Trying to remain defiant in the face of outright and blatant hatred is a terrifying prospect, especially when you’re eight years old. Mary dug her finger nails deep into the flesh of her pale forearms as she stood in the playground, opposite Alice Tuebrook.
The other girl had a preened flash of red hair, tied back into a neat bun and despite her almost angelic appearance, that hair underlined the angry fire burning bright inside her.
Mary was at the receiving end of one of Alice’ s hateful, withering looks, reducing her to a quivering wreck which she was, for once, determined to not betray. Mary did not wish to give Alice the usual satisfaction that she clearly garnered from these all too familiar encounters.
“Well” chimed Alice, regarding Mary with the same sneer that would have been better bestowed upon a mass murderer “we better see what the other girls think”.
This was a new tact for Alice to take, Mary thought, eying the other girls who played nearby.
“Come along!” commanded Alice in a loud, clear voice “we need to make a decision!”
Mary’s arms ached, screaming out almost as she contracted her muscles tighter, turning her stubbornly folded arms into a self-hug. Alice was getting back-up.
With a wave of her arm, Alice was surrounded by the other girls that she and Mary usually played with at break and lunch times.
There was a specific pecking order and Mary knew she was at the very bottom of it. Just being allowed to play with the posh girls, the clever girls – that had meant the world to her and had been more than enough. Going home at night with a proud smile on her face had defied her mother’s best efforts at torment too. Mary had felt wanted within a group that she had had to wait patiently, ever since she had started Primary School, to be accepted into.
Alice twisted her pretty mouth into an ugly grimace, which faded for a moment to coil into something of a smug smile. She was hatching a terrible, painful plan to punish Mary for not doing what she was asked and for speaking up during an earlier game.
She’d gone off and thought about this, thought Mary. She had wanted to inflict pain without lowering herself to the sub-standards associated with those who inflicted heavy handed violence. No, considered Mary, Alice was a conniving monster who calculated with the cold, unfeeling accuracy of a computer programme.
“All those who want to be Mary’s friend, go over to her side. All those who want to be my friend, come and stand over by me” Alice announced. Mary knew exactly what the other girls were about to do. The almost regal confidence in which Alice had made her decree known, told Mary that her fate was already sealed.
Janet and Alison Weaver looked at each other in wide eyed disbelief for a moment, whilst Sharon Somers looked to Paula Cobb to see which way she was going. The other four girls hesitated for only a moment, before they were followed quickly by Paula, Sharon, Janet and Alison.
They all stood behind Alice.
Their faces were not those of sweet, innocent children anymore – they had been morphed into the hellish depictions of demons and gargoyles on churches, belying their strict Catholic upbringing. They had turned into agents of Satan, right before Mary’s defiantly dry eyes.
How she begged in her heart for the sweet intervention of an agent of God. Just someone, anyone who would take her side and stand by her. Just someone who would believe in her and not take a side against her. Someone who would never let her feel alone, mocked or exiled.
She stood for what felt like a lifetime, looking into the tableau of utter primal hatred directly in front of her. Silent venom radiated from the girls stood a few inches away. She could almost hear their angry, hateful words, churning about inside their pig-tailed and rosy cheeked heads.
Mary waited – hoping that everyone would burst out laughing. She hoped this was a joke, some terrible sick joke, but unsubstantiated nonetheless.
What had she done to make them hate her so much? She knew all their parents were still married. Was that why? She’d had so many sniping, cutting comments about being from a ‘broken home’ since her parents had divorced a couple of years earlier. She wasn’t as clever or as talented as any of them and she never got picked for anything by their teacher, whilst they always did. She wasn’t a bad girl though, she was certain. She had pulled Jodie’s pony-tail a few times last year, but had been told off by her Mum for doing it as it gave Jodie head-aches. Mary had gone home that night and cried; she hated the thought of hurting anyone – she had only been playing!
The stares were turning into vile, hideous scowls. Each one crushed Mary’s broken soul a little further.
Her resolve was starting to unravel, like a reel of cotton in the breeze. Tears stung her eyes, making her own stare now powerless and weak. Sensing victory, Alice turned to her gaggle of followers and instructed them further.
They were to carry on playing in their pretend Bakers shop, where Alice worked the imaginary till as the boss and everyone else played the bakers or the customers. They were to disregard, ignore and not talk to Mary at all costs and were to ignore her if she tried to join in.
Mary watched them disappear to the other side of the playground and begin their pretty little game without her. She had been a Baker in that game. She loved it. She had gone home from school eager to escape to her bedroom and draw pictures of what she thought the Bakery and all the characters looked like. She had wanted to show her designs to her friends, but had been told by Paula and Alice on several occasions that she couldn’t draw for toffee. Instead, she squirreled them away into the bottom draw of the little white desk in her bedroom. Her mother wouldn’t maliciously destroy those pictures if she thought that they were just doodles and dumped in a bottom drawer.
She absentmindedly rubbed the red, indented flesh on her arms as she sat down on a curb at the very edge of the play ground, admitting defeat to herself. She shouldn’t have tried to change the game and suggest new ideas to the story they were playing. She shouldn’t have tried to stick up for herself.
Why did she have to have this terrible stubborn streak at times? Why couldn’t she just erase it from her being with as much ease as rubbing out a pencil line? Why had nature given her terrible situations to deal with and then God cursing her with a fighting spirit? She would have been better being quiet and mouse-like in that instance. For Mary, being quiet and retiring was her default setting.
She dropped her head and examined her hands which rested in her blue and white gingham covered lap. She hated the summer dress she had to wear for school but it was what all the other girls wore at this time of year.
She wanted to feel anger and rage towards those awful, vile girls, but she couldn’t. Instead, she felt nothing but shame and embarrassment. It was her fault. It had to be. It always was.
The electric bell from inside the school sounded its shrill cry to herald the end of morning break and the teacher rang the hand-bell in response. Everyone lined up in their respective classes and were led inside by their teachers. Mary hung back until everyone in her class was in their line.
After lunch, they were off on their weekly jaunt to the swimming baths, but until lunch, it was Maths and Geography. Mary, who sat on a table on her own in the classroom, watched Mrs Glynn draw questionable likenesses to France and Spain on the black board. She hadn’t paid much attention; she instead opted to stare hopelessly out of the window, imagining what it would be like to be in one of those countries. Just to be far away from everyone and everything that made her life so unquestionably awful would be a dream come true.
At lunchtime, she had queued up to get her hot meal from the kitchen with all the other children who were on free school meals like her. Her former friends were already sat in their usual haunt, a long grey table connected to its wide red stools. She cast a wary, but envious eye over at them. They laughed and whispered together as they ate their packed lunches, no-one casting even a cursory look in her direction.
She was forgotten. Like a crisp packet being put in a bin – worthless, insubstantial and insignificant. She sat at the furthest corner of the assembly hall that also doubled, or rather trebled as a gym and a canteen. She chased the minced beef round her compartmented pink plastic tray, replaying that morning’s events in her head.
Her mind was a heap of emotions and thoughts that she could not comprehend. She wanted to talk to someone about it, so badly, but daren’t. Besides, there wasn’t anyone.
You can of course read the rest of the story here
Hope you enjoyed it!
© Cat Mercer 2012 – 2013