The girl with pink hair

I was fifteen years old the first time a boy asked me out to the movies. I was so surprised and nervous when he asked me that I forgot to say no. And that is how I found myself in the queue waiting to buy a ticket next to an awkward boy with greasy hair. He kept hopping from one foot to the other as the line slowly inched forward.

The Avengers. That is the movie we are going to see. I don’t know anything about it. We move forward another place.

The smell of popcorn is strong in the air. It makes my tummy grumble and I quickly look up to make sure Tony hasn’t noticed. He is busy looking at his watch. I see a drop of sweat roll down his neck and disappear under his collar.

He looks up. ‘We’re next. Do you want popcorn?’

I nod.

He turns toward the girl behind the counter and orders our tickets. I don’t know whether I should move forward with him or not, so I just hang back.

Then I see her.

She is from another world.

I stare at her pink hair and leather jacket. Pink painted fingernails. The way she raises her eyebrow at the ticket girl. Mocking.

She turns and looks straight through me.

Suddenly I am aware of the space between us. My limp brown hair. Baggy jeans. Cracked fingernails.

I hear Tony sniff. ‘Look at her! She thinks she’s so great.’

But so do I. I want to be her. I want to know what it feels like to move so confidently through a crowd.

The line moves and then we are in the theatre.

Tony takes his seat. I sit beside him. My hands clench in my lap.

I wonder where the girl with pink hair is sitting. Who she is with.

Then she is there, in the seat next to mine.

I try to make myself as small as possible as she places a cup of Coke in the armrest holder.

From the corner of my eye I can see her smooth brown arm. Tiny little golden hairs.

I can’t stop myself from wondering what it would feel like to touch.

The lights dim and loud music fills the theatre. I try to follow the movie but it’s all happening to fast. None of it means anything to me.

I glance at the girl beside me out of the corner of my eye. She is placing popcorn in her mouth. She turns her head slightly and looks at me. I quickly turn my eyes back to the screen.

She tilts the popcorn my way, as though she is offering me some.

I pretend not to notice. Hot prickles rise beneath my skin.

Tony stretches and tries to place his arm around me but I move slightly so that he misses. He hand brushes my arm as it returns to the armrest. It makes me shiver.

I try to make myself even smaller, moving away from Tony but not too close to the girl to be obvious. I imagine her swallowing me whole. My whole body feels heavy. Foreign. Confused.

I can hear Tony breathing through his mouth. I want to run. Why did I ever come?

The girl beside me whispers something but her words are lost against the sound of the movie.

I can feel myself hurtling through space. Solar winds howl past my ears. I close my eyes, suddenly feeling nauseous.

She is still there. Watching me. Waiting.

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Too quiet, too loud

Too quiet
Too loud
Holding back
A little of myself
In this world
Boys don’t care for girls
That are readers, daydreamers
Don’t get anywhere

just like a princess

I went out
last night a girl
a stranger
―I came back a woman

a prince tasted my lips
beneath the balcony
— made for each other

I should have realised sooner
I needed to calm down,
whatever happened
to my resolutions?
I shouldn’t have called him
so soon after last night
― just like a princess

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 43

Ailis ran until her feet were sore. She was deep into the forest now, further than she’d ever been before. Every now and then she had to stop, leaning against a tree and panting until she had gotten her breath back. The forest stretched on and on around the edge of the lake, further than she could ever have imagined.

Surely she had lost the soldiers by now. They had nearly caught her this time. She was merely floating, just like she did every day when she could sneak away from her chores. She stood on the rock at the edge of the lake and just let herself hover in the air. She never went too far or too high. She didn’t want anyone seeing her or discovering she had magic. It was peaceful in the air. She felt more like herself—where she could imagine she was secretly a princess rather than just a blacksmith’s daughter.

But this time she had gotten careless and had drifted lazily toward the treetops. That is when she first saw the men in black cloaks. She had heard all about these men that wore black cloaks. The villagers were all terrified of them. And the worst of the lot was that sergeant with the scar on his left cheek. Three jagged lines—almost like someone had scratched him viciously, or in desperation, Ailis thought. She had made the mistake of looking up as he rode through the village once. He had stared at her with those dead eyes as though he wanted to devour her.

When Ailis saw the horsemen through the trees she quickly returned to the ground and started to run. She knew she could have flown away from them but she couldn’t be seen in the air.

Ailis heard a noise and began to run again. Her plan was to circle back around to the village and return by the coastal path. As Ailis neared the village she stopped running. She ran her hands over her skirt and blouse to straighten it and adjusted the scarf around her hair. She stopped by a wild apple tree and filled her basket. It would be a ready excuse if anybody stopped her. She tried to calm the fear in her stomach.

The sun rose high in the sky when she caught the scent of wood smoke from the village. Ailis heaved a sigh of relief. Just over the next rise and she would be back in the village safe and sound.

Ailis left the forest and walked across the field of heath that ran down to the beach. In the distance she could see the village’s fishing boats bobbing on the open sea. They wouldn’t return until evening with their catch.

She could hear hammering from the blacksmith’s forge and she smiled. It wasn’t so bad being the blacksmith’s daughter. It could have been worse. Bryn was a highly respected artisan in the village and that afforded Ailis more freedom from menial chores than some of the other girls her age.

Ailis took an apple from her basket and was just about to take a bite when she saw the four horsemen blocking her path.

‘You there. Girl. Stop.’

Ailis shuddered when she saw it was the man with the scar. She was frozen to the spot.

‘What business do you have out here? We have been hunting a young girl seen in the forest. What do you have to say for yourself?’

‘I—I was just fetching apples. To make my Da a pie.’ She tried to control the nervousness in her voice.

‘A likely story. Who is your da?’

‘The—the blacksmith—Bryn—the blacksmith.’

The sergeant looked at her more closely, searching her face. His black gloved hand involuntarily stroked the scars on his cheek.

‘How old are you, girl?’

Ailis felt tears well into her eyes but forced them back down. The pendant between her breasts was turning hot.

‘Just take her here, Hom. Nobody need ever know.’ The second horsemen leered at her. Ailis fought back the urge to wet herself.

‘This little one is not worth your effort.’

A woman appeared behind the horsemen. Hom turned in his saddle to see who dared address the black cloaks. It was just another peasant woman. Hom drew his sword. The sun glinted wickedly on the blade. He smiled viciously to feel its familiar weight in his hand.

‘Why don’t you go about your business, old woman, before I slay you right here.’

‘You don’t want to kill anyone today.’ She moved her hand from under her cloak. ‘Return to your camp.’

Hom looked at her uncertainly for a moment before sheathing his sword.

‘Come, men. Let us return to camp. We will take the wench another day.’

He glared at the woman and turned his horse. The four men rode away in a cloud of dust.

Ailis collapsed to her knees with shock.

The woman cupped her hand around Ailis’ chin and raised the girl to her feet.

‘Run home, child. You need to take more care with your gift. It’s not your time yet, but soon.’

Ailis looked questioningly into the woman’s eyes. They were dark but flecked with blue, like snowflakes.

‘Go.’

Ailis found her feet moving quickly toward the village. She looked back over her shoulder.

The woman was gone.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 42

Bea was in a good mood when she woke next morning. It was early but being a Saturday there was no need to dress and rush off to school. Outside she could hear the birds were waking. Bea yawned and rolled over to look at the ceiling. Everything in her room was familiar and comfortable. The dressing table and mirror, the clothes rack that held her dresses and her school bag was in the corner where she had tossed it last night.

She lay still with her eyes open and went through the events of the pat week. Her ankle still hurt a little but she had been able to walk on it. Josh had been so sweet coming over to see if she was okay. But what was up with Emily?

Bea sighed and slid to the edge of the bed. She walked over to the window. The sky was a pretty shade of pink this early in the morning. Over the garden Bea could see sunlight just hitting the spire of St Brigid’s Church peaking over the treetops. From a distance she could hear waves crashing on the beach. The tide must be in ― that’s when the waves sounded loudest. A ribbon of mist hung in the air above the beach. The morning’s stillness reminded her of something, but as usual it hung tantalisingly out of reach.

She picked up her dress and tiptoed across to the bathroom. She didn’t want to wake her grandmother so early. Bea dressed by the light coming softly through the window. She walked barefoot down the stairs to the front door. Bea paused for a moment to listen, but the cottage was silent. She closed the door softly behind her and filled her lungs with fresh morning air. It made her feel alive. The grass was damp and cold on her bare feet. She smiled and thought how her grandmother would scold if she knew. ‘You’ll catch your death of cold, child,’ Gramma would say. Bea walked across the garden to the gate that led down to the beach. She enjoyed being on her own. The day was starting to brighten. Bea paused at the top of the stairs and watched the waves. It was so peaceful.

She followed the path that led down from the back of the cottage. Small pebbles crunched under her feet as Bea reached the beach. The walk along the shoreline was her favourite and she headed toward the rocks at the northern end of the beach. Fishing boats were pulled up on the shore, turned upside down and strewn with drying fishing nets.

Bea knew she had been here before—some time ages ago. She just didn’t know when. The sound of the waves crashing against the pebbles reminded her of something she couldn’t quite remember. It was just another dim memory from somewhere in her past. As she made her way around the upturned fishing boats she turned and looked back toward the cottage at the top of the slope. A curl of smoke was rising from the chimney and Bea thought about her grandmother inside. She hoped she hadn’t disturbed her.

Bea moved further along the beach, reaching the tumble of rocks along the edge. She lifted her skirt and tenderly climbed amongst the rocks, carefully placing her feet away from the slippery moss.

It was then she heard the voices ― two male voices coming from a cave at the bottom of the cliff. One of the voices sounded cultured, aristocratic, while the other was a gruff seaman’s voice.

‘Don’t worry, m’lord. We can slip in under darkness and nobody will know anythin’ ‘bout it. You can trust us, m’lord.’

‘Very good, Wells. The French ship will anchor offshore next Sunday night. There will be a package to be collected from me at the manor. Do you think you can manage that?’

Bea crouched down behind a rock. She wasn’t used to coming across people on the beach. She thought of it as her beach. Her heart was racing. She was sure she recognised one of the voices, but she didn’t know anybody in Nangle, did she?

‘This package is very valuable but also delicate. You must take good care of it. The French captain will know what to do once you have her ― it, the package ― on board. Tell the captain I will follow next se’nnight and payment will be made in full once I know the package has been delivered. Do you have all that, Wells? You know what will happen if you fail me.’

‘Yes sir. Sunday night it is, to be sure. You can count on me, sir. I won’t fail you. That’s a promise.’

‘Go carefully with your promises, my friend. Just deliver the message and be ready for the package.’

The voices fell silent for a moment. Bea strained her ears to hear. Cautiously she peaked around the rocks to find the small cave was empty. There was no-one there.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 41

The mountain peaks were shrouded by mist at this time of year. The sun was a soft golden globe hanging low in the sky and the water of the stream was cold and grey. All was quiet except for the faint sound of a girl’s voice singing as she made her way along the path toward the stream.

Ailis’ heart was full of love and her face shone in the dull morning light. Only last night Rogan had proposed to her and she had been breathless as she replied with a whispered ‘yes’.

She had woken early in the morning so she could get all of her errands done before her father returned from his blacksmith’s forge to have breakfast. She wanted to put him in a good mood for when Rogan comes to ask for her hand.

Ailis stopped to pick some wildflowers and placed them in her hair. She walked with a light-hearted step and smiled as she thought about the secret kisses Rogan had showered her with last night. She was excited to think of being the first of her friends in the village to be married. Most of them still hadn’t even held hands with a boy yet.

She reached the edge of the lake and stooped to fill the heavy wooden bucket. As water streamed over the edge of the bucket she struggled to lift it again, when a rough hand closed over hers. She turned with surprise as Rogan placed his lips against hers and the bucket fell back into the water.

‘Rogan, look what you’ve made me do!’ The bucket had begun to sink and Ailis pouted with her hands on her hips.

‘You are out early my love. I was hoping I might catch you before I saw your father.’

‘You will catch it if my father sees you with me.’ Her laugh was musical and Rogan grasped her around the waist and kissed her again.

‘Stop that,’ she squealed. ‘What about my bucket?’

Rogan bent to retrieve the sunken bucket. ‘Come, my sweet. You have work to do.’ He took Ailis’ hand and together they walked back toward the village.

The village was nestled around a small, windswept cove. Through the mist could be heard the roar of dark waves crashing on the pebbly beach. A path led away from the village toward the mountains where the shepherds took their flocks during the warmer months when the grass was flush and green. But they returned to the valley farms when the autumn mists began to descend.

Rogan was one of the shepherds and he had recently returned from several months in the mountains. But there was wasn’t much to occupy a shepherd during the winter months and he spent his days finding excuses to be alone with Ailis.

Ailis looked at him secretly as they strolled along the country path. He had wild black hair that shaded his mysterious eyes. Those eyes always seemed to be looking straight through her and Ailis shivered every time their gaze met. She never knew what he was thinking, but she felt hypnotised by his eyes; trapped by his gaze like a frightened deer; stripped naked so that he could see her soul — and then the spell would be broken by his rough kiss.

As they reached the door of Ailis’ cottage, Rogan bent to kiss her again.

‘No more until you have spoken to father,’ she said. Rogan grinned and Ailis curtseyed as she slipped through the door into the white washed cottage. Ailis closed the door and leaned against it with closed eyes and sighed. She had never been so happy and now all her dreams were coming true.

She pushed a lock of hair back into place and began to tidy the kitchen and prepare breakfast. The cottage was simple as befitted a blacksmith, but Ailis always kept it neat and tidy. She had been the housekeeper since her mother had passed away. Ever since then it had just been Ailis and her father.

Rogan stayed outside the door of the cottage for a moment, listening to Ailis singing as she worked inside. He picked up a stone and began tossing it in the air and catching it again. The ringing of the blacksmith’s hammer on the anvil punctuated the peaceful village air and Rogan turned away from the forge. Now is not the time to face the blacksmith, he decided.

Book review – Ink by Alice Broadway

IMG_3293

Ink was such an interesting book that I was captured immediately. In the world of Ink a person’s every action is tattooed on their skin. I had to close my eyes to imagine what this must look like – actually, Ink would make a fabulous graphic novel. While I have never even thought about getting a tattoo this premise of the novel made it sound like such a beautiful concept. I couldn’t stop thinking about what tattoo would represent my story.

But then there was the sadness. The book started out with Leora mourning the loss of her dad, and this thread ran through the entire novel. At the end of their life a person’s skin was flayed (didn’t want to think about that for too long!) and turned into a book of their life, tattoo’s and all. The trouble begins when your story needs to be assessed by the government (never a good thing!) and there seemed to be something wrong with Leora’s dad’s story.

As if dealing with her loss wasn’t bad enough, Leora had to learn some things about her dad that might mean he wasn’t the perfect guy she thought he was. And what did that mean for Leora herself?

There were dystopian undertones to this novel, although I felt it wasn’t so strong that I would call it a dystopian novel. All the right ingredients were there – an overbearing government, too much public scrutiny of individual actions and lack of privacy, severe consequences for stepping out of line, and, of course, outsiders that had been banished from society and treated as a threat to the proper order of things. These people were the ‘blanks’. They didn’t have tattoos. Their skins were unblemished and for this they were hated by the society of Ink. To be a blank was the worst thing in the world so what if you found yourself sympathising with the blanks?

There were also religious undertones. Throughout the novel Leora questioned her beliefs. Everything she had ever been told might well be a lie. What if her dad had committed some crime? What if she didn’t want her story written on her skin? What if she wasn’t who she thought she was?

I was surprised by the ending (which is a good thing) but at the end of the novel I wasn’t quite sure what message Alice was trying to convey. I think it is okay to question your beliefs, to search for your true self and what is most important to give your life meaning. Perhaps it’s that the people who are different from you are not so different and not as bad as they seem.

I hope there is more to come from Alice Broadway. She is such a beautiful atmospheric writer. I know I wanted more of Leora’s world. Perhaps an Ink 2 where Leora discovers more about her true self by moving out of the confines of her society.

Fantastic book. You should definitely read it!

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 40

Bea hurried to catch up with Emily.

‘Emily, wait up. We need to talk.’

Emily tried to hurry away. She didn’t want Bea to see the tears that were forming.

Bea grabbed Emily’s hand to stop her.

‘We have to get to class.’ She turned but Bea held her hand tightly.

‘What’s going on, Em?’

Before Emily could reply, Anar appeared in the corridor.

‘Well!’ exclaimed Anar. ‘If it isn’t the lesbian witches. You two disgust me.’

‘Why don’t you just leave us alone, Anar?’ Beatrice quickly let go of Emily’s hand.

‘Just leave it, Emily.’

‘No,’ Emily almost shouted. ‘I’m done with running away. It’s time you learned a lesson.’ She reached out and stroked Anar’s hair. ‘Such pretty hair —it would be a shame if it all fell out.’

Anar’s eyes smouldered.

‘—and that pretty face of yours, Anar—I would hate to see it all covered in spots before your next party. Too bad you don’t know any protection spells.’

Emily raised her hand and began chanting, ‘Princess, princess, let down your hair. By the light of the moon you will find yourself bare. By light of the moon you’ll be covered in spots.’

Light shone in Emily’s eyes. She finished and laughed as she took Bea’s hand and walked away.

‘How dare you!’ she heard Anar call after her, but she sounded more distressed than angry.

Miss Elizabeth stood at the window of her classroom and watched the girls go their separate ways. This was getting out of hand.

The Witch in the Mirror – Part 39

A week later Bea bumped into Josh in the corridor at school. He was carrying his cello case as usual and it filled the corridor. She stood to the side so he could pass but he placed it on the ground and stopped in front of her.

‘Hi, Bea.’ His voice sounded a little shaky.

‘Hi, Josh.’

‘How is your ankle?’

‘It’s fine now, thanks. It was just a little sprain, I guess.’

‘That’s good. Ummm… Bea, I was wondering… ummm… would you like to go to a movie Saturday, ummmm, Saturday night?’

Bea felt her face blush red.

‘Oh, gosh. Sure, that would be lovely. What do you want to see?’

‘Oh. Ummmm… I’m not sure what’s on. Maybe we could just check it out on the night.’

‘Sure, that would be nice.’

Josh looked surprised.

‘Do you really mean you will come?’

Bea smiled. ‘Of course. I said I would’

Josh’s face brightened. ‘So —should I pick you up?’

‘Why don’t Emily and I just meet you at the theatre?’

‘Oh—Emily, of course.’ He looked quickly at Emily. ‘Yeah, okay.’

Josh picked up his cello case and flicked his hair behind an ear. ‘Well, I’ll see you later.’

Bea watched him walk away and as she turned Emily was standing there looking at her.

‘Hi, Em.’

‘What was that all about?’

‘Josh asked me to the movies. Why don’t you come too?’

‘Bea, you can’t double-date on your first date, and I don’t even have a date. Besides—Josh is gay—everyone knows that.’

‘What do you mean—gay—as in happy?’

‘Oh my god, Bea. What planet are you from? He likes guys—that’s what everyone says. You can’t date a guy that wants to be with other guys.’

Emily began walking away. She was getting teary and that just made her angry with herself. Did Bea know how she felt about her and Josh? She had watched Bea’s attitude change over the past week. Emily didn’t want to admit that it bothered her.

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