Mary Stanton: Fourteen

 

It isn't fair. I bet they leave me behind just because I'm a girl. Will's younger than me, and gets to have all the fun. He's up at the Manor, and I'm stuck here with Mum. They've even taken that dirty old man with them. I didn't like him, because he was creepy, but at least he was interesting. I bet Sarah and Rachel didn't have a mad old tramp in their spare room this Christmas.

 

I wanted to go, too, but Daddy wouldn't let me. I never get to do anything interesting. I have to do more housework than James or Will, just because I'm a girl. Mum and Gwen cooked all the Christmas dinner, though Barbara did a bit, too. I'll have to join in next year, I bet, while James and Will get away with sitting down and doing nothing. It's not fair when you're a girl.

 

"Mary!" Mum's calling for me now, probably to get me to do something boring like sewing or polishing something. I'm going to pretend I can't hear her. I do that lots. Sometimes it's true. "I've been calling you for ages," Mum says sometimes, and I said, "Sorry, I didn't hear you," because James is going on about something, and Paul's playing his flute, and Max is on the phone even though he knows I need to phone Rachel, and Barbara's singing, and Robin's kicking a football, and Will's reading, and Gwen's clattering in the kitchen

 

I'm going to write a letter to Sarah. I got nice new pens for Christmas, that smell like violets. We write letters all the time, me and Rachel and Sarah, even during lessons when we're sitting right next to each other. We use codes so no-one will know what we're talking about, even if the teachers catch us. If we talk about kittens, that means we're talking about the boys from the boys' school, that we see sometimes on the bus. Rachel spoke to one once, or so she says. Sarah fancies that tall fair-haired one, we think he's called Dave. I like his friend with the long dark hair. I don't know his name. I have to write "I love ?" in my rough book, because I don't know his name, but at least that means that Nasty Nora (she's called Kate really, but we call her that. She's got lots of friends and thinks she's so special) won't find out who I love and tell everyone. I'd die if he found out.

 

Mum and Daddy don't know I like boys. They think I'm a little girl, who "won't discover boys" for years and years. Won't discover boys? Grown-ups says such silly things. Do the boys live underneath rocks in far-away jungles, or something? I've got millions of brothers, I know what boys are like. I even saw Max naked once, when the lock on the bathroom door broke. Rachel and Sarah keep on asking me about his… well, you know. I get embarrassed and don't tell them. I mean, he's my brother.

 

I get out my writing paper – Rachel gave it me for my birthday, it's got blue flowers on – but I don't know what to write. I always know what to write – not in school, though. "If you paid as much attention to me, Mary, as you do to your friends, you'd do very well indeed," Miss Cook keeps on saying. Mum tuts sometimes because my reports aren't as good as everyone else's, but Daddy says, "Come now, Alice, everyone is good at different things. Mary will have her chance to shine."

 

I wish Daddy was here now. It's cold and dark in my room, because there isn't a fire, and everyone else is miles away. Mum bustles around and makes us feel happy, but Daddy used to call me his little girl. He's not strong and muscly, but I know he'd stop bad things from getting in. The snow seems even heavier, without him around. James laughed at me when I said the snow was pushing at us, trying to get in, but it is. I don't like it.

 

I'll write my letter tomorrow, when it's light. I'm not scared. It's not that I'm scared. I just… It's just that Mum needs me. She'll only be worrying about me up here in the cold. Everyone else is in the living room – I can hear their voices from miles away in the house – so I'll go and join in. You're supposed to be with your family at Christmas. Rachel and Sarah have both gone to visit their grandparents. I haven't got any left, because Mum and Daddy were quite old when I came along. I wish I was older, like Stephen. It's not fair being one of the youngest.

 

I'll just comb my hair first. Oh, I wish I wasn't so fat. Rachel's got this magazine, it's got lots of diets in it. She says she lost half a stone by not eating anything before eleven o'clock, but she didn't look any thinner so I think she was making it up. My school uniform's all tight and bulgy and I hate the way my legs look in games kit. Thank goodness we don't have boys at school. I'd die if they saw my legs.

 

Have we had New Year yet? Oh, crikey, we have. I didn't notice it, it's been so snowy and horrible. I need to do a New Year's Resolution to get thin. Not till the snow stops, though. You need to eat lots when you're cold, and I don't think I could stand it if we were stuck in this horrid snow and I couldn't have chocolates. We're running out of proper food, so Mum doesn't even tell me off if I eat chocolate at breakfast.

 

I like my hair, though. Sarah's really jealous, she says she do anything to have lovely straight fair hair, and not be all curly and ginger with freckles and skin that burns bright red in the summer. "Don't be silly," I tell her, "you're really pretty," but I know I'm prettier than her. Mr Mitothin liked my hair. He had red hair, too, but it looked really nice, not curly and silly like Sarah's. He liked me, too. He kept looking at me, not at Barbara or Gwen. Barbara's the one boys normally look at. I liked him. I hope he comes again. Will went all silly when he was there, though, and spoke all prim and proper, like he gets sometimes. Little children can be so embarrassing. I hope it didn’t scare Mr Mitothin away.

 

I go downstairs. "Mary's been combing her hair again," James says. "Who do you think's going to see it?" He's so annoying sometimes. Rachel's an only child and she says she's really jealous of me and wishes she had a little sister. A little sister might be nice, I tell her, but little brothers are awful. Sarah agrees with me. She's got a little brother, he's eight. He's a real pest.

 

"It doesn't matter who sees it," I tell him. "It's important to look good even if you're all by yourself. You'll understand that when you're older."

 

"No, he won't," Barbara says. "He's a boy."

 

"Come and sit down, Mary," Mum says. "We were just trying to decide what game to play. It looks as if Daddy and the boys are going to stay at the Manor for a while, so it's just us."

 

I settle down by the fire. It's lovely and warm, and I got really cold up in my bedroom. "I want to go to the Manor, too," I say.

 

Mum shakes her head. "We're better off here. We've got food and fuel, and we've got each other. I don't want you walking out in that snow, or sleeping in a room with lots of other people. At times like this, one really needs the comfort of one's own bed."

 

"Will went," I remind her, "and he's younger than me."

 

James groans. "Oh, don't start this again," just as Max tells me that I'm hogging all of the fire and should budge over and make room for everyone else. Everyone bullies me. They all get at me and gang up on me, and I'm never allowed to have any fun. None of them understand me. They don't know about the boys or the letters or any of the things I tell Sarah and Rachel in whispers behind our hands. Even Rachel and Sarah don't know everything about me. There's some things I'd never tell anyone. I'm a woman of mystery, that's what I am, doomed to be forever misunderstood by my family.

 

I sniff, and make room for Max to steal more of the fire than he's allowed to. I'll make do with nothing, cold and put-upon and neglected and misunderstood. One day they'll be sorry, when I run away and become a… a famous… a famous… What shall I be? A model. A model, all slender and slim, with beautiful hair, and all the boys queuing up to talk to me, but I'll only talk to some of them, and only when I want to.

 

"What game do you want to play, Mary?" Mum has her stubborn peace-maker face on – the face that means she's going to ignore all bickering and pretend it's not happening, and carry on with whatever niceness she's planned.

 

"Monopoly," I say. It's not in the pile.

 

"I think Will had it last. It's probably in his room," James says helpfully, but he doesn't move. Boys are so lazy.

 

Mum sighs, and gets up. I can hear her climbing the stairs. Don't go, I think. Don't leave us…

 

It gets colder and colder. Mum is taking ages. The lights go out. "Don't worry, I've got the candles," says Max, and strikes a match. I sit nearer the fire. Mum, I think. Daddy. I feel James edging closer towards me. I think he's scared.

 

Then there's an enormous clap of thunder. We all scream, even Max. But Mum screams louder. And there's a bumping and a clattering, and we rush out in the dark – Max has a candlestick in his hand – and Mum's lying at the bottom of the stairs, with Monopoly pieces all scattered around her.

 

It's my fault. It's my fault. If I hadn't said I wanted Monopoly…

 

I don't really remember the next bit. James is in the kitchen. Max has gone to get Daddy and the doctor. Mum will be okay, won't she? Oh, please, let Mum be okay. It's all my fault, and the snow… the snow…

 

"You're spilling the water," James says. How can he be so heartless? Mum's broken her leg, and the rain's battering the windows like wild animals trying to get in, and it's years since Max set off, and he's not back yet, and Daddy's not here, and I know something terrible's happened to them, I know it.

 

James is quite nice to me, really. He's bringing me a hankie. "They'll be fine." But what does he know? "Dr Armstrong will here in no time, and he'll make Mum better." But he's only a little boy, only twelve. He doesn't know. When you're little, you think nothing can ever happen to my Mum and Dad. You don't know. I do. I know.

 

James has gone again, I wonder where. Mum's… Oh, I can't bear to be in there with her. I can't bear to see her like this. It's all my fault. I need to do something, to make things better.

 

And then I suddenly I feel calm. The rain turns mild and soothing, and I know that Max has got lost, but I can find him. You, I hear, in the voice of my own certainty. You alone can do this. Go outside. Come. Come…

 

My eyes are still bleary with tears. I feel a bit like I feel when I wake up in the middle of the night and can't remember where I am. I drift to the door and put on somebody's boots, I don't even know if they're mine.  Coat? No, no, I don't need that. The cold's gone now. The snow's melted, and if I go outside I can make everything better again.

 

They don't call out when I open the door. Outside… Oh, how wet it is, but I don't really feel it. My hair will be… Oh. There was something about my hair. Tangled and horrid? No, that doesn't matter. Where did Max go? I need to find Daddy. If I save Max that will make up for hurting Mum. And Daddy will be there, with his arms and his warm chest and he'll call me his little girl, and nothing will matter, nothing will matter…

 

"Hello, Mary." Oh. It's Mr Mitothin.

 

Rain falls into my eyes. I feel really strange, as if I'm going to fall over. The road seems so long. I've been here for hours, I think.

 

"Come on, Mary. I'll help you up onto old Pollux here." Old George. I… I was sure he was someone else a minute ago… but that was hours ago, days ago, weeks… but I've only just left. My clothes aren't even soaked through yet.

 

I sit on the horse, and remember suddenly how much I longed to ride him, back when I was a little girl, and silly enough to be mad about horses. On his back, I'm taller than anyone around me, but I feel just like a little girl again. "I want to go home." My voice sounds very small.

 

"You will be home in no time." Old George smiles. I have never thought that a wrinkled old man could look beautiful before. "And your mother is well, and everybody safe, and the cold and the dark have been vanquished, and today starts the thaw."

 

What a strange thing to say. Old people lose their minds, sometimes. I think fourteen is the best age to be, though fifteen would be better.

 

But then Daddy is there, opening the door, and Dr Armstrong is behind him, just leaving. They're smiling, so it must be true, what Old George said about Mum. James wriggles past them. He calls my name, and I think he's crying. How silly!

 

But when Daddy hugs me and calls me his little girl, and tells me off for going outside, and hugs me again, I find that I'm crying, too. I don't even care who sees it. Well, except for James.

 

"Everything will be well." Old George says that, and he's right. Mum's okay, the snow's gone, and I'm going to lose a stone in weight and find out the name of the boy I like, and maybe even talk to him, like saying "Hello," or "Excuse me, have you seen my pen?"

 

He might even talk back.

 

On to next part