What started as a short story, but is now taking its own path that looks more like it could be a novella... but as with most of my writing, I'll let it decide what it wants to be.
This is a story of two young girls, best friends, and finding their way in the world, which despite what they once thought, might not be the same road for both of them.
The sun is shining down and bathing the ground in a warm summer haze. The softness of a slight breeze weaves between the oak trees that line the lane on the far side, kissing the leaves and creating a gentle rustling that floats like musical notes over to where I'm lying, stretched out on my back in the middle of the field. I run my hand, my fingers, through the grass. It's fresh and green, not having felt the strain of summer water reductions, and I intertwine my fingers between the long, individual strands knowing that eventually it too will succumb to the season and in a sign of weakness, begin to discolour and become dry and hard, almost the opposite of the softness that cushions my body now.
My breathing is shallow and deliberately gentle, as if somehow too strong an exhalation could disturb the ambience of this place. Wisps of rye, tickle my cheek and chin, but I don't have the energy to remove this slight disturbance in my state of tranquillity. I smile to myself as I think of Mandy. She would be sneezing by now, her nose blocked and her eyes red as she rubbed them aggressively with the back of her hands, knowing it would only make it worse. Poor Mandy, her allergies had prevented her from simple indulgences in life that one would think nothing of, like wishing upon a dandelion and blowing the tiny stalks in a flurry of beauty, or running as fast as possible through the forest in springtime, dancing between the trees and the seeds that float enchantingly above the forest floor. Yes, Mandy still did these things, but the enjoyment was lost as she spluttered her way through summer in a veil of tissues and nasal spray.
I open my eyes and look to my side, but the grass doesn't show the familiar indentation that normally indicates a body has previously lain, instead it is healthy and sparkling. I sigh ever so slightly and let my head roll back into position, gazing through slit eyes due to the glare of the afternoon sun, at the three or four clouds that litter an otherwise empty blue sky like milk cartons bobbing in the ocean. Looking over them individually, I try to form shapes, familiarity, anything that will remind me of something, but it seems a lot harder without Mandy here. Mandy would always find something for the clouds to look like. Sometimes they would look like spaceships and maybe even be real spaceships simply designed to look like clouds; other times they would be the apron her mum wears when she's baking a sweet potato pie on a cool winter's night or the Elvis song that her dad plays on the stereo. How a cloud can look like a song, I never quite understood, but Mandy had a way of making sense out of things that didn't make sense at all.
I close my eyes again, conceding to my creative inferiority. I rip a clump of grass with my right hand and pull up my t-shirt, my skin looking white, almost translucent in the sun, and sprinkle the grass over my stomach until the final few blades drop into the slight dimple that resembles my belly button. I used to have a belly button. Mum used to tell me stories about when I was five and was so fascinated with my belly button, I would sneak into the kitchen and fill it with peanut butter or jam, eventually the sticky residue would seep through my clothing or trickle further down my stomach and over the waistband of my pants resulting in clean up time from my mother. Dad used to joke that I could fit a whole tub of ice cream in my belly button. I tried ice cream once, but it melted too quick. Mum wasn't very happy with me that day. Now my belly button is just a slight dent, like a blemish or scar. I used to be able to fit my finger right up to the first knuckle in it, but I can't do that anymore.
I rest one hand on my stomach and then slowly I move my fingers up towards my chest. I count in my head, One, Two, Three, as my fingers slowly creep up my stomach like the itsy bitsy spider, fingering each rib individually through the thin tissue that now encases it. I press gently, trying to feel as much of the definition as possible, as if I'm a blind artist examining my model, understanding its features. I can't press too hard though. It starts to hurt if I push with my fingers, like pushing directly on bone, a strange uncomfortable sensation. Despite this, I tend to partake in this activity regularly. Not because I enjoy the counting exercise, or that I'm expecting one day the number will change, but because I like the way it feels. The bone almost protruding through the skin and together with my bony fingers, it reminds me of the skeleton on Halloween that we hang up outside our front door, rustling in the wind, bones clattering together creating a strange, yet not unpleasant sound.
I think back to when I used to lie on my stomach, stretched out with my feet bent back towards my head watching afternoon cartoons on the TV in the lounge. For a long time we had a wooden floor which would feel heavenly in summer after the hot, dry walk home from school. In winter it would be chilled, like lying on cold polished stone. When we moved into our new house, the one we have now, the lounge had carpet, soft thick grey carpet. I would lie on the carpet for hours, eating cornflakes and drinking chocolate milk. I can't lie on my stomach on the floor anymore. Even with the carpet. Once I started on this... on this journey, it would hurt to lie on my stomach. At first, I didn't know why I was sore, I thought maybe I'd bruised my stomach from PhysEd at school, but then I realised it was because my ribs were digging into the floor. Sharp bony protrusions pressing against the floor like the claws of a bird. Sometimes I miss lying on the floor on my stomach, but then I run my fingers over my ribs, counting and feel the concave of my stomach like a hollow in a tree.
I miss Mandy. It's been three months since I last saw her and that ended badly. Her hair had been tied up in pig tails like she often wore. Even though we were both thirteen and some of the girls at school teased her for still wearing her hair in pig tails, Mandy didn't care. Sometimes she wore them in pigtail plaits, hanging either side of her round face and flying behind her like ribbons when she ran round during break. But she preferred traditional pig tails, and that was how she had her hair when we'd last spoken.
We'd been at the park around the corner from both of our homes, almost directly halfway between the two. She was wearing a blue and white checked dress, with white sandals that had little white flowers across the straps. We'd sat on the swings in the park, not really moving, just occasionally pushing gently with our feet to sway backwards and forwards. I could tell something was wrong, she wouldn't look at me and her hands were in her lap, her fingers intertwined and twisting like she was trying hard to tie them together. She'd asked me to meet her there and it was the first time in a while, I thought maybe things were going to be back to normal. Finally she'd spoken, in a small quiet voice, almost indecipherable but as soon as she spoke, despite the volume, I knew what she'd said.
"I can't be friends with you anymore," she'd whispered. I knew she didn't say it to be vindictive, nor because she wanted to. Tears were brimming in her eyes, threatening to drop over her lashes like large dewy raindrops. I nodded, throat tight and contorted. I tried to swallow so I could speak, but it was as if I'd swallowed something too big and was choking it down. Looking back, I realise I was physically choking on sadness. She spoke again before I could manage any response.
"Mum says I'm not allowed to see you or speak to you. And..." her voice was muffled, unable to hold back the sobs "you're not allowed to come around anymore."
I nodded again. Finally I managed to speak "Okay, if that's what she wants. In a few weeks, she will have forgotten about the whole thing and things can go back to normal." I had anticipated this and planned for it, but Mandy didn't seem to agree.
"You don't get it, you still don't get it," she had exclaimed, her voice quivering and changing to a more frantic tone. She swallowed trying to calm herself. "We're moving Tilly." The finality in her voice was cutting.
"But... you can't move. We're best friends..." I'd said. The reality of the situation started to uncloud and a wealth of emotions begun to swirl through me.
"I don't think we are anymore Tilly." Large tears were streaming down her cheeks and her face was flustered, the normal rosiness turning to a distressed shade of red.
Panic and desperation swept over me. "But can't you just tell your Mum that you don't want to move and that we're not friends and-" but she interrupted me before I had a chance to finish.
"Tilly! I don't want to do this anymore!"
My face turned to shock and then understanding. She could tell her Mum that we weren't friends anymore, she could tell her Mum that she wanted to stay, but she didn't want that... she didn't want to be my friend anymore. Anger started to bubble inside me, like a defence mechanism to protect from feeling hurt.
"Fine! I don't want to be your friend anymore either." I saw the turmoil on her face as I said this and I knew it hurt, but I didn't stop, I kept going as if unleashing the anger would somehow prevent other emotions from materialising. "Go off to your new home and make your new friends. I don't even care. You're nothing but a... a..." I hesitated, and then I said it "a fat bitch". That was the first time I had ever even said the 'b-word' before.
Her eyes had widened and it spurred me on further. "You're fat and you're ugly and no boy will ever like you. Look at your arms, you're like a big fat marshmellow."
She had started bawling, really crying. Tears flowed down her chubby cheeks and dripped onto the cotton fabric of her dress. She didn't say anything, just looked at me, her blue eyes piercing and I tried to decipher her feelings... is that... no, it can't be... is that pity? I'd thought to myself. She'd pushed herself off the swing, her feet finding the bark below and the wooden swing rocking back to balance. I was crying now too, no longer able to suppress the sadness that had pushed its way up my throat.
"I hope you find what you're looking for Tilly." And she turned, walking across the park field to disappear around the corner, out of sight. Her pig tails bouncing on her shoulders was the last thing I saw of Mandy.