I’ve not posted on my blog much lately as I’ve been working on uni assignments – Poetry and Writing For Children. I got my mark back for the latter this week and got a first: WAHOO! Anyway, in celebration of that, I’m posting the creative piece I submitted for the unit.
I’ve posted an earlier draft of this before but it’s changed a lot since (and been extended to 8000 words) so I think it’s worth reposting. Considering how long it is, I’m going to put it up in sections over the course of a few days.
This story is dedicated to – and inspired by – my best friend Esther Stephenson, who I have been conducting a long term character study of over the course of sixteen years. 🙂
This morning, they came to take my memories away.
I’d just won the gold medal in my school’s gymnastics competition. My routine had been perfect. Every handspring. Every round off. Every somersault. My head was fizzing, like it was full of lemon sherbet.
Let me tell you what it was like at the end of my routine. My lion mane hair had been tamed into a tight bun and my leotard was indigo crushed velvet, studded with twinkling diamante. The judges and kids and parents were clapping like they really meant it – a sea of big grins – and my mum was out of her seat, whooping. I was still panting for breath when they announced that I’d won first place, and my grin was a mile wide when they led me over to the winner’s podium to place the gold medal around my neck. There was someone there from the local paper, asking me to look at him and hold the medal up to the camera, and all I could do was smile, smile, smile.
So I can tell you all that, and I know it’s definitely true. But only in the same way that I know that dinosaurs existed, or I know that the earth is round. Because I believed the person that told me, that is. Mum wrote it down during the operation, and read it all out to me on our way home from the hospital. She even drew a little doodle of my final pose, with my arms pointed up to the sky in a triumphant V shape. So I know it, but I don’t remember it. Because winning my gold medal was the memory that they came to take.
“You did a super job there today, Esther. I’m rather impressed!”
Those were the first words spoken to me by Mr Silk. I can remember that, at least. Everything after I stepped down from the podium is still there, and it all begins with Mr Silk. He had a voice to match his name: smooth and luxurious. People in Birmingham don’t normally talk like that: not even Mrs Copley, my head teacher, and she’s dead fancy. They definitely don’t say ‘super’ or ‘rather impressed’.
Mum was helping me to put my coat on when he started speaking. We only had a few minutes before our bus was due, so we were rushing. Then there he was: POP! Out of nowhere. Like he’d just teleported from another dimension. And he was talking to ME, in that fancy voice, like we were old friends.
Mum and I both turned to look at him: this peculiar man – with his long, beige coat and toady smile – staring at me expectantly. I said nothing. I get dead awkward talking to strangers: mum normally talks for both of us, but she was looking a bit confused too. After a few moments of us staring at him blankly, he just carried on talking. He had a funny habit of slowing down on certain words, dragging them out like they were a really yummy sweet he wanted to savour the taste of.
“I’ll bet it feels fantastic doesn’t it, standing up there on the podium, having won that medal, everyone clamouring to take your photo? I’m ever so jealous. I was never any good at gymnastics, myself, haha. Here, I’ve brought you a hot chocolate. I thought you might need warming up… shivering in that leotard all morning!”
Mum got a bit cross then and snatched the hot chocolate from Mr Silk before I could take it, but she did it so quickly some of it spilled on her hand. She must have been worked up: she didn’t even flinch.
“She’s fine, thank you very much!” Mum was holding my tracksuit bottoms out at me and glowering. “Come on Esther, or we’ll miss the bus.”
I yanked them on as quickly as I could and we turned to walk away. I could tell that mum wanted to get out of there double quick – she only ever calls me Esther when she’s angry or wants to make someone think we’re posher than we are. To anyone that knows me, my name is Star.
“Mrs Turner! Ruth, is it? Perhaps before you go you could just take my card. I work for a children’s charity you see.”
Mum stopped in her tracks, like she’d seen a lion. Slowly, she turned around and I could see in her face that Mr Silk was about to get one of her special dressing downs – one of the ones where her voice goes really low and you can tell you’re on your final warning before she EXPLODES.
“It’s Ms Ruth Turner. And I don’t know what exactly might make you think that we need your charity, but my daughter and I are doing perfectly well on our own, thank you.”
She held the hot chocolate out to him and, when he didn’t take it, placed it down by his feet. Then she whirled me back around and began to march me out of the gym. I tried not to care about leaving the hot chocolate behind, even though I was a little bit cold and hot chocolate is a really special treat in our house.
We were almost out of the door when he caught up with us.
“No! Ms Turner, please! Please, I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. You’ve misunderstood me. It’s your daughter that could help us. I mean we’d pay you both, of course, if you were to agree. We have funding. But the children at the charity could really benefit from the help of a little girl as – as well brought up as Esther.”
I’m not sure which part of what he said got to my mum, but the truth is we do always need more money. Mum’s obsessed with me being brought up well too, so maybe it was that. Whatever it was, she turned around. She still had her ‘don’t mess with me’ face on but her voice was calmer now.
“What kind of charity is this, exactly?”
Mr Silk’s big toady grin got bigger and for a moment, I thought a huge tongue might come springing out of his mouth and swallow us up like flies. But instead, he just laughed.
“Why don’t we go and get that hot chocolate and we can sit down and have a chinwag about everything? Presuming you don’t mind missing your bus? There’ll be another along shortly, I imagine.”
So he explained it all. That he was in charge of recruitment at a charity called ‘Dream Catchers’, and that his job was to find happy children and then pay them to donate some of their happiest memories. The memories were given to children who’d had difficult or unhappy childhoods. Simple. Everyone’s a winner. Mum was dead suspicious at first, asking loads of questions about science and research and safety. I got a little bored then and started daydreaming, thinking instead about my hot chocolate and savouring the taste as much as possible. In fact, I’d stopped listening to them completely. I was pretending that my tongue was a hot chocolate waterfall, when I suddenly realised that both of them were staring at me.
“Well Esther, what do you think? £500 to help someone less fortunate than you? And mum says you like science – how do you fancy seeing some exciting lab equipment?”
The answer was dead obvious. Everyone was always saying how important it was to do things for charity and to help other people. And £500 was a lot of money.
“Yeah ok, I don’t mind.”
Mr Silk’s smile was getting so big that I thought it might climb off of his face and strangle me. Mum was smiling too, although hers was a little more anxious.
“Well come along then, ladies,” Mr Silk stood up and gestured towards the door. “What are we waiting for?”