Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Day 4 - Call on Me

Once upon a time, in a great city, there lived a little girl called Mary.

Mary was a happy child, with parents who adored her, and she had a beautiful laugh that caused all who heard it to fall in love with her. And she would smile and laugh often for she lived in a great city and her parents would take her to the parks of the city to play. She loved to watch the squirrels as they ran up and down the tree trunks, she loved to throw pieces of bread to the ducks, and most of all she loved to pick the flowers that grew all around the park.

One morning, when Mary was in the park picking flowers, she picked up the biggest dandelion she had ever seen. But as she lifted it up towards her face, she saw something very strange. There, nestled in among the seeds of the dandelion, was a little man with wings dressed in a purple suit. Mary looked around for her mother to tell her about the little man but her mother was busy talking to another lady and wasn’t interested in seeing the flower.

“Help me!” said the little man in an even littler voice “My wing is trapped here and I must get away.”

Mary didn’t know how to help the little man and her mother was still talking to the other lady.

Please,” said the little man, “blow the dandelion so I might escape.”

And so Mary blew on the dandelion and its seeds scattered in all directions and the little man in the purple suit flew free.

“I am the Prince of the Faeries,” said the little man, “and you have saved my life. If I had remained stuck there when the sun reached its highest point in the sky, I would have been lost. I am in your debt forever.”

Mary didn’t understand all the words that the flying man, who said he was a Prince, was saying but she laughed her beautiful laugh and his tiny face smiled.

“If you ever need me, you only have to call me,” he said and he flew right up to her ear and he whispered into it his secret name, the name which had the power to command him. “Say my name when you need my help and I will be there.”

And then, in the blink of an eye, the little man was gone. Mary tried to tell her mother but her mother was listening in that way that parents sometimes do, when they give the pretence of listening but are actually not listening at all, and so did not hear about the little man stuck in the dandelion and so Mary carried the secret alone.

A few years went by and Mary was still happy and sometimes she would think about the Faerie Prince that she had met in the park. She could still remember his name if she tried really hard but she never said it out loud. And then, when she was six, everything changed.

One morning her mother and father came in to see her and told her that they needed to pack a suitcase for her and that she would need to leave the great city, would need to leave them behind, and go on a journey to live in a different place in the countryside. They told her it was because there was going to be a war and it wouldn’t be safe for her to live in the great city any longer. Mary cried and told them that she didn’t want to go but they told her that they had no choice. She begged them to come with her but they told her they could not, for her father needed to go and fight in the war and her mother needed to help. But they told her not to worry and promised her that it would not be for long and that when it was safe she would come back to them.

And so, on a cold autumn morning, Mary was walked to the train station where her mother hugged her and kissed her and passed her over to a woman with grey hair who led her by the hand to the train platform where there were many boys and girls with suitcases all waiting to catch the train to the countryside.

The train journey was long and when Mary arrived in the countryside she was led away with three other children to go and live on a farm. Mary had learned about farms from her books but this farm was not like the farm in her books. For the farmer and his wife were not kind and they made Mary and the three other children work very hard and fed them very little. When people came around to check on them, the farmer and his wife warned them not to tell how hard they worked or they would be beaten. And sometimes the farmer and his wife beat them anyway and laughed when they did it.

Mary cried every night and sometimes she would think of the Faerie Prince and wonder whether she should call him, but she was too scared to in case he came and the farmer and his wife beat him as well. Even when she got sick and was left in cellar with just a bowl of water and some stale bread, she did not call him. Mary spent her seventh birthday in a cellar, wrapped in a dirty blanket and shivering against the cold and her fever, and dreamed of her mother and her father and praying that they would come and fetch her.

And then, one day, it seemed that her prayers had been answered for another woman with grey hair came and told them that they would be going home to the great city. Mary’s heart leapt with joy and she collected her belongings and said goodbye to the other children and got on a train back to the great city. But when she got there, it was not her mother and father waiting for her on the train platform but a stern looking man with white hair.

He told Mary that he was very sorry but her mother and father had been killed and that they were now in heaven. He told her that because she had no family, she would need to come and live in a home with other children who had no families.

Mary cried and cried and cried until she could cry no more tears and she told the man she did not want to go with him but he was very strict and took her by the hand and pulled her with him. She was walked along the street and then on the underground train and then to a grey building with bars on the windows that the man told her was going to be her new home.

That night, in a room with row upon row of beds of children, Mary cried again but the other children told her to be quiet. They told her that she was a baby and they were nasty to her. One girl pulled her hair and another girl slapped her. And this set the pattern for the next four years of Mary’s life where she was tormented and teased and bullied by the other children. It wasn’t long before she forgot about the Faerie Prince and, eventually, she even began to forget her mother and father. Certainly, she never laughed a single laugh in those four years.

She hated it there and she hated the other children, but at least they weren’t as bad as Billy the handyman who came to the house to fix things and who liked to take little girls with him into the big cupboard where they kept the mops and the brooms when no one else was around.

He didn’t try and take Mary for four years, he always took other girls who were older than her with him and they would always come back with faces that were damp with tears. And then one day, when he had nailed a windowsill in place and the women who ran the home had gone downstairs, Billy had come over and he taken Mary’s hand and had begun to lead her away with him to the cupboard. Mary didn’t like him one bit and she didn’t want to go into the cupboard with him and so, as he opened the door, she pulled on it and it opened quickly and smashed him hard in the face.

Billy was furious. His nose was bleeding and he shouted like a wounded bull and charged at Mary. But Mary was quick, for she had got used to dodging the attacks of the other girls, and she ran as fast as she could from him, ran down the stairs, out the front door, and off down the street. She never went back to the home. Instead, she lived for almost a year on the street; sleeping in doorways and parks and begging for scraps from the baker and the market traders.

And then she met Fred who was a few years older and who promised he would help her find somewhere warm to sleep, and he did but then he expected her to do things with him that she had never done before and which she didn’t like. But she did them anyway because he had given her somewhere warm and dry to sleep and he gave her food.

Mary lived liked that for some time before Fred decided that doing those things for him wasn’t enough and that she would need to do those things for other men who came to the little rundown house they lived in. And she did that for a while too until she realised she had to get away, and so one night she waited until Fred had gone to the pub and she packed up her case with what little belongings she had and what little money she had managed to hide and she ran away from the great city she had once loved. She took a train to a place far away, by the sea.

Mary took a job in a factory. It was hard work and it was poor pay but it enabled her to live in a room and pay for food. And she met a man called Les who also worked at the factory who liked to talk to her and who seemed kind and, one day, Les asked her to marry him. She was 17 and didn’t think she could give any other answer than ‘yes’ and so they were married in the church and she went to live with him in a little house in which his mother also lived.

Les wasn’t as kind as Mary had first thought. He liked to drink and when he had been drinking he could be cruel and rough and he would hit her if she happened to say the wrong thing, or if she looked the wrong way at him. His mother expected her to do all of the housework and look after her as well and Mary found that she was always tired.

And Mary grew older and grew sad and the beautiful laugh that she had once had was never heard, even when she had her own daughter. She loved her and tried her best to look after her, but times were hard and the war had left the country poor and sick and her daughter died young. For the first time in years, Mary cried again. She had not thought she had any more crying left to give, but she wept bitterly when they lowered the tiny coffin of her daughter into the ground.

Les blamed her for the death of their daughter and became even crueller and rougher. He drank more and more and began to gamble. Mary wasn’t even sad when a policeman came round one day to tell her that Les had been found dead outside a pub. She left behind the house and her elderly mother-in-law, who cursed her for going, and caught another train to another city where she could start again.

She met another man called Robert who worked at the steel factory and who was kinder than Les but who was very poor and Mary had to work double shifts at the factory to help them make ends meet and was always tired, and rarely far from being ill. They tried to have children together but it seemed that it was not possible and so they eventually resigned themselves to just having each other.

Mary and Robert got a council house but then Robert was injured at the steel factory and he couldn’t work anymore and so Mary had to work even harder. She grew older and she grew more tired. And when Robert died, she was left alone and seventy years old.

The world seemed a different place now to Mary now; it felt fast paced and frightening. She knew no one and she was too scared to go out of the house because there were gangs of teenagers who would shout and throw things at her. One day she went to the shops and got home to find that someone had kicked in her front door and had stolen her television and her video recorder, had smashed the sugar, coffee, and tea pots in the hope of finding money and had spray painted her walls with red paint. Mary called the police and they came and they shrugged their shoulders and then went away. And Mary felt alone.

She tried to keep going but it was hard. Her hip hurt from a fall a few years earlier and she couldn’t afford to keep the heating on in the apartment, which was still scarred with red paint, and so she sat there and shivered. And she got ill and started coughing and it was a cough that wouldn’t stop so finally Mary had to go and see the doctor.

The doctor told Mary that was very ill, that she had got a disease that they could not give her medicine for. And so they took Mary from her home and they moved her into the hospital and she lived there with other old and ill people.

And then one day, Mary was lying in bed and a nurse was tending to her when she saw a figure in the corner of the room. A tall woman dressed in a long black dress. She asked the nurse who the woman was but the nurse looked at her confused and annoyed and told her that there was no one there. And the woman in the black dress smiled at her sympathetically and put one finger to her bright red lips to tell her to hush. And Mary realised who the woman was and what she wanted.

Mary felt a tear gather in the corner of her eye, the first in a long time. Even like this she didn’t feel ready for death. Even with her body worn out, her lungs ragged and gasping for breath, Mary didn’t want to die. Even with all that had happened to her, with all the bad that had come of her life, she still clung to it.

She looked around the room, at the blinds that shuttered out the sunlight, at the drip that was connected to her arm, at the pictures on the wall. The woman took one step closer, gliding across the floor. A picture of a dandelion in a field. Another step, and the woman was almost close enough to touch. And Mary remembered everything and, as the woman reached out for her with one white hand, Mary used her last breath to breathe a name.


And there was a sound like a beating of wings and there was a light in the room and a voice that she recognised from another lifetime told the woman in black that she was not welcome here, that Mary was under his protection. And the woman in black hissed, but she left all the same.

And then the man in the purple suit, no longer tiny, stood beside Mary’s bed and took her hand and he smiled that same smile he had given her all those years ago.

“Come,” he said, and Mary found that she could stand up without any problems, even though the room seemed strange and much bigger. But then she looked down at herself and Mary realised she was no longer an old woman, she was the same child who had once blown a dandelion.

“Come with me,” said the Faerie Prince, “and I will make sure you are never sad again.”

Mary left with the Faerie Prince, holding his hand tight as they disappeared in the blink of an eye.

The nurse who ran into the room found only an empty bed waiting for her. An empty bed, the sound of faint and beautiful laughter, and the seeds of a dandelion drifting in the still hospital air…

No comments: