Sylvester (Part 1)

I could describe a single meeting in a thousand pages, and a hundred years in two lines.

It’s all relative to perception, I think. 

The year I met Sylvester was the year I also broke both my legs in a terrible cycling accident. I never wanted to go into the details of it all, but it was ominous. I was happy and carefree sailing down the hill, the wind rushing through my hair and over my face, the sky was brilliant because the clouds were flushed with peaches and pinks, the last hurrah of a setting sun, and my legs had never worked so well, and they never would work as well as in that blissful, euphoric moment. I don’t care to think of what happened next, it doesn’t do me any favours and makes me wallow.

A girl is never any good at anything if she is an experienced wallower.

I suppose I would not have met Sylvester if I hadn’t broken both my legs. As it happened, I was lying in bed mostly for six months straight, unable to walk anywhere. The first three months were a living nightmare, and I was in a hospital bed for most of the time because the doctors weren’t sure about my spine.

I shared a room with six other women and girls, but it was interchangeable. They came and went, and nobody stayed as long as I did. During my sixth week, I lay with both my legs in a cast, staring at the ceiling until a tear rolled out of the corner of my eye and slid down the side of my head and burrowed into my hair. It was a tear of complete boredom. I wasn’t sad at all, I was just idle, listless; yawning but not tired.

That must be what it means to be bored to tears,’ I thought.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I had plenty of visitors. My friends from school came around every weekend, and we had a little party by my bedside. Eventually the bulk of them stopped coming but Tommy Hill came without fail, chattering about everybody and everything and keeping me up to date on classroom and playground politics. Samantha Briggs brought me my homework, and sometimes sat with me to do hers and explain what I had missed. I got tired of that quickly, though. It was kind of her but I just wished she would let up on all the studious talk. Her large blue eyes would blink blankly at me if I dared to ask what her plans were for the weekend.

‘Well, there is that Chemistry pop quiz we have on Tuesday, and Mondays are always bulky bag days so probably homework?! Why?! Is there a test I am missing?!’

I would roll my eyes and shake my head, letting her carry on, her monotonous voice drifting above my head and over up to the ceiling, her words jumbling together and mixing up, forming mountains and tumbling down, crashing like waves on a shore of slick, black rocks.

Then, Sylvester.

I was sitting up that day. My toast was ready on the table by my bed, and I was stirring a mug of tea whilst absently staring at the small monitor on the wall opposite, where an old rerun of a staticky sitcom buzzed and twitched its way through a dreary episode, every few sentences interrupted by shrieking laughter.

‘Oh, I like this episode,’ a voice said from the doorway. I turned to look. Peculiar boy, he was. A shock of silver hair over a shadowy face. He wore a terrifically baggy T shirt, almost like a dress, and the baggiest shorts you ever did see. They hung below his knees, and his shins were scraped something terrible. He had two dimples and he wasn’t even smiling, and his eyes were piercing and black. Blacker than the longest night in December.

He was wild and brown, an exclamation mark of a human.

Pushing a trolley into the room, he said cheerfully,

‘Snacks, sweets, magazines anybody?!’

Sarah in the bay opposite sat up and said, ‘Do you have the Guardian newspaper, love?’

‘Why, yes we do,’ he swooped down and lifted the newspaper from the bottom shelf of the trolley, waving it above his head in triumph. Like he had won a gold medal.

‘Here you go, sweetheart. That’ll be £2.50’

Then he winked at me.

I turned away, back to the sitcom, and took a sip of my tea. ‘Rude boy’, I thought. He had no business winking at me.

‘This is the episode where they jump off that cliff, isn’t it?’

I looked up at him again and saw him leaning backwards to see the screen. He glanced at me so I knew he was speaking to me.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, curtly.

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The Girl Who Stopped Growing

The moment when Lem Pringle realised that she was no longer growing took it’s fine old time to reach her, clambering like a rheumatic old man to lodge itself in a firm nook in Lem’s vivacious brain.  By then she had not been growing for a fair amount of time. Months, even. Her hair hung silky and chestnutty as ever, in limp ringlets just below her shoulder blades, stark against her brown, bony back. She measured it with a ruler. It hadn’t grown an inch! She was particular about her hair. She washed it in honey every other week, as her mama taught her, and she liked to lie on the grass sometimes, her hair cool as it fell over her face, breathing in the soft, sweet scent of honey and grass, a faint lemony fragrance that hung about her wherever she went.

Lem, Alex certified, was a very lemony child. Alex was Lem’s older, oldest and only sister.

But Lem really was not growing. Her nails had been trimmed four months ago, and they remained neatly trimmed. This, Lem mused, was not a terrible thing. At least she didn’t have to go through the hassle of cutting her nails every week. She looked at them often, under the table at school, when her hands twisted forwards and backwards over the handlebars of her bike as she whizzed through streets and up hills, thighs burning. She watched her nails very carefully when she ironed the family’s clothes on Sunday mornings. She glanced at them when she wrote her compositions for school, when she buttoned up her dress, when her small brown paws caressed her bows as she mused over which one she would choose that day.

They stayed the same.

Once she showed them to Finn.

“Look at my nails,” she said, walking into his shed one rainy day. Finn glanced, not really looking. He was carving something pretty. Later Lem saw the pretty thing on Alex’s chest of drawers. Alex never put anything on her chest of drawers.

Lem wondered if Finn thought they looked the same as four months ago. “Have my nails changed, Finn?”

He didn’t notice how big and brown her eyes were, how they were brimming with invisible tears.

“They’re very pretty,” he said. He smiled at her. Lem liked Finn’s smile. It rarely showed itself in full glory. It was a slow smile, and took it’s time to appear. Lem thought that you had to really like Finn to be patient enough to wait for his smile to get ready to present itself. It began as a small twitch of the corners of his mouth, and then small dimples appeared in his cheeks, they took their time to deepen as his mouth stretched from side to side, his teeth peeking out, the joy spreading from his lips to his eyes, dancing, merry, like the stars glittering in jubilant festivity.

She liked waiting for smiles. Too many people gave up too quickly. They didn’t look at other people, really look, long enough. They retreated quickly into themselves. They were afraid. Of what, though? Lem decided that they were missing out. She was glad she waited for Finn’s smile. She decided to always wait for people’s smiles. If they didn’t arrive. she hurried them on by giving them some of her own. That always made smiles travel faster. Smiles are attracted to smiles.

Lem didn’t care if her nails were pretty, of course. Lem wasn’t worried about such things. She just wanted them to grow. She wanted them to scratch her involuntarily when she clambered up a tree, or pulled on a pair of comfy woolly socks. She wanted to say, “Oh. Hallo. I need a nail cutter.” or “ouch. My nails are getting quite long now. I must give them a small chop”

She even wanted to trawl all over the house hunting for a nail cutter, eventually finding it somewhere ridiculous like under George’s bed, or in the fridge. Or in the sugar bowl. That was a grimy state of affairs, Lem remembered fondly.

Alas, she wasn’t growing at all. The height chart on George’s doorframe grew faded. Nobody raced to be taller anymore. Nobody glugged their milk down with ferocious determination.

When Lem Pringle looked down at her feet, they were the exact same distance that they were the last time she looked. They certainly weren’t getting nearer. But they weren’t getting further either.

****

If you have managed to make it this far, dear reader, could you let me know what you think? Only if you are inclined to, of course. This is an excerpt from a longer novel that I am currently writing. I have been working on this particular story for about three years now. My heroine is mentioned in this blog post.