I stopped thinking about her at all.

     

    I was fourteen when I saw Marie again. Me and Stan were in Regent Grammar by then—same form class and everything, which is sort of funny, if you think about it. It was first period and we were in Mr Andrews’ English lesson doing Romeo and Juliet when there was a knock at the door. Marie came in, but I didn’t know it was her right away ‘cause her hair was so long and tatty that it covered most of her face.

    ‘Hi,’ she said, ‘I’m new. I was told to come to this class.’ Her voice was quiet, but familiar.

    ‘Wonderful,’ said Mr Andrews, who was the nicest teacher in the school. ‘We’d love to have you. What’s your name?’

    ‘Marie Fitzpatrick,’ she said, and it all clicked in my head. I looked at Stan, who hadn’t realised at all that this was Marie, our Marie. I elbowed him and whispered ‘It’s Marie!’ and his eyes near popped out of his head.

    She seemed so different, though. And I was different too. I didn’t feel like I could just go up to her and say hi. Instead, I made sure she could see me and I answered loads of questions so that Mr Andrews would say my name a few times and point me out to her. I waited all day for her to come and say hi, but she never did.

    I tried to talk to her the next day, but she just mumbled something I couldn’t understand and fluttered away like a little wren. She never talked to me and never even looked at me. It hurt a little that she’d forgotten me, but I tried not to get too upset about it.

    Everyone in Regent gradually realised how weird Marie was, but even the bullies understood that she was off limits. Or maybe they just realised that they’d get into too much trouble if they got caught bullying someone like Marie. She wasn’t much bigger at fifteen than when she was at primary school, and she had white scars scattered about her face that looked like little petals. I thought they were pretty and I tried not to think about how she got them.

    Marie used to talk to herself. She laughed quietly at her own jokes at the back of class, and when Mrs White once asked her what she was laughing about Marie just went quiet, like she was being told off—which was a shame, ‘cause Mrs White was smiling and was obviously just trying to include her.

    Mostly, people left her alone, and she didn’t seem to mind that ‘cause her big beak of a nose was always in a book. Sometimes I saw her take out some tip-ex and a pen and make changes in whatever book she was reading. After she’d been at Regent for about two months, I managed to sneak up behind her and peek over her shoulder to see what she’d changed in her grubby second-hand copy of Romeo and Juliet. I could just about see the pages, which looked yellow against the bright white of the tip-ex, but I didn’t get a chance to read it before she noticed me and ran away.

    One day, Marie came into school in a cape—like a superhero’s cape—only it was obviously just a bit of old purple curtain she’d cut and sewed along the edges. I felt like we were in primary school again and I could see her dancing so clearly in my mind. She smiled her little kid’s smile that day and I was in love again.

    I bet it took every bit of restraint the bullies had not to make fun of her in that cape. Me and Stan actually fell out ‘cause he was joking about Marie, saying she was a freak and I shouted at him and told him to take it back. And when he didn’t I punched him as hard as I could on the arm and walked away.

    It’s weird how something good can come out of something so bad. When my dog Fiver died Marie finally noticed me again, and I don’t think she would’ve otherwise.

    Mum still made me go to school, even though I couldn’t stop crying. The other girls were nice to me, and even Stan was kind in his own clumsy way: he bought me a Wham bar from the tuck shop. I cried on and off until lunch time; I just couldn’t believe that I wasn’t going to see Fiver’s silly walk and waggy tail again, that she’d just stopped being alive as if it was the easiest thing in the world.

    I sat on my own during lunch and I wasn’t very hungry, but at least I hadn’t cried in a while. Then Marie came over and sat beside me as if it was something she did all the time.

    ‘I heard about your dog,’ she said. ‘I think life is so hard sometimes that it sort of takes your breath away.’

    I couldn’t speak. I’d wanted to talk to her for so long, and here she was beside me, but I didn’t know what to say.

    ‘I’m sorry I haven’t said hi before now,’ she said, then she held my hand and squeezed it gently.

    I let her.

    ‘And I’m so sorry about Fiver,’ she said. ‘I remember her when she was a puppy.’

    I started to cry about Fiver all over again, but I was also so happy that Marie was with me. She hugged me until the end of lunch, and I didn’t care if the other girls were looking at us. 

    When the bell went she reached into her bag and pulled out the purple cape, which she’d folded up tight.

    ‘I know you like my cape,’ she said, handing it to me.

    I didn’t know what to say. I knew she was trying to be nice, but it wasn’t really the cape I’d liked, it was her wearing it. Where most of the girls were trying to dress like grownups, Marie was happy to dress like a little kid. I envied her freedom, which feels so stupid now.

    I knew I couldn’t give Marie the cape back, so it made me sad that I wouldn’t see her in it again. But I thanked her and there was this awkward moment between us where I wanted to tell her how great I thought she was and that I remembered how good a dancer she was. But somehow the words didn’t come, so I just put the cape in my bag and walked back to class.

    That night, when I unfolded the cape I found a book hidden, wrapped inside the fabric. It was her copy of Romeo and Juliet. Because Marie had given it to me, I decided to read it, even though I already knew the story. But Marie’s version of the story was different; she had made changes using little strips of tip-ex and neatly printed letters. She’d only made small changes at the beginning, but she’d actually tip-exed the entire last act, which was more than twenty pages long! She’d changed it, giving the play a happy ending. She made sure the priest’s letter got to Romeo in time, so that he knew Juliet was just pretending to be dead and that she was really just in a deep sleep. So instead of killing himself, Romeo waited for her to come find him and they went off together, living happily ever after.

    Reading Marie’s version of Romeo and Juliet made me feel like my heart was going to burst out of my chest. I’d heard people talk about love as feeling like that, but I’d never felt it for someone before. It wasn’t like the way I loved Mum and Dad or anything—it was bigger and scarier and so wonderful that I couldn’t stop smiling.

    I found her the next day and told her how much I loved her happy ending, which seemed to make her really happy. She came up to me after lunch with two more books, both full of tip-ex and her neat handwriting. The first book was about Icarus—that guy with the wings who fell. Marie made it so that instead of flying close to the sun and melting his wings like he was supposed to, he flew backwards, into the night. There, the air was cool and the wax kept the wings together until he reached land.

    The other story was much longer. It was A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway and it took me over a week to read. Marie had left most of it as it was; it was just the ending she’d edited. I don’t know what was supposed to have happened in the original, but it can’t have been good, otherwise Marie wouldn’t have changed it. She made it so that the nurse in the story had her baby and they all lived happily ever after in Switzerland. I didn’t really like the story, but I liked that Marie shared it with me.

                For the next few months, she kept bringing me her tip-exed stories. I read them, then we talked about them after. Well, I talked mostly, and she listened. She was quieter than she used to be, and she looked tired all the time. She was so different to how she was when we were younger and it made me sad in a way I didn’t understand. I still don’t, I suppose. But I was also glad that she let me be her friend again. We talked about the other stories she was going to change and she said something that I know I’ll never forget:

    ‘Life’s too hard already. Stories should make us happy—at least for a while.’

    I agreed with her. I still do. So I started editing books too, but I wasn’t nearly as good as Marie. Not back then, at the start. But I think I’m pretty great at it now, if I’m being honest.

    I asked her what had happened with her scars and where she’d been all those years. I asked her a few times, waiting for the right moments, but I guess no moment was right ‘cause she never gave me an answer and always managed to change the subject. So I stopped asking after a while and just let those things go unsaid. I like the idea that she’d tip-exed over her bad memories and that’s why she wouldn’t say—‘cause she’d made herself forget. But I know that’s not how memory works. Not really. So I just let her be herself. She was still like a little bird, except her feathers weren’t the neon blues and yellows of highlighters anymore, and we didn’t dance to the Spice Girls. But we talked a lot and we edited a lot of stories. It was better than before, but harder too.

    Then she stopped coming to school one day, just like before. This time the principal actually told everyone what had happened. He announced it at assembly, just before the prayer. I could barely speak or think properly for days, and it’s only now that I’m starting to get my head straight about her and how I feel about it all. I keep thinking it’s like that letter in Romeo and Juliet and I wonder if someone could’ve got to her in time and said something. And I wonder if I could’ve helped her if I’d known how bad things really were. But Dad says that there’s probably nothing I could have done and that obsessing over it won’t help her, or me.

    I worry that she’d have hated this story because it has a sad ending. But I hope she wouldn’t. I hope she’d smile that kid’s smile that always made my heart feel too big, take out her tip-ex and her pen, and get to work. Perhaps I’ll edit it myself and take out most of the bad stuff—give it a happy ending, Marie-style. But right now I need this version, ‘cause it’s about her. What I saw of her, anyway. And I can’t edit out the real her just yet.